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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 6: Harmony of the Law, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Numbers 27

Numbers 27:15-23

15. And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying,

15. Loquutus est igitur Moses ad Jehovam, dicendo:

16. Let the Lord, the God of the of all flesh, set a man over the spirits of the flesh, set a man over the congregation,

16. Praeficiat Jehova Deus spirituum omnis carnis, virum super congregationem:

17. Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.

17. Qui egrediatur ante eos, et qui ingrediatur ante eos, id est, qui educat eos, et introducat eos, ne sit congregatio Jehovae velut pecudes quae nullum habent pastorera.

18. And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him:

18. Et dixit Jehova ad Mosen, Cape tibi Josue filium Nun, virum in quo est spiritus, et imponas manum tuam super eam.

19. And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight.

19. Statuasque illum coram Eleazar sacerdote, et coram universa congregatione: et dabis illi mandata in oculis corum.

20. And thou shalt put some of thine honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.

20. Et pones de gloria tua super illum, ut audiant illurn universa congregatio filiorum Israel.

21. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.

21. Qui postea coram Eleazar stabit, et interrogabit eum de judicio Urim coram Jehova: ad verbum ejus egredientur ipse et omnes filii Israel cum eo, et tota congregatio.

22. And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation.

22. Fecit ergo Moses quemadmodum praeceperat ei Jehova: accepit namque Josua, et statuit illum coram Eleazar sacerdote, et coram universa congregatione.

23. And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge; as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.

23. Imposuitque manus super illum, ac dedit illi mandata quemadmodum dixerat Jehova per manum Mosis.


15. And Moses spake. Moses here sets forth not only God’s providence in attending to the welfare of the people, but also his own zeal for them. Hence it appears how paternal was his affection for them, in that he not only performed his duty towards them faithfully and earnestly, and shunned no pains that it cost him, even to the end of his life, but he also makes provision for the future, and is anxious about a suitable successor, lest the people should remain without one, like a headless body. We perceive also his humility, when he does not arrogate the right of appointment to himself, nor on his own authority submit the matter to the election of the people, but establishes God as its sole arbiter. It was, indeed, permitted him to choose the officers, and this was a part of the political constitution; but this was too difficult a task, to find by man’s judgment one who should suffice for its performance; and, consequently, it behoved that the power should be intrusted to God alone, who did not indeed refuse to undertake it. And this special reason had much force in so difficult a point, viz., that the people should receive their leader at His hand, in order that the supreme power should always remain vested in Himself. As, therefore, He had chosen Moses in an extraordinary manner, and had appointed him to be His representative, so He continued the same grace in the case of Joshua. Already, indeed, had He designated him; but, out of modesty, Moses omits his name, and simply prays that God would provide for His people.

The title, with which he honors God, has reference to the matter in question. It is true, indeed, that God may be often called “the God of the spirits of all flesh,” and for another reason, in chap. 16:22, Moses makes use of this expression; but he now alludes to this attribute, as much as to say, that there must be some one ready, and as it were in His hand, who should be appointed, since He has the making of all men according to His own will. Men often are mistaken and deceived in their opinions, and, even although the Spirit of God may enlighten them, they go no further than to discern the peculiar endowment for which a person is eminent; but God is not only the best judge of each man’s ability and aptitude, nor does He only penetrate to the inmost recesses of every heart; but He also fashions and refashions the men whom He chooses as His ministers, and supplies them with the faculties they require in order to be sufficient for bearing the burden. We gather from hence a useful lesson, i.e., that, when we are deprived of good rulers, they should be sought from the Maker Himself, whose special gift the power of good government is. And on this ground Moses calls Him not only the Creator of men, but “of all flesh,” and expressly refers to their “spirits.”

When he compares the people to sheep, it is for the purpose of awakening compassion, so that God may be more disposed to appoint them a shepherd.

18. And the Lord said unto Moses. We here see that Joshua was given in answer to the prayers of Moses, which is not stated elsewhere. But, in order that he may obtain his dignity with the consent of all, he is honored with a signal encomium: for, when God declares that the Spirit is in him, He does not merely intimate that he has a soul, but that he excels in the necessary gifts, such as intelligence. judgment, magnanimity, and skill in war: and the word “spirit” is used, in a different sense from that which it has just above, for that eminent and rare grace, which manifested itself in Joshua. For this metonymy  234 is a tolerably common figure in Scripture.

The solemn rite of his consecration by the imposition of hands follows, respecting which I have treated so fully elsewhere,  235 that it is now superfluous to say much upon it. It was in use before the giving of the Law, for thus the holy patriarchs blessed their sons. We have seen that the priests were inaugurated in their office, and that victims were offered to God, with this ceremony. The apostles followed this custom in the appointment of pastors. Moses, therefore, in order to testify publicly that Joshua was no longer his own master, but dedicated to God, and no longer to be regarded as a private individual, since he was called by God to the supreme command, laid his hands upon his head.

There was also another reason, viz., that, according to the requirements of the office intrusted to him, God would more and more enrich him (with His gifts;(Added from Fr.)) for there is nothing to prevent God from conferring richer endowments upon His servants according to the nature of their vocation, although they may have previously been eminent for spiritual gifts. Thus to Timothy, when he was appointed a pastor, new grace was given by the imposition of the hands of Paul, although he had before attained to no ordinary eminence. (2Ti 1:6.) To the same effect is what follows, that Moses should put some of his glory  236 upon him, as if resigning his own dignity; for by the word glory, not only external splendor, but rather spiritual honor is signified, whereby God commands reverence towards His servants; not that he was stripped of his own virtues by transferring them to Joshua, but because, without diminution of his own gifts, he made the person who was about to be his successor his associate in their possession.

It was fitting that this should be done before all the people, that all might willingly receive him as presented to them by God.

The charge given to him partly tended to confirm the authority of Joshua, and partly to bind him more solemnly to discharge his duties; for, inasmuch as Moses commanded him what he was to do in the name of God, he exempted himself from all suspicion of temerity; and, on the other hand, by the introduction of this duly authorized engagement, Joshua must have been more and more encouraged to faith and diligence.

21. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest. Joshua is here subordinated to the priest on one point, viz., to inquire of him by the Urim and Thummim: for, as we have seen before,  237 the dignity of the priesthood was exalted by this symbol, that the prince should consult God by the mouth of the priest, who, being clothed in the sacred Ephod, the emblems of which were the Urim and Thummim, gave replies as the interpreter of God Himself. This passage, then, shows that the rule of Joshua was not profane; as in all legitimate dominion religion ought surely to hold the first place; for, since all things depend upon God, it is absurd that they should be separated from His service.

משפט, mishphat, that is, judgment, is here used for a rule, or prescribed course of action, as if he were commanded to seek the Law  238 from the oracles of God, which the priest was to receive and deliver from him, and that in perplexing matters he was to follow nothing else.

Moses adds, in conclusion, that he did what. God had enjoined, so that all might be fully assured that God would rule, no less than before, in the person of Joshua.



“De mettre l’Esprit pour les dons qui en previennent;” to put the Spirit for the gifts which proceed from it. — Fr.


See ante on Leviticus 8:10, vol. 3, p. 422.


A.V., “honor.”


See on Exodus 28:4, vol 2, p. 196.


“Sa lecon;” his lesson. — Fr.

Next: Deuteronomy 3:21-29