Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
20. At that time was Moses born, who was acceptable to God And he was brought up three months in his father’s house. 21. And the daughter of Pharaoh took him up when he was cast out, and nourished him up for her own son. 22. And Moses was taught in all wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in word and deed. 23. And when the time of forty years was fulfilled, it came into his mind to go visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24. And when he saw one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and revenged him which had the wrong, having smitten the Egyptian. 25. And he thought that his brethren would have understood that by his hand should give them deliverance; but they understood not. 26. The next day he was seen as they strove, and set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren: why hurt ye one another? 27. And he which did injury to his neighbor thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? 28. Wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian yesterday? 29. And Moses fled at this saying, and became a stranger in the land of Midian, where he begat two sons.
20. It is not without cause that Stephen noteth the circumstance of time. Moses was born at the very same time when the king had commanded that all the men children should be cast out. Therefore, it seemeth that the minister of deliverance is dead before he is born. But that time is most fit for God to work in, when there is no hope or counsel to be looked for at man’s hands. And it appeareth also most plainly how God doth make perfect his power in man’s weakness, (2 Corinthians 41:9.) Moses is kept three months, but at length his parents (that they may save their own lives) are enforced to cast him out into the river. Only they put him into a little coffer, 407 that he may not by and by [immediately] perish. When as Pharaoh’s daughter taketh him up, he escaped death indeed, yet so that he goeth into another nation, being cut off from the kindred of Israel. Yea, he was like to be a most troublesome adversary to his nation, unless God had restrained his mind. It is forty years before he showeth any token of brotherly good-will.
22. Whereas Luke reporteth that he was taught in all wisdom of the Egyptians, he putteth that in his commendation as a point of excellency. Notwithstanding, it might have so fallen out, as it doth oftentimes, that being puffed up with profane sciences, he might have despised the base common people; yet because God had determined to redeem his people, he doth, in the mean season, frame both the mind of Moses and all other things to finish his work. The reason of man’s flesh 408 should murmur in this place, Why doth God wink at so long miseries of the people? Why doth he suffer Pharaoh to rage more cruelly daily? Why doth he not suffer Moses to grow up amongst his own people? Why doth he after a sort cut him off from the kindred of Israel, being adopted by the king’s daughter? Why will he suffer him to remain amidst courtly pleasures, 409 and doth not rather pull him thence? But the end itself is so wonderful, that we are enforced to confess that all these things were governed by singular counsel and order to set forth the glory of God.
Whereas I said that Luke speaketh in this place of the learning of the Egyptians for honor’s sake, I would not have it so taken as if there were in the same no corruption. Forasmuch as astrology 410 doth consider the wonderful workmanship of God, not only in the placing of the stars, and in such excellent variety, but also in their moving, force, and secret offices, it is a science both profitable and worthy of praise. The Egyptians bestowed great study in this, but being not content with the simple order of nature, they wandered also into many foolish speculations, as did the Chaldeans. It is uncertain whether Moses was infected with these superstitions or no. Yet, howsoever it be, we see how sincerely and plainly he setteth that before us to be considered in the frame of the world, which is appertinent unto godliness. Surely this was excellent modesty, in that he which could reason with learned and witty men of the secrets of nature, doth not only omit higher subtleties, but doth also descend unto the common capacity of every most simple man, and doth, in a common style, set forth unto men unlearned those things which they perceive by experience. When Justinian [Justin] babbleth concerning Moses, he maketh him a magician, which, with juggling and enchantments, made passage for the people through the Red Sea; so that Satan did not only go about to bury the power of God, but also to blaspheme the same. But we know that Moses did not strive with the enchanters by magic, but did that only which God had enjoined him.
Furthermore, the Egyptians had mystical divinity, wherewith they colored their doting inventions and monstrous abominations, as if they would prove that they went mad not without reason: as the Papists, whereas they delude and mock men like stage-players, in their mass and other foolish rites, yet they invent mysteries, that they may persuade men that there is nothing there but that which is divine. The common sort of priests cannot climb so high, but those which amongst them will be accounted more cunning 411 do omit no rite, how foolish and childish soever it be, affirming that there is some spiritual mystery in every [one] of them. There is extant concerning this matter a most foolish mingle-mangle, which they call the Rationall [Rationale] of Divine Offices. But forasmuch as sacrificing priests alone did use such dotings amongst themselves, it is not to be thought that Moses spent any time in these, whose bringing up was princely, but that he was taught in liberal arts.
He was mighty. This phrase doth express among the Hebrews a double excellency, when as he which doth excel in wit and learning, is also apt to attempt and bring to pass great and weighty matters. 412 Stephen’s meaning is, therefore, that Moses was furnished with rare gifts, so that they did all confess that he was a singular man. But seeing he was in such estimation, the Israelites had the less hope that he should be the minister which should work their deliverance.
23. When the time was fulfilled. Many gather by this that Moses was never estranged in mind from his nation; but the words of Stephen incline rather toward the contrary, to wit, that the Spirit of God did at length awake his mind, as it were out of sleep, that he might at length go visit his brethren, whom he had long time neglected. It is to be thought that he was not ignorant of what stock he came, seeing he had some token thereof in his flesh, and seeing the rumor thereof was spread abroad in the court, because the king’s daughter could not adopt him to be her son without some suspicion of wickedness, unless his kindred had been known; yet was it long before he was of such courage that he durst make known the love which he bare toward his kindred. And this serveth not a little to set forth the glory of God, that Moses, being ignorant of his calling, doth remain a long time idle in the king’s court, and is afterward called of the Lord contrary to the hope of all men, and his own also. Therefore, this new care for his brethren which came into his mind, proceeded from a new and unwonted motion of God’s Spirit.
24. When he saw a certain man. Moses came not to this spectacle by chance, but forasmuch as God had appointed him to be the deliverer of his people, he would have him show forth this token, and, as it were, make this beginning. For Stephen doth plainly express that he did attempt nothing unadvisedly, but did that which became him that was appointed to be a deliverer of the people, knowing that he was thereunto called. For unless God had armed him, (and made him puissant,) it had been a thing altogether unlawful for him to kill any man, how wicked soever he had been. It is a godly deed, and praiseworthy, for a man to set himself against the wicked, to defend the good against the injuries of the wicked, to bridle their violence; but it is not for a private person to punish, (or take vengeance.) Therefore, it was unlawful for Moses to slay the Egyptian, save only inasmuch as the Lord had put the sword in his hand according to the right of his calling. But this heroical courage and nobleness of heart 413 was a work of the Holy Ghost; because God doth mightily show forth his power in those whom he appointeth unto great matters, that they may be able to fulfill their function. In sum, Stephen meaneth that Moses was even then offered to be the minister of deliverance when the day was at hand, according to the covenant made with Abraham, yet did the people hope for nothing less.
26. The day following he appeared. Stephen declareth now that the fathers did not only neglect, but maliciously reject the grace of God. For although the evil which he mentioneth did proceed from one man only, yet doth he by right assign the fault unto them all. For if they had been thankful to God, they would all with one consent have repressed his forwardness. 414 But they are whisht, 415 and suffer that good turn which Moses had done to be upbraided unto him; and, so much as in them lieth, they bring them into extreme danger whom they ought to have defended by endangering themselves. 416 Therefore, his drift is this, that the people themselves were in the fault, that they were no sooner delivered and eased. 417 So the wickedness of men doth oftentimes hinder God from doing that [which] he would do. He is ready to help those that be his in due time, but we keep back his hand from ourselves with divers lets, and afterwards we complain of his slowness, but unjustly. Furthermore, this unthankfulness was too wicked against God, and too cruel against Moses. They were to thank God for giving such a faithful patron in the king’s court. They were to love and reverence Moses; but they rewarded him full evil 418 with threatenings and reproaches. Furthermore, inasmuch as the fact was brought to the king’s ears, we must needs impute that to the treachery of the people. Therefore, as when afterward the people could see the land of Canaan, they did through their own folly keep themselves from entering in; so now, refusing the grace of God in the person of one man, they cause the time of their deliverance to be deferred forty years. For although God had determined what he would do, yet those are justly blamed for the delay which hinder 419 Moses in his office.
Men ye are brethren. There is, indeed, amongst men a general conjunction, so that they ought to use great courtesy one toward another, and to abstain from all injuries; but this is more unmeet and intolerable, when those hurt one another who are nearer linked together. Therefore, Moses doth not only use a general reason, that it may revoke 420 their minds which were desirous to do harm, but he mentioneth their kindred and fellowship of blood to mollify their cruelty. Yet all in vain; for he which had done injury to his neighbor doth forwardly thrust him from him, and addeth thereunto threatening. And this is a common thing amongst men; for an evil conscience doth drive men into fury, and the worse every man’s cause is, the more boldly and cruelly doth he extol himself. But under what color doth he which hath the worst cause set himself so stubbornly against Moses? He saith he is no judge; but he did not reprove them according to authority, but did only friendly admonish them. Is it the duty of a judge alone to admonish us when we do amiss? But this is a common vice, used of all stubborn and unruly persons, to give place to no admonitions, save only when they are enforced by violence and authority; yea, they are like frantic [phrenzied] men who rail upon 421 their physicians. For which cause we must be the more careful to bridle our lust, lest we run headlong with such blind fury against those which are desirous to cure our vices. Furthermore, we are taught by this example, that the servants of God cannot so do their duty in reproving such vices of men, but they shall suffer many injuries, offend many, and incur dangers; and chiefly when they do well, they shall surely hear evil. But they must swallow up the unworthiness of these evils, 422 that they may not therefore cease to do that which the Lord commanded them, and which he alloweth. 423 Moses is burdened here with a cruel false accusation that he usurpeth the authority of a ruler, and by this means they lay treason to his charge. Secondly, it is objected unto him reproachfully that he slew an Egyptian; both these were very odious. Whereby we may gather with how dangerous a temptation the mind of the holy man was stricken. And forasmuch as we see that he was neither discouraged by exile, neither by any other evils, so that it did not repent him of his well-doing, let us also learn by his example to bear a valiant and strong mind and courage against all such assaults of Satan,
“Arculam,” a little chest, a basket.
“Carnis ratio,” carnal reason.
“Ad annum quadragesimum,” till his fortieth year.
“Astrologia,” astrology, or, more properly here, astronomy.
“Ad res praeclaras gerendas aptus est,” is fitted for greater exploits.
“Haec heroica animi magnitudo,” this heroic magnanimity.
“Tacent omnes,” they are all silent.
“Oppositas suis capitibus,” by exposing their own hands.
“Nonnisi per populum stetisse quominus levationem citius sentiret,” that is was owing entirely to the people themselves that they did not sooner obtain some alleviation.
“Atqui pessimam et iniquissimam mercedem reportat,” but he receiveth a very bad and most iniquitous recompense, viz.
“Impediunt ac turbant,” impede and disturb.
“Quae ad aequitatem revocet,” which may call back or dispose to equity.
“Furiose impetunt,” furiously assault.
“Sed horum malorum indignitas illis est devoranda,” but the indignity of these evils must be devoured by them, (overlooked or submitted to.)
“Proinde ei probari,” and is therefore approved by him.