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

Numbers 14

Numbers 14:1-9

1. And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.

1. Tunc sustulit universus coetus, edideruntque vocem suam, et flevit populus nocte illa.

2. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron; and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or, would God we had died in this wilderness!

2. Et murmuraverunt adversus Mosen et adversus Aharon omnes filii Israel: ac dixerunt universa multitudo, Utinam mortui essemus in terra AEgypti: aut in deserto hoc utinam mortui essemus.

3. And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?

3. Et quare Jehova introducit nos in hanc terram, ut cadamus gladio, uxores nostrae et parvuli nostri sint in praedam? Nonne satius esset nobis reverti in AEgyptum?

4. And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.

4. Dixerunt itaque alter ad alterum, Constituamus ducem, et revertamur in Aegyptum.

5. Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

5. Tunc cecidit Moses et Aharon super faciem suam coram universo coetu congregationis filiorum Israel.

6. And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:

6. Jehosua vero filius Nun, et Caleb filius Jephuneh, de exploratoribus terrae sciderunt vestimenta sua.

7. And they spoke unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.

7. Ac loquuti sunt ad universam congregationem filiorum Israel, dicendo, Terra per quam transivimus ut exploraremus eam, optima terra est.

8. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

8. Si complacitum fuerit Jehovae in nobis, introducet nos in terram istam, tradetque eam nobis, terram quae affluit lacte et melle.

9. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and the Lord is with us; fear them not.

9. Tantum ne sitis rebelles Jehovae, neque timeatis populum terrae hujus: quia velut panis noster sunt, recessit praesidium eorum ab ipsis: Jehova autem nobiscum est, ne timeatis eos.

1. And all the congregation lifted up their voice. Here we see how easily, by means of a few incentives, sedition is excited in a great multitude; for the people, unless governed by the counsel of others, is like the sea, exposed to many tempests; and the corruption of human nature produces this amongst innumerable other evils, that lies and impostures prevail over truth. There was, indeed, some pretext for the error of the people, in that they saw ten most choice leaders of their tribes dissuading them from entering the land, and only two advising them to proceed. But that credulity, to which they were too much inclined, is without excuse, because it arose from incredulity; for, if the dignity and reputation of ten men availed so much with them, that they were thus easy of belief, ought they not much rather to have given credit to the word of God, who had promised them the land four hundred years before? For when they cried out beneath the oppressive tyranny of the Egyptians, the memory of the promise given to their fathers was not effaced, since the holy Jacob had carefully provided for its transmission. They had recently heard and embraced its confirmation, and in this confidence had come forth from Egypt. We see, then, that they had already been induced by their own supineness and depravity to recoil from entering the land, because they had thrown aside their confidence in God, so that they might seem to have deliberately laid hold of the opportunity. Still the evil counselors gave an impulse to them, when they were falling of their accord, and east them down headlong.

They begin with weeping, which at length bursts out into rage. The cause of their weeping is the fear of death, because they think that they are being carried away to slaughter; and whence does this arise, except because the promised aid of God is of no account with them? Thus it appears how greatly opposed to faith is cowardice, when, on the occurrence of danger, we look only to ourselves. But:. whilst the beginning of infidelity is to be withheld by fear from obedience to God, so another worse evil presently follows, when men obstinately resist God, and, because they are unwilling to submit themselves to His word, enter into altercation with Him. This was the case with the Israelites, who, being overwhelmed with grief, at length are stirred up by its impetuosity against Moses and Aaron. And this is wont too often to occur, that impatience bursts forth from the anguish into which our unbelief has brought us. The desire for death, which they conceive, arises from ingratitude and contempt of God’s blessing. They wished that they had died either in Egypt or in the wilderness; why, then, had they just before humbly beseeched Moses to propitiate God?

With regard to the words, the old interpreter,  53 taking the particle לו, which is optative, for the negative (לא, lo,) improperly translates the passage, as if their death in the desert would have been more bitter than in Egypt; whereas they only deplore that they would be exposed to death if they should enter the land of Canaan, as follows in the next verse.

3. And wherefore has the Lord brought us into this land? The pride, and even the madness of their impiety here more fully betrays itself, when they accuse God of deception and cruelty, as if tie were betraying them to the Canaanitish nations, and leading them forth to slaughter; for they conclude that they ought not to obey His command, because He would destroy them, and not only so, but that He would at the same time give their wives and children to be a prey. We see how mad is unbelief, when it gives way to itself, since these wretched people do not hesitate to prefer charges against God, and to repay His kindnesses by calling Him their betrayer. But what was the cause of this blasphemous audacity,  54 except that they hear they would have to do with powerful enemies? as if they had not experienced the might of God to be such, that nothing which they might encounter was to be feared whilst He was on their side! At the same time, they also accuse God of weakness, as if He were less powerful than the nations of Canaan. At length their monstrous blindness and senselessness comes to its climax, when they consult as to their return, and, rejecting Moses, set themselves about choosing a leader, who may again deliver them up to Pharaoh. Were they so quickly forgetful how wretched their condition there had been? It was for no fault of theirs, but whilst they were peaceful and harmless guests, that the Egyptians had so cruelly afflicted them, since they were hated by Pharaoh on no other account but because he could not endure their multitude; what, then, was he likely to do, when, for their sakes, he had undergone so many calamities; what humanity, again, was to be expected from that nation which had conspired for their destruction already, when it had suffered no injury from them? Surely there was no house among them which would not long to avenge its first-born! Yet they desire to give themselves up to the will of a most bitter enemy, who, without any cause for ill-will, had proceeded to all sorts of extremities against them. Hence we plainly see that unbelievers are not only blinded by the just vengeance of God, but carried away by a spirit of infatuation, so as to inflict upon themselves the greatest evils.

5. Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces. It is doubtful whether they so humbled themselves towards the people, as to he prostrate before them, or whether it was in prayer that they fell with their faces on the earth; the latter, however, seems more likely to me, as if, by thus turning themselves to God, they reproved the stupidity of the people,. And, in fact, in such a case of obduracy, nothing remained except to call upon God, yet in such sort that the prayer should be made in the sight of all, in order to influence their minds. Otherwise they might have sought some place of retirement; but by this pitiful spectacle they endeavored to recall the people to their right senses. This, indeed, is beyond dispute, that they sought for nothing on their own account, but were only anxious for the welfare of the people; since, if the people had gone back, they would have been at liberty to sojourn in the land of Canaan, or elsewhere. Yet still they were not merely concerned with regard to the people, but the interruption of God’s grace troubled them most, with which the Covenant made with Abraham would also have been buried. In a word, this was justly felt by them to be the same as if they had seen both the glory of God and the salvation of the human race altogether brought to naught. Wherefore they must needs have been more than senseless who were unmoved by this sad sight, especially when Moses, whom God had exalted by so many privileges above all other mortals, was lying prostrate on the earth for their sake.

6. And Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb. The magnanimity of Joshua is here specified, whereas, before, only Caleb had been praised. But Moses says that they both rent their clothes in token of their excessive sorrow, and even of their abhorrence. For, as is well known, this, amongst the Orientals, was a solemn ceremony in extreme grief, or when they would express their abomination of some crime. Hypocrites have improperly imitated this custom, either when they made a pretence of sorrow, or desired to deceive the simple. But it is plain that Caleb and Joshua were moved to rend their garments by solemn feelings, nay, by the fervor of their indignation; whilst, at the same time, they seek to reclaim the people from their madness. And, first, they commend the fertility of the land; and then base their hope of obtaining it on the favor or good pleasure of God. Some take the conditional particle אם, im, for the causal particle, and translate it, “For because God loves us, therefore He will bring us in;” but this I do not approve of, and it is manifestly foreign to the true meaning; for, since the Israelites had in a manner rejected so great a benefit, they were surely unworthy through unbelief of being still pursued by His favor. The condition is, therefore, introduced as if doubtingly, not in order to diminish their hopes, as though it were a mark of uncertainty, but simply that the people should be convinced of their impiety, and repent; as if they had said, If only we afford room for the continuance of God’s favor towards us, be ye of good courage. And this they state more clearly soon afterwards, in reproving the stubbornness of the people, where they say, “Only (or but) rebel not ye;” in which words they admonish them that they shut up all the ways whereby God might still pursue the course of His work;  55 and that there is no other obstacle to these wretched people except their own unbelief, which does not permit them to obey God. In this way, then, they assert that God’s power is sufficient to perform what He had promised; and then exhort the people to conciliate His favor, from whence they had fallen through their own fault. The particle אך, ac, is used emphatically, as though Joshua and Caleb had said that there was no fear of danger, except because the people’s minds were set on bringing evil upon themselves. Finally, in their reliance upon God’s aid, they exult like conquerors; “They will be bread for us,” they say, i.e., we shall devour them without any trouble. And the reason is subjoined, because, if God stands by the Israelites, their enemies will be destitute of all defense. Justly, then, and for the best of reasons they conclude, that although our enemies would otherwise be formidable, they are not to be feared, if only God, apart from whom there is no strength, be favorable unto us.



By the old interpreter, C. does not here mean, as he generally does, the V., which accords with his own view, “in hac vasta solitudine utinam pereamus;” on these words Corn. a Lapide says; “Ita haec legunt et conjungunt, Hebr., Chald., Septuaginta, et Latina Romana. Tollenda ergo est negatio non, et distinctio quam habent Biblia Plantiniana.”


“D’une audace tant diabolique;” of such diabolical audacity. — Fr.


Addition in Fr., “Quand on ne se soumet point a luy;” when they do not submit themselves to Him.

Next: Deuteronomy 1:26-33