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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 14:39-45

39. And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.

39. Loquutus est igitur Moses verba ista omnibus filiis Israel, et luxerunt populus valde.

40. And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned.

40. Surrexeruntque mane, et ascenderunt in verticem montis, dicendo: Ecce nos, ut ascendamus ad locum de quo loquutus est Jehova: quia peccavimus.

41. And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper.

41. Et dixit Moses, Ut quid transgredimini sermonem Jehovae? Et (vel, quando) hoc non prospere cedet.

42. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.

42. Ne ascendatis: quia non est Jehova in medio vestri: ne percutiamini coram inimicis vestris.

43. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.

43. Amalec enim et Chananaeus ibi est ante vos, et cadetis gladio. Nam propterea quod aversi estis a sequendo Jehova, neque erit Jehova vobiscum.

44. But they presumed to go up unto the hill-top: nevertheless, the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.

44. Sumpserunt tamen animos ut ascenderent in verticem montis. Area autem foederis Jehovae et Moses non recesserunt e medio castrorum.

45. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.

45. Descendit itaque Amalec et Chananaeus, qui habitabant in monte illo, percusseruntque eos, et contuderunt usque Horma.

39. And Moses told all these sayings. It was, indeed, a just cause for mourning, when they heard that God, whose longsuffering they had so wantonly abused, would hereafter be inexorable. Yet here we have set before our eyes that “sorrow of the world which worketh death,” as Paul says, (2Co 7:10,) when the wicked, as they weep and complain, cease not to murmur against God; nay, when they gnaw the bit with greater obstinacy, and thus, like savage and untamable beasts, rush forward to their destruction in blind desperation. The temporal punishment could not, indeed, be redeemed by any tears; but, if there had been the disposition to repent, their only remedy would have been voluntarily to submit themselves, and calmly to undergo whatever chastisement God might be pleased to inflict. First of all, however, they proudly struggle to shake off the punishment awarded to them, and whilst they pretended penitence, increasingly kick against God. There is no doubt but that it was under the pretence of submission that they prepared themselves on the morrow to advance; but wherefore was this, except that they may overturn God’s inviolable decree! Nevertheless, they sought, as if against His. will, to make a way for themselves, though He forbade. “Behold us, (they said,) we are ready;” but it was too late; for the opportunity had fled. For, as the Prophet exhorts us to “seek the Lord while he may be found,” (Isa 4:6,) so also we ought to follow Him when He calls us. But of what avail was this unseasonable alacrity of the people? When God wishes them to retire into the desert, they affect a desire to obey Him by advancing further; and still would have their confession of sin accepted as a sufficient satisfaction.

41. And Moses said, Wherefore do ye now transgress? He rejects this feigned penitence, whereby the sinner tries all sorts of shifts,  78 so as not to submit himself to God. “If thou wilt return, O Israel, return unto me,” saith the Lord by Jeremiah, (Jer 4:1.) The first thing, therefore, which we must consider is, what God requires of us; so that it may plainly appear that we truly submit ourselves to His power.

In order to restrain their temerity, Moses reminds them that they will seek in vain for success, when they depart from God’s command. And this is a very useful piece of instruction, that His grace will never be wanting to us, if we simply obey His word; but when, in contempt and neglect of His precepts, we are carried away by our own feelings, the event will never be prosperous. If any should object that the wretched people had no other remedy, I have already stated, that they ought to have been contented with this consolation, viz., that banishment from the land of Canaan was not disinheritance from the hope of eternal life. Nay, if they had humbled themselves before God, they might expect that their punishment would have been a profitable help to them. By their misdirected activity they double the evil. After having pointed out their danger, Moses again impresses upon them that God is not with them, because they had deserted Him: and that His blessing was withheld, because they had refused to follow Him at the proper time.

44. But they presumed to go up unto the hill-top. It was not, indeed, their intention deliberately to array themselves against God, but rather did they endeavor to appease Him by this means of propitiation. Nor was their self-deceit devoid of a colorable pretext, inasmuch as they were ready cheerfully to welcome death, so as to offer their lives in sacrifice, and thus to compensate for their previous hesitation and inertness. It is thus that the zeal of the wicked is fervent, when it ought to be still; whereas, when God commands, coldness and apathy possess their minds, so that they are no more aroused by His voice, than as if they were stones. In a word, when it ought to be quiet, unbelief is always active, prompt, and bold; but when God would have it advance, it is timid, slow, and dead.

In conclusion, Moses adds, that their foolish enterprise was punished; for they were not merely routed and put to flight by their enemies, but utterly destroyed.  79 Hence we gather, that their audacity failed them in the trial, and was deficient in true courage. At the same time he recounts another sign of their senselessness, in that they left behind the ark of God, as well as Moses, and rushed forward, like doomed persons, to be slaughtered. Hence it appears that unbelievers, when carried away by the blind impulse of their zeal, are as much destitute of reason and discretion as if they deliberately conspired for their own destruction.



“En laquelle les pecheurs tournent a l’entour du pot;” whereby sinners twist round the pot. — Fr.


“Sed etiam contriti.” — Lat. “Discomfited them.” — A.V. The Geneva version renders the word “consumed.” — Hebr. ויכתום, from כחת, which Taylor renders, “contundere, conterere. To beat, to crush, to knock, and mash all to pieces.”

Next: Deuteronomy 1:41-46