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

Numbers 20

Numbers 20:23-29

23. And the Lord spoke unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,

23. Dixit autem Jehova ad Mosen et Aharon in monte Hor, in finibus terrae Edom, dicendo:

24. Aaron shall be gathered unto his people; for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of’ Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah.

24. Congregabitur Aharon ad populos suos.: Non enim ingredietur terram quam dedi filiis Israel: eo quod rebelles fueritis ori meo in aquis jurgii.

25. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor;

25. Accipe Aharon et Eleazar filium ejus, et ascendere fac eos in Hor montem.

26. And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.

26. Tunc exues Aharon vestibus suis, quibus indues Eleazar filium ejus: quia Aharon colligetar, et morietur ibi.

27. And Moses did as the Lord commanded: and they went up into mount Hor, in the sight of all the congregation.

27. Fecitque Moses quemadmodum praeperat Jehova. Et ascenderunt in Hor montem in oculis totius congregationis.

28. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; mid Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.

28. Et exuit Moses Aharon vestibus suis, et induit illis Eleazar filium ejus, mortuusque est Aharon ibi in vertice montis. Tunc descendit Moses et Eleazar de monte.

29. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.

29. Videns autem tota congregatio quod obiisset Aharon, fleverunt eum triginta diebus tota domus Israel.


23. And the Lord spoke unto Moses. First of all, in the death of Aaron, we must consider the execution of the sentence, whereby he had been condemned; for God wished to show that He had not threatened either him or Moses in vain, with what then occurred, as children are wont to be threatened. If Aaron had died without any such prediction, since he might have seemed from his extreme age to have but discharged the debt of nature, as it is called, the people might have been so overcome by their grief, as to have no inclination to proceed. But now, when, in the death of one man, the condemnation of their public and common guilt is clearly manifested, such great severity on God’s part against the high-priest, who had before propitiated God towards them all by his intercession, must have been a very sharp spur to them all. For it must needs have suggested itself to them, that God was no longer to be trifled with, before whom not even this sacred dignity could escape punishment. This was the reason why Aaron was called forth to die in the sight of all, that the survivors might learn to live to God, inasmuch as He instructed them to obey by this notable example. For the rebuke is added not so much for the sake of Moses and Aaron, viz., that they should not enter the land, because they had been rebellious against God’s word, as that the people might perceive that they deserved to perish ten times over; since, by their contumacy, they had exasperated the holy men, so that in the excess of their zeal they had almost fallen away from the faith.

25. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son. Aaron’s successor was to be designated whilst he was himself still living; first of all, that the perpetuity of the priesthood might be secured; and, secondly, lest the people, with their usual temerity, should take upon themselves the election in a matter depending on the will of God, alone. For, unless Eleazar had been appointed priest whilst his father was yet alive, the office itself might fall into disesteem, since the high dignity of any individua! is often odious. Lest, therefore, their perverse envy might impel them to repudiate the priesthood, God anticipates them, and provides that religion, which ought to be perpetual, should not perish together with the men. Again, we know how great was the audacity of this people in innovation; lest, then, they should, at their own caprice, take to themselves a priest from another tribe, it was well that he of whom God approved, should be firmly established, so as to be received without controversy as the true and lawful one. In this matter an external symbol was made use of, in that Eleazar was invested with the sacred garments; nor does this refer to the shirt, or the slippers, but to the sacerdotal ornaments. The effect, therefore, of this ceremony was as if Aaron should resign the office, which he had discharged till that day, to his son. Moreover, it is worthy of observation that Aaron not only voluntarily cedes his dignity, but his life also. By this proof his faith was confirmed, for had he not been persuaded that an inheritance was laid up for him in heaven, he would not have so calmly migrated from the world. Since, however, he composes himself to die, just as if he were but lying down on his bed, it is altogether beyond a doubt that his mind was lifted up to the hope of a blessed resurrection, from whence arises a cheerful readiness to die. And it is probable that his faith was elevated and strengthened when he saw that the testimony of God’s grace, on which the safety of the people depended, was made to rest upon the person of his son. For it was exactly as if the image of the Mediator were set visibly before his eyes. This consolation, then, being of no ordinary character, rendered him superior to the terrors of death. Meanwhile, Eleazar succeeded, in the presence of the people, so that his authority might not hereafter be exposed to their murmurs.

29. And when all the congregation saw. This has been an error common to almost all nations and ages, but which reigned peculiarly amongst the people of Israel — to pay due honor to God’s holy servants, rather after their deaths than in their lives. They had frequently wished to stone Aaron; they had raised great tumults, in order to cast him down from the dignity in which God had placed him; now, forgetting their malignity and envy, they lament for him when dead.

The question, however, occurs, whether the mourning for a month, which is here recorded, was praiseworthy or not? But it could not be otherwise than improper, inasmuch as it was a means of aggravating their grief; for men are naturally only too much inclined to excessive grief, even although they do not indulge it; and besides, the hope of a better life avails to mitigate sorrow. Hence we infer, that those are endued with scarcely any taste of eternal salvation, who give way to immoderate grief. But, since believers have another cause for mourning, i.e., to exercise themselves both in the fear of God, and in the hope and desire of the future resurrection, this solemn mourning has not been unreasonably received as a general custom. Since death is a mirror of God’s curse upon the whole human race, it is profitable for us, whenever any of our belongings dies, to mourn our common lot, so as to humble ourselves beneath God’s hand. Besides, if mourning is directed to its proper end, it in a manner unites the living with the dead; so that in death itself the communion of the new and immortal life shines forth. And further, the weakness of the ancient people had need of being propped and supported by such aids as this; for, amidst their dark shadows, it would not have been easy to rise above the world, unless they had been taught that the dead still belonged to them, and that there remained some bond of connection between them. But if the utility (of this custom) be corrupted by its abuse, it is not just that what is right in itself should be blamed for the fault of men.

Next: Numbers 33:38,39