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

Numbers 21

Numbers 21:21-32

21. And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying,

21. Misit Israel legatos ad Sihon regem AEmorrhaeorum, dicendo:

22. Let me pass through thy land: we will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the well; but we will go along by the king’s high-way, until we be past thy borders.

22. Transeam per terram tuam: non declinabimus per agros, neque per vineam: non bibemus aquas puteorum, via regia pergemus, donec transierimus terminum tuum.

23. And Sihon would not suffer Israel to pass through his border; but Sihon gathered all his people together, and went out against Israel into the wilderness: and he came to Jahaz, and fought against Israel.

23. At non permisit Sihon Israeli ut transiret per terminum suum. Itaque congregavit Sihon universum populum suum, et egressus est obviam Israeli in desertum, venitque in Jahaz et pugnavit cum Israele.

24. And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.

24. Et percussit eum Israel in ore gladii, et hareditate accepit terram ejus ab Arnon usque ad Jabbok usque ad filios Ammon: quia munitus erat terminus filiorum Ammon.

25. And Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof.

25. Et accepit Israel omnes istas urbes, et habitavit Israel in omnibus urbibus AEmorrhaei, in Hesbon, et in omnibus oppidis ejus.

26. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and taken all his land out of his hand, even unto Arnon.

26. Hesbon erat urbs Sihon regis AEmorrhaei. Nam ipse pugnaverat contra regem Moab primum, et acceperat omnem terram ejus a manu usque ad Arnon.

27. Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared;

27. Idcirco dicunt parabolice loquentes, Venite in Hesbon, aedificetur et instauretur urbs ipsi Sihon:

28. For there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon: it hath consumed Ar of Moab, and the lords of the high places of Arnon.

28. Quia ignis egressus est de Hesbon, et flamma ex urbe Sihon consumpsit Ar Moab et dominos excelsorum Arnon.

29. Woe to thee, Moab! thou art undone, O people of Chemosh! he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters, into captivity, unto Sihon king of the Amorites.

29. Vae tibi Moab, periisti popule Chemos, dedit filios suos in fugam, et filias suas in captivitatem regis AEmorrhaei Sihon.

30. We have shot at them: Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.

30. Et lucerna eorum periit ab Hesbon usque ad Dibon, et delevimus usque ad Nopah, quae est ad medebah.

31. Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites.

31. Habitavit itaque Israel in terra AEmorrhaei.

32. And Moses sent to spy out Jaazer, and they took the villages thereof, and drove out the Amorites that were there.

32. Misit deinde Moses ad explorandum Jaazer, et ceperunt oppida ejus, et expulit AEmorrhaeum qui erat ibi.


A Repitition of the same History

Deuteronomy 2

Deuteronomy 2:24-37

24. Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land; begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle.

24. Surgite, proficiscimini, et transite torrentem Arnon. Vide, dedi in manum tuam Sihon regem Hesbon, Aemorrhaeumn et terram ejus, incipe possidere, et dimica praelio cun eo.

25. This day will I begin to put the dread of thee, and the fear of thee, upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee

25. Hotde incipiam dare pavorem tui et formidinem tui super faciem populorum qui sunt sub toto coelo, qui audierant famam tuam, et pavebunt, timebuntque a facie tua.

26. And I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth unto Sihon king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying,

26. Et misi nuntios e deserto Cedemoth ad Sihon regem Hesbon verbis pacificis, dicendo:

27. Let me pass through thy land: I will go along by the high-way, I will neither turn unto the right hand nor to the left.

27. Transeam per terram tuam, per viam ambulabo, non declinabo ad dexteram nec ad sinistram.

28. Thou shalt sell me meat for money, that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink: only I will pass through on my feet,

28. Cibum argento vendes mihi ut comedam: aquam argento dabis mihi ut bibam, tantum transibo pedibus meis:

29. (As the children of Esau which dwell in Seir, and the Moabites which dwell in Ar, did unto me.) until I shall pass over Jordan, into the land which the Lord our God giveth us.

29. Quemadmodum fecerunt mihi filii Esau qui habitant in Seir, et Moabitae qui habitant in Ar: donec transiero Jordanem ad terram quam Jehova Deus noster dat nobis.

30. But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day.

30. Et noluit Sihon rex Hesbon ut transiremus per sua. Induraverat enim Jehova Deus tuus spiritum ejus: et obfirmaverat cor ejus, ut daret eum in manu tun, ut hodie est.

31. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land.

31. Dixit autem Jehova ad me, Vide, jam coepi dare coram te Sihon, et terram ejus, incipe possidere, ut possideas terram ejus.

32. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz.

32. Egressus est autem Sihon in occursum nostrum ipse et universus popuhs ejus ad praelium in Jahaz.

33. And the Lord our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.

33. Et tradidit ilium Jehova Deus noster coram nobis, percussimusque eum et filios ejus, et totum populum ejus.

34. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city; we left none to remain:

34. Cepimus quoque omnes urbes ejus eo tempore, et destruximus omnes urbes, viros et mulieres, et parvulos: non reliquimus superstitem.

35. Only the cattle we took for a prey unto ourselves, and the spoil of the cities which we took.

35. Veruntamen jumenta praedati sumus nobis, et spolia; urbium quas cepimus.

36. From Aroer, which is by the brink of the river of Arnon, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us: the Lord our God delivered all unto us.

36. Ab Aroer qaee est juxta ripam torrentis Arnon, et urbe quae est in valle, usque ad Gillad, non fuit urbs quae effugerit a nobis, omnes tradidit Jehova Deus noster coram nobis.

37. Only unto the land of the children of Ammon thou camest not, nor unto any place of the river Jabbok, nor unto the cities in the mountains, nor unto whatsoever the Lord our God forbade us.

37. Tantummodo ad terram filiorum Ammon non accessisti, omnem locum torrentis Jabboc, et urbes montanas, atque omnia de quibus praecepit Jehova Deus noster.


Numbers 21:21. And Israel sent messengers. The second narration, which I have subjoined from Deuteronomy, is the fuller; nevertheless, a question arises from it, for what reason this embassy was sent to king Sihon, whose kingdom was already devoted to the Israelites: for it seems to be altogether inconsistent to offer conditions of peace when war is decreed. God commands His people to take up arms: He declares that they shall be victorious, so as to occupy the land of Sihon by right of war; what, then, can be more absurd than to request of him that they might pass through his land in peace? If this attempt were made by Moses without the command of God, such an excess of kindness was not devoid of guilt, inasmuch as it was an act of much temerity to promise what God had appointed otherwise. But, if we should say that the messengers went with the authority, and at the command of God, under what pretext shall the deceptiveness of the act be excused? for it is very improper to flatter with soothing words and promises those whom you have destined to destruction. The conclusion I come to is, that although the event was not unknown to God, still the embassy was sent, nevertheless, by his command and decree, in order to lay open the obstinate ferocity of the nation. But, since the secret judgments of God far surmount our senses, let us learn to reverence their height; and let this sober view restrain our boldness like a rein, viz., that although the reason for the works of God be unknown to us, still it always exists with Him. God knew that the messengers would speak to the deaf, and yet it is not in vain that He bids them go; for, since the kingdom of Sihon was not properly included in the promised land, it was not lawful for the children of Israel to make war upon it until they had been provoked by an unjust refusal. Thus, then, I connect the history. Before they had been assured at God’s command of the event, and the victory, they sent the messengers, who demanded that a pacific passage should be accorded to them; and that then the permission to have recourse to arms was granted. If any prefer to think that, before Moses attempted to preserve peace, he had been made acquainted with all that would occur, I will not contend the point; but I deem it more probable that he had expectations of the peace which he sought, because the judgment of God had not yet been declared. If, therefore, Sihon had allowed himself to be propitiated, Moses would never have dared to deal with him as an enemy; but, he rather simply and honestly promised peace, which he intended to preserve; God, however, had otherwise appointed, as the event presently shewed. Still He was not inconsistent with Himself, or variable, in sending the messengers to an irreclaimable and obstinately perverse man; for thus was all excuse taken away when he had voluntarily provoked to war a people who were ready and willing to maintain peace and equity. But rather may we see in this history, as in a glass, that, whilst God earnestly invites the reprobate to repentance and the hope of salvation, He has no other object than that they may be rendered inexcusable by the detection of their impiety. Hence is their ignorance refuted, who gather from this that it is free for all promiscuously to embrace God’s grace, because its promulgation (doctrina) is common, and directed to all without exception; as if God was not aware of what Sihon would answer when He would have him attracted to equity by friendly and peaceful words; or as if, on his free will, the purpose of God was suspended as to the war, which was soon after carried forward by His decree.

But inasmuch as what is here briefly recorded, would be obscure in itself, we must explain it by the other narrative, where it is thus written, —

Deuteronomy 2:24. Rise ye up, take your journey. I have lately said that the order is here inverted, for what soon after follows, “And I sent messengers out of the wilderness,” etc., De 2:26, Moses, in my opinion, has inserted by way of parenthesis: it will, therefore, be suitably rendered in the pluperfect tense, “But I had sent,” etc. Thus there will be no ambiguity in the sense that, when the messengers had returned without effecting their purpose, God sustained the weariness of the people by this consolation, as though he had said, Sihon has not, with impunity, repudiated the peace offered to him, since it will now be permitted you to assail him in lawful war. And assuredly this signal for the expedition to advance depends on the declaration which is subjoined in De 2:30, as we may readily gather from the context; for Moses there repeats what we here read respecting their passage in somewhat different words; and again does God testify that He has given Sihon into the hands of the people, and exhorts Moses to go down boldly to the battle. Moreover, the cause is there specified why (Sihon) had been so arrogant and contemptuous in his rejection of the embassy, viz., because God had “hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate.” From whence again it appears how poor is the sophistry of those who imagine that God idly regards from heaven what men are about to do.  128 They dare not, indeed, despoil Him of foreknowledge; but what can be more absurd than that He foreknows nothing except what men please? But Scripture, as we see, has not placed God in a watch-tower, from which He may behold at a distance what things are about to be; but teaches that He is the director (moderatorem) of all things; and that He subjects to His will, not only the events of things, but the designs and affections of men also. As, therefore, we have before seen how the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, so now Moses ascribes to God the obstinacy of king Sihon. How base a subterfuge is the exception which some make as to His permission, sufficiently appears from the end which Moses points out.  129 For why did God harden the heart of Sihon? thalt “He might deliver him into the hand” of His people to be slain; because He willed that he should perish, and had destined his land for the Israelites. If God only permitted Sihon to grow hardened, this decree was either nought, or mutable, and evanescent, since it depended on the changeable will of man. Putting aside, then, all childish trifling, we must conclude that God by His secret inspiration moves, forms, governs, and draws men’s hearts, so that even by the wicked He executes whatever He has decreed. At the same time it is to be observed that the wicked are not impelled to hardness of heart by extrinsic force, but that they voluntarily harden themselves; so that in this same hardness of heart God may be seen to be a just judge, however incomprehensible His counsel may be, and however the impiety of men may betray itself, who are their own instigators, and the authors of their own sin. Emphatically does Moses inculcate the same thing twice over, viz., that the spirt of Sihon was hardened by God, and his heart made obstinate, in order that God’s paternal favor towards His chosen people might be more conspicuous; because from the obstinacy of the blinded king He afforded them a just cause for war, and an opportunity for victory.

Numbers 21:25 And Israel took all these cities. As if speaking of something present, he uses the demonstrative pronoun, and says, “these cities,” just as if he were pointing them out to the eyes of his readers. The word which we have rendered “towns” (oppida,)  130 others translate “country-houses” (villas,) or “hamlets” (viculos.) In the Hebrew, Moses calls by the name of “daughters” all the villages and lesser towns, whose mother-city (metropolis) was Heshbon. By these words, however, Moses indicates that, by the right of war, all these places had fallen into the hands of the Israelites, as the lot of their inheritance; for, as I have lately said, God had not yet openly declared that they should be masters of this part of the country. They would consequently have over-passed their boundaries, unless these had been added to the land of Canaan. This is the reason why God openly declares that they possessed them by His authority. But when he says that the cities were destroyed, and all their inhabitants exterminated, so that neither women nor children were spared, let us understand that they dealt not thus cruelly of their own impulse, or in heedless violence, but that whatsoever was on the other side of Jordan was devoted to destruction by God, that they might always have their minds fixed on the promised land, and might never give way to listlessness, which would have been the case if an easy occupation of it had invited them to repose. Although, therefore, God delivered over the land to them hereafter, and suffered them to enrich themselves with its booty and spoils, yet He would not have it retained as a place of residence, and therefore commanded them to destroy its cities and villages, in order that they might seek their rest elsewhere. In fine, since they were abundantly disposed to be slothful, it was expedient that all snares should be removed, and that by the very desolation they might be urged forward whither God called them.

26. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon. It is not without cause that Moses relates how the country near Heshbon had passed into the hands of the Amorites, because a long time afterwards this was sought for as a pretext for war by the Ammonites, when they saw that the people were brought into a low estate. In the time of Jephthah, therefore, having collected a great army, an irruption was made by them; and they made this their excuse, that they took up arms to recover what was their own, from Arnon as far as Jabbok, and as far as Jordan. Consequently, God would have it testified in the sacred records, as Jephthah then replied to the Ammonites, that this part of the land was taken from king Sihon, when the children of Israel were marching peacefully through the borders of the Ammonites. Designedly, then, did Moses, in order to sanction the right of the people, insert in these authentic registers, as it were, what had formerly occurred, namely, that the Amorites had had the dominion over that part of the country, without interference from the Ammonites; nor was there any question that the Amorites had secure and peaceful possession of it. Hence it follows that it passed to the Israelites, so that there were no grounds why, three hundred years afterwards, the Ammonites should reclaim what had so long been lost and abandoned by them. And, in order that posterity might know that there was then no obscurity about the matter, he records an ancient canticle, from which it appears that the Ammonites were so completely overcome, that their enemies triumphed magnificently over them, and cut off all hope of their restoration. Here, however, the question arises, why the king of Ammon, rather than the king of Moab, set on foot that war; for we clearly gather from the song, that the land was taken from the Moabites. But for men who are bent on rapine and robbery, it is sufficient to allege any trivial pretext, and often to glory in the rights of others. There doubtless remained a report that the Amorites had been driven out of their territories,  131 which they had obtained by force of arms. The Ammonites pass over in silence what had been forgotten in the lapse of many ages, and set up this false title, that, although the Israelites had conquered the Amorites, still their victory conferred upon them no right to occupy what the Amorites unjustly and forcibly held. With this object Moses inserted the account he here gives.

27. Wherefore, they that speak in proverbs. That is, an old saying, or proverbial sentence remains, and is well known. The song, however, appears to have been composed in the character of those who, when prepared to engage in war, mutually exhorted each other, “Come into Heshbon,” i.e., run to the standard of king Sihon; hasten to his home, and his chief place of abode, in order that we may thence go forth to battle. These expressions, “build and prepare,” I interpret as being used for enlarge, adorn, and enrich; for it is probable that this city was not overthrown, but they foretell that the city would be renovated, when a larger dominion had been gained. And this is more fully confirmed by what immediately follows, when it is said that “a fire had gone forth from Heshbon,” which consumed Ar of Moab, and all its neighborhood. As to the “lords of the high places of Arnon,” some understand the priests who presided in the temples; others extend them to all the inhabitants in general; but, in my opinion, it will not be unsuitable to refer them to the idols themselves, since it appears from the next verse that the conquerors were so insolently elated, as not only to despise the men themselves, but their gods also; for when they say, “Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh,” there is no doubt but that they mockingly reproach them with the fact that they had been badly defended by the gods whom they worshipped.  132 And, in point of fact, ungodly men, when in prosperity, uplift their horns to heaven, as if they would assail the divinity which was opposed to them. They, therefore, deride Chemosh, because he made “his sons” or worshippers to be fugitives or captives.

In the word lantern  133 he makes use of a common metaphor. Some follow the Chaldee interpreter, and render it kingdom; but it has a wider signification; for it includes all the component parts of a happy and prosperous state.  134 The meaning, therefore, is, that their glory and all their wealth was annihilated. The cities of Dibon and Medeba are situated on the extreme borders, near the river Arnon, so that by these he designates all the intermediate plain.



Addition in Fr., “sans disposer de leur volonte;” without disposing their will.


“Or il appert par la fin que Moyse specifie combien ceste tergiversation est frivole, de dire que Dieu permet sans rien ordonner;” now, it appears by the end which Moses specifies, how frivolous is that subterfuge, to say that God permits without ordaining anything. — Fr.


“ Par ce mot, que nous avons translate villages, il nous faut aussi entendre les bourgades, et metairies;“ by this word, which we have translated villages, we must also understand the hamlets and farm-houses. — Fr. See marg. A.V.


“Par les enfans d’Israel;” by the children of Israel. — Fr.


“Par Chamos, qu’ils adoroyent comme leur patron;” by Chemosh, whom they worshipped as their patron. — Fr.


ונירם vaniram: A. V., “we have shot at them.” Our translators have regarded ניר, the central syllable of this composite word, as the first future plural of ירה be shot or cast; and S. M. has noticed this explanation as more probably right than the one which he has adopted in his text, and which supposes ניר to be a substantive, namely, a lantern. The Chaldee Paraphrast and the V. have regarded this substantive as a metaphor for the ruling power. If it had been a substantive, its place, in ordinary construction, should have been after the verb אבד perished, whereas it precedes that verb, which has Heshbon following it, in the proper position for its nominative. — W


“Elle comprend les biens, l’honneur, le repos, et la reputation;” it comprehends goods, honor, repose, and reputation. — Fr.

Next: Numbers 21:33-35