37. Morientur viri illi qui terrae detraxerunt, plaga coram Jehova.
38. But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still,
38. Jehosua vero filius Nun, et Caleb filius Jephuneh vivent, ex hominibus illis qui profecti sunt ad explorandam terram.
10.But all the congregation bade stone them. When these wicked men began by murmuring against God, and openly casting censure upon Him, no wonder that they should also rage against His servants; for, when we endeavor to subdue pride, it generally begets cruelty; and so also, when iniquity is reproved, it always ends at last in fury. Caleb and Joshua did not constrain them by force of arms, neither did they menace them; but only persuaded them to trust in God’s promise, and not to hesitate to advance into the land of Canaan; yet, because in their obstinacy the people had determined not to believe God, they champ the bit, as it were, upon being chastised, and desire to stone their reprovers. How great was the impetuosity of their wrath is manifest from this, that God does not attempt to appease their fury, nor to restrain them by threats, or by His authority, but openly displays His power from heaven, and miraculously protects His servants by the manifestation of His glory, as if He were rescuing them from wild beasts. There is, indeed, no express mention made of the cloud, but we may infer that the sign to which they were accustomed, was given not merely to terrify them, but also to cast them prostrate, so that they might be deprived of their power to inflict injury, and might desist even against their wills. For the majesty of God, although it truly humbles believers only, yet sometimes subdues the reprobate and the lost, or renders them astounded in all their ferocity.
11.And the Lord said unto Moses. God remonstrates with respect to their indomitable obstinacy, because they had just now hesitated not petulantly to despise and reject Him with the most atrocious insults, and notwithstanding all the clearest manifestations of His power. For I know not whether the sense which some give be suitable, when they translate the verb ≈an, naatz, “to provoke.” f57 Jerome comes nearer to the genuine sense, How long will they detract me? But let us be contented with the genuine intention of God, which He confirms by the succeeding antithesis, where He complains that He is disparaged, because they do not take into consideration the many miracles whereby He had abundantly testified His power and loving-kindness; and thus He proves their contempt, because they deliberately refuse credit to the many signs of which the accumulation at least ought to have subdued or corrected their stubbornness.
The denunciation of their final punishment follows, together with a statement of the atrocity of their crime; for the particle “Howlong” indicates its long continuance, as well as the enduring patience of God. He had, indeed, punished others severely, but only for example’s sake, in order that the name of their race should remain undestroyed, whereas he now declares that He will deal with them as. with persons in a desperate condition, who cease not to make a mock of His patience. Hence we are taught, that, although God is placable in His nature, still the hope of pardon is deservedly cut off from unbelievers, who are so obdurate as that tie produces no effect upon them by His hand, or by His countenance, or His word. he then briefly adverts to the use of the signs, viz., that their object was, that the knowledge or experience of them should awaken hopes of success.
If the apparent contradiction offends any one, that God should declare the people to be cast off, when it was already decreed that tie would pardon them, a reply may be sought from elsewhere in three words; for God does not here speak of His secret and incomprehensible counsel, but only of the actual circumstances, showing what the people had deserved, and how horrible was the vengeance which impended, f58 in respect to their wicked and detestable revolt, since it was not His design to keep Moses back from earnest prayer, but to put the sincerity of his piety and the fervency of his zeal to the proof. And, in fact, he does not contravene the prohibition, except upon the previous exhibition of some spark of faith. See Exodus 32.
13.Then the Egyptians shall hear it. Moses here, according to his custom, stands “in the breach” of the wall, as it is said in <19A623>Psalm 106:23, to sustain and avert the anger of God, which else would burst forth, since through his intercession it came to pass that the fire was speedily extinguished, and the people were not consumed. In order to support his request., he only objects that God’s holy namo would be the sport of the wicked, if the people should perish altogether I have endeavored to reduce to their proper meaning the words which translators variously render. First, he says, “The Egyptians shall hear, whereas it is a thing sufficiently notorious, and testified by miracles, that this people was rescued from among them by thy might. The same report will also obtain currency among; the nations of Canaan, who have already heard that thou: art the protector of this people, and have undertaken the charge of governing them. If, therefore, they should altogether perish, all the nations which have heard of thy fame will east the blame on thee, and will think that thy power is broken down in the midst of its course, so that thou could not carry through to the end the work thou hadst undertaken.” The substance amounts to this, that because God had manifested by clear and evident signs that He was the deliverer of this people, He would be exposed to the reproach of the wicked, unless He should preserve in safety those whom He had once redeemed. For nothing else would occur to the minds of the heathen nations, except that God was unable to maintain His blessing, however desirous He might be to do so. And assuredly this is no ordinary effect of God’s goodness, so to connect the glory of His name with our salvation, that whatever is adverse to us brings with it reproach upon Him, because the mouth of the wicked will be open to blaspheme. And this will in fact turn to our advantage, if on our part, without dissimulation, and in zealous sincerity, we beseech God to uphold His own glory in saving us; for many boldly plead the name of God in their own behalf, although they are unaffected by any real care or love for it. Moreover, because the more illustrious God’s exercise of His power has been, the more insolently are the ungodly disposed to blaspheme, if it has appeared to fail; we must always entreat of Him that He should not desert the work of His hands which He has begun in us. To this effect are the words, “They have heard that thou art seen face to face;” for, if the people’s safety were not maintained, the failure would have been imputed to none but God, who had put. forth the power of His hand to preserve them. In fine, since their astonishing exodus had been a testimony of God’s favor, so, if he had suffered the people to perish in the desert, all would have considered it a sign of His weakness, inasmuch as it was not probable that He should not accomplish what tie desired, unless He were unable to do so.
17.And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great. He derives another ground of confidence from the vision, in which God had more clearly manifested His nature, from whence it appears how much he had profited by it, and what earnest and anxious attention he had paid to it. Hence, however, we derive a general piece of instruction, that there is nothing more efficacious in our prayers than to set His own word before God, and then to found our supplications upon His promises, as if He dictated to us out of His own mouth what we were to ask. Since, then, God had manifested Himself to Moses in that memorable declaration, which we have already considered, he was able to derive from thence a sure directory for prayer; for nothing can be more sure than His own word, on which if our prayers are based, there is no reason to fear that they will be ineffectual, or that their results should disappoint us, since He who has spoken will prove Himself to be true. And, in fact, this is the reason why He speaks, viz., to afford us the grounds for addressing Him, for else we must needs be dumb.
Since I have expounded the 18th verse elsewhere, f59 let my readers refer to that place.
19.Pardon, I beeeech thee, the iniquity of this people. In order to encourage his hope of pardon, he first sets before himself the greatness of God’s mercy, and then the past instances by which it had been proved that God was inclined to forgiveness. And, indeed, the mercy of God continually invites us to seek reconciliation whenever we have sinned; and, though iniquities heaped upon iniquities, and the very enormity of our sins, might justly make us afraid, still the abundance of His grace, of which mention is here made, must needs occur to us, so as to swallow up all dread of His wrath. David, also, betaking himself to this refuge, affords us an example how all alarm is to be overcome. (<195101>Psalm 51:1) But, since the bare and abstract recognition of God’s goodness is often insufficient for us, Moses applies another stay in the shape of experience: Pardon, (he says,) as thou hast so often done before. For, since the goodness of God is unwearied and inexhaustible, the oftener we have experienced it, the more ought we to be encouraged to implore it; not that we may sink into the licentious indulgence of sin, but lest despair should overwhelm us, when we are lying under the condemnation of God, and our own conscience smites and torments us. In a word, let us regard this as a most effective mode of importunity, when we beseech God by the benefits which we have already experienced, that He will never cease to be gracious.
20.And the Lord said, I have pardoned, according to thy word. God signifies that tie pardons for His servant Moses’ sake, and makes, as it were, a present to him of those whom He had already devoted to destruction. Hence we gather how much the entreaties of the pious avail with God: as He is said, in <19E519>Psalm 145:19, to “fulfil the desire of them that fear him.” He would, indeed, have done of His own accord what He granted to Moses; but, in order that we may be more earnest in prayer, the use and advantage of prayers is commended, when God declares that He will not only comply with our requests, but even obey them.
But how is it consistent for Him to declare that He had spared those, upon whom He had determined to inflict the most extreme punishment, and whom He deprived of their promised inheritance? I reply that the pardon in question was not granted to the individuals, but to their race and name. For the opinion of some is unnatural, who think that they were released from the penalty of eternal death, and thence that God was propitiated towards them, because He was contented with their temporal punishment. I do not doubt, then, but that Moses was so far heard, as that the seed of Abraham should not be destroyed, and the covenant of God should not fail For He so dispensed the pardon as to preserve their posterity uninjured, whilst He inflicted on the unbelievers themselves the reward of their rebellion. Thus the conditions of the pardon were of no advantage to the impious rebels, though they opened a way for the faithful fulfillment of His promise.
21.But as truly as I live, all the earth. It is, indeed, plain that God here swears by His life and glory: the meaning is only ambiguous in this respect, that some translate it in the past tense, that the earth had been filled with His glory, which had already been displayed in so many miracles. And this seems to accord well with what follows, “Those, who have seen my glory — shall not see the land;” still the future tense suits the context better, viz., that God should call to witness His glory, which He will hereafter assert. Moses feared lest the destruction of the people should be turned into a reproach and contumely against God; God now declares with an oath that He would so vindicate His glory, as that those, who were guilty of so great a crime, should not escape punishment. He proclaims that those should not see the land, who had shut their eyes against the miracles, of which they had been spectators and eye-witnesses, and in their blindness had endeavored to set them at naught. For, inasmuch as they had not been taught to fear God by so many signs, they were worse than unworthy of beholding the land, the possession of which ought to have been assured to them by those very signs, if God’s truth had not been utterly rejected by their ingratitude.
God complains that He had been “tempted” by them “ten times;” because they had not ceased constantly to provoke Him by their frowardness; for it is no fixed or definite number, which is intended, but God would merely indicate that they had done so without measure or end. We have elsewhere f60 shown what it is to tempt God, viz., to subject His power to the narrow rule of our own senses, and to prescribe to Him the mode in which He is to act, according to our own desires: so as to defer to Him no further than our carnal reason dictates. The source and cause of this tempting of God is subjoined, i.e., when men refuse to listen to His voice; since nothing but obedience, which is the mistress of humility, can restrain our insolence.
24. But my servant Caleb. By synecdoche Caleb alone is now excepted, although Joshua was a partaker of the same grace, as he had been also a sharer in his courageous conduct; but Caleb is especially distinguished, because he had, as it were, uplifted the banner, and had stood forth first to encourage Joshua, The sum of his praise is that he “fulfilled f61 to go after God.” The word “will,” which some understand, is superfluous, since the expression is complete without any addition. God, therefore, commends Caleb’s perseverance in obeying; because he not only promptly exhorted the others, but also proceeded boldly and unhesitatingly, without being deterred by any obstacles. God, however, magnifies his perseverance, because he looked to Him alone in his noble conflict with so great a multitude. For it is an extraordinary case for a person to stand firm, and to hold a straight course in the midst of violent and tempestuous disturbances, when all the world is, as it were, convulsed. Although the word jwr, ruach,f62is sometimes used for the disposition of the mind, yet I have no doubt but that Moses signifies, by metonymy, that Caleb was thus influenced by divine inspiration.
25. Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites. Some thus resolve these words; “Although the Amalekites dwell in the valley;” and others thus: “Since the Amalekites abide in the valleys to lay ambuscades.” Others think that their object is to inspire terror, lest the Israelites should remain too long in the enemy’s country, since they would be daily exposed to fresh attacks. I am, however, rather of opinion that they are spoken in reproach. For they had already arrived at the borders of the inhabited land, so that their enemies might be put to the rout at once: whereas God commands them to retire, and thus expels them from the land, which they had actually reached. Still I do not deny that He sets before them the necessity of the case, and thus enforces their obedience; as if He had said, that nothing now remained but to retreat, and again to throw themselves into the desert.
26.And the Lord spoke unto Moses.f63I have translated the copula by the word itaque (therefore,) to indicate the connection with what precedes: for Moses does not here recount anything new, but, by way of explanation, repeats a point of great importance, viz., that they, who had refused to enter the land, would be deprived of its possession. He begins with the passionate interrogation: f64“How long shall this troublesome dregs of a people be borne with, who never cease to murmur against me?” And God says that He “had heard” their turbulent cries; in order that they might more certainly perceive that their pride was intolerable, since God Himself was weary of it, although He is long-suffering and slow to anger. It is in bitter irony that He says He will deal with them in accordance with their own resolution and desire. Nothing, indeed, was further from their intention than to wander in the wilderness, but, since they had held back from entering the land, God says that He will gratify them in a very different sense, viz., that they shall never enjoy the sight of that land, which they had despised. By His oath, He expresses His extreme wrath, as also it is said in <199511>Psalm 95:11,
“Unto whom I swore in my wrath, that they
shall not enter into my rest.” f65
It was necessary that their stolidity should be thus aroused, lest, when God was so greatly provoked, they should still continue self-satisfied, according to their went. He aggravates their punishment by another circumstance, i.e., that, they were to be deprived of the inheritance which He had sworn to give to Abraham; for the lifting up of the hand f66 (as I have said elsewhere) was a form of oath; just as if God were called down from heaven by the outstretched hand to be witness and judge: and, although this does not indeed literally apply to God, still we know that He commonly transfers to Himself the things that belong to men. Moreover, this was a most severe reproof, that they by their wickedness and self-will should nullify a promise, which God had ratified by an oath, in so far, at least, as its fulfillment affected themselves: for He points out immediately afterwards that, although they had rejected the proffered blessing, he would still be true; and would bestow on their little ones that which they had refused for themselves. It is thus that God tempers His judgments against those hypocrites, who falsely profess to honor His name, so as to preserve a seed for the propagation of His Church: nor is He ever so severe towards the reprobate, as to fail in sustaining His mercy towards His elect. Nay, He here declares that Hie will be gracious towards their children, as a means of inflicting punishment on the fathers. It was an indirect accusation of God, when they lamented over their children, as if they were to be carried away as “a prey;” whereas, God promises that they shall be the possessors of the land, in order to reprove this wicked blasphemy.
33.And your children shall wander in the wilderness.f67He here pronounces that their children shall be in some measure partakers of their punishment, inasmuch as they shall wander in the desert until the time prescribed: for by the word shepherds, He means sojourners, f68 who have no certain or settled residence. To this effect is the similitude in the song of Hezekiah:
“My lodging is departed as a shepherd’s tent.” f69
In short, He declares that they shall be wandering and unsettled, and lead a life, like shepherds conducting their flocks from place to place.
He calls the wicked rebellions, whereby they had corrupted themselves, metaphorically “whoredoms;” for, from the time that God had espoused them to Himself, their true chastity would have been to embrace His grace in sincere faith, and at the same time to devote themselves to His service; but by rejecting tits pure worship, they had broken their sacred marriage-vow like gadding harlots.
This example teaches us how God visits the iniquities of the fathers on their children, and yet chastises no one undeservedly; since the descendants here referred to, f70 although atoning for the fault of others, were still by no means innocent themselves. But in the judgments of God there is always a deep abyss, into which if you fear to be plunged, adore that which it is not lawful to question. Nevertheless, there is no doubt but that thus also God provided for the welfare of those, towards whom He appeared to show some marks of severity. For He waited not only until they had grown up, but also, as was advantageous to themselves, until they had attained the strength of manhood, and until a new generation had sprung up. He assigns a second reason why He postponed the fulfillment of His promise for forty years, viz., that tie might repay the ill-spent days by as many years. Having, then, spoken of their children, He again returns to the actual criminals themselves, who were to be consumed in all that long period of time, as if by a lingering disease. The noun tawnt, tenuoth, which I have rendered vanity,f71is derived from the verb awn, nu, which signifies to render ineffectual. Translators, however, extract from it various meanings. Some thus construe it: Ye shall know whether I am false, or whether my word shall be vain. Others, rendering it prohibition, depart more widely from the sense. But, in my judgment, it is an ironical concession, whereby God reproves their detestable pride, which had no other object than to accuse God of falsehood, and to charge Him calumniously with failing to fulfil His words. Unless, f72 perhaps, it should be preferred to take it passively; because the people had endeavored to annihilate, as it were, God himself. But still I rather adopt this sense, that they should perceive by certain and experimental proof, whether God’s promises were frivolous or vain. Moreover, we must bear in mind the admonition of the Prophet, to which I have referred, (<199511>Psalm 95:11,) and which the Apostle adapts to our present use, (<580406>Hebrews 4:6,) viz., that a better rest is now offered to us, from which we are to fear lest our unbelief should withhold us. For it is not sufficient for us that God’s hand should once have been extended to us, unless we allow ourselves to be directed by it, until our earthly wanderings are concluded, and it conducts us into our heavenly rest.
36. And the men, which Moses sent to search the land. I do not at all approve of the view which some take, that this is recorded by anticipation; for there is no question but that Moses recounts the special punishment which was inflicted by God upon the perfidious spies. He had previously treated of the general punishment of the whole people; when he now relates that the ten men were smitten by the plague, he intimates that God would begin with them, so as to manifest by this conspicuous and notable example how grossly He was offended by their very disgraceful contempt of His grace. Their sudden and unnatural death was, therefore, a kind of presage to all the others of the punishment which awaited them. For in the first place, the expression, “the plague,” is emphatic, as much as to say that they should not die in the ordinary course of nature. Again, by “the sight of God,” f73 he means something else than as if he had said, “before God;” for God was not merely a beholder of their destruction, but in a strange and unusual manner He executed His awful judgment, as if He had publicly ascended the tribunal. And this appeared more clearly by His prolonging the life of Caleb and Joshua, who were the only survivors of that generation until the end of the time prescribed. It is true, indeed, that the verbs f74 are in the past tense; but, since there is an evident pro>lhyiv, I have not hesitated to change the tense, which is a sufficiently common idiom of the language; and thus the connection of the address is better preserved.