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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Exodus 23

Exodus 23:20-23, 25-31

20. Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

20. Ecce, ego mitre Angelum coram to, ut custodiat to in via, et introducat to in locum quem praeparavi.

21. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

21. Cave a facie ejus, (ad verbum, custodias to; vel custoditus sis,) et obtempera voci ejus, ne exacerbes eum, neque enim parcet transgressioni vestrae: nomen meum intra ipsum.

22. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.

22. Si autem audiendo audieris vocem ejus, et feceris omnia quae loquor, inimicus ere inimicis tuis, et affligam affligentes te.

23. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off.

23. Nam praecedet Angelus meus faciem tuam, et introducet tead Emorrhaeum, Hitthaeum, et Perezaeum, Chananaeum, Hivaeum, et Jebusaeum: et exterminabo illos.

25. And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.

25. Coletis Jehovam Deum vestrum, et benedicet pani tuo, et aquis tuis: auferamque infirmitatem e medio tui.

26. There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfill.

26. Non erit abortum faciens et sterilis in terra tua: numerum dierum tuorum complebo.

27. I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come; and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.

27. Terrorem mittam coram to, et interficiam omnem populum ad quem venies, et dabo omnes hostes tuos tergum.

28. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.

28. Mittam crabronem ante to, qui expellat Hivaeum, Chananaeum, et Hitthaeum a facie tua.

29. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.

29. Non ejiciam ilium a facie tua anno uno, ne sit terrae desolatio, et multiplicetur contra to bestia agri.

30. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.

30. Paulatim paulatim ejiciam illum a facie tua, donec crescas et haereditate accipias terram.

31. And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.

31. Ponam autem terminum tuum a mari rubro usque ad Philistin, et a deserto usque ad fluvium, ham dabo in manus vestras habitatores terrae.

20. Behold, I send an Angel before thee. God here reminds the Israelites that their wellbeing is so connected with the keeping of the Law, that, by neglecting it, they would sorely suffer. For He says that He will be their leader by the hand of an angel, which was a token of His fatherly love for them; but, on the other hand, He threatens that they would not be unpunished if they should despise such great mercy and follow their own lusts, because they will not escape the sight of the angel whom He had appointed to be their guardian. Almost all the Hebrew rabbins,  267 with whom many others agree, too hastily think that this is spoken of Joshua, but the statements, which we shall consider more fully just beyond, by no means are reconcilable with his person. But their mistake is more than sufficiently refuted by this, first of all, that if we understand it of Joshua, the people would have been without the angel as their leader as long as they wandered in the desert; and, besides, it was afterwards said to Moses, “Mine Angel shall go before thee,” (Ex 32:34;) and again, “And I will send an Angel before thee,” (Ex 33:2.) Moses, too, elsewhere enlarges on this act of God’s goodness, that He should have led forth His people by the hand of an angel. (Nu 20:16.) But what need is there of a long discussion, since already mention has been so often made of the angel of their deliverance? This point ought now to be deemed established, that there is no reference here to a mortal man; and what we have already said should be remembered, that no common angel is designated, but the chief of all angels, who has always been also the Head of the Church. In which matter the authority of Paul should be sufficient for us, when he admonishes the Corinthians not to tempt Christ as their fathers tempted Him in the desert. (1Co 10:9.) We gather this, too, from the magnificent attribute which Moses immediately afterwards assigns to Him, that “the name of God should be in him.” I deem this to be of great importance, although it is generally passed over lightly. But let us consider it particularly. When God declares that He will send His angel “to keep them in the way,” He makes a demand upon them for their willing obedience, for it would be too base of them to set at nought, or to forget Him whose paternal care towards them they experience. But in the next verse, He seeks by terror to arouse them from their listlessness, where He commands them to beware of His presence, since He would take vengeance on their transgressions;  268 wherein, also, there is a delicate allusion to be observed in the ambiguous meaning of the word employed. For, since שמר, shamar, in Hebrew signifies “to guard,” after He has said that an angel shall be their guardian, He warns them, on the other hand, that they should guard themselves. Herein the Angel is exalted above the rank of a human being, since He is appointed to be their judge, if the Israelites should offend in any respect; not in the way that judgment is deputed to the Prophets with reference to their doctrine, the power of which is supreme, but because nothing shall be hidden from Him. For Scripture assigns to God alone as His peculiar attribute, that we should walk before His face. What follows is to the same effect, “provoke him not,” which is everywhere spoken of God. But, as I have just said, this seems to me to be of most importance, that the name of God was to be in Him, or in the midst of Him, which is equivalent to this, that in Him shall reside my majesty and glory; and, therefore, He shall possess both the knowledge of hearts, as well as dominion, and the power of judgment. Besides, we have already said that there is no absurdity in designating Christ by the name of the Angel, because He was not yet the Incarnate Mediator, but as often as He appeared to the ancient people He gave an indication of His future mission.

22. But if thou shalt indeed obey. He moderates the terror with which He had inspired them for two reasons, — first, that He may rather gently attract them than force them by the fear of punishment; secondly, lest, if they imagine that the Angel is formidable to them, the anxiety conceived in their minds should deaden their perception of His mercy and layout. Now, although I postpone to another place the promises whereby their obedience to the Law was confirmed, I have thought it right to include this among the exhortations or eulogiums whereby the dignity of the Law is enhanced, because it relates to the time past, for thus is the expression to be paraphrased, “Take heed that ye respond to God who deals so liberally with you. The promises which He made to your fathers as to the inheritance of the land, He is now ready to perform, unless your iniquity should stand in the way. Make room, then, for His grace, that, by the hand of the Angel, He may lead you into His rest.” In order to stimulate them still more, He points out to them their need of His aid, as though He had said that nothing, could be more miserable than their case, unless they were protected from so many enemies by His defense, for He enumerates several most important nations to which they would be by no means a match unless they should fight under the guidance of the Angel. He says, therefore, that if they only obey His Law, there is no occasion for them to be afraid, for that He will destroy by His own power alone all that shall rise against them to resist them.

25. And ye shall serve the Lord your God. It is true that this promise is very similar to others, to which I have assigned a peculiar place, but it has this difference, that, in inviting the people to be zealous in keeping the Law, it sets before their eyes the effect of the covenant already made with their fathers, in order that they may more cheerfully receive the Law. Therefore there was good reason for my saying just before that the promises which refer to the past have their appropriate place here, where their minds are prepared to obey God and keep His Law, because the race of Abraham God had chosen to Himself, that tie may continually visit them with His favor. He therefore promises them His blessing on their bread and water and bodily health, for on these three things depend the condition of our present life. Two other things He adds — fecundity in generation, and length of days. The sum is, that they had been prevented by God’s loving-kindness, in order that they might willingly honor Him, and that now all He had promised them was close at hand, if only they responded to His grace. But, although the fertility of the land was great, and its productions various and abundant, no mention is here made, as in other places, of wine or oil, but only of simple food, as if He had said that the necessary supports of life should not be wanting to them.

27. I will send my fear before thee. It is very clear from these words that God’s fatherly love towards the people is magnified, to prepare their minds to submit themselves to the yoke of the Law. Therefore their reward, if they should keep the Law, is not so much set before them here, as shame is denounced upon them if they should be ungrateful to God their deliverer, who was soon after about to give them the enjoyment of the promised land. Moreover, God is said to sent forth His fear, when by His secret inspiration He depresses men’s hearts. Whence we gather that fear, as well as courage, is in His hand. Of this no doubtful examples exist in every history, if only God obtained His due rights amongst men. It will often happen that the courage of brave men gives way to alarm, and on the other hand, that the timid and cowardly awake to sudden bravery. Where the cause is not discovered, the profane have recourse to the hidden dominion of fortune to account for it, or imagine that men’s minds have been stupified by Pan or the Satyrs.  269 Let us however learn, that it is in God’s power to bend men’s hearts either way, so as both to cast down the courageous with terror, as well as to animate the timid. From this passage what we read in Ps. 44:2, 3, is taken, —

“Thou didst drive out the heathen with thine hand, and plantedst them, (our fathers.) For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them,” etc.

Moreover, Rahab, who was both a harlot and belonged to an unbelieving nation, still acknowledged this, when she said to the spies,

“our hearts did melt; for the Lord your God is God in heaven above, and in the earth beneath.” (Jos 2:11.)

She does not, indeed, express what we have here, that they were smitten from heaven with internal fear, but only says that their terror came from a sense of God’s power; still she admits that it is no human cause which makes them thus to tremble. Moses ascends higher, that God puts to flight or routs their enemies not only by setting before them external objects of terror, but that He works also inwardly in their hearts, that they may fly in confusion and alarm; as it follows in the end of the verse, “I will make them turn their backs,” as much as to say, that He would cause them immediately to retreat, and not even to sustain the sight of the people.

28. And I will send hornets. Although that secret terror, of which He had made mention, would be sufficient to put their enemies to flight, He states that there would also be other ready means, to rout them without any danger, or much difficulty to His people. Yet He does not threaten to send great and powerful warriors, but only insects and hornets; as much as to say, that God would be so entirely propitious to His people that He would prepare and arm even the smallest animals to destroy their enemies.  270 Thus is the easiness of their victory shewn; because, without the use of the sword, hornets alone would suffice to rout and exterminate their enemies. He adds, however, an exception, lest the Israelites should complain, if the land should not immediately lie open to them empty and cleared of its old inhabitants; and He reminds them that it would be advantageous to them that He should consume their enemies by degrees. Although, therefore, God might at first sight seem to perform less than He had promised, and thus to retract or diminish somewhat from His grace; yet Moses shews that in this respect also He was considering their welfare, lest the wild beasts should rush in upon the bare and desert land, and prove more troublesome than the enemies themselves. It came to pass indeed, through the people’s slackness, that they were long mixed with their enemies, because they executed with too little energy the vengeance of God; yea, His menace against them by the mouth of Joshua was then fulfilled,

“if ye cleave unto the remnant of these nations, know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land, which the Lord your God hath given you.” (Josh. 23:12, 13.)

The fact, therefore, that it was later and at the end of David’s reign that these wicked and heathen nations were exterminated so as to deliver up to the people the quiet possession of the land, must be attributed to their own fault, since unbelief and ingratitude rendered them inactive, and disposed to indulge their ease. But, if no such inactivity had delayed the fulfillment of the promise, they would have found that the final destruction of the nations by God would have been delayed no longer than was good for them.

31. And I will set thy bounds. There is no question that He confirms here the covenant which he had made with Abraham in somewhat different words. More briefly had it been said to Abraham,

“Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” (Ge 15:18.)

Here the four cardinal points of the compass are enumerated, and, instead of the Nile, the other sea is mentioned, which is opposite to the sea of Tarshish.  271 Nor is it anything new which the Israelites are commanded to expect; but they are reminded of what they had heard of by tradition even from the time of Abraham. Hence what I have already said is more clearly perceived, viz., that the ancient covenant is set before them, in order that they may respond to God’s gratuitous favor, and on their part honor and worship Him, who had already anticipated them with His mercy. Furthermore, when they had robbed themselves of this blessing, God applied a remedy to their iniquity, by raising up a new condition of things under David, to whom this promise is repeated, as is seen in Ps 72 Therefore, although even up to that time their inheritance was in a measure incomplete (truncata),  272 yet, under this renovated condition, they reached its full and solid enjoyment. But since that prosperity and extension of the kingdom was not lasting, but after Solomon’s death began to fail, and at last its dignity was destroyed; therefore Zechariah uses the same words in declaring its ultimate and perfect restoration. (Zec 9:10.) Thence we gather that by the coming of Christ this prophecy at length obtained its perfect accomplishment; not that the race of Abraham then began to bear rule within the bounds here laid down, but inasmuch as Christ embraced the four quarters of the globe under His dominion, from the east even to the west, and from the north even to the south. Meanwhile the power of David was the prototype of this boundless reign, when he acquired the sovereignty of the promised land. We ought not to think it unreasonable that the ancient people should be kept out of some portion of that inheritance which was to be expected by them in accordance with the covenant; but rather does God’s incredible goodness display itself, in that, when they had altogether disinherited themselves, He still combated their iniquity, and failed not to shew practically His faithfulness. We may see the same thing in the calling of the Gentiles; for, if the Jews had continued faithful, the Gentiles would have been joined with them, as it had been said,

“In those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew,” (Zec 8:23;)

but their rebellion brought it about, that God only gathered from among them the first-fruits of His Church, and afterwards the Gentiles were substituted in the place which they had left empty. In this way neither did this people retain their right of primogeniture, neither did God’s truth cease to stand firm, as Paul more fully explains in the eleventh chapter of Romans.



For this opinion, Corn. a Lapide quotes Justin. contra Tryphon. fol. 58; and Eusebius, lib. 4, Demonstr. Evang. 28, and Raban.


In the Fr. the following paragraphs are omitted.


“Les phantomes ou tritons.” — Fr. “De Panicis terroribus prudentissima doctrina proponitur: Natura enim rerum omnibus viventibus indidit metum, ac formidinem, vitro atque essentim suae conservatricem, ac mala ingruentia vitantem, et depellentem: veruntamen eadem natura modum tenere nescia est; sed timoribus salutaribus semper vanos, et inanes admiscet, adeo ut omnia (si intus conspici darentur) Panicis terroribus plenissima sint; praesertim humana, quae superstitione (quae vere nihil aliud, quam Panicus terror est) in immensum laborant: maxime temporibus duris, et trepidis, et adversis.” — Bacon, de Sapientia Veterum.


Few historical conjectures can be more striking than that of Dr. Hales, quoted in the Illustrated Commentary on Jos 24:12, who supposes the “arma Jovis,” by which Virgil represents Saturn as having been driven to Italy, to have been the hornets here spoken of, and identifies the fugitive monarch with one of the Amorite kings, expelled before the armies of Joshua.


Corn. a Lapide thus explains these boundaries, — “God here gives the boundaries of the promised land with respect to the cardinal points; for it has the Red Sea as its southern limit; on the west, the sea of the Palestini, or the Mediterranean, whose shores are inhabited by the Philistines; (whence Scripture often speaks of ‘the Sea’ to express the west;) on the east, it has the Arabian Desert, lying between it and Egypt; and, finally, to the north it has the River Euphrates, which is called par excellence (autonomasian) the River.”


“Quand Dieu a establi son Eglise;” when God established His (Church. — Fr.

Next: Deuteronomy 29:29