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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Exodus 31

Exodus 31:12-17

12. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

12. Dixit praeterea Jehova ad Mosen, dicendo:

13. Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.

13. Et tu alloquere filios Israel, dicendo: Veruntamen Sabbatha mea custodietis: qnia signum eat inter me et vos in generationibus vestris, ut sciatis quod sum Jehova sanctiffcans vos.

14. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

14. Custodietis igitur Sabbathum, quia sanctitus est vobis: quisquis profanaverit illud moriendo morietur: quia omnis faciens in eo opus, excidetur anima ipsa e medio populorum suorum.

15. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

15. Sex diebus fiet opus: at die septimo Sabbathum cessationis est, sanctitas Jehovae: quicunque fecerit opus die Sabbathi, moriendo morietur.

16. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.

16. Observabunt itaque filii Israel Sabbathum, observando ipsum in generationibus suis, pactum est perpetuum.

17. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.

17. Inter me et filios Israel signum est in perpetuum: quia sex diebus fecit Jehova coelos et terrain, die autem septimo cessavit et requievit.


13. Speak thou also unto the children of Israel. He inculcates the same things as before, with the addition of a few words, such as “for it is holiness unto you;”  337 by which expression he exhorts them to observe this rite as most sacred and inviolable, since by its neglect religion would fall  338 And therefore he denounces capital punishment against any who should work on that day. Hence, again, we gather the dignity and excellency of the mystery, when God deemed an apparently light transgression of it worthy of death. Still this was an act of by no means excusable contempt, to overthrow professedly, as it were, what God would have to be a mark of distinction between His people and heathen nations. The passages which follow have the same tendency, which it would have been superfluous to repeat, unless because the people were thus reminded that it was a matter of the utmost importance. By prohibiting them from lighting a fire, He anticipates all the glosses which they would have been ready enough to invent; for they would have alleged that if the pot had been put on the fire the day before, the Sabbath would not have been violated by lighting the fire. What, then, would have been more allowable than anything else God excludes, viz., that they should not employ themselves in the preparation of their food, or undertake any other earthly work, however venial. When He calls it a “perpetual” or eternal “covenant,” the Jews rest on it as a ground of their obstinacy, and wantonly rave against Christ as a covenant-breaker, because He abrogated the Sabbath. I will not contend with them as to the word גולם, gnolam, which sometimes means a long time, and not perpetuity: I will simply insist on the thing itself. Whatever was spoken of under the Law as eternal, I maintain to have had reference to the new state of things which came to pass at the coming of Christ; and thus the eternity of the Law must not be extended beyond the fullness of time, when the truth of its shadows was manifested, and God’s covenant assumed a different form. If the Jews cry out that what is perpetual, and what is temporary, are contraries to each other, we must deny it in various respects, since assuredly what was peculiar to the Law could not continue to exist beyond the day of Jesus Christ. Besides, the Sabbath, although its external observation is not now in use, still remains eternal in its reality, like circumcision. Thus the stability of both was best confirmed by their abrogation; since, if God now required the same of Christians, it would be putting a veil over the death and resurrection of His Son; and hence the more carefully the Jews persevere in the keeping the festival, the more do they derogate from its sanctity. But they calumniate us falsely, as if we disregarded the Sabbath; because there is nothing which more completely confirms its reality and substance than the abolition of its external use. To this point also may my readers apply what I have written on Genesis 17,  339 lest I should weary them in vain by my prolixity; and again, in treating of the sacrifices, I have adverted to some things which relate to the same doctrine. When, in Exodus 34, God especially commands them to rest “in earing-time and harvest,”  340 it is not as if He would let loose the rein for the rest of the year; but He rather draws it tighter, since no necessity must interrupt this sacred observance. Else it might have seemed a just pretext, if, on account of continued rains, or other ungenial weather, ploughing should be difficult, husbandmen were to be released from the obligation of the law, lest their resting should have produced sterility. The same opinion might have prevailed as to the ingathering of the harvest, lest it should have been spoilt on the ground. God, however, allows of no dispensation; but the Sabbath is to be observed, though at the risk of general loss.



“For it is holy unto you.” — A. V.


Ils mettoyent bas la religion comme pour la fouler au pied;” they would cast down religion as if to trample it under foot. — Fr.


Vide C.’s Comment on Genesis, Calvin Society’s edit., vol. 1 pp. 447, et seq.


We must beware of being misled by what is a very common misapprehension, not without the authority of some of our English Dictionary-writers, as ifearing-time” were the time of gathering the ears of corn, instead of a derivative from the Saxon “erian,” cognate with and equivalent to the Latin “arare,” to plough. See C.’s Latin, “in aratione."

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