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Harmony Of The Law Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Numbers 20:14.

Thou knowest all the travel that hath befallen us. This preface was well calculated to conciliate favor, when the sons of Jacob, descended from the same blood, familiarly approached the Edomites: for their connection ought to have rendered them hospitable. But there are two principal points whereby Moses endeavored to influence the mind of the king of Edom, so that he should grant them a passage through his dominions. The first is derived from the ordinary feelings of humanity; for nature dictates that aid should be extended to the wretched, who are unjustly oppressed. In this view, he says, that the afflictions which they had endured were notorious; viz., that as sojourners in Egypt they had been tyrannically harassed and oppressed. In saying that |the Egyptians vexed us and our fathers,| although they were not, at that time, endowed with capacity for estimating the injuries inflicted upon them yet it is not without reason that they complain that these injuries had been inflicted on themselves, which affected their whole body and name, especially since the final act of cruelty directly concerned them, when Pharaoh commanded all the male infants to be destroyed. The second argument is more effective: since nothing can be less in accordance with propriety than to deny our assistance to those whoso welfare God recommends to us by His own example. In order, then, that they may obtain help from their brethren, they make mention of the grace of God, which at that time might have been everywhere celebrated. When, therefore, this message is given to their ambassadors, We cried unto the Lord, who hath heard us, their design was to exhort the Edomites to be imitators of God, who had been merciful in delivering His people. If any should object that the cry of the people had not been praiseworthy, as not having arisen from a true and sincere faith, nor from a serious feeling of the heart, the reply is easy. that the Israelites were not here boasting of any merit of their own, as if they had prayed duly and perfectly, but that they were simply professing their innocence, since they could not have had recourse to God, unless they had been unjustly oppressed. The fact, then, that God had heard them, had the effect of commending their cause. They prove, however, from the result, that God was their deliverer: because their exodus had been incredible; although this point is but lightly touched upon.

Their notion is a poor one, who understand Moses by |the angel:| since by this name they unquestionably magnify the miracles which God had wrought. Now, although the angels encamp around the servants of God -- and it is certain that many angels had been the ministers of the people's safety -- still they especially designate, as the angel, Him who had been often before called Jehovah, and in whom the, majesty of God perfectly shone forth. Paul, however, teaches that he was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4.)

19. And the children of Israel said unto him. It is doubtful whether or not the ambassadors were sent a second time, in order to remove all unjust suspicions, and to appease the ferocity (of the Edomites.) It is probable, however, that we have the relation of what was done in one and the same expedition. The sum is, that the Israelites tried every means, in order that a free and unmolested passage might be accorded them by the Edomites: whence their repulse might appear the more harsh and intolerable. But God, by this test, would prove the obedience of His people. As regards the Edomites, although by rashly taking up arms they would have drawn upon themselves just destruction, still God spared them for a time; not by freely pardoning them, but by deferring their punishment, as He is wont to do, until its due season.

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