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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 7

Verse 1

1.And it came to pass on the day that Moses This was the second contribution of the people, after the completion of the Tabernacle; for although mention is only made of the princes, it is probable that each of them presented what the whole tribe had subscribed, since there was no private person at that time wealthy enough to give so much gold and silver of his own. Let it be understood, then, that they brought in the name, and at the desire of all, what they had received from the members of their respective tribes. Before, however, I proceed any further, it must be remarked that the sacrifices were not killed, before the sanctuary was anointed. Moses himself is said to have anointed it, as he had his brother Aaron; for the exposition of some, that what properly applies to Aaron is attributed to his brother, does not appear to be sound. We have said elsewhere that God thus freely used the visible signs, in order that He might by no means bind the grace of the Spirit to particular persons. When Moses, therefore, who was not anointed himself, anointed both the sanctuary and the priest, it was manifestly shewn that the efficacy of consecration did not emanate from himself, inasmuch as He could not give of his own that which he did not possess. Consequently the entire virtue and utility of signs depend on the command of God. We have elsewhere seen why it was necessary to consecrate the tabernacle, the altar, and all the vessels by a sacred anointing. Here let us only observe, that the connection of the two words anointing and sanctifying is not superfluous: that we may understand that the symbol of the oil was not vain and inefficacious, but that true spiritual sanctity was annexed to it; for God institutes nothing in vain, but, by filling what He typifies with the secret influence of the Spirit, He effectually proves Himself to be true. It is said that the princes were set “over them that were numbered,” i.e., after the people were numbered, and separated into their several divisions, these were chosen as the chiefs of the tribes. The exposition which some give, that they assisted when the people were numbered, in my opinion, is far-fetched.

Verse 3

3.And they brought their offering before the Lord, six covered waggons These waggons were dedicated for the conveyance of the tabernacle: for its pillars and many other parts of it could not be carried on men’s shoulders; and therefore they are said to have been covered, lest the things which were deposited in them should be exposed to the rain. For it is by no means suitable to suppose that they were litters; (400) and, in fact, a pair of oxen is assigned to every waggon. It is pretty clear, then, that the materials of the tabernacle were placed in them when they were travelling from one place to another.

This oblation is stated to have been made “before the Lord,” and then “before the tabernacle,” but the meaning is precisely the same; for God had, as it were, put on that face in which he might be beheld by believers. What follows, “But the Lord had spoken to Moses,” etc., I thus interpret, That God had required this tribute of the people: I have thought it well, therefore, to render it in the pluperfect tense, whereas others translate it, “The Lord said unto Moses,” as if Moses had not been ordered to receive it, before it was actually presented by the princes and the people. Indeed, it is probable that the number of the waggons was not accidentally determined, but by a just calculation of the things which they were to carry.

(400) So Vatablus, quoted in Poole. “In Leviticus 11:29, (says Ainsworth,) צב (tsab) is a tortoise, so called from the shell that covereth it: accordingly here they may be called עגלת צב, (gnegeloth tsab,) waggons of the tortoise, (or of covering,) because they were like to a tortoise, covered above.”

Verse 10

10.And the princes offered for dedicating of the altar Here is another kind of offering, viz., a silver dish and bowl from every tribe, besides a golden spoon, (401) which properly means a censer. Their use was as follows, — that the sacred cakes should be received in the dishes, the wine of libation in the bowls, and the frankincense in the censers. But God would have each tribe contribute their respective vessels, in order that the common interest of the whole people in the sacrifices might be the better testified. Although the word shekel (402) is derived front its being weighed, still it is almost everywhere used for a coined piece of money, which, as we have seen at Exodus 30:0, was of the value of twenty oboli. Josephus estimates it at an Attic tetradrachm. But Ezekiel, when he is inveighing against their fraud in having diminished its weight, settles its value at twenty oboli, and adds that it is the third part of a pound or mina. (Ezekiel 45:12.) But it must be borne in remembrance, as we have also seen elsewhere, that the shekel of the sanctuary was double the ordinary one, for it was worth four drachmas, whereas the common shekel was only worth two drachmas, or a staler. Now, if we calculate, we shall find that the value of each dish amounted to nearly a hundred French livres; and that of each bowl to forty-four. If we take the shekel in the same sense with reference to the censers, or spoons, they must have been very small, only being about seven livres in value: whereas a gold vessel of this size would scarcely hold three grains of frankincense. Wherefore, I doubt whether they had not also gold shekels; but I leave it undecided as a point on which we have no knowledge.

Lastly, follow the animals offered as victims, a young bullock, a ram, and a lamb for a burnt-offering; a kid for a sin-offering; two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five lambs for a sacrifice of thanksgiving. It would, however, have been difficult for each prince to present so many out of his own folds or stalls; whence it is probable that they were aided by a general contribution. God chose that each tribe should have its peculiar day appointed for it in order, not only that there might be no confusion or disturbance, but; also that by this lengthened exercise the hearts even of the careless might be stirred up to zealous devotion.

(401) V., mortariolum. LXX.,: θυί̑σκη Ainsworth, cup. Heb., כן from whence probably our English word cup.

(402) שקל shekel, from שקל, shakal, to weigh. C. follows LXX. in renderining גרה gerah,the twentieth part of a shekel, — by the word obolus, ὀβολός The general opinion of modern commentators is, that the shekel, throughout the Old Testament, expressed not a coin, but a weight of about half an ounce Troy, which would bring its value in silver, at a rough calculation, to 2s. 6d., and in gold to 2 Pounds sterling: though indeed it appears impossible to ascertain either the intrinsic or relative value of the precious metals at so early a period with anything like accuracy. The Rabbins (see Ainsworth) consider the estimate of the golden vessels to have been made by the shekel of silver.

Verse 12

12.And he that offered his offering the first day The oracular declaration which God made by the mouth of Jacob is well known. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,” etc. (Genesis 49:10.) Non, although the time had not yet arrived when the truth of this prophecy should be manifested by its fulfillment, still it was brought to pass by the admirable counsel of God that certain marks of supremacy should exist in the tribe of Judah; and, by general consent, if not dominion, at least the chief dignity, was always lodged in it. The assignment of the first day to Nahshon was, therefore,a presage of that future kingdom which was at length set up in the person of David. If any should allege the absurdity that the tribe of Reuben, who was the first-born, should be kept back till the fourth day, I reply that the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar were ranked under the banner of Judah; since it will appear in chapter 10. (403) that the twelve tribes were divided into four divisions of three. Thus it was more honorable for the tribe of Reuben to have the fourth day, so as to have the two tribes over which it presided attached to it. But the fathers of the two tribes, which God placed under the banner of Judah, were the two youngest sons of Leah, who followed next after Judah, her fourth son. We see, therefore, that the kingdom was thus obscurely shadowed forth, from which salvation was to be hoped for by the whole people: in order that they might be the more attentive to the promise given them; although this indication of it had but little effect on their sluggish minds.

(403) “Que la compagnie a suyvi son chef: car les douze lignees,” etc.; that the company followed its chief; for the twelve tribes, etc.Fr.

Verse 89

89.And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle There seems at first sight to be a kind of contradiction between this passage and the other, in which we saw that a thick cloud stood in the door of the tabernacle, so that Moses could not enter it. It might, indeed, be answered that this only occurred once; but to me it appears more probable that, Moses sought the replies of God at the mercy-seat, until Aaron began to exercise the priesthood, and then abandoned his dignity, which was only temporary, as far as regarded the entering of the sanctuary. For we know that by the established Law of God the priesthood was distinct from the civil government; and therefore that he could not, except by special privilege, be at the same time the leader and the priest. (404) If this exposition be accepted, he does not here record in its proper place that answers were given to him by God from the mercy-seat; since it is by no means unusual that what has preceded in order of time should be annexed at the end of a narrative. His intention, indeed, was to declare to posterity that God had not promised in vain that the Israelites should experience the presence of His favor; because He had chosen His dwelling-place in the sanctuary, to sit between the cherubim. By this testimony, therefore, of God’s grace, the external anointing was ratified and confirmed, inasmuch as God appeared to Moses upon the Ark of the Covenant.

(404) This sentence is omitted in Fr.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 7". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/numbers-7.html. 1840-57.