Commentary on Genesis, volume 2 (chapter 24-32)

John Calvin

Translated and edited by John King M.D.

The Banner of Truth Trust
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First published in Latin 1554
First English Translation 1578
This edition reprinted from the Calvin Translation Society edition of
Reprinted 1975

ISBN 0 85151 093 0

Printed in Great Britain by offset lithography by Billing & Sons
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Commentary on the Book of Genesis

Chapter XXIV.

1 And Abraham was old, [and] well stricken in age: and the LORD had
blessed Abraham in all things.
2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over
all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God
of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the
daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:
4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife
unto my son Isaac.
5 And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be
willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again
unto the land from whence thou camest?
6 And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son
thither again.
7 The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father's house, and from
the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me,
saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel
before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.
8 And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt
be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.
9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master,
and sware to him concerning that matter.
10 And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and
departed; for all the goods of his master [were] in his hand: and he
arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.
11 And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of
water at the time of the evening, [even] the time that women go out to
draw [water].
12 And he said, O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me
good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham.
13 Behold, I stand [here] by the well of water; and the daughters of the
men of the city come out to draw water:
14 And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let
down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say,
Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: [let the same be] she
[that] thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I
know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.
15 And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold,
Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of
Nahor, Abraham's brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.
16 And the damsel [was] very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had
any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her
pitcher, and came up.
17 And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I pray thee, drink
a little water of thy pitcher.
18 And she said, Drink, my lord: and she hasted, and let down her
pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink.
19 And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw [water]
for thy camels also, until they have done drinking.
20 And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran
again unto the well to draw [water], and drew for all his camels.
21 And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the LORD
had made his journey prosperous or not.
22 And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man
took a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her
hands of ten [shekels] weight of gold;
23 And said, Whose daughter [art] thou? tell me, I pray thee: is there
room [in] thy father's house for us to lodge in?
24 And she said unto him, I [am] the daughter of Bethuel the son of
Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor.
25 She said moreover unto him, We have both straw and provender enough,
and room to lodge in.
26 And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the LORD.
27 And he said, Blessed [be] the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath
not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I [being] in
the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master's brethren.
28 And the damsel ran, and told [them of] her mother's house these
29 And Rebekah had a brother, and his name [was] Laban: and Laban ran
out unto the man, unto the well.
30 And it came to pass, when he saw the earring and bracelets upon his
sister's hands, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister,
saying, Thus spake the man unto me; that he came unto the man; and,
behold, he stood by the camels at the well.
31 And he said, Come in, thou blessed of the LORD; wherefore standest
thou without? for I have prepared the house, and room for the camels.
32 And the man came into the house: and he ungirded his camels, and gave
straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the
men's feet that [were] with him.
33 And there was set [meat] before him to eat: but he said, I will not
eat, until I have told mine errand. And he said, Speak on.
34 And he said, I [am] Abraham's servant.
35 And the LORD hath blessed my master greatly; and he is become great:
and he hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and
menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses.
36 And Sarah my master's wife bare a son to my master when she was old:
and unto him hath he given all that he hath.
37 And my master made me swear, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife to my
son of the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell:
38 But thou shalt go unto my father's house, and to my kindred, and take
a wife unto my son.
39 And I said unto my master, Peradventure the woman will not follow me.
40 And he said unto me, The LORD, before whom I walk, will send his
angel with thee, and prosper thy way; and thou shalt take a wife for my
son of my kindred, and of my father's house:
41 Then shalt thou be clear from [this] my oath, when thou comest to my
kindred; and if they give not thee [one], thou shalt be clear from my
42 And I came this day unto the well, and said, O LORD God of my master
Abraham, if now thou do prosper my way which I go:
43 Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that
when the virgin cometh forth to draw [water], and I say to her, Give me,
I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink;
44 And she say to me, Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy
camels: [let] the same [be] the woman whom the LORD hath appointed out
for my master's son.
45 And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebekah came
forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well,
and drew [water]: and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee.
46 And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her [shoulder], and
said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: so I drank, and she
made the camels drink also.
47 And I asked her, and said, Whose daughter [art] thou? And she said,
The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bare unto him: and I
put the earring upon her face, and the bracelets upon her hands.
48 And I bowed down my head, and worshipped the LORD, and blessed the
LORD God of my master Abraham, which had led me in the right way to take
my master's brother's daughter unto his son.
49 And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and
if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.
50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from
the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.
51 Behold, Rebekah [is] before thee, take [her], and go, and let her be
thy master's son's wife, as the LORD hath spoken.
52 And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words,
he worshipped the LORD, [bowing himself] to the earth.
53 And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold,
and raiment, and gave [them] to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and
to her mother precious things.
54 And they did eat and drink, he and the men that [were] with him, and
tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me
away unto my master.
55 And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us [a
few] days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.
56 And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered
my way; send me away that I may go to my master.
57 And they said, We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth.
58 And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this
man? And she said, I will go.
59 And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's
servant, and his men.
60 And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou [art] our sister,
be thou [the mother] of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess
the gate of those which hate them.
61 And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels,
and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
62 And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the
south country.
63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he
lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels [were] coming.
64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted
off the camel.
65 For she [had] said unto the servant, What man [is] this that walketh
in the field to meet us? And the servant [had] said, It [is] my master:
therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.
66 And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done.
67 And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah,
and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after
his mother's [death].

  1. "And Abraham was old." Moses passes onwards to the relation of
Isaac's marriage, because indeed Abraham, perceiving himself to be worn
down by old age, would take care that his son should not marry a wife in
the land of Canaan. In this place Moses expressly describes Abraham as
an old man, in order that we may learn that he had been admonished, by
his very age, to seek a wife for his son: for old age itself, which, at
the most, is not far distant from death, ought to induce us so to order
the affairs of our family, that when we die, peace may be preserved
among our posterity, the fear of the Lord may flourish, and
rightly-constituted order may prevail. The old age of Abraham was indeed
yet green, as we shall see hereafter; but when he reckoned up his own
years he deemed it time to consult for the welfare of his son.
Irreligious men, partly because they do not hold marriage sufficiently
in honour, partly because they do not consider the importance attached
especially to the marriage of Isaac, wonder that Moses, or rather the
Spirit of God, should be employed in affairs so minute; but if we have
that reverence which is due in reading the Sacred Scriptures, we shall
easily understand that here is nothing superfluous: for inasmuch as men
can scarcely persuade themselves that the Providence of God extends to
marriages, so much the more does Moses insist on this point. He chiefly,
however, wishes to teach that God honoured the family of Abraham with
especial regard, because the Church was to spring from it. But it will
be better to treat of everything in its proper order.
  2. "And Abraham said unto his eldest servant." Abraham here fulfils
the common duty of parents, in labouring for and being solicitous about
the choice of a wife for his son: but he looks somewhat further; for
since God had separated him from the Canaanites by a sacred covenant, he
justly fears lest Isaac, by joining himself in affinity with them,
should shake off the yoke of God. Some suppose that the depraved morals
of those nations were so displeasing to him, that he conceived the
marriage of his son must prove unhappy if he should take a wife from
among them. But the special reason was, as I have stated, that he would
not allow his own race to be mingled with that of the Canaanites, whom
he knew to be already divinely appointed to destruction; yea, since upon
their overthrow he was to be put into possession of the land, he was
commanded to treat them with distrust as perpetual enemies. And although
he had dwelt in tranquility among them for a time, yet he could not have
a community of offspring with them without confounding things which, by
the command of God, were to be kept distinct. Hence he wished both
himself and his family to maintain this separation entire.
  "Put, I pray thee, thy hand." It is sufficiently obvious that this was
a solemn form of swearing; but whether Abraham had first introduced it,
or whether he had received it from his fathers, is unknown. The greater
part of Jewish writers declare that Abraham was the author of it;
because, in their opinion, this ceremony is of the same force as if his
servant had sworn by the sanctity of the divine covenant, since
circumcision was in that part of his person. But Christian writers
conceive that the hand was placed under the thigh in honour of the
blessed seed. Yet it may be that these earliest fathers had something
different in view; and there are those among the Jews who assert that it
was a token of subjection, when the servant was sworn on the thigh of
his master. The more plausible opinion is, that the ancients in this
manner swore by Christ; but because I do not willingly follow uncertain
conjectures, I leave the question undecided. Nevertheless the latter
supposition appears to me the more simple; namely, that servants, when
they swore fidelity to their lords, were accustomed to testify their
subjection by this ceremony, especially since they say that this
practice is still observed in certain parts of the East. That it was no
profane rite, which would detract anything from the glory of God, we
infer from the fact that the name of God is interposed. It is true that
the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham, but he is
adjured by God, the Creator of heaven and earth; and this is the sacred
method of adjuration, whereby God is invoked as the witness and the
judge; for this honour cannot be transferred to another without casting
a reproach upon God. Moreover, we are taught, by the example of Abraham,
that they do not sin who demand an oath for a lawful cause; for this is
not recited among the faults of Abraham, but is recorded to his peculiar
praise. It has already been shown that the affair was of the utmost
importance, since it was undertaken in order that the covenant of God
might be ratified among his posterity. He was therefore impelled, by
just reasons, most anxiously to provide for the accomplishment of his
object, by taking an oath of his servant: and beyond doubt, the
disposition, and even the virtue of Isaac, were so conspicuous, that in
addition to his riches, he had such endowments of mind and person, that
many would earnestly desire affinity with him. His father, therefore,
fears lest, after his own death, the inhabitants of the land should
captivate Isaac by their allurements. Now, though Isaac has hitherto
steadfastly resisted those allurements, the snares of which few young
men escape, Abraham still fears lest, by shame and the dread of giving
offense, he may be overcome. The holy man wished to anticipate these and
similar dangers, when he bound his servant to fidelity, by interposing
an oath; and it may be that some secret necessity also impelled him to
take this course.
  3. "That thou shalt not take a wife." The kind of discipline which
prevailed in Abraham's house is here apparent. Although this man was but
a servant, yet, because he was put in authority by the master of the
family, his servile condition did not prevent him from being next in
authority to his lord; so that Isaac himself, the heir and successor of
Abraham, submitted to his direction. To such an extent did the authority
of Abraham and reverence for him prevail, that when he substituted a
servant in his place, he caused this servant, by his mere will or word,
to exercise a power which other masters of families find it difficult to
retain for themselves. The modesty also of Isaac, who suffered himself
to be governed by a servant, is obvious; for it would have been in vain
for Abraham to enter into engagements with his servant, had he not been
persuaded that his son would prove submissive and tractable. It here
appears what great veneration he cherished towards his father; because
Abraham, relying on Isaac's obedience, confidently calls his servant to
him. Now this example should be taken by us as a common rule, to show
that it is not lawful for the children of a family to contract marriage,
except with the consent of parents; and certainly natural equity
dictates that, in a matter of such importance, children should depend
upon the will of their parents. How detestable, therefore, is the
barbarity of the Pope, who has dared to burst this sacred bond asunder!
Wherefore the wantonness of youths is to be restrained, that they may
not rashly contract nuptials without consulting their fathers.
  4. "But thou shalt go unto my country and to my kindred." It seems
that, in the choice of the place, Abraham was influenced by the thought,
that a wife would more willingly come from thence to be married to his
son, when she knew that she was to marry one of her own race and
country. But because it afterwards follows that the servant came to
Padan Aram, some hence infer that Mesopotamia was Abraham's country. The
solution, however, of this difficulty is easy. We know that Mesopotamia
was not only the region contained between the Tigris and the Euphrates,
but that a part also of Chaldea was comprehended in it; for Babylon is
often placed there by profane writers. The Hebrew name simply means,
"Syria of the rivers." They give the name "Aram" to that part of Syria
which, beginning near Judea, embraces Armenia and other extensive
regions, and reaches almost to the Euxine Sea. But when they especially
designate those lands which are washed or traversed by the Tigris and
Euphrates, they add the name "Padan:" for we know that Moses did not
speak scientifically, but in a popular style. Since, however, he
afterwards relates that Laban, the son of Nahor, dwelt at Charran,
(chap. 29: 4,) it seems to me probable that Nahor, who had remained in
Chaldea, because it would be troublesome to leave his native soil, in
process of time changed his mind; either because filial piety
constrained him to attend to his decrepit and declining father, or
because he had learned that he might have there a home as commodious as
in his own country. It certainly appears from the eleventh chapter that
he had not migrated at the same time with his father.
  5. "And the servant said unto him." Since he raises no objection
respecting Isaac, we may conjecture that he was so fully persuaded of
his integrity as to have no doubt of his acquiescence in his father's
will. We must also admire the religious scrupulosity of the man, seeing
he does not rashly take an oath. What pertained to the faithful and
diligent discharge of his own duty he might lawfully promise, under the
sanction of an oath; but since the completion of the affair depended on
the will of others, he properly and wisely adduces this exception, "Per
adventure the woman will not be willing to follow me."
  6. "Beware that thou bring not my son thither again." If the woman
should not be found willing, Abraham, commending the event to God,
firmly adheres to the principal point, that his son Isaac should not
return to his country, because in this manner he would have deprived
himself of the promised inheritance. He therefore chooses rather to live
by hope, as a stranger, in the land of Canaan, than to rest among his
relatives in his native soil: and thus we see that, in perplexed and
confused affairs, the mind of the holy man was not drawn aside from the
command of God by any agitating cares; and we are taught, by his
example, to follow God through every obstacle. However, he afterwards
declares that he looks for better things. By such words he confirms the
confidence of his servant, so that he, anticipating with greater
alacrity a prosperous issue, might prepare for the journey.
  7. "The Lord God of heaven." By a twofold argument Abraham infers,
that what he is deliberating respecting the marriage of his son will, by
the grace of God, have a prosperous issue. First, because God had not
led him forth in vain from his own country into a foreign land; and
secondly, because God had not falsely promised to give the land, in
which he was dwelling as a stranger, to his seed. He might also with
propriety be confident that his design should succeed, because he had
undertaken it only by the authority, and, as it were, under the auspices
of God; for it was his exclusive regard for God which turned away his
mind from the daughters of Canaan. He may, however, be thought to have
inferred without reason that God would give his son a wife from that
country and kindred to which he himself had bidden farewell. But whereas
he had left his relatives only at the divine command, he hopes that God
will incline their minds to be propitious and favourable to him.
Meanwhile he concludes, from the past kindnesses of God, that his hand
would not fail him in the present business; as if he would say, "I, who
at the command of God left my country, and have experienced his
continued help in my pilgrimage, do not doubt that he will also be the
guide of thy journey, because it is in reliance on his promise that I
lay upon thee this injunction." He then describes the mode in which
assistance would be granted; namely, that God would send his angel, for
he knew that God helps his servants by the ministration of angels, of
which he had already received many proofs. By calling God "the God of
heaven," he celebrates that divine power which was the ground of his
  10. "And the servant took ten camels." He takes the camels with him,
to prove that Abraham is a man of great wealth, in order that he may the
more easily obtain what he desires. For even an open-hearted girl would
not easily suffer herself to be drawn away to a distant region, unless
on the proposed condition of being supplied with the conveniences of
life. Exile itself is sad enough, without poverty as its attendant.
Therefore, that the maid might not be deterred by the apprehension of
want, but rather invited by the prospect of affluence, he ladens ten
camels with presents, to give sufficient proof to the inhabitants of
Chaldea of the domestic opulence of Abraham. What follows, namely, "that
all the substance of Abraham was in the hand of his servant," some of
the Hebrews improperly explain as meaning that the servant took with him
an account of all Abraham's wealth, described and attested in written
documents. It is rather the assigning of the reason of the fact, which
might appear improbable, that the servant assumed so much power to
himself. Therefore Moses, having said that a man who was but a servant
set out on a journey with such a sumptuous and splendid equipage,
immediately adds, that he did this of his own accord, because he had all
the substance of Abraham in his hand. In saying that he came to the city
of Nahor, he neither mentions the name of the city nor the part of
Chaldea, or of any other region, where he dwelt, but only says, in
general terms, that he came to "Syria of the rivers," concerning which
term I have said something above.
  12. "O lord God of my master Abraham." The servant, being destitute of
counsel, retakes himself to prayers. Yet he does not simply ask counsel
of the Lord; but he also prays that the maid appointed to be the wife of
Isaac should be brought to him with a certain sign, from which he might
gather that she was divinely presented to him. It is an evidence of his
piety and faith, that in a matter of such perplexity he is not
bewildered, as one astonished; but breaks forth into prayer with a
collected mind. But the method which he uses seems scarcely consistent
with the true rule of prayer. For, first, we know that no one prays
aright unless he subjects his own wishes to God. Wherefore there is
nothing more unsuitable than to prescribe anything, at our own will, to
God. Where, then, it may be asked, is the religion of the servant, who,
according to his own pleasure, imposes a law upon God? Secondly, there
ought to be nothing ambiguous in our prayers; and absolute certainty is
to be sought for only in the Word of God. Now, since the servant
prescribes to God what answer shall be given, he appears culpably to
depart from the suitable modesty of prayer; for although no promise had
been given him, he nevertheless desires to be made fully certain
respecting the whole affair. God, however, in hearkening to his wish,
proves, by the event, that it was acceptable to himself. Therefore we
must know, that although a special promise had not been made at the
moment, yet the servant was not praying rashly, nor according to the
lust of the flesh, but by the secret impulse of the Spirit. Moreover,
the general law, by which all the pious are bound, does not prevent the
Lord, when he determines to give something extraordinary, from directing
the minds of his servants towards it; not that he would lead them away
from his word, but only that he makes some peculiar concession to them
in their mode of praying. The sum of the prayer before us is this: "O
Lord, if a damsel shall present herself who, being asked to give me
drink, shall also kindly and courteously offer it to my camels, I will
seek after her as a wife for my master Isaac, just as if she were
delivered into my hand by thee." He seems, indeed, to be laying hold on
some dubious conjecture; but since he reposes on the Providence of God,
he is certainly persuaded that this token shall be to him equivalent to
an oracle; because God, who is the guardian of his enterprise, will not
suffer him to err. Meanwhile this is worthy of remark, that he does not
fetch the sign of recognition from afar, but takes it from something
present; for she who shall be thus humane to an unknown guest, will, by
that very act, give proof of an excellent disposition. This observation
may be of use to prevent inquisitive men from adducing this example as a
precedent for vain prognostications. In the words themselves the
following particulars are to be noticed: first, that he addresses
himself to the God of his master Abraham; not as being himself a
stranger to the worship of God, but because the affair in question
depends upon the promise given to Abraham. And truly he had no
confidence in prayer, from any other source than from the covenant into
which God had entered with the house of Abraham. The expression "cause
to meet me this day," Jerome renders, "meet me, I pray, this day." But
the verb is transitive, and the servant of Abraham intimates by the use
of it, that the affairs of men were so ordered by the counsel and the
hand of God, that the issue of them was not fortuitous; as if he would
say, "O Lord, in vain shall I look on this side and on that; in vain
shall I catch at success by my own labour, industry and various
contrivances, unless thou direct the work." And when he immediately
afterwards subjoins, "show kindness to my master," he implies that in
this undertaking he rests upon nothing but the grace which God had
promised to Abraham.
  15. "Before he had done speaking." The sequel sufficiently
demonstrates that his wish had not been foolish]y conceived. For the
quickness of the answer manifests the extraordinary indulgence of God,
who does not suffer the man to be long harassed with anxiety. Rebekah
had, indeed, left her house before he began to pray; but it must be
maintained that the Lord, at whose disposal are both the moments of time
and the ways of man, had so ordered it on both sides as to give clear
manifestation of his Providence. For sometimes he keeps us the longer in
suspense, till, wearied with praying, we may seem to have lost our
labour; but in this affair, in order that his blessing might not seem
doubtful, he suddenly interposed. The same thing also happened to
Daniel, unto whom the angel appeared, before the conclusion of his
prayer. (Dan. 9: 21.) Now, although it frequently happens that, on
account of our sloth, the Lord delays to grant our requests, it is, at
such times, expedient for us, that what we ask should be delayed. In the
meantime, he has openly and conspicuously proved, by unquestionable
examples, that although the event may not immediately respond to our
wishes, the prayers of his people are never in vain: yea, his own
declaration, that before they cry he is mindful of their wants, is
invariably fulfilled. (Isa. 65: 24.)
  21. "And the man, wondering at her, held his peace." This wondering of
Abraham's servant, shows that he had some doubt in his mind. He is
silently inquiring within himself, whether God would render his journey
prosperous. Has he, then, no confidence concerning that divine
direction, of which he had received the sign or pledge? I answer, that
faith is never so absolutely perfect in the saints as to prevent the
occurrence of many doubts. There is, therefore, no absurdity in
supposing that the servant of Abraham, though committing himself
generally to the providence of God, yet wavers, and is agitated, amidst
a multiplicity of conflicting thoughts. Again, faith, although it
pacifies and calms the minds of the pious, so that they patiently wait
for God, still does not exonerate them from all care; because it is
necessary that patience itself should be exercised, by anxious
expectation, until the Lord fulfill what he has promised. But though
this hesitation of Abraham's servant was not free from fault, inasmuch
as it flowed from infirmity of faith; it is vet, on this account,
excusable, because he did not turn his eyes in another direction, but
only sought from the event a confirmation of his faith, that he might
perceive God to be present with him.
  22. "The man took a golden earring." His adorning the damsel with
precious ornaments is a token of his confidence. For since it is evident
by many proofs that he was an honest and careful servant, he would not
throw away without discretion the treasures of his master. He knows,
therefore, that these gifts will not be ill-bestowed; or, at least,
relying on the goodness of God, he gives them, in faith, as an earnest
of future marriage. But it may be asked, Whether God approves ornaments
of this kind, which pertain not so much to neatness as to pomp? I
answer, that the things related in Scripture are not always proper to be
imitated. Whatever the Lord commands in general terms is to be accounted
as an inflexible rule of conduct; but to rely on particular examples is
not only dangerous, but even foolish and absurd. Now we know how highly
displeasing to God is not only pomp and ambition in adorning the body,
but all kind of luxury. In order to free the heart from inward cupidity,
he condemns that immoderate and superfluous splendour, which contains
within itself many allurements to vice. Where, indeed, is pure sincerity
of heart found under splendid ornaments? Certainly all acknowledge this
virtue to be rare. It is not, however, for us expressly to forbid every
kind of ornament; yet because whatever exceeds the frugal use of such
things is tarnished with some degree of vanity; and more especially,
because the cupidity of women is, on this point, insatiable; not only
must moderation, but even abstinence, be cultivated as far as possible.
Further, ambition silently creeps in, so that the somewhat excessive
adorning of the person soon breaks out into disorder. With respect to
the earrings and bracelets of Rebekah, as I do not doubt that they were
those in use among the rich, so the uprightness of the age allowed them
to be sparingly and frugally used; and yet I do not excuse the fault.
This example, however, neither helps us, nor alleviates our guilt, if,
by such means, we excite and continually inflame those depraved lusts
which, even when all incentives are removed, it is excessively difficult
to restrain. The women who desire to shine in gold, seek in Rebekah a
pretext for their corruption. Why, therefore, do they not, in like
manner, conform to the same austere kind of life and rustic labour to
which she applied herself? But, as I have just said, they are deceived
who imagine that the examples of the saints can sanction them in
opposition to the common law of God. Should any one object that it is
abhorrent to the modesty of a virtuous and chaste maiden to receive
earrings and bracelets from a man who was a stranger, and whom she had
never before seen. In the first place, it may be, that Moses passes over
much conversation held on both sides, by which it is probable she was
induced to venture on the reception of them. It may also be, that he
relates first what was last in order. For it follows soon afterwards in
the context, that the servant of Abraham inquired whose daughter she
was. We must also take into account the simplicity of that age. Whence
does it arise that it was not disreputable for a maid to go alone out of
the city, unless that then the morals of mankind did not require so
severe a guard for the preservation of modesty? Indeed, it appears from
the context, that the ornaments were not given her for a dishonourable
purpose; but a portions is offered to the parents to facilitate the
contract for marriage. Interpreters are not agreed respecting the value
of the presents. Moses estimates the earrings at half a shekel, and the
bracelets at ten shekels. Jerome, instead of half a shekel, reads two
shekels. I conceive the genuine sense to be, that the bracelets were
worth ten shekels, and the frontal ornament or earrings worth half that
sum, or five shekels. For since nothing is added after the word "bekah,"
it has reference to the greater number. Otherwise here is no suitable
proportion between the bracelets and the ornaments for the head.
Moreover, if we take the shekel for four Attic drachms, the value is
trifling; therefore I think the weight of gold is indicated, which makes
the sum much greater than the piece of money called a shekel.
  26. "And the man bowed down his head." When the servant of Abraham
hears that he had alighted upon the daughter of Bethel, he is more and
more elated with hope. Yet he does not exult, as profane men are wont to
do, as if the occurrence were fortuitous; but he gives thanks to God,
regarding it, as the result of Providence, that he had been thus
opportunely led straight to the place he had wished. He does not,
therefore, boast of his good fortune; but he declares that God had dealt
kindly and faithfully with Abraham; or, in other words, that, for his
own mercy's sake, God had been faithful in fulfilling his promises. It
is true that the same form of speech is applied to the persons present;
just as it follows soon after in the same chapter, (ver. 49,) "If ye
will deal kindly and truly with my master tell me." The language is,
however, peculiarly suitable to the character of God, both because he
gratuitously confers favours upon men, and is specially inclined to
beneficence: and also, by never frustrating their hope, he proves
himself to be faithful and true. This thanksgiving, therefore, teaches
us always to have the providence of God before our eyes, in order that
we may ascribe to him whatever happens prosperously to us.
  28. "And the damsel ran and told them of her mother's house." It is
possible, that the mother of Rebekah occupied a separate house; not that
she had a family divided from that of her husband, but for the purpose
of keeping her daughters and maidens under her own custody. The
expression may, however, be more simply explained to mean, that she came
directly to her mother's chamber; because she could more easily relate
the matter to her than to her father. It is also probable, that when
Bethuel was informed of the fact, by the relation of his wife, their son
Laban was sent by both of them to introduce the stranger. Other
explanations are needless.
  33. "I will not eat until I have told my errand." Moses begins to show
by what means the parents of Rebekah were induced to give her in
marriage to their nephew. That the servant, when food was set before
him, should refuse to eat till he had completed his work is a proof of
his diligence and fidelity; and it may with propriety be regarded as one
of the benefits which God had vouchsafed to Abraham, that he should have
a servant so faithful, and so intent upon his duty. Since, however, this
was the reward of the holy discipline which Abraham maintained, we
cannot wonder that very few such servants are to be found, seeing that
everywhere they are so ill-governed.
  Moreover, although the servant seems to weave a superfluous story, yet
there is nothing in it which is not available to his immediate purpose.
He knew that it was a feeling naturally inherent in parents, not
willingly to send away their children to a distance. He therefore first
commemorates Abraham's riches, that they might not hesitate to connect
their daughter with a husband so wealthy. He secondly explains that
Isaac was born of his mother in her old age; not merely for the purpose
of informing them that he had been miraculously given to his father,
whence they might infer that he had been divinely appointed to this
greatness and eminence; but that an additional commendation might be
given on account of Isaac's age. In the third place, he affirms that
Isaac would be the sole heir of his father. Fourthly, he relates that he
had been bound by an oath to seek a wife for his master Isaac, from
among his own kindred; which special choice on the part of Abraham was
very effectual in moving them to compliance. Fifthly, he states that
Abraham, in full confidence that God would be the leader of his journey,
had committed the whole business to him. Sixthly, he declares, that
whatever he had asked in prayer he had obtained from the Lord; whence it
appeared that the marriage of which he was about to treat was according
to the will of God. We now see the design of his narration: First, to
persuade the parents of Rebekah that he had not been sent for the
purpose of deceiving them, that he had not in anything acted craftily,
or by oblique methods, but in the fear of the Lord, as the religious
obligation of marriage requires. Secondly, that he was desiring nothing
which would not be profitable and honorable for them. And lastly, that
God had been the director of the whole affair.
  Moreover, since the servant of Abraham, though persuaded that the
angel of God would be the guide of his journey, yet neither directs his
prayers nor his thanksgivings to him, we may hence learn that angels are
not, in such a sense, constituted the ministers of God to us, as that
they should be invoked by us, or should transfer to themselves the
worship due to God; a superstition which prevails nearly over the whole
world to such a degree, that men turn aside a portion of their faith
from the only fountain of all good to the rivulets which flow from it.
The clause, "the Lord, before whom I walk," (ver. 40,) which some refer
to the probity and good conscience of Abraham, I rather explain as
applying to the faith, by which he set God before him, as the governor
of his life, being confident that he was the object of God's care, and
dependent upon his grace.
  "If ye will deal kindly." I have lately related the force of this
expression; namely, to act with humanity and good faith. He thus
modestly and suppliantly asks them to consent to the marriage of Isaac
and Rebekah: should he meet with a repulse from them, he says, he will
go either to the right hand or to the left; that is, he will look around
elsewhere. For he places the right hand and the left in contrast with
the straight way in which he had been led to them. It is, however, with
fertile ingenuity that some of the Hebrews explain the words as meaning,
that he would go to Lot, or to Ishmael.
  50. "The thing proceedeth from the Lord." Whereas they are convinced
by the discourse of the man, that God was the Author of this marriage,
they avow that it would be unlawful for them to offer anything in the
way of contradiction. They declare that the thing proceedeth from the
Lord; because he had, by the clearest signs, made his will manifest.
Hence we perceive, that although the true religion was in part observed
among them, and in part infected with vicious errors, yet the fear of
God was never so utterly extinguished, but this axiom remained firmly
fixed in all their minds, that God must be obeyed. If, then, wretched
idolaters, who had almost fallen away from religion, nevertheless so
subjected themselves to God, as to acknowledge it to be unlawful for
them to swerve from his will, how much more prompt ought our obedience
to be? Therefore, as soon as the will of God is made known to us, not
only let our tongues be silent, but let all our senses be still; because
it is an audacious profanation to admit any thought which is opposed to
that will.
  52. "He worshipped." Moses again repeats that Abraham's servant gave
thanks to God; and it is not without reason that he so often inculcates
this religious duty; because, since God requires nothing greater from
us, the neglect of it betrays the most shameful indolence. The
acknowledgment of God's kindness is a sacrifice of sweet-smelling
savour; yea, it is a more acceptable service than all sacrifices. God is
continually heaping innumerable benefits upon men. Their ingratitude,
therefore, is intolerable, if they fail to exercise themselves in
celebrating those benefits.
  54. "And they rose up in the morning." On this point Moses insists the
more particularly; partly, for the purpose of commending the faithful
industry of the servant in fulfilling his master's commands; partly, for
that of teaching, that his mind was inflamed by the Spirit of God, for
he is so ardent as to allow no truce to others, and no relaxation to
himself. Thus, although he conducted himself as became an honest and
prudent servant, it is still not to be doubted that the Lord impelled
him, for Isaac's sake, to act as he did. So the Lord watches over his
own people while they sleep, expedites and accomplishes their affairs in
their absence, and influences the dispositions of all, so far as is
expedient, to render them assistance. It is by a forced interpretation,
that some would explain the ten days, during which Laban and his mother
desire the departure of Rebekah to be deferred, as meaning years or
months. For it was merely the tender wish of the mother, who could ill
bear that her daughter should thus suddenly be torn away from her bosom.
  57. "We will call the damsel." Bethuel, who had before unreservedly
given his daughter in marriage, now seems to adhere, with but little
constancy, to his purpose. When, however, he had previously offered his
daughter, without making any exception, he is to be understood as having
done it, only so far as he was able. But now, Moses declares that he did
not exercise tyranny over his daughter, so as to thrust her out
reluctantly, or to compel her to marry against her will, but left her to
her own free choice. Truly, in this matter, the authority of parents
ought to be sacred: but a middle course is to be pursued, so that the
parties concerned may make their contract spontaneously, and with mutual
consent. It is not right to understand that Rebekah in answering so
explicitly, showed contempt for the paternal roof, or too anxiously
desired a husband; but since she saw that the affair was transacted by
the authority of her father, and with the consent of her mother, she
also herself acquiesced in it.
  59. "And they sent away Rebekah." Moses first relates, that Rebekah
was honorably dismissed; because her nurse was given unto her. Moreover,
I doubt not that they had domestic nurses, who were their handmaidens;
not that mothers entirely neglected that duty, but that they committed
the care of education to one particular maid. They therefore who
assisted mothers with subsidiary service were called nurses. Moses
afterwards adds, that Rebekah's relatives "blessed her," (verse 60,) by
which expression he means, that they prayed that her condition might be
a happy one. We know that it was a solemn custom, in all ages, and among
all people, to accompany marriages with all good wishes. And although
posterity has greatly degenerated from the pure and genuine method of
celebrating marriages used by the fathers; yet it is God's will that
some public testimony should stand forth, by which men may be
admonished, that no nuptials are lawful, except those which are rightly
consecrated. Now, the particular form of benediction which is here
related, was probably in common use, because nature dictates that the
propagation of offspring is the special end of marriage. Under the
notion of victory (ver. 60) is comprehended a prosperous state of life.
The Lord, however, directed their tongues to utter a prophecy of which
they themselves were ignorant. "To possess the gates of enemies," means
to obtain dominion over them; because judgment was administered in the
gates, and the bulwarks of the city were placed there.
  63. "And Isaac went out." It appears that Isaac dwelt apart from his
father; either because the family was too large, or because such was the
custom. And perhaps Abraham had already married another wife; so that,
for the sake of avoiding contentions, it would seem more convenient for
him to have a house of his own. Thus great wealth has its attendant
troubles. Doubtless, of all earthly blessings granted by God, none would
have been sweeter to Abraham than that of living with his son. However,
I by no means think that he was deprived of his society and assistance.
For such was the piety of Isaac, that he undoubtedly studied to
discharge every duty towards his father: this alone was wanting, that
they did not live in the same house. Moses also relates how it happened
that Isaac met with his wife before she reached his home. For he says,
that Isaac went out in the evening to meditate or to pray. For the
Hebrew word "suach" may mean either. It is probable that he did this
according to his custom, and that he sought a place of retirement for
prayer, in order that his mind, being released from all avocations,
might be the more at liberty to serve God. Whether, however, he was
giving his mind to meditation or to prayer, the Lord granted him a token
of his own presence in that joyful meeting.
  64. "And Rebekah lifted up her eyes." We may easily conjecture that
Isaac, when he saw the camels, turned his steps towards them, from the
desire of seeing his bride; this gave occasion to the inquiry of
Rebekah. Having received the answer, she immediately, for the sake of
doing honour to her husband, dismounted her camel to salute him. For
that she fell, struck with fear, as some suppose, in no way agrees with
the narrative. She had performed too long a journey, under the
protection of many attendants, to be so greatly afraid at the sight of
one man. But these interpreters are deceived, because they do not
perceive, that in the words of Moses, the reason is afterwards given to
this effect, that when Rebekah saw Isaac, she alighted from her camel;
because she had inquired of the servant who he was, and had been told
that he was the son of his master Abraham. It would not have entered
into her mind to make such inquiry respecting any person whom she might
accidentally meet: but seeing she had been informed that Abraham's house
was not far distant, she supposes him at least to be one of the
domestics. Moses also says that she took a veil: which was a token of
shame and modesty. For hence also, the Latin word which signifies "to
marry," is derived, because it was the custom to give brides veiled to
their husbands. That the same rite was also observed by the fathers, I
have no doubt. So much the more shameful, and the less capable of
excuse, is the licentiousness of our own age; in which the apparel of
brides seems to be purposely contrived for the subversion of all
  67. "And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent." He first
brought her into the tent, then took her as his wife. By the very
arrangement of his words, Moses distinguishes between the legitimate
mode of marriage and barbarism. And certainly the sanctity of marriage
demands that man and woman should not live together like cattle; but
that, having pledged their mutual faith, and invoked the name of God,
they might dwell with each other. Besides, it is to be observed, that
Isaac was not compelled, by the tyrannical command of his father, to
marry; but after he had given his mind to her he took her freely, and
cordially gave her the assurance of conjugal fidelity.
  "And Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." Since his grief
for the death of his mother was now first assuaged, we infer how great
had been its vehemence; for a period sufficiently long had already
elapsed. We may also hence infer, that the affection of Isaac was tender
and gentle: and that his love to his mother was of no common kind,
seeing he had so long lamented her death. And the knowledge of this fact
is useful to prevent us from imagining that the holy patriarchs were men
of savage manners and of iron hardness of heart, and from becoming like
those who conceive fortitude to consist in brutality. Only care must be
taken that grief should be duly mitigated; lest it burst forth in
impious murmurings, or subvert the hope of a future resurrection. I do
not however entirely excuse the sorrow of Isaac; I only advise, that
what belongs to humanity, ought not to be altogether condemned. And
although it was culpable not to be able to efface grief from the mind,
until the opposite joy of marriage prevailed over it; Moses still
reckons it among the benefits conferred by God, that he applies a remedy
of any kind to his servant.

Chapter XXV.

1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name [was] Keturah.
2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and
Ishbak, and Shuah.
3 And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were
Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim.
4 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and
Eldaah. All these [were] the children of Keturah.
5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac.
6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave
gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived,
eastward, unto the east country.
7 And these [are] the days of the years of Abraham's life which he
lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years.
8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old
man, and full [of years]; and was gathered to his people.
9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in
the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which [is] before
10 The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was
Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.
11 And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his
son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi.
12 Now these [are] the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar
the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bare unto Abraham:
13 And these [are] the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names,
according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and
Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam,
14 And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa,
15 Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah:
16 These [are] the sons of Ishmael, and these [are] their names, by
their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their
17 And these [are] the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and
thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was
gathered unto his people.
18 And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that [is] before Egypt, as
thou goest toward Assyria: [and] he died in the presence of all his
19 And these [are] the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham
begat Isaac:
20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the
daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the
21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she [was] barren:
and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If [it
be] so, why [am] I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD.
23 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations [are] in thy womb, and two
manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and [the one]
people shall be stronger than [the other] people; and the elder shall
serve the younger.
24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, [there
were] twins in her womb.
25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they
called his name Esau.
26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's
heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac [was] threescore years
old when she bare them.
27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field;
and Jacob [was] a plain man, dwelling in tents.
28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of [his] venison: but
Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he [was]
30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red
[pottage]; for I [am] faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I [am] at the point to die: and what profit
shall this birthright do to me?
33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he
sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat
and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised [his]

  1. "Then again Abrahaqn took a wife." It seems very absurd that
Abraham, who is said to have been dead in his own body thirty-eight
years before the decease of Sarah, should, after her death, marry
another wife. such an act was, certainly, unworthy of his gravity.
Besides, when Paul commends his faith, (Rom. 4: 19,) he not only asserts
that the womb of Sarah was dead, when Isaac was about to be born, but
also that the body of the father himself was dead. Therefore Abraham
acted most foolishly, if, after the loss of his wife, he, in the
decrepitude of old age, contracted another marriage. Further, it is at
variance with the language of Paul, that he, who in his hundredth year
was cold and impotent, should, forty years afterwards, have many sons.
Many commentators, to avoid this absurdity, suppose Keturah to have been
the same person as Hagar. But their conjecture is immediately refuted in
the context; where Moses says, Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his
concubines. The same point is clear]y established from 1 Chron. 1: 32.
Others conjecture that, while Sarah was yet living, he took another
wife. This, although worthy of grave censure, is however not altogether
incredible. We know it to be not uncommon for men to be rendered bold by
excessive license. Thus Abraham having once transgressed the law of
marriage, perhaps, after the dispute respecting Hagar, did not desist
from the practice of polygamy. It is also probable that his mind had
been wounded, by the divorce which Sarah had compelled him to make with
Hagar. Such conduct indeed was disgraceful, or, at least, unbecoming in
the holy patriarch. Nevertheless no other, of all the conjectures which
have been made, seems to me more probable. If it be admitted, the
narrative belongs to another place; but Moses is frequently accustomed
to place those things which have precedence in time, in a different
order. And though this reason should not be deemed conclusive, yet the
fact itself shows an inverted order in the history. Sarah had passed her
ninetieth year, when she brought forth her son Isaac; she died in the
hundred and twenty-seventh year of her age; and Isaac married when he
was forty years old. Therefore, nearly four years intervened between the
death of his mother and his nuptials. If Abraham took a wife after this,
what was he thinking of, seeing that he had been during so many years
accustomed to a single life? It is therefore lawful to conjecture that
Moses, in writing the life of Abraham, when he approached the closing
scene, inserted what he had before omitted. The difficulty, however, is
not yet solved. For whence proceeded Abraham's renovated vigour, since
Paul testifies that his body had long ago been withered by age?
Augustine supposes not only that strength was imparted to him for a
short space of time, which might suffice for Isaac's birth; but that by
a divine restoration, it flourished again during the remaining term of
his life. Which opinion, both because it amplifies the glory of the
miracle, and for other reasons, I willingly embrace. And what I have
before said, namely, that Isaac was miraculously born, as being a
spiritual seed, is not opposed to this view; for it was especially on
his account that the failing body of Abraham was restored to vigour.
That others were afterwards born was, so to speak, adventitious. Thus
the blessing of God pronounced in the words, "Increase and multiply,"
which was annexed expressly to marriage, is also extended to unlawful
connexions. Certainly, if Abraham married a wife while Sarah was yet
alive, (as I think most probable,) his adulterous connexion was unworthy
of the divine benediction. But although we know not why this addition
was made to the just measure of favour granted to Abraham, yet the
wonderful providence of God appears in this, that while many nations of
considerable importance descended from his other sons, the spiritual
covenant, of which the rest also bore the sign in their flesh, remained
in the exclusive possession of Isaac.
  6. "But unto the sons of the concubines." Moses relates, that when
Abraham was about to die, he formed the design of removing all cause of
strife among his sons after his death, by constituting Isaac his sole
heir, and dismissing the rest with suitable gifts. This dismissal was,
indeed, apparently harsh and cruel; but it was agreeable to the
appointment and decree of God, in order that the entire possession of
the land might remain for the posterity of Isaac. For it was not lawful
for Abraham to divide, at his own pleasure, that inheritance which had
been granted entire to Isaac. Wherefore, no course was left to him but
to provide for the rest of his sons in the manner here described. If any
person should now select one of his sons as his heir, to the exclusion
of the others, he would do them an injury; and, by applying the torch of
injustice, in disinheriting a part of his children, he would light up
the flame of pernicious strifes in his family. Wherefore, we must note
the special reason by which Abraham was not only induced, but compelled,
to deprive his sons of the inheritance, and to remove them to a
distance; namely, lest by their intervention, the grant which had been
divinely made to Isaac should, of necessity, be disturbed. We have
elsewhere said that, among the Hebrews, she who is a partaker of the
bed, but not of all the goods, is styled a concubine. The same
distinction has been adopted into the customs, and sanctioned by the
laws of all nations. So, we shall afterwards see, that Leah and Rachel
were principal wives, but that Bilhah and Zilpah were in the second
rank; so that their condition remained servile, although they were
admitted to the conjugal bed. Since Abraham had made Hagar and Keturah
his wives on this condition, it seems that he might lawfully bestow on
their sons, only a small portion of his goods; to have transferred,
however, from his only heir to them, equal portions of his property,
would have been neither just nor right. It is probable that no
subsequent strife or contention took place respecting the succession;
but by sending the sons of the concubines far away, he provides against
the danger of which I have spoken, lest they should occupy a part of the
land which God had assigned to the posterity of Isaac alone.
  7. "And these are the days." Moses now brings us down to the death of
Abraham; and the first thing to be noticed concerning his age is the
number of years during which he lived as a pilgrim; for he deserves the
praise of wonderful and incomparable patience, for having wandered
through the space of a hundred years, while God led him about in various
directions, contented, both in life and death, with the bare promise of
God. Let those be ashamed who find it difficult to bear the disquietude
of one, or of a few years, since Abraham, the father of the faithful,
was not merely a stranger during a hundred years, but was also often
cast forth into exile. Meanwhile, however, Moses expressly shows that
the Lord had fulfilled his promise, "Thou shalt die in a good old age:"
for although he fought a hard and severe battle, yet his consolation was
neither light nor small; because he knew that, amidst so many
sufferings, his life was the object of Divine care. But if this sole
looking unto God sustained him through his whole life, amidst the most
boisterous waves, amidst many bitter griefs, amidst tormenting cares,
and in short an accumulated mass of evils; let us also learn--that we
may not become weary in our course--to rely on this support, that the
Lord has promised us a happy issue of life, and one truly far more
glorious than that of our father Abraham.
  8. "Then Abraham gave up the ghost." They are mistaken who suppose
that this expression denotes sudden death, as intimating that he had not
been worn out by long disease, but expired without pain. Moses rather
means to say that the father of the faithful was not exempt from the
common lot of men, in order that our minds may not languish when the
outward man is perishing; but that, by meditating on that renovation
which is laid up as the object of our hope, we may, with tranquil minds,
suffer this frail tabernacle to be dissolved. There is therefore no
reason why a feeble, emaciated body, failing eyes, tremulous hands, and
the lost use of all our members, should so dishearten us, that we should
not hasten, after the example of our father, with joy and alacrity to
our death. But although Abraham had this in common with the human race,
that he grew old and died; yet Moses, shortly afterwards, puts a
difference between him and the promiscuous multitude of men as to manner
of dying; namely, that he should "die in a good old age, and satisfied
with life." Unbelievers, indeed, often seem to participate in the same
blessing; yea, David complains that they excelled in this kind of
privilege; and a similar complaint occurs in the book of Job, namely,
that they fill up their time happily, till in a moment they descend into
the grave. But what I said before must be remembered, that the chief
part of a good old age consists in a good conscience and in a serene and
tranquil mind. Whence it follows, that what God promises to Abraham, can
only apply to those who truly cultivate righteousness: for Plato says,
with equal truth and wisdom, that a good hope is the nutriment of old
age; and therefore old men who have a guilty conscience are miserably
tormented, and are inwardly racked as by a perpetual torture. But to
this we must add, what Plato knew not, that it is godliness which causes
a good old age to attend us even to the grave, because faith is the
preserver of a tranquil mind. To the same point belongs what is
immediately added, "he was full of days," so that he did not desire a
prolongation of life. We see how many are in bondage to the desire of
life; yea, nearly the whole world languishes between a weariness of the
present life and an inexplicable desire for its continuance. That
satiety of life, therefore, which shall cause us to be ready to leave
it, is a singular favour from God.
  "And was gathered to his people." I gladly embrace the opinion of
those who believe the state of our future life to be pointed out in this
form of expression; provided we do not restrict it, as these expositors
do, to the faithful only; but understand by it that mankind are
associated together in death as well as in life. It may seem absurd to
profane men, for David to say, that the reprobate are gathered together
like sheep into the grave; but if we examine the expression more
closely, this gathering together will have no existence if their souls
are annihilated. The mention of Abraham's burial will presently follow.
Now he is said to be gathered to his fathers, which would be
inconsistent with fact if human life vanished, and men were reduced to
annihilation: wherefore the Scripture, in speaking thus, shows that
another state of life remains after death, so that a departure out of
the world is not the destruction of the whole man.
  9. "And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him." Hence it appears, that
although Ishmael had long ago been dismissed, he was not utterly
alienated from his father, because he performed the office of a son in
celebrating the obsequies of his deceased parent. Ishmael, rather than
the other sons did this, as being nearer.
  12. "Now these are the generations of Ishmael." This narration is not
superfluous. In the commencement of the chapter, Moses alludes to what
was done for the sons of Keturah. Here he speaks designedly more at
large, for the purpose of showing that the promise of God, given in the
seventeenth chapter, was confirmed by its manifest accomplishment. In
the first place, it was no common gift of God that Ishmael should have
twelve sons who should possess rank and authority over as many tribes;
but inasmuch as the event corresponded with the promise, we must chiefly
consider the veracity of God, as well as the singular benevolence and
honour which he manifested towards his servant Abraham, when, even in
those benefits which were merely adventitious, he dealt so kindly and
liberally with him; for that may rightly be regarded as adventitious
which was superadded to the spiritual covenant: therefore Moses, after
he has enumerated the towns in which the posterity of Ishmael was
distributed, buries that whole race in oblivion, that substantial
perpetuity may remain only in the Church, according to the declaration
in Psalm 102: 28, "the sons of sons shall inhabit." Further, Moses, as
with his finger, shows the wonderful counsel of God, because, in
assigning a region distinct from the land of Canaan to the sons of
Ishmael, he has both provided for them in future, and kept the
inheritance vacant for the sons of Isaac.
  18. "He died in the presence of all his brethren." The major part of
commentators understand this of his death; as if Moses had said that the
life of Ishmael was shorter than that of his brethren, who long survived
him: but because the word "naphal" is applied to a violent death, and
Moses testifies that Ishmael died a natural death, this exposition
cannot be approved. The Chaldean Paraphrast supposes the word "lot" to
be understood, and elicits this sense, that the lot fell to him, so as
to assign him a habitation not far from his brethren. Although I do not
greatly differ in this matter, I yet think that the words are not to be
thus distorted. The word "naphal" sometimes signifies to lie down, or to
rest, and also to dwell. The simple assertion therefore of Moses is,
that a habitation was given to Ishmael opposite his brethren, so that he
should indeed be a neighbour to them, and yet should have his distinct
boundaries: for I do not doubt that he referred to the oracle contained
in the sixteenth chapters where, among other things, the angel said to
his mother Hagar, "He shall remain, or pitch his tents in the presence
of his brethren." Why does he rather speak thus of Ishmael than of the
others, except for this reason, that whereas they migrated towards the
eastern region, Ishmael, although the head of a nation, separated from
the sons of Abraham, yet retained his dwelling in their neighbourhood?
Meanwhile the intention of God is also to be observed, namely, that
Ishmael, though living near his brethren, was yet placed apart in an
abode of his own, that he might not become mingled with them, but might
dwell in their presence, or opposite to them. Moreover, it is
sufficiently obvious that the prediction is not to be restricted
personally to Ishmael.
  19. "These are the generations of Isaac." Because what Moses has said
concerning the Ishmaelites was incidental, he now returns to the
principal subject of the history, for the purpose of describing the
progress of the Church. And in the first place, he repeats that Isaac's
wife was taken from Mesopotamia. He expressly calls her the sister of
Laban the Syrian, who was hereafter to become the father-in-law of
Jacob, and concerning whom he had many things to relate. But it is
chiefly worthy of observation that he declares Rebekah to have been
barren during the early years of her marriage. And we shall afterwards
see that her barrenness continued, not for three or four, but for twenty
years, in order that her very despair of offspring might give greater
lustre to the sudden granting of the blessing. But nothing seems less
accordant with reason, than that the propagation of the Church should be
thus small and slow. Abraham, in his extreme old age, received (as it
seems) a slender solace for his long privation of offspring, in having
all his hope centred in one individual. Isaac also, already advanced in
years, and bordering on old age, was not yet a father. Where, then, was
the seed which should equal the stars of heaven in number? Who would not
suppose that God was dealing deceitfully in leaving those houses empty
and solitary, which, according to his own word, ought to be replenished
with teeming population? But that which is recorded in the psalm must be
accomplished in reference to the Church, that "he maketh her who had
been barren to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of many children."
(Psalm 113: 9.) For this small and contemptible origin, these slow and
feeble advances, render more illustrious that increase, which afterwards
follows, beyond all hope and expectation, to teach us that the Church
was produced and increased by divine power and grace, and not by merely
natural means. It is indeed possible, that God designed to correct or
moderate any excess of attachment in Isaac. But this is to be observed
as the chief reason for God's conduct, that as the holy seed was given
from heaven, it must not be produced according to the common order of
nature, to the end, that we learn that the Church did not originate in
the industry of man, but flowed from the grace of God alone.
  21. "And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife." Some translate the
passage, "Isaac entreated the Lord in the presence of his wife;" and
understand this to have been done, that she also might add her prayers,
and they might jointly supplicate God. But the version here given is
more simple. Moreover, this resort to prayer testifies that Isaac knew
that he was deprived of children, because God had not blessed him. He
also knew that fruitfulness was a special gift of God. For although the
favour of obtaining offspring was widely diffused over the whole human
race, when God uttered the words "increase and multiply;" yet to show
that men are not born fortuitously, he distributes this power of
production in various degrees. Isaac, therefore, acknowledges, that the
blessing, which was not at man's disposal, must be sought for by prayer
from God. It now truly appears, that he was endued with no ordinary
constancy of faith. Forasmuch as the covenant of God was known to him,
he earnestly (if ever any did) desired seed. It, therefore, had not now,
for the first time, entered into his mind to pray, seeing that for more
than twenty years he had been disappointed of his hope. Hence, although
Moses, only in a single word, says that he had obtained offspring by his
prayers to God; yet reason dictates that these prayers had continued
through many years. The patience of the holy man is herein conspicuous,
that while he seems in vain to pour forth his wishes into the air, he
still does not remit the ardour of his devotion. And as Isaac teaches
us, by his example, to persevere in prayer; so God also shows that he
never turns a deaf ear to the wishes of his faithful people, although he
may long defer the answer.
  22. "And the children struggled together." Here a new temptation
suddenly arises, namely, that the infants struggle together in their
mother's womb. This conflict occasions the mother such grief that she
wishes for death. And no wonder; for she thinks that it would be a
hundred times better for her to die, than that she have within her the
horrible prodigy of twin-brothers, shut up in her womb, carrying on
intestine war. They, therefore, are mistaken, who attribute this
complaint to female impatience, since it was not so much extorted by
pain or torture, as by abhorrence of the prodigy. For she doubtless
perceived that this conflict did not arise from natural causes, but was
a prodigy portending some dreadful and tragic end. She also necessarily
felt some fear of the divine anger stealing over her: as it is usual
with the faithful not to confine their thoughts to the evil immediately
present with them, but to trace it to its cause; and hence they tremble
through the apprehension of divine judgment. But though in the beginning
she was more grievously disturbed than she ought to have been, and,
breaking out into murmurings, preserved neither moderation nor temper;
yet she soon afterwards receives a remedy and solace to her grief. We
are thus taught by her example to take care that we do not give
excessive indulgence to sorrow in affairs of perplexity, nor inflame our
minds by inwardly cherishing secret causes of distress. It is, indeed,
difficult to restrain the first emotions of our minds; but before they
become ungovernable, we must bridle them, and bring them into
subjection. And chiefly we must pray to the Lord for moderation; as
Moses here relates that Rebekah went to ask counsel from the Lord;
because, indeed, she perceived that nothing would be more effectual in
tranquilizing her mind, than to aim at obedience to the will of God,
under the conviction that she was directed by him. For although the
response given might be adverse, or, at least, not such as she would
desire, she yet hoped for some alleviation from a gracious God, with
which she might be satisfied. A question here arises respecting the way
in which Rebekah asked counsel of God. It is the commonly received
opinion that she inquired of some prophet what was the nature of this
prodigy: and Moses seems to intimate that she had gone to some place to
hear the oracle. But since that conjecture has no probability, I rather
incline to a different interpretation; namely, that she, having sought
retirement, prayed more earnestly that she might receive a revelation
from heaven. For, at that time, what prophets, except her husband and
her father-in-law, would she have found in the world, still less in that
neighbourhood? Moreover, I perceive that God then commonly made known
his will by oracles. Once more, if we consider the magnitude of the
affair, it was more fitting that the secret should be revealed by the
mouth of God, than manifested by the testimony of man. In our times a
different method prevails. For God does not, at this day, reveal things
future by such miracles; and the teaching of the Law, the Prophets, and
the Gospel, which comprises the perfection of wisdom, is abundantly
sufficient for the regulation of our course of life.
  23. "Two nations." In the first place, God answers that the contention
between the twin-brothers had reference to something far beyond their
own persons; for in this way he shows that there would be discord
between their posterities. When he says, "there are two nations," the
expression is emphatical; for since they were brothers and twins, and
therefore of one blood, the mother did not suppose that they would be so
far disjoined as to become the heads of distinct nations; yet God
declares that dissension should take place between those who were by
nature joined together. Secondly, he describes their different
conditions, namely, that victory would belong to one of these nations,
forasmuch as this was the cause of the contest, that they could not be
equal, but one was chosen and the other rejected. For since the
reprobate give way reluctantly, it follows of necessity that the
children of God have to undergo many troubles and contests on account of
their adoption. Thirdly, the Lord affirms that the order of nature being
inverted, the younger, who was inferior, should be the victor.
  We must now see what this victory implies. They who restrict it to
earthly riches and wealth coldly trifle. Undoubtedly by this oracle
Isaac and Rebekah were taught that the covenant of salvation would not
be common to the two people, but would be reserved only for the
posterity of Jacob. In the beginning, the promise was apparently
general, as comprehending the whole seed: now, it is restricted to one
part of the seed. This is the reason of the conflict, that God divides
the seed of Jacob (of which the condition appeared to be one and the
same) in such a manner that he adopts one part and rejects the other:
that one part obtains the name and privilege of the Church, the rest are
reckoned strangers; with one part resides the blessing of which the
other is deprived; as it afterwards actually occurred: for we know that
the Idumaeans were cut off from the body of the Church; but the covenant
of grace was deposited in the family of Jacob. If we seek the cause of
this distinction, it will not be found in nature; for the origin of both
nations was the same. It will not be found in merit; because the heads
of both nations were yet enclosed in their mother's womb when the
contention began. Moreover God, in order to humble the pride of the
flesh, determined to take away from men all occasion of confidence and
of boasting. He might have brought forth Jacob first from the womb; but
he made the other the firstborn, who, at length, was to become the
inferior. Why does he thus, designedly, invert the order appointed by
himself, except to teach us that, without regard to dignity, Jacob, who
was to be the heir of the promised benediction, was gratuitously
elected? The sum of the whole, then, is, that the preference which God
gave to Jacob over his brother Esau, by making him the father of the
Church, was not granted as a reward for his merits, neither was obtained
by his own industry, but proceeded from the mere grace of God himself.
But when an entire people is the subject of discourse, reference is made
not to the secret election, which is confirmed to few, but the common
adoption, which spreads as widely as the external preaching of the word.
Since this subject, thus briefly stated, may be somewhat obscure, the
readers may recall to memory what I have said above in expounding the
seventeenth chapter, namely, that God embraced, by the grace of his
adoption, all the sons of Abraham, because he made a covenant with all;
and that it was not in vain that he appointed the promise of salvation
to be offered promiscuously to all, and to be attested by the sign of
circumcision in their flesh; but that there was a special chosen seed
from the whole people, and these should at length be accounted the
legitimate sons of Abraham, who by the secret counsel of God are
ordained unto salvation. Faith, indeed, is that which distinguishes the
spiritual from the carnal seed; but the question now under consideration
is the principle on which the distinction is made, not the symbol or
mark by which it is attested. God, therefore, chose the whole seed of
Jacob without exception, as the Scripture in many places testifies;
because he has conferred on all alike the same testimonies of his grace,
namely, in the word and sacraments. But another and peculiar election
has always flourished, which comprehended a certain definite number of
men, in order that, in the common destruction, God might save those whom
he would.
  A question is here suggested for our consideration. Whereas Moses here
treats of the former kind of election, Paul turns his words to the
latter. For while he attempts to prove, that not all who are Jews by
natural descent are heirs of life; and not all who are descended from
Jacob according to the flesh are to be accounted true Israelites; but
that God chooses whom he will, according to his own good pleasure, he
adduces this testimony, "the elder shall serve the younger." (Rom. 9: 7,
8, 12.) They who endeavour to extinguish the doctrine of gratuitous
election, desire to persuade their readers that the words of Paul also
are to be understood only of external vocation; but his whole discourse
is manifestly repugnant to their interpretation; and they prove
themselves to be not only infatuated, but impudent in their attempt to
bring darkness or smoke over this light which shines so clearly. They
allege that the dignity of Esau is transferred to his younger brother,
lest he should glory in the flesh; inasmuch as a new promise is here
given to the latter. I confess there is some force in what they say; but
I contend that they omit the principal point in the case, by explaining
the difference here stated, of the external vocation. But unless they
intend to make the covenant of God of none effect, they must concede
that Esau and Jacob were alike partakers of the external calling; whence
it appears, that they to whom a common vocation had been granted, were
separated by the secret counsel of God. The nature and object of Paul's
argument is well known. For when the Jews, inflated with the title of
the Church, rejected the Gospel, the faith of the simple was shaken, by
the consideration that it was improbable that Christ, and the salvation
promised through him, could possibly be rejected by an elect people, a
holy nation, and the genuine sons of God. Here, therefore, Paul contends
that not all who descend from Jacob, according to the flesh, are true
Israelites, because God, of his own good pleasure, may choose whom he
will, as heirs of eternal salvation. Who does not see that Paul descends
from a general to a particular adoption, in order to teach us, that not
all who occupy a place in the Church are to be accounted as true members
of the Church? It is certain that he openly excludes from the rank of
children those to whom (he elsewhere says) "pertaineth the adoption;"
whence it is assuredly gathered, that in proof of this position, he
adduces the testimony of Moses, who declares that God chose certain from
among the sons of Abraham to himself, in whom he might render the grace
of adoption firm and efficacious. How, therefore, shall we reconcile
Paul with Moses? I answer, although the Lord separates the whole seed of
Jacob from the race of Esau, it was done with a view to the Church,
which was included in the posterity of Jacob. And, doubtless, the
general election of the people had reference to this end, that God might
have a Church separated from the rest of the world. What absurdity,
then, is there in supposing that Paul applies to special election the
words of Moses, by which it is predicted that the Church shall spring
from the seed of Jacob? And an instance in point was exhibited in the
condition of the heads themselves of these two nations. For Jacob was
not only called by the external voice of the Lord, but, while his
brother was passed by, he was chosen an heir of life. That good pleasure
of God, which Moses commends in the person of Jacob alone, Paul properly
extends further: and lest any one should suppose, that after the two
nations had been rendered distinct by this oracle, the election should
pertain indiscriminately to all the sons of Jacob, Paul brings, on the
opposite side, another oracle, "I will have mercy on whom I will have
mercy;" where we see a certain number severed from the promiscuous race
of Jacob's sons, in the salvation of whom the special election of God
might triumph. Whence it appears that Paul wisely considered the counsel
of God, which was, in truth, that he had transferred the honour of
primogeniture from the elder to the younger, in order that he might
choose to himself a Church, according to his own will, out of the seed
of Jacob; not on account of the merits of men, but as a matter of meres
grace. And although God designed that the means by which the Church was
to be collected should be common to the whole people, yet the end which
Paul had in view is chiefly to be regarded; namely, that there might
always be a body of men in the world which should call upon God with a
pure faith, and should be kept even to the end. Let it therefore remain
as a settled point of doctrine, that among men some perish, some obtain
salvation; but the cause of this depends on the secret will of God. For
whence does it arise that they who are born of Abraham are not all
possessed of the same privilege? The disparity of condition certainly
cannot be ascribed either to the virtue of the one, or to the vice of
the other, seeing they were not yet born. Since the common feeling of
mankind rejects this doctrine, there have been found, in all ages, acute
men, who have fiercely disputed against the election of God. It is not
my present purpose to refute or to weaken their calumnies: let it
suffice us to hold fast what we gather from Paul's interpretation; that
whereas the whole human race deserves the same destruction, and is bound
under the same sentence of condemnation, some are delivered by
gratuitous mercy, others are justly left in their own destruction: and
that those whom God has chosen are not preferred to others, because God
foresaw they *would* be holy, but in order that they *might* be holy.
But if the first origin of holiness is the election of God, we seek in
vain for that difference in men, which rests solely in the will of God.
If any one desires a mystical interpretation of the subject, we may give
the following: whereas many hypocrites, who are for a time enclosed in
the womb of the Church, pride themselves upon an empty title, and, with
insolent boastings, exult over the true sons of God; internal conflicts
will hence arise, which will grievously torment the mother herself.
  24. "And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled." Moses shows
that the intestine strife in her womb continued to the time of bringing
forth; for it was not by mere accident that Jacob seized his brother by
the heel and attempted to get out before him. The Lord testified by this
sign that the effect of his election does not immediately appear; but
rather that the intervening path was strewed with troubles and
conflicts. Therefore Esau's name was allotted to him on account of his
asperity; which even from earliest infancy assumed a manly form; but the
name Jacob signifies that this giant, vainly striving in his boasted
strength, had still been vanquished.
  27. "And the boys grew." Moses now briefly describes the manners of
them both. He does not, indeed, commend Jacob on account of those rare
and excellent qualities, which are especially worthy of praise and of
remembrance, but only says that he was simple. The word "tam", although
generally taken for upright and sincere, is here put antithetically.
After the sacred writer has stated that Esau was robust, and addicted to
hunting, he places on the opposite side the mild disposition of Jacob,
who loved the quiet of home so much, that he might seem to be indolent;
just as the Greeks call those persons "oikositous", who, dwelling at
home, give no evidence of their industry. In short, the comparison
implies that Moses praises Esau on account of his vigour, but speaks of
Jacob as being addicted to domestic leisure; and that he describes the
disposition of the former as giving promise that he would be a
courageous man, while the disposition of the latter had nothing worthy
of commendation. Seeing that, by a decree of heaven, the honour of
primogeniture would be transferred to Jacob, why did God suffer him to
lie down in his tent, and to slumber among ashes; unless it be, that he
sometimes intends his election to be concealed for a time, lest men
should attribute something to their own preparatory acts?
  28. "And Isaac loved Esau." That God might more clearly show his own
election to be sufficiently firm, to need no assistance elsewhere, and
even powerful enough to overcome any obstacle whatever, he permitted
Esau to be so preferred to his brother, in the affection and good
opinion of his father, that Jacob appeared in the light of a rejected
person. Since, therefore, Moses clearly demonstrates, by so many
circumstances, that the adoption of Jacob was founded on the sole good
pleasure of God, it is an intolerable presumption to suppose it to
depend upon the will of man; or to ascribe it, in part, to means, (as
they are called,) and to human preparations. But how was it possible for
the father, who was not ignorant of the oracle, to be thus predisposed
in favour of the firstborn, whom he knew to be divinely rejected?. It
would rather have been the part of piety and of modesty to subdue his
own private affection, that he might yield obedience to God. The
firstborn prefers a natural claim to the chief place in the parent's
affection; but the father was not at liberty to exalt him above his
brother, who had been placed in subjection by the oracle of God. That
also is still more shameful and more unworthy of the holy patriarch,
which Moses adds; namely, that he had been induced to give this
preference to Esau, by the taste of his venison. Was he so enslaved to
the indulgence of the palate, that, forgetting the oracle, he despised
the grace of God in Jacob, while he preposterously set his affection on
him whom God had rejected? Let the Jews now go and glory in the flesh;
since Isaac, preferring food to the inheritance destined for his son,
would pervert (as far as he had the power) the gratuitous covenant of
God! For there is no room here for excuse; since with a blind, or, at
least, a most inconsiderate love to his firstborn, he undervalued the
younger. It is uncertain whether the mother was chargeable with a fault
of the opposite kind. For we commonly find the affections of parents so
divided, that if the wife sees any one of the sons preferred by her
husband, she inclines, by a contrary spirit of emulation, more towards
another. Rebekah loved her son Jacob more than Esau. If, in so doing,
she was obeying the oracle, she acted rightly; but it is possible that
her love was ill regulated. And on this point the corruption of nature
too much betrays itself. There is no bond of mutual concord more sacred
than that of marriage: children form still further links of connection;
and yet they often prove the occasion of dissension. But since we soon
after see Rebekah chiefly in earnest respecting the blessing of God, the
conjecture is probable, that she had been induced, by divine authority,
to prefer the younger to the firstborn. Meanwhile, the foolish affection
of the father only the more fully illustrates the grace of the divine
  29. "And Jacob sod pottage." This narration differs little from the
sport of children. Jacob is cooking pottage; his brother returns from
hunting weary and famishing, and barters his birthright for food. What
kind of bargain, I pray, was this? Jacob ought of his own accord to have
satisfied the hunger of his brother. When being asked, he refuses to do
so: who would not condemn him for his inhumanity? In compelling Esau to
surrender his right of primogeniture, he seems to make an illicit and
frivolous compact. God, however, put the disposition of Esau to the
proof in a matter of small moment; and still farther, designed to
present an instance of Jacob's piety, or, (to speak more properly,) he
brought to light what lay hid in both. Many indeed are mistaken in
suspending the cause of Jacob's election on the fact, that God foresaw
some worthiness in him; and in thinking that Esau was reprobated,
because his future impiety had rendered him unworthy of the divine
adoption before he was born. Paul, however, having declared election to
be gratuitous, denies that the distinction is to be looked for in the
persons of men; and, indeed, first assumes it as an axiom, that since
mankind is ruined from its origin, and devoted to destruction, whosoever
are saved are in no other way freed from destruction than by the mere
grace of God. And, therefore, that some are preferred to others, is not
on account of their own merits; but seeing that all are alike unworthy
of grace, they are saved whom God, of his own good pleasure, has chosen.
He then ascends still higher, and reasons thus: "Since God is the
Creator of the world, he is, by his own right, in such a sense, the
arbiter of life and death, that he cannot be called to account; but his
own will is (so to speak) the cause of causes." And yet Paul does not,
by thus reasoning, impute tyranny to God, as the sophists triflingly
allege in speaking of his absolute power. But whereas He dwells in
inaccessible light, and his judgments are deeper than the lowest abyss,
Paul prudently enjoins acquiescence in God's sole purpose; lest, if men
seek to be too inquisitive, this immense chaos should absorb all their
senses. It is therefore foolishly inferred by some, from this place,
that whereas God chose one of the two brothers, and passed by the other,
the merits of both had been foreseen. For it was necessary that God
should have decreed that Jacob should differ from Esau, otherwise he
would not have been unlike his brother. And we must always remember the
doctrine of Paul, that no one excels another by means of his own
industry or virtue, but by the grace of God alone. Although, however,
both the brothers were by nature equal, yet Moses represents to us, in
the person of Esau, as in a mirror, what kind of men all the reprobate
are, who, being left to their own disposition, are not governed by the
spirit of God. While, in the person of Jacob, he shows that the grace of
adoption is not idle in the elect, because the Lord effectually attests
it by his vocation. Whence then does it arise that Esau sets his
birthright to sale, but from this cause, that he, being deprived of the
Spirit of God, relishes only the things of the earth? And whence does it
happen that his brother Jacob, denying himself his own food, patiently
endures hunger, except that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he
raises himself above the world and aspires to a heavenly life? Hence,
let us learn, that they to whom God does not vouchsafe the grace of his
Spirit, are carnal and brutal; and are so addicted to this fading life,
that they think not of the spiritual kingdom of God; but them whom God
has undertaken to govern, are not so far entangled in the snares of the
flesh as to prevent them from being intent upon their high vocation.
Whence it follows, that all the reprobate remain immersed in the
corruptions of the flesh; but that the elect are renewed by the Holy
Spirit, that they may be the workmanship of God, created unto good
works. If any one should raise the objection, that part of the blame may
be ascribed to God, because he does not correct the stupor and the
depraved desires inherent in the reprobate, the solution is ready, that
God is exonerated by the testimony of their own conscience, which
compels them to condemn themselves. Wherefore, nothing remains but that
all flesh should keep silence before God, and that the whole world,
confessing itself to be obnoxious to his judgment, should rather be
humbled than proudly contend.
  30. "Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage." Although Esau
declares in these words that he by no means desires delicacies, but is
content with food of any kind, (seeing that he contemptuously designates
the pottage from its colour only, without regard to its taste,) we may
yet lawfully conjecture that the affair was viewed in a serious light by
his parents; for his own name had not been given him on account of any
ludicrous matter. In desiring and asking food he commits nothing worthy
of reprehension; but when he says, "Behold I am at the point to die, and
what profit shall this birthright do to me?" he betrays a profane desire
entirely addicted to the earth and to the flesh. It is not, indeed, to
be doubted that he spake sincerely, when he declared that he was
impelled by a sense of the approach of death. For they are under a
misapprehension who understand him to use the words, "Behold I die," as
if he meant merely to say, that his life would not be long, because, by
hunting daily among wild beasts, his life was in constant danger.
Therefore, in order to escape immediate death, he exchanges his
birthright for food; notwithstanding, he grievously sins in so doing,
because he regards his birthright as of no value, unless it may be made
profitable in the present life. For, hence it happens, that he barters a
spiritual for an earthly and fading good. On this account the Apostle
calls him a "profane person," (Heb. 12: 16,) as one who settles in the
present life, and will not aspire higher. But it would have been his
true wisdom rather to undergo a thousand deaths than to renounce his
birthright; which, so far from being confined within the narrow limits
of one age alone, was capable of transmitting the perpetuity of a
heavenly life to his posterity also. Now, let each of us look well to
himself; for since the disposition of us all is earthly, if we follow
nature as our leader, we shall easily renounce the celestial
inheritance. Therefore, we should frequently recall to mind the
Apostle's exhortation, "Let us not be profane persons as Esau was."
  33. "And Jacob said, Swear to me." Jacob did not act cruelly towards
his brother, for he took nothing from him, but only desired a
confirmation of that right which had been divinely granted to him; and
he does this with a pious intention, that he may hereby the more fully
establish the certainty of his own election. Meanwhile the infatuation
of Esau is to be observed, who, in the name and presence of God, does
not hesitate to set his birthright to sale. Although he had before
rushed inconsiderately upon the food under the maddening impulse of
hunger; now, at least, when an oath is exacted from him, some sense of
religion should have stolen over him to correct his brutal cupidity. But
he is so addicted to gluttony that he makes God himself a witness of his
  34. "Then Jacob gave." Although, at first sight, this statement seems
to be cold and superfluous, it is nevertheless of great weight. For, in
the first place, Moses commends the piety of holy Jacob, who in aspiring
to a heavenly life, was able to bridle the appetite for food. Certainly
he was not a log of wood; in preparing the food for the satisfying of
his hunger, he would the more sharpen his appetite. Wherefore he must of
necessity do violence to himself in order to bear his hunger. But he
would never have been able in this manner to subdue his flesh, unless a
spiritual desire of a better life had flourished within him. On the
other side, the remarkable indifference of his brother Esau is
emphatically described in few words, "he did eat and drink, and rose up
and went his way." For what reason are these four things stated? Truly,
that we may know what is declared immediately after, that he accounted
the incomparable benefit of which he was deprived as nothing. The
complaint of the Lacedemonian captive is celebrated by the historians.
The army, which had long sustained a siege, surrendered to the enemy for
want of water. After they had drunk out of the river, O comrades, (he
exclaimed,) for what a little pleasure have we lost an incomparable
good! He, miserable man, having quenched his thirst, returned to his
senses, and mourned over his lost liberty. But Esau having satisfied his
appetite, did not consider that he had sacrificed a blessing far more
valuable than a hundred lives, to purchase a repast which would be ended
in half an hour. Thus are all profane persons accustomed to act:
alienated from the celestial life, they do not perceive that they have
lost anything, till God thunders upon them out of heaven. As long as
they enjoy their carnal wishes, they cast the anger of God behind them;
and hence it happens that they go stupidly forward to their own
destruction. Wherefore let us learn, if, at any time, we, being deceived
by the allurements of the world, swerve from the right way, quickly to
rouse ourselves from our slumber.

Chapter XXVI.

1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was
in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the
Philistines unto Gerar.
2 And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt;
dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee;
for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I
will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;
4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will
give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the
nations of the earth be blessed;
5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my
commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
6 And Isaac dwelt in Gerar:
7 And the men of the place asked [him] of his wife; and he said, She
[is] my sister: for he feared to say, [She is] my wife; lest, [said he],
the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she [was] fair
to look upon.
8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that
Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and,
behold, Isaac [was] sporting with Rebekah his wife.
9 And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she [is] thy
wife: and how saidst thou, She [is] my sister? And Isaac said unto him,
Because I said, Lest I die for her.
10 And Abimelech said, What [is] this thou hast done unto us? one of the
people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have
brought guiltiness upon us.
11 And Abimelech charged all [his] people, saying, He that toucheth this
man or his wife shall surely be put to death.
12 Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an
hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him.
13 And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became
very great:
14 For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great
store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.
15 For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days
of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them
with earth.
16 And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier
than we.
17 And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of
Gerar, and dwelt there.
18 And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in
the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them
after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by
which his father had called them.
19 And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of
springing water.
20 And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The
water [is] ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they
strove with him.
21 And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called
the name of it Sitnah.
22 And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that
they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For
now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the
23 And he went up from thence to Beersheba.
24 And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I [am] the
God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I [am] with thee, and will
bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake.
25 And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD,
and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac's servants digged a well.
26 Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his
friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his
27 And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me,
and have sent me away from you?
28 And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee: and we
said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, [even] betwixt us and thee,
and let us make a covenant with thee;
29 That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we
have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace:
thou [art] now the blessed of the LORD.
30 And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.
31 And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another:
and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
32 And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac's servants came, and
told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him,
We have found water.
33 And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city [is]
Beersheba unto this day.
34 And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter
of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite:
35 Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

  1. "And there was a famine." Moses relates that Isaac was tried by
nearly the same kind of temptation as that through which his father
Abraham had twice passed. I have before explained how severe and violent
was this assault. The condition in which it was the will of God to place
his servants, as strangers and pilgrims in the land which he had
promised to give them, seemed sufficiently troublesome and hard; but it
appears still more intolerable, that he scarcely suffered them to exist
(if we may so speak) in this wandering, uncertain, and changeable kind
of life, but almost consumed them with hunger. Who would not say that
God had forgotten himself, when he did not even supply his own
children,--whom he had received into his especial care and trust,--
however sparingly and scantily, with food? But God thus tried the holy
fathers, that we might be taught, by their example, not to be effeminate
and cowardly under temptations. Respecting the terms here used, we may
observe, that though there were two seasons of dearth in the time of
Abraham, Moses alludes only to the one, of which the remembrance was
most recent.
  2. "And the Lord appeared unto him." I do not doubt but a reason is
here given why Isaac rather went to the country of Gerar than to Egypt,
which perhaps would have been more convenient for him; but Moses teaches
that he was withheld by a heavenly oracle, so that a free choice was not
left him. It may here be asked, why does the Lord prohibit Isaac from
going to Egypt, whither he had suffered his father to go? Although Moses
does not give the reason, yet we may be allowed to conjecture that the
journey would have been more dangerous to the son. The Lord could indeed
have endued the son also with the power of his Spirit, as he had done
his father Abraham, so that the abundance and delicacies of Egypt should
not have corrupted him by their allurements; but since he governs his
faithful people with such moderation, that he does not correct all their
faults at once, and render them entirely pure, he assists their
infirmities, and anticipates, with suitable remedies, those evils by
which they might be ensnared. Because, therefore, he knew that there was
more infirmity in Isaac than there had been in Abraham, he was unwilling
to expose him to danger; for he is faithful, and will not suffer his own
people to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear. (1 Cor. 10: 13.)
Now, as we must be persuaded, that however arduous and burdensome may be
the temptations which alight upon us, the Divine help will never fail to
renew our strength; so, on the other hand, we must beware lest we rashly
rush into dangers; but each should be admonished by his own infirmity to
proceed cautiously and with fear.
  "Dwell in the land." God commands him to settle in the promised land,
yet with the understanding that he should dwell there as a stranger. The
intimation was thus given, that the time had not yet arrived in which he
should exercise dominion over it. God sustains indeed his mind with the
hope of the promised inheritance, but requires this honour to be given
to his word, that Isaac should remain inwardly at rest, in the midst of
outward agitations; and truly we never lean upon a better support than
when, disregarding the appearance of things present, we depend entirely
upon the word of the Lord, and apprehend by faith that blessing which is
not yet apparent. Moreover, he again inculcates the promise previously
made, in order to render Isaac more prompt to obey; for so is the Lord
wont to awaken his servants from their indolence, that they may fight
valiantly for him, while he constantly affirms that their labour shall
not he in vain; for although he requires from us a free and unreserved
obedience, as a father does from his children, he yet so condescends to
the weakness of our capacity, that he invites and encourages us by the
prospect of reward.
  5. "Because that Abraham obeyed my voice." Moses does not mean that
Abraham's obedience was the reason why the promise of God was confirmed
and ratified to him; but from what has been said before, (chap. 22: 18,)
where we have a similar expression, we learn, that what God freely
bestows upon the faithful is sometimes, beyond their desert, ascribed to
themselves; that they, knowing their intention to be approved by the
Lord, may the more ardently addict and devote themselves entirely to his
service: so he now commends the obedience of Abraham, in order that
Isaac may be stimulated to an imitation of his example. And although
laws, statutes, rites, precepts, and ceremonies, had not yet been
written, Moses used these terms, that he might the more clearly show how
sedulously Abraham regulated his life according to the will of God
alone--how carefully he abstained from all the impurities of the
heathen--and how exactly he pursued the straight course of holiness,
without turning aside to the right hand or to the left: for the Lord
often honours his own law with these titles for the sake of restraining
our excesses; as if he should say that it wanted nothing to constitute
it a perfect rule, but embraced everything pertaining to absolute
holiness. The meaning therefore is, that Abraham, having formed his life
in entire accordance with the will of God, walked in his pure service.
  7. "And the men of the place asked him." Moses relates that Isaac was
tempted in the same manner as his father Abraham, in having his wife
taken from him; and without doubt he was so led by the example of his
father, that he, being instructed by the similarity of the
circumstances, might become associated with him in his faith.
Nevertheless, on this point he ought rather to have avoided than
imitated his father's fault; for no doubt he well remembered that the
chastity of his mother had twice been put in great danger; and although
she had been wonderfully rescued by the hand of God, yet both she and
her husband paid the penalty of their distrust: therefore the negligence
of Isaac is inexcusable, in that he now strikes against the same stone.
He does not in express terms deny his wife; but he is to be blamed,
first, because, for the sake of preserving his life, he resorts to an
evasion not far removed from a lie; and secondly, because, in absolving
his wife from conjugal fidelity, he exposes her to prostitution: but he
aggravates his fault, principally (as I have said) in not taking warning
from domestic examples, but voluntarily casting his wife into manifest
danger. Whence it appears how great is the propensity of our nature to
distrust, and how easy it is to be devoid of wisdom in affairs of
perplexity. Since, therefore, we are surrounded on all sides with so
many dangers, we must ask the Lord to confirm us by his Spirit, lest our
minds should faint, and be dissolved in fear and trembling; otherwise we
shall be frequently engaged in vain enterprises, of which we shall
repent soon, and yet too late to remedy the evil.
  8. "Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out at a window." Truly
admirable is the kind forbearance of God, in not only condescending to
pardon the twofold fault of his servant, but in stretching forth his
hand, and in wonderfully averting, by the application of a speedy
remedy, the evil which he would have brought upon himself. God did not
suffer--what twice had occurred to Abraham--that his wife should be torn
from his bosom; but stirred up a heathen king, mildly, and without
occasioning him any trouble, to correct his folly. But although God sets
before us such an example of his kindness, that the faithful, if at any
time they may have fallen, may confidently hope to find him gentle and
propitious; yet we must beware of self-security, when we observe, that
the holy woman who was, at that time, the only mother of the Church on
earth, was exempted from dishonour, by a special privilege. Meanwhile,
we may conjecture, from the judgment of Abimelech, how holy and pure had
been the conduct of Isaac, on whom not even a suspicion of evil could
fall; and further, how much greater integrity flourished in that age
than in our own. For why does he not condemn Isaac as one guilty of
fornication, since it was probable that some crime was concealed, when
he disingenuously obtruded the name of sister, and tacitly denied her to
be his wife? And therefore I have no doubt that his religion, and the
integrity of his life, availed to defend his character. By this example
we are taught so to cultivate righteousness in our whole life, that men
may not be able to suspect anything wicked or dishonourable respecting
us; for there is nothing which will more completely vindicate us from
every mark of infamy than a life passed in modesty and temperance. We
must, however, add, what I have also before alluded to, that lusts were
not, at that time, so commonly and so profusely indulged, as to cause an
unfavourable suspicion to enter into the mind of the king concerning a
sojourner of honest character. Wherefore, he easily persuades himself
that Rebekah was a wife and not a harlot. The chastity of that age is
further proved from this, that Abimelech takes the familiar sporting of
Isaac with Rebekah as an evidence of their marriage. For Moses does not
speak about marital intercourse, but about some too free movement, which
was a proof of either dissolute exuberance or conjugal love. But now
licentiousness has so broken through all bounds, that husbands are
compelled to hear in silence of the dissolute conduct of their wives
with strangers.
  10. "What is this thou hast done unto us?" The Lord does not chastise
Isaac as he deserved, perhaps because he was not so fully endued with
patience as his father was; and, therefore, lest the seizing of his wife
should dishearten him, God mercifully prevents it. Yet, that the censure
may produce the deeper shame, God constitutes a heathen his master and
his reprover. We may add, that Abimelech chides his folly, not so much
with the design of injuring him, as of upbraiding him. It ought,
however, deeply to have wounded the mind of the holy man, when he
perceived that his offense was obnoxious to the judgment even of the
blind. Wherefore, let us remember that we must walk in the light which
God has kindled for us, lest even unbelievers, who are wrapped in the
darkness of ignorance, should reprove our stupor. And certainly when we
neglect to obey the voice of God, we deserve to be sent to oxen and
asses for instruction. Abimelech, truly, does not investigate nor
prosecute the whole offense of Isaac, but only alludes to one part of
it. Yet Isaac, when thus gently admonished by a single word, ought to
have condemned himself, seeing that, instead of committing himself and
his wife to God, who had promised to be the guardian of them both, he
had resorted, through his own unbelief, to an illicit remedy. For faith
has this property, that it confines us within divinely prescribed
bounds, so that we attempt nothing except with God's authority or
permission. Whence it follows that Isaac's faith wavered when he swerved
from his duty as a husband. We gather, besides, from the words of
Abimelech, that all nations have the sentiment impressed upon their
minds, that the violation of holy wedlock is a crime worthy of divine
vengeance, and have consequently a dread of the judgment of God. For
although the minds of men are darkened with dense clouds, so that they
are frequently deceived; yet God has caused some power of discrimination
between right and wrong to remain, so that each should bear about with
him his own condemnation, and that all should be without excuse. If,
then, God cites even unbelievers to his tribunal, and does not suffer
them to escape just condemnation, how horrible is that punishment which
awaits us, if we endeavour to obliterate, by our own wickedness, that
knowledge which God has engraven on our consciences?
  11. "And Abimelech charged all his people." In denouncing capital
punishment against any who should do injury to this stranger, we may
suppose him to have issued this edict as a special privilege; for it is
not customary thus rigidly to avenge every kind of injury. Whence, then,
arose this disposition on the part of the king to prefer Isaac to all
the native inhabitants of the country, and almost to treat him as an
equal, except that some portion of the divine majesty shone forth in
him, which secured to him this degree of reverence? God, also, to assist
the infirmity of his servant, inclined the mind of the heathen king, in
every way, to show him favour. And there is no doubt that his general
modesty induced the king thus carefully to protect him; for he,
perceiving him to be a timid man, who had been on the point of
purchasing his own life by the ruin of his wife, was the more disposed
to assist him in his dangers, in order that he might live in security
under his own government.
  12. "Then Isaac sowed." Here Moses proceeds to relate in what manner
Isaac reaped the manifest fruit of the blessing promised to him by God;
for he says, that when he had sowed, the increase was a hundredfold:
which was an extraordinary fertility, even in that land. He also adds,
that he was rich in cattle, and had a very great household. Moreover, he
ascribes the praise of all these things to the blessing of God; as it is
also declared in the psalm, that the Lord abundantly supplies what will
satisfy his people while they sleep. (Ps. 127: 2.) It may, however, be
asked, how could Isaac sow when God had commanded him to be a stranger
all his life? Some suppose that he had bought a field, and so translate
the word "kanah" a possession; but the context corrects their error: for
we find soon afterwards, that the holy man was not delayed, by having
land to sell, from removing his effects elsewhere: besides, since the
purchasing of land was contrary to his peculiar vocation and to the
command of God, Moses undoubtedly would not have passed over such a
notable offence. To this may be added, that since express mention is
immediately made of a tent, we may hence infer, that wherever he might
come, he would have to dwell in the precarious condition of a stranger.
We must, therefore, maintain, that he sowed in a hired field. For
although he had not a foot of land in his own possession, yet, that he
might discharge the duty of a good householder, it behaved him to
prepare food for his family; and perhaps hunger quickened his care and
industry, that he might with the greater diligence make provision for
himself against the future. Nevertheless, it is right to keep in mind,
what I have lately alluded to, that he received as a divine favour the
abundance which he had acquired by his own labour.
  14. "And the Philistines envied him." We are taught by this history
that the blessings of God which pertain to the present earthly life are
never pure and perfect, but are mixed with some troubles, lest quiet and
indulgence should render us negligent. Wherefore, let us all learn not
too ardently to desire great wealth. If the rich are harassed by any
cause of disquietude, let them know that they are roused by the Lord,
lest they should fall fast asleep in the midst of their pleasures; and
let the poor enjoy this consolation, that their poverty is not without
its advantages. For it is no light good to live free from envy, tumults,
and strifes. Should any one raise the objection, that it can by no means
be regarded as a favour, that God, in causing Isaac to abound in wealth,
exposed him to envy, to contentions, and to many troubles; there is a
ready answer, that not all the troubles with which God exercises his
people, in any degree prevent the benefits which he bestows upon them
from retaining the taste of his paternal love. Finally, he so attempers
the favour which he manifests towards his children in this world, that
he stirs them up, as with sharp goads, to the consideration of a
celestial life. It was not, however, a slight trial, that the simple
element of water, which is the common property of all animals, was
denied to the holy patriarch; with how much greater patience ought we to
bear our less grievous sufferings! If, however, at any time we are angry
at being unworthily injured; let us remember that, at least, we are not
so cruelly treated as holy Isaac was, when he had to contend for water.
Besides, not only was he deprived of the element of water, but the wells
which his father Abraham had dug for himself and his posterity were
filled up. This, therefore, was the extreme of cruelty, not only to
defraud a stranger of every service due to him, but even to take from
him what had been obtained by the labour of his own father, and what he
possessed without inconvenience to any one.
  16. "And Abimelech said unto Isaac." It is uncertain whether the king
of Gerar expelled Isaac of his own accord from his kingdom, or whether
he commanded him to settle elsewhere, because he perceived him to be
envied by the people. He possibly might, in this manner, advise him as a
friend; although it is more probable that his mind had become alienated
from Isaac; for at the close of the chapter Moses relates, that the holy
man complains strongly of the king as well as of others. But since we
can assert nothing with certainty respecting the real feelings of the
lying, let it suffice to maintain, what is of more importance, that in
consequence of the common wickedness of mankind, they who are the most
eminent fall under the suspicion of the common people. Satiety, indeed,
produces ferocity. Wherefore there is nothing to which the rich are more
prone than proudly to boast, to carry themselves more insolently than
they ought, and to stretch every nerve of their power to oppress others.
No such suspicion, indeed, could fall upon Isaac; but he had to bear
that envy which was the attendant on a common vice. Whence we infer, how
much more useful and desirable it often is, for us to be placed in a
moderate condition; which is, at least, more peaceful, and which is
neither exposed to the storms of envy, nor obnoxious to unjust
suspicions. Moreover, how rare and unwonted was the blessing of God in
rendering Isaac prosperous, may be inferred from the fact, that his
wealth had become formidable both to the king and to the people. A large
inheritance truly had descended to him from his father; but Moses shows,
that from his first entrance into the land, he had so greatly prospered
in a very short time, that it seemed no longer possible for the
inhabitants to endure him.
  18. "And Isaac digged again the wells of water." First, we see that
the holy man was so hated by his neighbours, as to be under the
necessity of seeking a retreat for himself which was destitute of water;
and no habitation is so troublesome and inconvenient for the ordinary
purposes of life as that which suffers from scarcity of water. Besides,
the abundance of his cattle and the multitude of his servants--who were
like a little army--rendered a supply of water very necessary; whence we
learn that he was brought into severe straits. But that this last
necessity did not instigate him to seek revenge, is a proof of singular
forbearance; for we know that lighter injuries will often rack the
patience even of humane and moderate men. If any one should object to
this view, that he was deficient in strength; I grant, indeed, that he
was not able to undertake a regular war; but as his father Abraham had
armed four hundred servants, he also certainly had a large troop of
domestics, who could easily have repelled any force brought against him
by his neighbours. But the hope which he had entertained when he settled
in the valley of Gerar, was again suddenly cut off. He knew that his
father Abraham had there used wells which were his own, and which he had
himself discovered; and although they had been stopped up, yet they were
well known to have sufficient springs of water to prevent the labour of
digging them again from being misspent. Moreover, the fact that the
wells had been obstructed ever since the departure of Abraham, shows how
little respect the inhabitants had for their guest; for although their
own country would have been benefited by these wells, they chose rather
to deprive themselves of this advantage than to have Abraham for a
neighbour; for, in order that such a convenience might not attract him
to the place, they, by stopping up the wells, did, in a certain sense,
intercept his way. It was a custom among the ancients, if they wished to
involve any one in ruin, and to cut him off from the society of men, to
interdict him from water, and from fire: thus the Philistine, for the
purpose of removing Abraham from their vicinity, deprive him of the
element of water.
  "He called their names." He did not give new names to the wells, but
restored those which had been assigned them by his father Abraham, that,
by this memorial, the ancient possession of them might be renewed. But
subsequent violence compelled him to change their names, that at least
he might, by some monument, make manifest the injury which had been done
by the Philistines, and reprove them on account of it: for whereas he
calls one well strife, or contention, another hostility, he denies that
the inhabitants possessed that by right, or by any honest title, which
they had seized upon as enemies or robbers. Meanwhile, it is right to
consider, that in the midst of these strifes he had a contest not less
severe with thirst and deficiency of water, whereby the Philistines
attempted to destroy him; such is the scope of the history. First,
Moses, according to his manner, briefly runs through the summary of the
affair: namely, that Isaac intended to apply again to his own purpose
the wells which his father had previously found, and to acquire, in the
way of recovery, the lost possession of them. He then prosecutes the
subject more diffusely, stating that, when he attempted the work, he was
unjustly defrauded of his labour; and whereas, in digging the third
well, he gives thanks to God, and calls it Room, because, by the favour
of God, a more copious supply is now afforded him, he furnishes an
example of invincible patience. Therefore, however severely he may have
been harassed, yet when, after he had been freed from these troubles, he
so placidly returns thanks to God, and celebrates his goodness, he shows
that in the midst of trials he has retained a composed and tranquil
  23. "And he went up from thence to Beer-sheba." Next follows a more
abundant consolation, and one affording effectual refreshment to the
mind of the holy man. In the tranquil enjoyment of the well, he
acknowledges the favour which God had showed him: but forasmuch as one
word of God weighs more with the faithful than the accumulated mass of
all good things, we cannot doubt that Isaac received this oracle more
joyfully than if a thousand rivers of nectar had flowed unto him: and
truly Moses designedly commemorates in lofty terms this act of favour,
that the Lord encouraged him by his own word, (verse 24;) whence we may
learn, in ascribing proper honour to each of the other gifts of God,
still always to give the palm to that proof of his paternal love which
he grants us in his word. Food, clothing, health, peace, and other
advantages, afford us a taste of the Divine goodness; but when he
addresses us familiarly, and expressly declares himself to be our
Father, then indeed it is that he thoroughly refreshes us to satiety.
Moses does not explain what had been the cause of Isaac's removal to
Beer-sheba, the ancient dwelling-place of his fathers. It might be that
the Philistines ceased not occasionally to annoy him; and thus the holy
man, worn out with their implacable malice, removed to a greater
distance. It is indeed probable, taking the circumstance of the time
into account, that he was sorrowful and anxious; for as soon as he had
arrived at that place, God appeared unto him on the very first night.
Here, then, something very opportune is noticed. Moreover, as often as
Moses before related that God had appeared unto Abraham, he, at the same
time, showed that the holy man was either tormented with grievous cares,
or was held in suspense under some apprehension, or was plunged in
sadness, or, after many distresses, was nearly borne down by fatigue, so
as to render it apparent that the hand of God was seasonably stretched
out to him as his necessity required, lest he should sink under the
evils which surrounded him. So now, as I explain it, he came to Isaac,
for the purpose of restoring him, already wearied and broken down by
various miseries.
  24. "And the Lord appeared unto him." This vision (as I have elsewhere
said) was to prepare him to listen more attentively to God, and to
convince him that it was God with whom he had to deal; for a voice alone
would have had less energy. Therefore God appears, in order to produce
confidence in and reverence towards his word. In short, visions were a
kind of symbols of the Divine presence, designed to remove all doubt
from the minds of the holy fathers respecting him who was about to
speak. Should it be objected, that such evidence was not sufficiently
sure, since Satan often deceives men by similar manifestations, being,
as it were, the ape of God;--we must keep in mind what has been said
before, that a clear and unambiguous mark was engraven on the visions of
God, by which the faithful might certainly distinguish them from those
which were fallacious, so that their faith should not be kept in
suspense: and certainly, since Satan can only delude us in the dark, God
exempts his children from this danger, by illuminating their eyes with
the brightness of his countenance. Yet God did not fully manifest his
glory to the holy fathers, but assumed a form by means of which they
might apprehend him according to the measure of their capacities; for,
as the majesty of God is infinite, it cannot be comprehended by the
human mind, and by its magnitude it absorbs the whole world. Besides, it
follows of necessity that men, on account of their infirmity, must not
only faint, but be altogether annihilated in the presence of God.
Wherefore, Moses does not mean that God was seen in his true nature and
greatness, but in such a manner as Isaac was able to bear the sight. But
what we have said, namely, that the vision was a testimony of Deity, for
the purpose of giving credibility to the oracle, will more fully appear
from the context; for this appearance was not a mute spectre; but the
word immediately followed, which confirmed, in the mind of Isaac, faith
in gratuitous adoption and salvation.
  "I am the God of Abraham." This preface is intended to renew the
memory of all the promises before given, and to direct the mind of Isaac
to the perpetual covenant which had been made with Abraham, and which
was to be transmitted, as by tradition, to his posterity. The Lord
therefore begins by declaring himself to be the God who had spoken at
the first to Abraham, in order that Isaac might not sever the present
from the former oracles: for as often as he repeated the testimony of
his grace to the faithful, he sustained their faith with fresh supports.
Yet he would have that very faith to remain based upon the first
covenant by which he had adopted them to himself: and we must always
keep this method in mind, in order that we may learn to gather together
the promises of God, as they are combined in an inseparable bond. Let
this also ever occur to us, as a first principle, that God thus kindly
promises us his grace because he has freely adopted us.
  "Fear not." Since these words are elsewhere expounded, I shall now be
the more brief. In the first place, we must observe, that God thus
addresses the faithful for the purpose of tranquillizing their minds;
for, if his word be withdrawn, they necessarily become torpid through
stupidity, or are tormented with disquietude. Whence it follows, that we
can receive peace from no other source than from the mouth of the Lord,
when he declares himself the author of our salvation; not that we are
then free from all fear, but because the confidence of faith is
sufficiently efficacious to assuage our perturbations. Afterwards the
Lord gives proofs of his love, by its effect, when he promises that he
will bless Isaac.
  25. "And he builded an altar there." From other passages we are well
aware that Moses here speaks of public worship; for inward invocation of
God neither requires an altar; nor has any special choice of place; and
it is certain that the saints, wherever they lived, worshipped. But
because religion ought to maintain a testimony before men, Isaac, having
erected and consecrated an altar, professes himself a worshipper of the
true and only God, and by this method separates himself from the
polluted rites of heathens. Ho also built the altar, not for himself
alone, but for his whole family; that there, with all his household, he
might offer sacrifices. Moreover, since the altar was built for the
external exercises of faith, the expression, he called upon God, implies
as much as if Moses had said that Isaac celebrated the name of God, and
gave testimony of his own faith. The visible worship of God had also
another use; namely, that men, according to their infirmity, may
stimulate and exercise themselves in the fear of God. Besides, since we
know that sacrifices were then commanded, we must observe that Isaac did
not rashly trifle in worshipping God, but adhered to the rule of faith,
that he might undertake nothing without the word of God. Whence also we
infer how preposterous and erroneous a thing it is to imitate the
fathers, unless the Lord join us with them by means of a similar
command. Meanwhile, the words of Moses clearly signify, that whatever
exercises of piety the faithful undertake are to be directed to this
end, namely, that God may be worshipped and invoked. To this point,
therefore, all rites and ceremonies ought to have reference. But
although it was the custom of the holy fathers to build an altar in
whatever place they pitched their tent, we yet gather, from the
connexion of the words, that after God appeared to his servant Isaac,
this altar was built by him in token of his gratitude.
  "And there Isaac's servants digged a well." It is remarkable that
whereas this place had already received its name from the well which had
been dug in it, Isaac should there again have to seek water, especially
since Abraham had purchased, for himself and his posterity, the right to
the well from the king. Moreover, the digging itself was difficult and
labourious; for Moses had a design in saying, that afterwards the
servants came and said to him, "We have found water." I have, therefore,
no doubt, that throughout the whole of that region a conspiracy had been
entered into by the inhabitants, for the purpose of expelling the holy
man, through want of water; so that this well of Sheba also had been
fraudulently stopped up. The context also shows, that the first care of
the holy patriarch concerned the worship of God, because Moses relates
that an altar was erected, before he speaks of the well. Now it is of
importance to observe with what great troubles these holy fathers
continually had to contend; which they never would have been able to
overcome or to endure, unless they had been far removed from our
delicate course of living. For how severely should we feel the loss of
water, seeing that we often rage against God if we have not abundance of
wine? Therefore, by such examples, let the faithful learn to accustom
themselves to patient endurance: and if at any time food and other
necessaries of life fail them, let them turn their eyes to Isaac, who
wandered, parched with thirst, in the inheritance which had been
divinely promised him.
  26. "Then Abimelech went to him." We have had an exactly similar
narrative in the twenty-first chapter and the twenty-second verse. The
Lord, therefore, followed Isaac with the same favour which he had before
shown to his father Abraham. For it was no common blessing, that
Abimelech should voluntarily seek his friendship. Besides, he would be
relieved from no little care and anxiety, when his neighbours, who had
harassed him in so many ways, being now themselves afraid of him, desire
to secure his friendship. Therefore the Lord both confers signal honour
upon his servant, and provides at the same time for his tranquility.
There is not the least doubt that the king was led to this measure, by a
secret divine impulse. For, if he was afraid, why did he not resort to
some other remedy? Why did he humble himself to supplicate a private
man? Why, at least, did he not rather send for him, or command him with
authority to do what he wished? But God had so forcibly impressed his
mind, that he, forgetting his regal pride, sought for peace and alliance
with a man who was neither covetous, nor warlike, nor furnished with a
great army. Thus we may learn, that the minds of men are in the hand of
God, so that he not only can incline those to gentleness who before were
swelling with fury, but can humble them by terror, as often as he
  27. "And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me?" Isaac not
only expostulates concerning injuries received, but protests that in
future he can have no confidence in them, since he had found in them a
disposition so hostile to himself. This passage teaches us, that it is
lawful for the faithful to complain of their enemies, in order, if
possible, to recall them from their purpose of doing injury, and to
restrain their force, frauds, and acts of injustice. For liberty is not
inconsistent with patience: nor does God require of his own people, that
they should silently digest every injury which may be inflicted upon
them, but only that they should restrain their minds and hands from
revenge. Now, if their minds are pure and well regulated, their tongues
will not be virulent in reproaching the faults of others; but their sole
purpose will be to restrain the wicked by a sense of shame from
iniquity. For where there is no hope of profiting by complaints, it is
better to cherish peace by silence; unless, perhaps, for the purpose of
rendering those who delight themselves in wickedness inexcusable. We
must, indeed, always beware, lest, from a desire of vengeance, our
tongues break out in reproaches; and, as Solomon says, "hatred stirreth
up strifes." (Prov. 10: 12.)
  28. "We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee." By this argument
they prove that they desired a compact with Isaac, not insidiously, but
in good faith, because they acknowledge the favour of God towards him.
For it was necessary to purge themselves from this suspicion, seeing
that they now presented themselves so courteously to one against whom
they had before been unreasonably opposed. This confession of theirs,
however, contains very useful instruction. Profane men in calling one,
whose affairs all succeed well and prosperously, the blessed of the
Lord, bear testimony that God is the author of all good things, and that
from him alone flows all prosperity. Exceedingly base, therefore, is our
ingratitude, if, when God acts kindly towards us, we pass by his
benefits with closed eyes. Again, profane men regard the friendship of
one whom God favours, as desirable for themselves; considering that
there is no better or holier commendation than the love of God.
Perversely blind, therefore, are they, who not only neglect those whom
God declares to be dear unto him, but also iniquitously vex them. The
Lord proclaims himself ready to execute vengeance on any one who may
injure those whom he takes under his protection; but the greater part,
unmoved by this most terrible denunciation, still wickedly afflict the
good and the simple. We here, however, see that the sense of nature
dictated to unbelievers, what we scarcely credit when spoken by the
mouth of God himself. Still it is surprising that they should be afraid
of an inoffensive man; and should require from him an oath that he would
do them no injury. They ought to have concluded, from the favour which
God had showed him, that he was a just man, and therefore there could be
no danger from him; yet because they form their estimate of him from
their own disposition and conduct, they also distrust his probity. Such
perturbation commonly agitates unbelievers, so that they are
inconsistent with themselves; or at least waver and are tossed between
conflicting sentiments, and have nothing fixed and equable. For those
principles of right judgment, which spring up in their breasts, are soon
smothered by depraved affections. Hence it happens, that what is justly
conceived by them vanishes; or is at least corrupted, and does not bring
forth good fruit.
  29. "As we have not touched thee." An accusing conscience urges them
to desire to hold him closely bound unto them; and therefore they
require an oath from him that he will not hurt them. For they knew that
he might rightfully avenge himself on them for the sufferings he had
endured: but they dissemble on this point, and even make a wonderful
boast of their own acts of kindness. At first, indeed, the humanity of
the king was remarkable, for he not only entertained Isaac with
hospitality, but treated him with peculiar honour; yet he by no means
continued to act thus to the end. It accords, however, with the common
custom of men, to disguise their own faults by whatever artifice or
colour they can invent. But if we have committed any offense, it rather
becomes us ingenuously to confess our fault, than by denying it, to
wound still more deeply the minds of those whom we have injured.
Nevertheless Isaac, since he had already sufficiently pierced their
consciences, does not press them any further. For strangers are not to
be treated by us as domestics; but if they do not receive profit, they
are to be left to the judgment of God. Therefore, although Isaac does
not extort from them a just confession; yet, that he may not be thought
inwardly to cherish any hostility towards them, he does not refuse to
strike a covenant with them. Thus we learn from his example, that if any
have estranged themselves from us, they are not to be repelled when they
again offer themselves to us. For if we are commanded to follow after
peace, even when it seems to fly from us, it behoves us far less to be
repulsive, when our enemies voluntarily seek reconciliation; especially
if there be any hope of amendment in future, although true repentance
may not yet appear. And he receives them to a feast, not only for the
sake of promoting peace, but also for the sake of showing that he,
having laid aside all offense, has become their friend.
  "Thou art now the blessed of the Lord." This is commonly explained to
mean that they court his favour by flatteries, just as persons are
accustomed to flatter when they ask favour; but I rather think this
expression to have been added in a different sense. Isaac had complained
of their injuries in having expelled him through envy: they answer, that
there was no reason why any particle of grief should remain in his mind,
since the Lord had treated him so kindly and so exactly according to his
own wish; as if they had said, What dost thou want? Art thou not content
with thy present success? Let us grant that we have not discharged the
duty of hospitality towards thee; yet the blessing of God abundantly
suffices to obliterate the memory of that time. Perhaps, however, by
these words, they again assert that they are acting towards him with
good faith, because he is under the guardianship of God.
  31. "And sware one to another." Isaac does not hesitate to swear;
partly, that the Philistines may be the more easily appeased; partly,
that he may not be suspected by them. And this is the legitimate method
of swearing, when men mutually bind themselves to the cultivation of
peace. A simple promise, indeed, ought to have sufficed; but since
dissimulations or inconstancy causes men to be distrustful of each
other, the Lord grants them the use of his name, that this more holy
confirmation may be added to our covenants; and he does not only permit,
he even commands us to swear as often as necessity requires it. (Deut.
6: 13.) Meanwhile we must beware, lest his name be profaned by rashly
  32. "And it came to pass the same day." Hence it appears, (as I have
said a little before,) that the waters were not found in a moment of
time. If it be asked, whence a supply of water had been obtained for his
cattle and his household during the intervening days, I doubt not,
indeed, that he either bought it, or was compelled to go to a distance
to see if any one would be found from whom he might obtain it by
entreaty. With respect to the name, [Sheba,] they are mistaken, in my
judgment, who deem it to be any other than that which Abraham had first
given to the well. For since the Hebrew word is ambiguous, Abraham
alluded to the covenant which he had struck with the king of Gerar; but
now Isaac recalling this ancient memorial to mind, joins with it the
covenant in which he had himself engaged.
  34. "And Esau was forty years old." For many reasons Moses relates the
marriages of Esau. Inasmuch as he mingled himself with the inhabitants
of the land, from whom the holy race of Abraham was separated, and
contracted affinities by which he became entangled; this was a kind of
prelude of his rejection. It happened also, by the wonderful counsel of
God, that these daughters-in-law were grievous and troublesome to the
holy patriarch (Isaac) and his wife, in order that they might not by
degrees become favourable to that reprobate people. If the manners of
the people had been pleasing, and they had had good and obedient
daughters, perhaps also, with their consent, Isaac might have taken a
wife from among them. But it was not lawful for those to be bound
together in marriage, whom God designed to be perpetual enemies. For how
would the inheritance of the land be secured to the posterity of
Abraham, but by the destruction of those among whom he sojourned for a
time? Therefore God cuts off all inducements to these inauspicious
marriages, that the disunion which he had established might remain. It
appears hence, with what perpetual affection Esau was loved by Isaac;
for although the holy man justly regarded his son's wives with aversion,
and his mind was exasperated against them, he never failed to act with
the greatest kindness towards his son, as we shall afterwards see. We
have elsewhere spoken concerning polygamy. This corruption had so far
prevailed in every direction among many people, that the custom, though
vicious, had acquired the force of law. It is not, therefore, surprising
that a man addicted to the flesh indulged his appetite by taking two

Chapter XXVII.

1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim,
so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto
him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, [here am] I.
2 And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death:
3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow,
and go out to the field, and take me [some] venison;
4 And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring [it] to me, that I
may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.
5 And Rebekah heard when Isaac spake to Esau his son. And Esau went to
the field to hunt [for] venison, [and] to bring [it].
6 And Rebekah spake unto Jacob her son, saying, Behold, I heard thy
father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying,
7 Bring me venison, and make me savoury meat, that I may eat, and bless
thee before the LORD before my death.
8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command
9 Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the
goats; and I will make them savoury meat for thy father, such as he
10 And thou shalt bring [it] to thy father, that he may eat, and that he
may bless thee before his death.
11 And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother [is] a
hairy man, and I [am] a smooth man:
12 My father peradventure will feel me, and I shall seem to him as a
deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing.
13 And his mother said unto him, Upon me [be] thy curse, my son: only
obey my voice, and go fetch me [them].
14 And he went, and fetched, and brought [them] to his mother: and his
mother made savoury meat, such as his father loved.
15 And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which [were]
with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son:
16 And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and
upon the smooth of his neck:
17 And she gave the savoury meat and the bread, which she had prepared,
into the hand of her son Jacob.
18 And he came unto his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here
[am] I; who [art] thou, my son?
19 And Jacob said unto his father, I [am] Esau thy firstborn; I have
done according as thou badest me: arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my
venison, that thy soul may bless me.
20 And Isaac said unto his son, How [is it] that thou hast found [it] so
quickly, my son? And he said, Because the LORD thy God brought [it] to
21 And Isaac said unto Jacob, Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel
thee, my son, whether thou [be] my very son Esau or not.
22 And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said,
The voice [is] Jacob's voice, but the hands [are] the hands of Esau.
23 And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his
brother Esau's hands: so he blessed him.
24 And he said, [Art] thou my very son Esau? And he said, I [am].
25 And he said, Bring [it] near to me, and I will eat of my son's
venison, that my soul may bless thee. And he brought [it] near to him,
and he did eat: and he brought him wine, and he drank.
26 And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near now, and kiss me, my
27 And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his
raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son [is] as the
smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed:
28 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the
earth, and plenty of corn and wine:
29 Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy
brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed [be] every
one that curseth thee, and blessed [be] he that blesseth thee.
30 And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing
Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his
father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting.
31 And he also had made savoury meat, and brought it unto his father,
and said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son's
venison, that thy soul may bless me.
32 And Isaac his father said unto him, Who [art] thou? And he said, I
[am] thy son, thy firstborn Esau.
33 And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where [is] he
that hath taken venison, and brought [it] me, and I have eaten of all
before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, [and] he shall be
34 And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great
and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, [even] me
also, O my father.
35 And he said, Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy
36 And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me
these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath
taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing
for me?
37 And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy
lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with
corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee,
my son?
38 And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father?
bless me, [even] me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and
39 And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, Behold, thy dwelling
shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above;
40 And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it
shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt
break his yoke from off thy neck.
41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father
blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my
father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.
42 And these words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah: and she
sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him, Behold, thy
brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, [purposing] to
kill thee.
43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban
my brother to Haran;
44 And tarry with him a few days, until thy brother's fury turn away;
45 Until thy brother's anger turn away from thee, and he forget [that]
which thou hast done to him: then I will send, and fetch thee from
thence: why should I be deprived also of you both in one day?
46 And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the
daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such
as these [which are] of the daughters of the land, what good shall my
life do me?

1. "And it came to pass that when Isaac was old." In this chapter Moses
prosecutes, in many words, a history which does not appear to be of
great utility. It amounts to this; Esau having gone out, at his father's
command, to hunt; Jacob, in his brother's clothing, was, by the artifice
of his mother, induced to obtain by stealth the blessing due by the
right of nature to the firstborn. It seems even like child's play to
present to his father a kid instead of venison, to feign himself to be
hairy by putting on skins, and, under the name of his brother, to get
the blessing by a lie. But in order to learn that Moses does not in vain
pause over this narrative as a most serious matter, we must first
observe, that when Jacob received the blessing from his father, this
token confirmed to him the oracle by which the Lord had preferred him to
his brother. For the benediction here spoken of was not a mere prayer
but a legitimate sanction, divine]y interposed, to make manifest the
grace of election. God had promised to the holy fathers that he would be
a God to their seed for ever. They, when at the point of death, in order
that the succession might be secured to their posterity, put them in
possession, as if they would deliver, from hand to hand, the favour
which they had received from God. So Abraham, in blessing his son Isaac,
constituted him the heir of spiritual life with a solemn rite. With the
same design, Isaac now, being worn down with age, imagines himself to be
shortly about to depart this life, and wishes to bless his firstborn
son, in order that the everlasting covenant of God may remain in his own
family. The Patriarchs did not take this upon themselves rashly, or on
their own private account, but were public and divinely ordained
witnesses. To this point belongs the declaration of the Apostle, "the
less is blessed of the better." (Heb. 7: 7.) For even the faithful were
accustomed to bless each other by mutual offices of charity; but the
Lord enjoined this peculiar service upon the patriarchs, that they
should transmit, as a deposit to posterity, the covenant which he had
struck with them, and which they kept during the whole course of their
life. The same command was afterwards given to the priests, as appears
in Num. 6: 24, and other similar places. Therefore Isaac, in blessing
his son, sustained another character than that of a father or of a
private person, for he was a prophet and an interpreter of God, who
constituted his son an heir of the same grace which he had received.
Hence appears what I have already said, that Moses, in treating of this
matter, is not without reason thus prolix. But let us weigh each of the
circumstances of the case in its proper order; of which this is the
first, that God transferred the blessing of Esau to Jacob, by a mistake
on the part of the father; whose eyes, Moses tells us, were dim. The
vision also of Jacob was dull when he blessed his grandchildren Ephraim
and Manasseh; yet his want of sight did not prevent him from cautiously
placing his hands in a transverse direction. But God suffered Isaac to
be deceived, in order to show that it was not by the will of man that
Jacob was raised, contrary to the course of nature, to the right and
honour of primogeniture.
  2. "Behold, now I am old, I know not the day of my death." There is
not the least doubt that Isaac implored daily blessings on his sons all
his life: this, therefore, appears to have been an extraordinary kind of
benediction. Moreover, the declaration that he knew not the day of his
death, is as much as if he had said, that death was every moment
pressing so closely upon him, a decrepit and failing man, that he dared
not promise himself any longer life. Just as a woman with child when the
time of parturition draws near, might say, that she had now no day
certain. Every one, even in the full vigour of age, carries with him a
thousand deaths. Death claims as its own the foetus in the mother's
womb, and accompanies it through every stage of life. But as it urges
the old more closely, so they ought to place it more constantly before
their eyes, and should pass as pilgrims through the world, or as those
who have already one foot in the grave. In short, Isaac, as one near
death, wishes to leave the Church surviving him in the person of his
  4. "That my soul may bless thee." Wonderfully was the faith of the
holy man blended with a foolish and inconsiderate carnal affection. The
general principle of faith flourishes in his mind, when, in blessing his
son, he consigns to him, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the
right of the inheritance which had been divinely promised to himself.
Meanwhile, he is blindly carried away by the love of his firstborn son,
to prefer him to the other; and in this way he contends against the
oracle of God. For he could not be ignorant of that which God had
pronounced before the children were born. If any one would excuse him,
inasmuch as he had received no command from God to change the accustomed
order of nature by preferring the younger to the elder; this is easily
refuted: because when he knew that the firstborn was rejected, he still
persisted in his excessive attachment. Again, in neglecting to inquire
respecting his duty, when he had been informed of the heavenly oracle by
his wife, his indolence was by no means excusable. For he was not
altogether ignorant of his calling; therefore, his obstinate attachment
to his son was a kind of blindness, which proved a greater obstacle to
him than the external dimness of his eyes. Yet this fault, although
deserving of reprehension, did not deprive the holy man of the right of
pronouncing a blessing; but plenary authority remained with him, and the
force and efficacy of his testimony stood entire, just as if God himself
had spoken from heaven; to which subject I shall soon again allude.
  5. "And Rebekah heard." Moses now explains more fully the artifice by
which Jacob attained the blessing. It truly appears ridiculous, that an
old man, deceived by the cunning of his wife, should, through ignorance
and error, have given utterance to what was contrary to his wish. And
surely the stratagem of Rebekah was not without fault; for although she
could not guide her husband by salutary counsel, yet it was not a
legitimate method of acting, to circumvent him by such deceit. For, as a
lie is in itself culpable, she sinned more grievously still in this,
that she desired to sport in a sacred matter with such wiles. She knew
that the decree by which Jacob had been elected and adopted was
immutable; why then does she not patiently wait till God shall confirm
it in fact, and shall show that what he had once pronounced from heaven
is certain? Therefore, she darkens the celestial oracle by her lie, and
abolishes, as far as she was able, the grace promised to her son. Now,
if we consider farther, whence arose this great desire to bestir
herself; her extraordinary faith will on the other hand appear. For, as
she did not hesitate to provoke her husband against herself, to light up
implacable enmity between the brothers, to expose her beloved son Jacob
to the danger of immediate death, and to disturb the whole family; this
certainly flowed from no other source than her faith. The inheritance
promised by God was firmly fixed in her mind; she knew that it was
decreed to her son Jacob. And therefore, relying upon the covenant of
God, and keeping in mind the oracle received, she forgets the world.
Thus, we see, that her faith was mixed with an unjust and immoderate
zeal. This is to be carefully observed, in order that we may understand
that a pure and distinct knowledge does not always so illuminate the
minds of the pious as to cause them to be governed, in all their
actions, by the Holy Spirit, but that the little light which shows them
their path is enveloped in various clouds of ignorance and error; so
that while they hold a right course, and are tending towards the goal,
they yet occasional]y slide. Finally, both in Isaac and in his wife the
principle of faith was preeminent. But each, by ignorance in certain
particulars, and by other faults, either diverged a little from the way,
or, at least, stumbled in the way. But seeing that, nevertheless, the
election of God stood firm; nay, that he even executed his design
through the deceit of a woman, he vindicates, in this manner, the whole
praise of his benediction to his own gratuitous goodness.
  11. "And Jacob said to Rebekah." That Jacob does not voluntarily
present himself to his father, but rather fears lest, his imposture
being detected, he should bring a curse upon himself, is very contrary
to faith. For when the Apostle teaches, that "whatsoever is not of faith
is sin," (Rom. 14: 23,) he trains the sons of God to this sobriety, that
they may not permit themselves to undertake anything with a doubtful and
perplexed conscience. This firm persuasion is the only rule of right
conduct, when we, relying on the command of God, go intrepidly
wheresoever he calls us. Jacob, therefore, by debating with himself,
shows that he was deficient in faith; and certainly, although he was not
entirely without it, yet, in this point, he is convicted of failure. But
by this example we are again taught, that faith is not always
extinguished by a given fault; yet, if God sometimes bears with his
servants thus far, that he turns, what they have done perversely, to
their salvation, we must not hence take a license to sin. It happened by
the wonderful mercy of God, that Jacob was not cut off from the grace of
adoption. Who would not rather fear than become presumptuous? And
whereas we see that his faith was obscured by doubting, let us learn to
ask of the Lord the spirit of prudence to govern all our steps. There
was added another error of no light kind: for why does he not rather
reverence God than dread his father's anger? Why does it not rather
occur to his mind, that a foul blot would stain the hallowed adoption of
God, when it seemed to owe its accomplishment to a lie? For although it
tended to a right end, it was not lawful to attain that end, through
this oblique course. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that faith prevailed
over these impediments. For what was the cause why he preferred the bare
and apparently empty benediction of his father, to the quiet which he
then enjoyed, to the conveniences of home, and finally to life itself?
According to the flesh, the father's benediction, of which he was so
desirous, that he knowingly and willingly plunged himself into great
difficulties, was but an imaginary thing. Why did he act thus, but
because in the exercise of simple faith in the word of God, he more
highly valued the hope which was hidden from him, shall the desirable
condition which he actually enjoyed? Besides, his fear of his father's
anger had its origin in the true fear of God. He says that he feared
lest he should bring upon himself a curse. But he would not so greatly
have dreaded a verbal censure, if he had not deemed the grace deposited
in the hands of his father worth more than a thousand lives. It was
therefore under an impulse of God that he feared his father, who was
really God's minister. For when the Lord sees us creeping on the earth,
he draws us to himself by the hand of man.
  13. "Upon me be thy curse, my son." Here Rebekah sins again, because
she burns with such hasty zeal that she does not consider how highly God
disapproves of her evil course. She presumptuously subjects herself to
the curse. But whence this unheeding confidence? Being unfurnished with
any divine command, she took her own counsel. Yet no one will deny that
this zeal, although preposterous, proceeds from special reverence for
the word of God. For since she was informed by the oracle of God, that
Jacob was preferred in the sight of God, she disregarded whatever was
visible in the world, and whatever the sense of nature dictated, in
comparison with God's secret election. Therefore we are taught by this
example, that every one should walk modestly and cautiously according to
the rule of his vocation; and should not dare to proceed beyond what the
Lord allows in his word.
  14. "And he went and fetched." Although it is probable that Jacob was
not only influenced by a desire to yield obedience to the authority of
his mother, but was also persuaded by her seasonings, he yet sinned by
overstepping the bounds of his vocation. When Rebekah had taken the
blame upon herself, she told him, doubtless, that injury was done to no
one: because Jacob was not stealing away another's right, but only
seeking the blessing which was decreed to him by the celestial oracle.
It seemed a fair and probable excuse for the fraud, that Isaac, unless
he should be imposed upon, was prepared to invalidate the election of
God. Therefore Jacob, instead of simply declining from what was right in
submission to his mother, was rather obeying the word of God. In the
meantime (as I have said) this particular error was not free from blame:
because the truth of God was not to be aided by such falsehoods. The
paternal benediction was a seal of God's grace, I confess it; but she
ought rather to have waited till God should bring relief from heaven, by
changing the mind and guiding the tongue of Isaac, than have attempted
what was unlawful. For if Balaam, who prostituted his venal tongue, was
constrained by the Spirit, contrary to his own wish, to bless the elect
people, whom he would rather have devoted to destruction, (Num. 22: 12,)
how much more powerfully would the same spirit have influenced the
tongue of holy Isaac, who was not a mercenary man, but one who desired
faithfully to obey God, and was only hurried by an error in a contrary
direction? Therefore, although in the main, faith shone preeminently in
holy Jacob, yet in this respect he bears the blame of rashness, in that
he was distrustful of the providence of God, and fraudulently gained
possession of his father's blessing.
  19. "And Jacob said unto his father, I am Esau." At first Jacob was
timid and anxious; now, having dismissed his fear, he confidently and
audaciously lies. By which example we are taught, that when any one has
transgressed the proper bounds of duty, he soon allows himself
unmeasured license. Wherefore there is nothing better than for each to
keep himself within the limits divinely prescribed to him, lest by
attempting more than is lawful, he should open the door to Satan. I have
before shown how far his seeking the blessing by fraud, and insinuating
himself into the possession of it by falsehood, was contrary to faith.
Yet this particular fault and divergence from the right path, did not
prevent the faith which had been produced by the oracle from holding on,
in some way, its course. In excusing the quickness of his return by
saying that the venison was brought to him by God, he speaks in
accordance with the rule of piety: he sins, however, in mixing the
sacred name of God with his own falsehoods. Thus, when there is a
departure from truth, the reverence which is apparently shown to God is
nothing else than a profanation of his glory. It was right that the
prosperous issue of his hunting should be ascribed to the providence of
God, lest we should imagine that any good thing was the result of
chance; but when Jacob pretended that God was the author of a benefit
which had not been granted to himself, and that, too, as a cloak for his
deception, his fault was not free from perjury.
  21. "Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee." It hence appears
that the holy man was suspicious of fraud, and therefore hesitated.
Whence it may seem that the benediction was vain, seeing it had no
support of faith. But it thus pleased God so to perform his work by the
hand of Isaac, as not to make him, who was the instrument, a willing
furtherer of his design. Nor is it absurd that Isaac, like a blind man,
should ignorantly transfer the blessing to a different person from him
whom he intended. The ordinary function of pastors has something of a
similar kind; for since by the command of God, they reconcile men to
him, yet they do not discern to whom this reconciliation comes; thus
they cast abroad the seed, but are uncertain respecting the fruit.
Wherefore God does not place the office and power with which he has
invested them, under the control of their own judgment. In this way the
ignorance of Isaac does not nullify the heavenly oracles; and God
himself, although the senses of his servant fail, does not desist from
the accomplishment of his purpose. Here we have a clear refutation of
the figment of the Papists, that the whole force of the sacrament
depends upon the intention of the man who consecrates; as if, truly, it
were left to the will of man to frustrate the design of God.
Nevertheless, what I have already so often said must be remembered, that
however Isaac might be deceived in the person of his son, he yet did not
pronounce the blessing in vain: because a general faith remained in his
mind and in part governed his conduct. In forming his judgment from the
touch, disregarding the voice, he did not act according to the nature of
faith. And, therefore, with respect to the person, he was plainly in
error. This, however, did not happen in consequence of negligence; since
he diligently and even anxiously turned every way, that he might not
deprive the firstborn of his right. But it pleased the Lord thus to
render his senses dull, partly for the purpose of showing, how vain it
is for men to strive to change what he has once decreed, (because it is
impossible hut that his counsel should remain firm and stable though the
whole world should oppose it,) and partly, for the purpose of
correcting, by this kind of chastisement, the absurd attachment by which
Isaac was too closely bound to his firstborn. For whence arose this
minute investigation, except from the fact that an inordinate love of
Esau, which had taken entire possession of his mind, turned him aside
from the divine oracle? Therefore, since he yielded an excessive
indulgence to natural feeling, he deserved in every way to be blinded.
So much the greater care ought we to take that, in carrying on God's
work, we should not give the reins to our human affections.
  26. "Come near now, and kiss me." We know that the practice of kissing
was then in use, which many nations retain to this day. Profane men,
however, may say, that it is ludicrous for an old man, whose mind was
already obtuse, and who moreover had eaten and drunk heartily, should
pour forth his benedictions upon a person who was only acting a part.
But whereas Moses has previously recorded the oracle of God, by which
the adoption was destined for the younger son, it behoves us reverently
to contemplate the secret providence of God, towards which profane men
pay no respect. Truly Isaac was not so in bondage to the attractions of
meat and drink as to be unable, with sobriety of mind, to reflect upon
the divine command given unto him, and to undertake in seriousness, and
with a certain faith in his own vocation, the very work in which, on
account of the infirmity of his flesh, he vacillated and halted.
Therefore, we must not form our estimate of this blessing from the
external appearance, but from the celestial decree; even as it appeared
at length, by the issue, that God neither vainly sported, nor that man
rashly proceeded in this affair: and, truly, if the same religion dwells
in us which flourished in the patriarch's heart, nothing will hinder the
divine power from shining forth the more clearly in the weakness of man.
  27. "See, the smell of my son is as the small of a field." The
allegory of Ambrose on this passage is not displeasing to me. Jacob, the
younger brother, is blessed under the person of the elder; the garments
which were borrowed from his brother breathe an odour grateful and
pleasant to his father. In the same manner we are blessed, as Ambrose
teaches, when, in the name of Christ, we enter the presence of our
Heavenly Father: we receive from him the robe of righteousness, which,
by its odour, procures his favour; in short, we are thus blessed when we
are put in his place. But Isaac seems here to desire and implore nothing
for his son but what is earthly; for this is the substance of his words,
that it might be well with his son in the world, that he might gather
together the abundant produce of the earth, that he might enjoy great
peace, and shine in honour above others. There is no mention of the
heavenly kingdom; and hence it has arisen, that men without learning,
and but little exercised in true piety, have imagined that these holy
fathers were blessed by the Lord only in respect to this frail and
transitory life. But it appears from many passages to have been far
otherwise: and as to the fact that Isaac here confines himself to the
earthly favours of God, the explanation is easy; for the Lord did not
formerly set the hope of the future inheritance plainly before the eyes
of the fathers, (as he now calls and raises us directly towards heaven,)
but he led them as by a circuitous course. Thus he appointed the land of
Canaan as a mirror and pledge to them of the celestial inheritance. In
all his acts of kindness he gave them tokens of his paternal favour, not
indeed for the purpose of making them content with present good, so that
they should neglect heaven, or should follow a merely empty shadow, as
some foolishly suppose; but that, being aided by such helps, according
to the time in which they lived, they might by degrees rise towards
heaven; for since Christ, the first-fruits of those who rise again, and
the author of the eternal and incorruptible life, had not yet been
manifested, his spiritual kingdom was, in this way, shadowed forth under
figures only, until the fulness of the time should come; and as all the
promises of God were involved, and in a sense clothed in these symbols,
so the faith of the holy fathers observed the same measure, and made its
advances heavenwards by means of these earthly rudiments. Therefore,
although Isaac makes the temporal favours of God prominent, nothing is
further from his mind than to confine the hope of his son to this world;
he would raise him to the same elevation to which he himself aspired.
Some proof of this may be drawn from his own words; for this is the
principal point, that he assigns him the dominion over the nations. But
whence the hope of such a dignity, unless he had been persuaded that his
race had been elected by the Lord, and, indeed, with this stipulation,
that the right of the kingdom should remain with one son only?
Meanwhile, let it suffice to adhere to this principle, that the holy
man, when he implores a prosperous course of life for his son, wishes
that God, in whose paternal favour stands our solid and eternal
happiness, may be propitious to him.
  29. "Cursed be every one that curseth thee." What I have before said
must be remembered, namely, that these are not bare wishes, such as
fathers are wont to utter on behalf of their children, but that promises
of God are included in them; for Isaac is the authorized interpreter of
God, and the instrument employed by the Holy Spirit; and therefore, as
in the person of God, he efficaciously pronounces those accursed who
shall oppose the welfare of his son. This then is the confirmation of
the promise, by which God, when he receives the faithful under his
protection, declares that he will be an enemy to their enemies. The
whole force of the benediction turns to this point, that God will prove
himself to be a kind father to his servant Jacob in all things, so that
he will constitute him the chief and the head of a holy and elect
people, will preserve and defend him by his power, and will secure his
salvation in the face of enemies of every kind.
  30. "Jacob was yet scarce gone out." Here is added the manner in which
Esau was repulsed, which circumstance availed not a little to confirm
the benediction to Jacob: for if Esau had not been rejected, it might
seem that he was not deprived of that honour which nature had given him:
but now Isaac declares, that what he had done, in virtue of his
patriarchal office, could not but be ratified. Here, truly, it again
appears, that the primogeniture which Jacob obtained, at the expense of
his brother, was made his by a free gift; for if we compare the works of
both together, Esau obeys his father, brings him the produce of his
hunting, prepares for his father the food obtained by his own labour,
and speaks nothing but the truth: in short, we find nothing in him which
is not worthy of praise. Jacob never leaves his home, substitutes a kid
for venison, insinuates himself by many lies, brings nothing which would
properly commend him, but in many things deserves reprehension. Hence it
must be acknowledged, that the cause of this event is not to be traced
to works, but that it lies hid in the eternal counsel of God. Yet Esau
is not unjustly reprobated, because they who are not governed by the
Spirit of God can receive nothing with a right mind; only let it be
firmly maintained, that since the condition of all is equal, if any one
is preferred to another, it is not because of his own merit, but because
the Lord has gratuitously elected him.
  33. "And Isaac trembled very exceedingly." Here now again the faith
which had been smothered in the breast of the holy man shines forth and
emits fresh sparks; for there is no doubt that his fear springs from
faith. Besides, it is no common fear which Moses describes, but that
which utterly confounds the holy man: for, whereas he was perfectly
conscious of his own vocation, and therefore was persuaded that the duty
of naming the heir with whom he should deposit the covenant of eternal
life was divinely enjoined upon him, he no sooner discovered his error
than he was filled with fear, that in an affair so great and so serious
God had suffered him to err; for unless he had thought that God was the
director of this act, what should have hindered him from alleging his
ignorance as an excuse, and from becoming enraged against Jacob, who had
stolen in upon him by fraud and by unjustifiable arts? But although
covered with shame on account of the error he had committed, he
nevertheless, with a collected mind, ratifies the benediction which he
had pronounced; and I do not doubt that he then, as one awaking, began
to recall to memory the oracle to which he had not been sufficiently
attentive. Wherefore, the holy man was not impelled by ambition to be
thus tenacious of his purpose, as obstinate men are wont to be, who
prosecute to the last what they have once, though foolishly, begun; but
the declaration, "I have blessed him, yea, and he shall be blessed," was
the effect of a rare and precious faith; for he, renouncing the
affections of the flesh, now yields himself entirely to God, and,
acknowledging God as the Author of the benediction which he had uttered,
ascribes due glory to him in not daring to retract it. The benefit of
this doctrine pertains to the whole Church, in order that we may
certainly know, that whatever the heralds of the gospel promise to us by
the command of God, will be efficacious and stable, because they do not
speak as private men, but as by the command of God himself; and the
infirmity of the minister does not destroy the faithfulness, power, and
efficacy of God's word. He who presents himself to us charged with the
offer of eternal happiness and life, is subject to our common miseries
and to death; yet, notwithstanding, the promise is efficacious. He who
absolves us from sins is himself a sinner; but because his office is
divinely assigned him, the stability of this grace, having its
foundation in God, shall never fail.
  34. "He cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry." Though Esau
persists in imploring the blessing, he yet gives a sign of desperation,
which is the reason why he obtains no benefit, because he enters not by
the gate of faith. True piety, indeed, draws forth tears and great cries
from the children of God; but Esau, trembling and full of fears, breaks
out in wailings; afterwards he casts, at a venture, his wish into the
air, that he also may receive a blessing. But his blind incredulity is
reproved by his own words; for whereas one blessing only had been
deposited with his father, he asks that another should be given to him,
as if it were in his father's power indiscriminately to breathe out
blessings, independently of the command of God. Here the admonition of
the Apostle may suggest itself to our minds, "that Esau, when he sought
again the forfeited blessing with tears and loud lamentations, found no
place for repentance," (Heb. 12: 17;) for they who neglect to follow God
when he calls on them, afterwards call upon him in vain, when he has
turned his back. So long as God addresses and invites us, the gate of
the kingdom of heaven is in a certain sense open: this opportunity we
must use, if we desire to enter, according to the instruction of the
Prophet, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while
he is near." (Isa. 55; 6.) Of which passage Paul is the interpreter, in
defining that to be the acceptable time of the day of salvation in which
grace is brought unto us by the gospel. (2 Cor. 6: 2.) They who suffer
that time to pass by, may, at length, knock too late, and without
profit, because God avenges himself of their idleness. We must therefore
fear lest if, with deafened ears, we suffer the voice of God now to pass
unheeded by, he should, in turn, become deaf to our cry. But it may be
asked, how is this repulse consistent with the promise, "If the wicked
will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my
statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live?"
(Ezekiel 18: 21.) Moreover, it may seem at variance with the clemency of
God to reject the sighings of those who, being crushed by misery, fly
for refuge to his mercy. I answer, that repentance, if it be true and
sincere, will never be too late; and the sinner who, from his soul, is
displeased with himself, will obtain pardon: but God in this manner
punishes the contempt of his grace, because they who obstinately reject
it, do not seriously purpose in their mind to return to him. Thus it is
that they who are given up to a reprobate mind are never touched with
genuine penitence. Hypocrites truly break out into tears, like Esau, but
their heart within them will remain closed as with iron bars. Therefore,
since Esau rushes forward, destitute of faith and repentance, to ask a
blessing, there is no wonder that he should be rejected.
  36. "Is he not rightly named Jacob? " That the mind of Esau was
affected with no sense of penitence appears hence; he accused his
brother and took no blame to himself. But the very beginning of
repentance is grief felt on account of sin, together with
self-condemnation. Esau ought to have descended into himself, and to
have become his own judge. Having sold his birthright, he had darted,
like a famished dog, upon the meat and the pottage; and now, as if he
had done no wrong, he vents all his anger on his brother. Further, if
the blessing is deemed of any value, why does he not consider that he
had been repelled from it, not simply by the fraud of man, but by the
providence of God? We see, therefore, that like a blind man feeling in
the dark, he cannot find his way.
  37. "Behold, I have made him thy Lord." Isaac now more openly confirms
what I have before said, that since God was the author of the blessing,
it could neither be vain nor evanescent. For he does not here
magnificently boast of his dignity, but keeps himself within the bounds
and measure of a servant, and denies that he is at liberty to alter
anything. For he always considers, (which is the truth,) that when he
sustains the character of God's representative, it is not lawful for him
to proceed further than the command will bear him. Hence, indeed, Esau
ought to have learned from whence he had fallen by his own fault, in
order that he might have humbled himself, and might rather have joined
himself with his brother, in order to become a partaker of his blessing,
as his inferior, than have desired anything separately for himself. But
a depraved cupidity carries him away, so that he, forgetful of the
kingdom of God, pursues and cares for nothing except his own private
advantage. Again, we must notice Isaac's manner of speaking, by which he
claims a certain force and efficacy for his benediction, as if his word
carried with it dominion, abundance of corn and wine, and whatever else
God had promised to Abraham. For God, in requiring the faithful to
depend on himself alone, would nevertheless have them to rest securely
upon the word, which, at his command, is declared to them by the tongue
of men. In this way they are said to remit sins, who are only the
messengers and interpreters of free forgiveness.
  38. "Hast thou but one blessing?" Esau seems to take courage; but he
neglects the care of his soul, and turns, like a swine, to the pampering
of his flesh. He had heard that his father had nothing left to grant;
because, truly, the full and entire grace of God so rested upon Jacob,
that out of his family there was no happiness. Wherefore, if Esau sought
his own welfare, he ought to have drawn from that fountain, and rather
to have subjected himself to his brother, than to have cut himself off
from a happy connexion with him. He chose, however, rather to be
deprived of spiritual grace, provided he might but possess something of
his own, and apart from his brother, than to be his inferior at home. He
could not be ignorant, that there was one sole benediction by which his
brother Jacob had been constituted the heir of the divine covenant: for
Isaac would be daily discoursing with them concerning the singular
privilege which God had vouchsafed to Abraham and his seed. Esau would
not previously have complained so bitterly, unless he had felt that he
had been deprived of an incomparable benefit. Therefore, by departing
from this one source of blessing, he indirectly renounces God, and cuts
himself off from the body of the Church, caring for nothing but this
transitory life. But it would have been better for him, miserably to
perish through the want of all things in this world, and with difficulty
to draw his languishing breath, than to slumber amidst temporal
delights. What afterwards follows,--namely, that he wept with loud
lamentations,--is a sign of fierce and proud indignation, rather than of
penitence; for he remitted nothing of his ferocity, but raged like a
cruel beast of prey. So the wicked, when punishment overtakes them,
bewail the salvation they have lost; but, meanwhile, do not cease to
delight themselves in their vices; and instead of heartily seeking after
the righteousness of God, they rather desire that his deity should be
extinct. Of a similar character is that gnashing of teeth and weeping in
hell which, instead of stimulating the reprobate to seek after God, only
consumes them with unknown torments.
  39 "Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth." At length
Esau obtains what he had asked. For, perceiving himself to be cast down
from the rank and honour of primogeniture, he chooses rather to have
prosperity in the world, separated from the holy people, than to submit
to the yoke of his younger brother. But it may be thought that Isaac
contradicts himself, in offering a new benediction, when he had before
declared, that he had given to his son Jacob all that was placed at his
disposal. I answer, that what has been before said concerning Ishmael
must be noted in this place. For God, though he hearkened to Abraham's
prayer for Ishmael, so far as concerned the present life, yet
immediately restricts his promise, by adding the exception implied in
the declaration, that in Isaac only should the seed be called. I do not,
however, doubt, that the holy man, when he perceived that his younger
son Jacob was the divinely ordained heir of a happy life, would
endeavour to retain his firstborn, Esau, in the bond of fraternal
connection, in order that he might not depart from the holy and elect
flock of the Church. But now, when he sees him obstinately tending in
another direction, he declares what will be his future condition.
Meanwhile the spiritual blessing remains in its integrity with Jacob
alone, to whom Esau refusing to attach himself, voluntarily becomes an
exile from the kingdom of God. The prophecy uttered by Malachi, (1: 3,)
may seem to be contradictory to this statement. For, comparing the two
brothers, Esau and Jacob, with each other, he teaches that Esau was
hated, inasmuch as a possession was given to him in the deserts; and yet
Isaac promises him a fertile land. There is a twofold solution: either
that the Prophet, speaking comparatively, may with truth call Idumea a
desert in comparison with the land of Canaan, which was far more
fruitful; or else that he was referring to his own times. For although
the devastations of both lands had been terrible, yet the land of Canaan
in a short time flourished again, while the territory of Edom was
condemned to perpetual sterility, and given up to dragons. Therefore,
although God, with respect to his own people, banished Esau to desert
mountains, he yet gave to him a land sufficiently fertile in itself to
render the promise by no means nugatory. For that mountainous region
both had its own natural fruitfulness, and was so watered by the dew of
heaven, that it would yield sustenance to its inhabitants.
  40. "By thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother." It is
to be observed that events are here predicted which were never fulfilled
in the person of Esau; and therefore, that the prophecy is concerning
things at that time far distant. For Jacob was so far from having
obtained dominion over his brother, that on his return from Padan-aram,
he suppliantly tendered him his obedience; and the breaking off of the
yoke which Isaac here mentions, is referred to a very remote period. He
is therefore relating the future condition of Esau's posterity. And he
says first, that they shall live by their sword: which words admit a
twofold sense, either that, being surrounded by enemies, they shall pass
a warlike and unquiet life; or that they shall be free, and their own
masters. For there is no power to use the sword where there is no
liberty. The former meaning seems the more suitable; namely, that God
would limit his promise, lest Esau should be too much exalted: for
nothing is more desirable than peace. The holy people also are warned
that there will always be some enemies to infest them. This, however, is
a very different thing from living by his own sword; which is as if he
had said, that the sons of Esau, like robbers, should maintain their
security by arms and violence, rather than by legitimate authority. A
second limitation of the promise is, that though armed with the sword,
he should still not escape subjection to his brother. For the Idumeans
were, at length, made tributary to the chosen people; but the servitude
was not long continued; because when the kingdoms were divided, the
power by which they had held all their neighbours in subjection and
fear, was cut off; yet the Lord would have the Idumeans brought into
subjection for a short time, that he might furnish a visible
demonstration of this prophecy. As to the rest of the time, the restless
and unbridled liberty of Esau was more wretched than any state of
  41. "And Esau hated Jacob." It hence appears more clearly, that the
tears of Esau were so far from being the effect of true repentance, that
they were rather evidences of furious anger. For he is not content with
secretly cherishing enmity against his brother, but openly breaks out in
wicked threats. And it is evident how deeply malice had struck its
roots, when he could indulge himself in the desperate purpose of
murdering his brother. Even a profane and sacrilegious contumacy betrays
itself in him, seeing that he prepares himself to abolish the decree of
God by the sword. I will take care, he says, that Jacob shall not enjoy
the inheritance promised to him. What is this but to annihilate the
force of the benediction, of which he knew that his father was the
herald and the minister? Moreover, a lively picture of a hypocrite is
here set before us. He pretends that the death of his father would be to
him a mournful event: and doubtless it is a religious duty to mourn over
a deceased father. But it was a mere pretence on his part, to speak of
the day of mourning, when in his haste to execute the impious murder of
his brother, the death of his father seemed to come too slowly, and he
rejoiced at the prospect of its approach. With what face could he ever
pretend to any human affection, when he gasps for his brother's death,
and at the same time attempts to subvert all the laws of nature? It is
even possible, that an impulse of nature itself, extorted from him the
avowal, by which he would the more grievously condemn himself; as God
often censures the wicked out of their own mouth, and renders them more
inexcusable. But if a sense of shame alone restrains a cruel mind, this
is not to be deemed worthy of great praise; nay, it even betrays a
stupid and brutal contempt of God. Sometimes, indeed, the fear of man
influences even the pious, as we have seen, in the preceding chapter,
respecting Jacob: but they soon rise above it, so that with them the
fear of God predominates; while forgetfulness of God so pervades the
hearts of the wicked, that they rest their hopes in men alone.
Therefore, he who abstains from wickedness merely through the fear of
man, and from a sense of shame, has hitherto made but little progress.
Yet the confession of the Papists is chiefly honoured by them with this
praise, that it deters many from sin, through the fear lest they should
be compelled to proclaim their own disgrace. But the rule of piety is
altogether different, since it teaches our conscience to set God before
us as our witness and our judge.
  42. "And these words of Esau ... were told to Rebekah." Moses now
makes a transition to a new subject of history, showing how Jacob, as a
wanderer from his father's house, went into Mesopotamia. Without doubt,
it was an exceedingly troublesome and severe temptation to the holy
matron, to see that, by her own deed, her son was placed in imminent
danger of death. But by faith she wrestled to retain the possession of
the grace once received. For, if she had been impelled by a merely
womanly attachment to her younger son, it certainly would have been her
best and shortest method, to cause the birthright to be restored to
Esau: for thus the cause of emulation would have been removed; and he
who was burning with grief at the loss of his right, would have had his
fury appeased. It is therefore an evidence of extraordinary faith, that
Rebekah does not come to any agreement, but persuades her son to become
a voluntary exile, and chooses rather to be deprived of his presence,
than that he should give up the blessing he had once received. The
benediction of the father might now seem illusory; so as to make it
appear wonderful that so much should be made of it by Rebekah and Jacob:
nevertheless, they were so far from repenting of what they had done,
that they do not refuse the bitter punishment of exile, if only Jacob
may carry with him the benediction uttered by his father. Moreover, we
are taught by this example, that we must bear it patiently, if the cross
attends the hope of a better life, as its companion; or even if the Lord
adopts us into his family, with this condition, that we should wander as
pilgrims without any certain dwelling-place in the world. For, on this
account, Jacob is thrust out from his paternal home, where he might
quietly have passed his life, and is compelled to migrate to a strange
land; because the blessing of God is promised unto him. And as he did
not attempt to purchase temporal peace with his brother by the loss of
the grace received; so must we beware lest any carnal advantage or any
allurements of the world should draw us aside from the course of our
vocation: let us rather bear with magnanimity losses of all kinds, so
that the anchor of our hope nay remain fixed in heaven. When Rebekah
says that Esau consoled himself with the thought, that he would slay his
brother; the meaning is, that he could not be pacified by any other
means, than by this wicked murder.
  44. "And tarry with him a few days." This circumstance mitigates the
severity of banishment. For the shortness of the time of suffering
avails not a little to support us in adversity. And it was probable that
the enmity of Esau would not prove so obstinate as to be unassuaged by
his brother's absence. In the Hebrew expression which is translated "a
few days," the word few is literally "one" put in the plural number.
Rebekah means, that as soon as Jacob should have gone away of his own
accord, the memory of the offense would be obliterated from the mind of
Esau; as if she had said, Only depart hence for a little while, and we
shall soon assuage his anger.
  45. "Why should I be deprived of you both in one day?" Why does
Rebekah fear a double privation? for there was no danger that Jacob,
endued with a disposition so mild and placid, should rise up against his
brother. We see, therefore, that Rebekah concluded that God would be the
avenger of the iniquitous murder. Moreover, although God, for a time,
might seem to overlook the deed, and to suspend his judgment, it would
yet be necessary for him to withdraw from the parricide. Therefore, by
this law of nature, Rebekah declares that she should be entirely
bereaved; because she would be compelled to dread and to detest him who
survived. But if Rebekah anticipated in her mind what the judgment of
God would be, and devoted the murderer to destruction, because she was
persuaded that wickedness so great would not be unpunished; much less
ought we to close our eyes against the manifest chastisements of God.
  46. "And Rebekah said to Isaac." When Jacob might have fled secretly,
his mother, nevertheless, obtains leave for his departure from his
father; for so a well-ordered domestic government and discipline
required. In giving another cause than the true one to her husband, she
may be excused from the charge of falsehood; inasmuch as she neither
said the whole truth nor left the whole unsaid. No doubt, she truly
affirms that she was tormented, even to weariness of life, on account of
her Hittite daughters-in-law: but she prudently conceals the more inward
evil, lest she should inflict a mortal wound on her husband: and also,
lest she should the more influence the rage of Esau; for the wicked,
often, when their crime is detected, are the more carried away with
desperation. Now, although in consequence of the evil manners of her
daughters-in-law, affinity with the whole race became hateful to
Rebekah, yet in this again the wonderful providence of God is
conspicuous, that Jacob neither blended, nor entangled himself, with the
future enemies of the Church.

Chapter XXVIII.

1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said
unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.
2 Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father;
and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's
3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply
thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people;
4 And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with
thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger,
which God gave unto Abraham.
5 And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padanaram unto Laban, son of
Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother.
6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to
Padanaram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he
gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters
of Canaan;
7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to
8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his
9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had
Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth,
to be his wife.
10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night,
because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and
put [them for] his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top
of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and
descending on it.
13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I [am] the LORD God
of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou
liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread
abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south:
and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be
15 And, behold, I [am] with thee, and will keep thee in all [places]
whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will
not leave thee, until I have done [that] which I have spoken to thee of.
16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in
this place; and I knew [it] not.
17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful [is] this place! this [is]
none other but the house of God, and this [is] the gate of heaven.
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he
had put [for] his pillows, and set it up [for] a pillar, and poured oil
upon the top of it.
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that
city [was called] Luz at the first.
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep
me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to
put on,
21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the
LORD be my God:
22 And this stone, which I have set [for] a pillar, shall be God's
house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth
unto thee.

1. "And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him." It may be asked, whether
the reason why Isaac repeats anew the benediction which he had before
pronounced, was that the former one had been of no force; whereas, if he
was a prophet and interpreter of the will of God, what had once
proceeded from his mouth ought to have been firm and perpetual. I
answer, although the benedictions was in itself efficacious, yet the
faith of Jacob required support of this kind: just as the Lord, in
reiterating, frequently the same promises, derogates nothing either from
himself or from his word, but rather confirms the certainty of that word
to his servants, lest, at any time, their confidence should be shaken
through the infirmity of the flesh. What I have said must also be kept
in mind, that Isaac prayed, not as a private person, but as one
furnished with a special command of God, to transmit the covenant
deposited with himself to his son Jacob. It was also of the greatest
importance that now, at length, Jacob should be blessed by his father,
knowingly and willingly; lest at a future time a doubt, arising from the
recollection of his father's mistake and of his own fraud, might steal
over his mind. Therefore Isaac, now purposely directing his words to his
son Jacob, pronounces the blessing to be due to him by right, lest it
should be thought that, having been before deceived, he had uttered
words in vain, under a false character.
  2. "Arise, go to Padan-aram." In the first place, he commands him to
take a wife from his maternal race. He might have sent for her by some
one of his servants, as Rebekah had been brought to him; but perhaps he
took this course to avoid the envy of Esau, who might regard it as a
reproach if more solicitude were manifested about his brother's marriage
than about his own.
  3. "And God Almighty bless thee." Here follows the form of
benediction, which slightly differs in words from the former, but
nevertheless tends to the same end. First, he desires that Jacob should
be blessed by God; that is, that he should be so increased and amplified
in his own offspring, as to grow into a multitude of nations; or, in
other words, that he should produce many people who might combine into
one body under the same head; as if he had said, "Let there arise from
thee many tribes, who shall constitute one people." And this truly was,
in some measure, fulfilled when Moses distributed the people into
thirteen divisions. Nevertheless, Isaac looked for a further result,
namely, that many were at length to be gathered together out of various
nations, to the family of his son, that, in this manner, from a vast and
previously scattered multitude, might be formed one assembly. For it is
not to be doubted, that he wished to hand down what he had received;
seeing that he immediately afterwards celebrates the memory of the
original covenant, deriving his present benediction from thence as its
source: as if he had said, that he transferred whatever right he had
from his father; to his son Jacob, in order that the inheritance of life
might remain with him, according to the covenant of God made with
Abraham. They who expound this as being said in the way of comparison,
as if Isaac wished those benefits which God had before conferred on
Abraham to be in the same manner granted to his son, attenuate the
meaning of the words. For since God, in making his covenant with
Abraham, had annexed this condition, that it should descend to his
posterity, it was necessary to trace its commencement to his person as
its root. Therefore, Isaac constitutes his son Jacob the heir of
Abraham, as successor to the benediction deposited with him, and
promised to his seed. This also appears more clearly from the context
following, where he assigns to him the dominion over the land, because
it had been given to Abraham. Moreover, we perceive, in this member of
the sentence, with what consistency of faith the holy fathers rested on
the word of the Lord; for otherwise, they would have found it no small
temptation to be driven about as strangers and pilgrims in the very
land, the possession of which had been divinely assigned them a hundred
years before. But we see, that in their wanderings and their unsettled
mode of life, they no less highly estimated what God had promised them,
than if they had already been in the full enjoyment of it. And this is
the true trial of faith; when relying on the word of God alone, although
tossed on the waves of the world, we stand as firmly as if our abode
were already fixed in heaven. Isaac expressly fortifies his son against
this temptation, when he calls the land of which he constitutes him
lord, "the land of his wanderings." For by these words he teaches him
that it was possible he might be a wanderer all the days of his life:
but this did not hinder the promise of God from being so ratified, that
he, contented with that alone, might patiently wait for the time of
revelation. Even the plural number seems to express something
significant, namely, that Jacob would be a wanderer not once only, but
in various ways and perpetually. Since, however, the Hebrew plural has
not always such emphasis, I do not insist on this interpretation. It is
more worthy of notice, that the faith of Jacob was proved by a severe
and rigid trial, seeing, that for this very reason, the land is promised
to him in word only, while in fact, he is cast far away from it. For he
seems to be the object of ridicule, when he is commanded to possess the
dominion of the land, and yet to leave it and to bid it farewell, and to
depart into distant exile.
  6. "When Esau saw." A brief narration concerning Esau is here
inserted, which it is useful to know; because we learn from it that the
wicked, though they exalt themselves against God, and though, in
contempt of his grace, they please themselves in obtaining their
desires, are yet not able to despise that grace altogether. So now, Esau
is penetrated with a desire of the blessing; not that he aspires to it
sincerely and from his heart; but perceiving it to be something
valuable, he is impelled to seek after it, though with reluctance. A
further fault is, that he does not seek it as he ought: for he devises a
new and strange method of reconciling God and his father to himself; and
therefore all his diligence is without profit. At the same time he does
not seem to be careful about pleasing God, so that he may but propitiate
his father. Before all things, it was his duty to cast aside his profane
disposition, his perverse manners, and his corrupt affections of the
flesh, and then to bear with meekness the chastisement inflicted upon
him: for genuine repentance would have dictated to him this sentiment,
"Seeing I have hitherto rendered myself unworthy of the birthright, my
brother is deservedly preferred before me. Nothing, therefore, remains
for me but to humble myself, and since I am deprived of the honour of
being the head, let it suffice me to be at least one of the members of
the Church." And, certainly, it would have been more desirable for him
to remain in some obscure corner of the Church, than, as one cut off and
torn away from the elect people, to shine with a proud preeminence on
earth. He aims, however, at nothing of this kind, but attempts, by I
know not what prevarications, to appease his father in whatever way he
may be able. Moses, in this example, depicts all hypocrites to the life.
For as often as the judgment of God urges them, though they are wounded
with the pain of their punishment, they yet do not seek a true remedy;
for having aimed at offering one kind of satisfaction only, they
entirely neglect a simple and real conversion: and even in the
satisfaction offered, they only make a pretence. Whereas Esau ought
thoroughly to have repented, he only tried to correct the single fault
of his marriage; and this too in a most absurd manner. Yet another
defect follows: for while he retains the wives who were so hateful to
his parents, he supposes he has discharged his duty by marrying a third.
But by this method, neither was the trouble of his parents alleviated,
nor his house cleansed from guilt. And now truly, whence does he marry
his third wife? From the race of Ishmael, whom we know to have been
himself degenerate, and whose posterity had departed from the pure
worship of God. A remarkable proof of this is discernible at the present
day, in the pretended and perfidious intermeddlers, who imagine they can
admirably adjust religious differences by simply adorning their too
gross corruptions with attractive colours. The actual state of things
compels them to confess that the vile errors and abuses of Popery have
so far prevailed as to render a Reformation absolutely necessary: but
they are unwilling that the filth of this Camarine marsh be stirred;
they only desire to conceal its impurities, and even that they do by
compulsion. For they had previously called their abominations the sacred
worship of God; but since these are now dragged to light by the word of
God, they therefore descend to novel artifices. They flatter themselves,
however; in vain, seeing they are here condemned by Moses, in the person
of Esau. Away, then, with their impure pretended reformation, which has
nothing simple nor sincere. Moreover, since it is a disease inherent in
the human race, willingly to attempt to deceive God by some fictitious
pretext, let us know that we do nothing effectually, until we tear up
our sins by the roots, and thoroughly devote ourselves to God.
  10. "And Jacob went out." In the course of this history we must
especially observe, how the Lord preserved his own Church in the person
of one man. For Isaac, on account of his age, lay like a dry trunk; and
although the living root of piety was concealed within his breast, yet
no hope of further offspring remained in his exhausted and barren old
age. Esau, like a green and flourishing branch, had much of show and
splendour, but his vigour was only momentary. Jacob, as a severed twig,
was removed into a far distant land; not that, being ingrafted or
planted there, he should acquire strength and greatness, but that, being
moistened with the dew of heaven, he might put forth his shoots as into
the air itself. For the Lord wonderfully nourishes him, and supplies him
with strength, until he shall bring him back again to his father's
house. Meanwhile, let the reader diligently observe, that while he who
was blessed by God is cast into exile; occasion of glorying was given to
the reprobate Esau, who was left in the possession of everything, so
that he might securely reign without a rival. Let us not, then, be
disturbed, if at any time the wicked sound their triumphs, as having
gained their wishes, while we are oppressed. Moses mentions the name of
Beersheba, because, as it formed one of the boundaries of the land of
Canaan, and lay towards the great desert and the south, it was the more
remote from the eastern region towards which Jacob was going. He
afterwards adds Charran, (chap. 29,) where Abraham, when he left his own
country, dwelt for some time. Now, it appears that not only the pious
old man Terah, when he followed his son, or accompanied him on his
journey, came to Charran where he died; but that his other son Nahor,
with his family, also came to the same place. For we read in the
eleventh chapter, that Terah took his son Abraham, and Lot his grandson,
and Sarai his daughter-in-law. Whence we infer that Nahor, at that time,
remained in Chaldea, his native country. But now, since Moses says, that
Laban dwelt at Charran, we may hence conjecture, that Nahor, in order
that he might not appear guilty of the inhumanity of deserting his
father, afterwards gathered together his goods and came to him.
  Moses here, in a few words, declares what a severe and arduous journey
the holy man (Jacob) had, on account of its great length: to which also
another circumstance is added; namely, that he lay on the ground, under
the open sky, without a companion, and without a habitation. But as
Moses only briefly alludes to these facts, so will I also avoid
prolixity, as the thing speaks for itself. Wherefore, if, at any time,
we think ourselves to be roughly treated, let us remember the example of
the holy man, as a reproof to our fastidiousness.
  12. "And he dreamed." Moses here teaches how opportunely, and (as we
may say) in the critical moment, the Lord succoured his servant. For who
would not have said that holy Jacob was neglected by God, since he was
exposed to the incursion of wild beasts, and obnoxious to every kind of
injury from earth and heaven, and found nowhere any help or solace? But
when he was thus reduced to the last necessity, the Lord suddenly
stretches out his hand to him, and wonderfully alleviates his trouble by
a remarkable oracle. As, therefore, Jacob's invincible perseverance had
before shone forth, so now the Lord gives a memorable example of his
paternal care towards the faithful. Three things are here to be noticed
in their order; first, that the Lord appeared unto Jacob in a dream;
secondly, the nature of the vision as described by Moses; thirdly, the
words of the oracle. When mention is made of a dream, no doubt that mode
of revelation is signified, which the Lord formerly was wont to adopt
towards his servants. (Numb. 12: 6.) Jacob, therefore, knew that this
dream was divinely sent to him, as one differing from common dreams; and
this is intimated in the words of Moses, when he says that God appeared
to him in a dream. For Jacob could not see God, nor perceive him
present, unless his majesty had been distinguishable by certain marks.
  "And behold a ladder." Here the form of the vision is related, which
is very pertinent to the subject of it; namely, that God manifested
himself as seated upon a ladder, the extreme parts of which touched
heaven and earth, and which was the vehicle of angels, who descended
from heaven upon earth. The interpretation of some of the Hebrews, that
the ladder is a figure of the Divine Providence, cannot be admitted: for
the Lord has given another sign more suitable. But to us, who hold to
this principle, that the covenant of God was founded in Christ, and that
Christ himself was the eternal image of the Father, in which he
manifested himself to the holy patriarchs, there is nothing in this
vision intricate or ambiguous. For since men are alienated from God by
sin, though he fills and sustains all things by his power; yet that
communication by which he would draw us to himself is not perceived by
us; but, on the other hand, so greatly are we at variance with him,
that, regarding him as adverse to us, we, in our turn, flee from his
presence. Moreover the angels, to whom is committed the guardianship of
the human race, while strenuously applying themselves to their office,
yet do not communicate with us in such a way that we become conscious of
their presence. It is Christ alone, therefore, who connects heaven and
earth: he is the only Mediator who reaches from heaven down to earth: he
is the medium through which the fulness of all celestial blessings flows
down to us, and through which we, in turn, ascend to God. He it is who,
being the head over angels, causes them to minister to his earthly
members. Therefore, (as we read in John 1: 51,) he properly claims for
himself this honour, that after he shall have been manifested in the
world, angels shall ascend and descend. If, then, we say that the ladder
is a figure of Christ, the exposition will not be forced. For the
similitude of a ladder well suits the Mediator, through whom ministering
angels, righteousness and life, with all the graces of the Holy Spirit,
descend to us step by step. We also, who were not only fixed to the
earth, but plunged into the depths of the curse, and into hell itself,
ascend even unto God. Also, the God of hosts is seated on the ladder;
because the fulness of the Deity dwells in Christ; and hence also it is,
that it reaches unto heaven. For although all power is committed even to
his human nature by the Father, he still would not truly sustain our
faith, unless he were God manifested in the flesh. And the fact that the
body of Christ is finite, does not prevent him from filling heaven and
earth, because his grace and power are everywhere diffused. Whence also,
Paul being witness, he ascended into heaven that he might fill all
things. They who translate the particle "al" by the word "near,"
entirely destroy the sense of the passage. For Moses wishes to state
that the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in the person of the Mediator.
Christ not only approached unto us, but clothed himself in our nature,
that he might make us one with himself. That the ladder was a symbol of
Christ, is also confirmed by this consideration, that nothing was more
suitable than that God should ratify his covenant of eternal salvation
in his Son to his servant Jacob. And hence we feel unspeakable joy, when
we hear that Christ, who so far excels all creatures, is nevertheless
joined with us. The majesty, indeed, of God, which here presents itself
conspicuously to view, ought to inspire terror; so that every knee
should bow to Christ, that all creatures should look up to him and adore
him, and that all flesh should keep silence in his presence. But his
friendly and lovely image is at the same time depicted; that we may know
by his descent, that heaven is opened to us, and the angels of God are
rendered familiar to us. For hence we have fraternal society with them,
since the common Head both of them and us has his station on earth.
  13. "I am the Lord God of Abraham." This is the third point which, I
said, was to be noticed: for mute visions are cold; therefore the word
of the Lord is as the soul which quickens them. The figure, therefore,
of the ladder was the inferior appendage of this promise; just as God
illustrates and adorns his word by external symbols, that both greater
clearness and authority may be added to it. Whence also we prove that
sacraments in the Papacy are frivolous, because no voice is heard in
them which may edify the soul. We may therefore observe, that whenever
God manifested himself to the fathers, he also spoke, lest a mute vision
should have held them in suspense. Under the name "Jehovah" God teaches
that he is the only Creator of the world, that Jacob might not seek
after other gods. But since his majesty is in itself incomprehensible,
he accommodates himself to the capacity of his servant, by immediately
adding, that he is the God of Abraham and Isaac. For though it is
necessary to maintain that the God whom we worship is the only God; yet
because when our senses would aspire to the comprehension of his
greatness, they fail at the first attempt; we must diligently cultivate
that sobriety which teaches us not to desire to know more concerning him
than he reveals unto us; and then he, accommodating himself to our
weakness, according to his infinite goodness, sill omit nothing which
tends to promote our salvation. And whereas he made a special covenant
with Abraham and Isaac, proclaiming himself their God, he recalls his
servant Jacob to the true source of faith, and retains him also in his
perpetual covenant. This is the sacred bond of religion, by which all
the sons of God are united among themselves, when from the first to the
last they hear the same promise of salvation, and agree together in one
common hope. And this is the effect of that benediction which Jacob had
lately received from his father; because God with his own mouth
pronounces him to be the heir of the covenant, lest the mere testimony
of man should be thought illusive.
  "The land whereon thou liest." We read that the land was given to his
posterity; yet he himself was not only a stranger in it to the last, but
was not permitted even to die there. Whence we infer, that under the
pledge or earnest of the land, something better and more excellent was
given, seeing that Abraham was a spiritual possessor of the land, and
contented with the mere beholding of it, fixed his chief regard on
heaven. We, may observe, however, that the seed of Jacob is here placed
in opposition to the other sons of Abraham, who, according to the flesh,
traced their origin to him, but were cut off from the holy people: yet,
from the time when the sons of Jacob entered the land of Canaan, they
had the perpetual inheritance unto the coming of Christ, by whose advent
the world was renewed.
  14. "And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth." The sum of the
whole is this, Whatever the Lord had promised to Abraham, Jacob
transmitted to his sons. Meanwhile it behoved the holy man, in reliance
on this divine testimony, to hope against hope; for though the promise
was vast and magnificent, yet, wherever Jacob turned himself, no ray of
good hope shone upon him. He saw himself a solitary man; no condition
better than that of exile presented itself; his return was uncertain and
full of danger; but it was profitable for him to be thus left destitute
of all means of help, that he might learn to depend on the word of God
alone. Thus, at the present time, if God freely promises to give us all
things, and yet seems to approach us empty-handed, it is still proper
that we should pay such honour and reverence to his word, that we may be
enriched and filled with faith. At length, indeed, after the death of
Jacob, the event declared how efficacious had been this promise: by
which example we are taught that the Lord by no means disappoints his
people, even when he defers the granting of those good things which he
has promised, till after their death.
  "And in thee, and in thy seed, shall all the families of the earth be
blessed." This clause has the greater weight, because in Jacob and in
his seed the blessing is to be restored from which the whole human race
had been cut off in their first parent. But what this expression means,
I have explained above; namely, that Jacob will not only be an exemplar,
or formula of blessing, but its fountain, cause, or foundation; for
though a certain exquisite degree of happiness is often signified by an
expression of this kind; yet, in many passages of Scripture, it means
the same as to desire from any one his blessing, and to acknowledge it
as his gift. Thus men are said to bless themselves in God, when they
acknowledge him as the author of all good. So here God promises that in
Jacob and his seed all nations shall bless themselves, because no
happiness will ever be found except what proceeds from this source.
That, however, which is peculiar to Christ, is without impropriety
transferred to Jacob, in whose loins Christ then was. Therefore,
inasmuch as Jacob, at that time, represented the person of Christ, it is
said that all nations are to be blessed in him; but, seeing that the
manifestation of a benefit so great depended on another, the expression
"in thy seed" is immediately added in the way of explanation. That the
word "seed" is a collective noun, forms no objection to this
interpretation, (as I have elsewhere said,) for since all unbelievers
deprive themselves of honour and of grace, and are thus accounted
strangers; it is necessary to refer to the Head, in order that the unity
of the seed may appear. Whoever will reverently ponder this, will easily
see that, in this interpretation, which is that of Paul, there is
nothing tortuous or constrained.
  15. "I am with thee, and will keep thee." God now promptly anticipates
the temptation which might steal over the mind of holy Jacob; for though
he is, for a time, thrust out into a foreign land, God declares that he
will be his keeper until he shall have brought him back again. He then
extends his promise still further; saying, that he will never desert him
till all things are fulfilled. There was a twofold use of this promise:
first, it retained his mind in the faith of the divine covenant; and,
secondly, it taught him that it could not be well with him unless he
were a partaker of the promised inheritance.
  16. "And Jacob awaked." Moses again affirms that this was no common
dream; for when any one awakes he immediately perceives that he had been
under a delusions in dreaming. But God impressed a sign on the mind of
his servant, by which, when he awoke, he might recognize the heavenly
oracle which he had heard in his sleep. Moreover, Jacob, in express
terms, accuses himself, and extols the goodness of God, who deigned to
present himself to one who sought him not; for Jacob thought that he was
there alone: but now, after the Lord appeared, he wonders, and exclaims
that he had obtained more than he could have dared to hope for. It is
not, however, to be doubted that Jacob had called upon God, and had
trusted that he would be the guide of his journey; but, because his
faith had not availed to persuade him that God was thus near unto him,
he justly extols this act of grace. So, whenever God anticipates our
wishes, and grants us more than our minds have conceived; let us learn,
after the example of this patriarch, to wonder that God should have been
present with us. Now, if each of us would reflect how feeble his faith
is, this mode of speaking would appear always proper for us all; for who
can comprehend, in his scanty measure, the immense multitude of gifts
which God is perpetually heaping upon us?
  17. "And he was afraid, and said." It seems surprising that Jacob
should fear, when God spoke so graciously to him; or that he should call
that place dreadful, where he had been filled with incredible joy. I
answer, although God exhilarates his servants, he at the same time
inspires them with fear, in order that they may learn, with true
humility and self-denial, to embrace his mercy. We are not therefore to
understand that Jacob was struck with terror, as reprobates are, as soon
as God shows himself; but he was inspired with a fear which produces
pious submission. He also properly calls that place the gate of heaven,
on account of the manifestation of God: for, because God is placed in
heaven as on his royal throne, Jacob truly declares that, in seeing God,
he had penetrated into heaven. In this sense the preaching of the gospel
is called the kingdom of heaven, and the sacraments may be called the
gate of heaven, because they admit us into the presence of God. The
Papists, however, foolishly misapply this passage to their temples, as
if God dwelt in filthy places. But if we concede, that the places which
they designate by this title, are not polluted with impious
superstitions, yet this honour belongs to no peculiar place, since
Christ has filled the whole world with the presence of his Deity. Those
helps to faith only, (as I have before taught,) by which God raises us
to himself, can be called the gates of heaven.
  18. "And Jacob rose up early." Moses relates that the holy father was
not satisfied with merely giving thanks at the time, but would also
transmit a memorial of his gratitude to posterity. Therefore he raised a
monument, and gave a name to the place, which implied that he thought
such a signal benefit of God worthy to be celebrated in all ages. For
this reason, the Scripture not only commands the faithful to sing the
praises of God among their brethren; but also enjoins them to train
their children to religious duties, and to propagate the worship of God
among their descendants.
  "And set it up for a pillar." Moses does not mean that the stone was
made an idol, but that it should be a special memorial. God indeed uses
this word "matsbah", when he forbids statues to be erected to himself,
(Lev. 26: l,) because almost all statues were objects of veneration, as
if they were likenesses of God. But the design of Jacob was different;
namely, that he might leave a testimony of the vision which had appeared
unto him, not that he might represent God by that symbol or figure.
Therefore the stone was not there placed by him, for the purpose of
depressing the minds of men into any gross superstition, but rather of
raising them upward. He used oil as a sign of consecration, and not
without reason; for as, in the world, everything is profane which is
destitute of the Spirit of God, so there is no pure religion except that
which the heavenly unction sanctifies. And to this point the solemn
right of consecration, which God commanded in his law, tends, in order
that the faithful may learn to bring in nothing of their own, lest they
should pollute the temple and worship of God. And though, in the times
of Jacob, no teaching had yet been committed to writing; it is,
nevertheless, certain that he had been imbued with that principle of
piety which God from the beginning had infused into the hearts of the
devout: wherefore, it is not to be ascribed to superstition that he
poured oil upon the stone; but he rather testified, as I have said, that
no worship can be acceptable to God, or pure, without the sanctification
of the Spirit. Other commentators argue, with more subtlety, that the
stone was a symbol of Christ, on whom all the graces of the Spirit were
poured out, that all might draw out of his fulness; but I do not know
that any such thing entered the mind of Moses or of Jacob. I am
satisfied with what I have before stated, that a stone was erected to be
a witness or a memorial (so to speak) of a vision, the benefit of which
reaches to all ages. It may be asked, Whence did the holy man obtain oil
in the desert? They who answer that it had been brought from a
neighbouring city are, in my opinion, greatly deceived; for this place
was then void of inhabitants, as I shall soon show. I therefore rather
conjecture, that on account of the necessity of the times, seeing that
suitable accommodations could not always be had, he had taken some
portion of food for his journey along with him; and as we know that
great use was made of oil in those parts, it is no wonder if he carried
a flagon of oil with his bread.
  19. "And he called, the name of that place Bethel." It may appear
absurd that Moses should speak of that place as a city, respecting which
he had a little while before said that Jacob had slept there in the open
air; for why did not he seek an abode, or hide himself in some corner of
a house? But the difficulty is easily solved, because the city was not
yet built; neither did the place immediately take the name which Jacob
had assigned, but lay long concealed. Even when a town was afterwards
built on the spot, no mention is made of Bethel, as if Jacob had never
passed that way; for the inhabitants did not know what had been done
there, and therefore they called the city Luz, according to their own
imagination; which name it retained until the Israelites, having taken
possession of the land, recalled into common use, as by an act of
restoration, the former name which had been abolished. And it is to be
observed, that when posterity, by a foolish emulation, worshipped God in
Bethel, seeing that it was done without a divine command, the prophets
severely inveighed against that worship, calling the name of the place
Bethaven, that is, the house of iniquity: whence we infer how unsafe it
is to rely upon the examples of the fathers without the word of God. The
greatest care, therefore, must be taken, in treating of the worship of
God, that what has been once done by men, should not be drawn into a
precedent; but that what God himself has prescribed in his word should
remain an inflexible rule.
  20. "And Jacob vowed a vow." The design of this vow was, that Jacob
would manifest his gratitude, if God should prove favourable unto him.
Thus they offered peace-offerings under the law, to testify their
gratitude; and since thanksgiving is a sacrifice of a sweet odour, the
Lord declares vows of this nature to be acceptable to him; and therefore
we must also have respect to this point, when we are asked what and how
it is lawful to vow to God; for some are too fastidious, who would
utterly condemn all vows rather than open the door to superstitions. But
if the rashness of those persons is perverse, who indiscriminately pour
forth their vows, we must also beware lest we become like those on the
opposite side, who disallow all vows without exception. Now, in order
that a vow may be lawful and pleasing to God, it is first necessary that
it should tend to a right end; and next, that men should devote nothing
by a vow but what is in itself approved by God, and what he has placed
within their own power. When the separate parts of this vow are
examined, we shall see holy Jacob so regulating his conduct as to omit
none of these things which I have mentioned. In the first place, he has
nothing else in his mind than to testify his gratitude. Secondly, he
confines whatever he is about to do, to the lawful worship of God. In
the third place, he does not proudly promise what he had not the power
to perform, but devotes the tithe of his goods as a sacred oblation.
Wherefore, the folly of the Papists is easily refuted; who, in order to
justify their own confused farrago of vows, catch at one or another vow,
soberly conceived, as a precedent, when in the meantime their own
license exceeds all bounds. Whatever comes uppermost they are not
ashamed to obtrude upon God. One man makes his worship to consist in
abstinence from flesh, another in pilgrimages, a third in sanctifying
certain days by the use of sackcloth, or by other things of the same
kind; and not to God only do they make their vows, but also admit any
dead person they please into a participation of this honour. They
arrogate to themselves the choice of perpetual celibacy. What do they
find in the example of Jacob which has any similitude or affinity to
such rashness, that they should hence catch at such a covering for
themselves? But, for the purpose of bringing all these things clearly to
light, we must first enter upon an explanation of the words. It may seem
absurd that Jacob here makes a covenant with God, to be his worshipper,
if he will give him what he desires; as if truly he did not intend to
worship God for nothing. I answer, that, by interposing this condition,
Jacob did not by any means act from distrust, as if he doubted of God's
continual protection; but that in this manner made provision against his
own infirmity, in preparing himself to celebrate the divine goodness by
a vow previously made. The superstitious deal with God just as they do
with mortal man; they try to soothe him with their allurements. The
design of Jacob was far different; namely, that he might the more
effectually stimulate himself to the duties of religion. He had often
heard from the mouth of God, "I will be always with thee;" and he
annexes his vow as an appendage to that promise. He seems indeed, at
first sight, like a mercenary, acting in a servile manner; but since he
depends entirely upon the promises given unto him, and forms both his
language and his affections in accordance with them, he aims at nothing
but the confirmation of his faith, and gathers together those aids which
he knows to be suitable to his infirmity. When, therefore, he speaks of
food and clothing, we must not, on that account, accuse him of
solicitude respecting this earthly life alone; whereas he rather
contends, like a valiant champion, against violent temptations. He found
himself in want of all things; hunger and nakedness were continually
threatening him with death, not to mention his other innumerable
dangers: therefore he arms himself with confidence, that he might
proceed through all difficulties and obstacles, being fully assured that
every kind of assistance was laid up for him in the grace of God: for he
confesses himself to be in extreme destitution, when he says, "If the
Lord will supply me with food and raiment." It may nevertheless be
asked, since his grandfather Abraham had sent his servant with a
splendid retinue, with camels and precious ornaments; why does Isaac now
send away his son without a single companion, and almost without
provisions? It is possible that he was thus dismissed, that the mind of
cruel Esau might be moved to tenderness by a spectacle so miserable.
Yet, in my judgment, another reason was of greater weight; for Abraham,
fearing lest his son Isaac should remain with his relatives, took an
oath from his servant that he would not suffer his son to go into
Mesopotamia. But now, since necessity compels holy Isaac to determine
differently for his son Jacob; he, at least, takes care not to do
anything which might retard his return. He therefore supplies him with
no wealth, and with no delicacies which might ensnare his mind, but
purposely sends him away poor and empty, that he might be the more ready
to return. Thus we see that Jacob preferred his father's house to all
kingdoms, and had no desire of settled repose elsewhere.
  21. "Then shall the Lord be my God." In these words Jacob binds
himself never to apostatize from the pure worship of the One God; for
there is no doubt that he here comprises the sum of piety. But he may
seem to promise what far exceeds his strength; for newness of life,
spiritual righteousness, integrity of heart, and a holy regulation of
the whole life, were not in his own power. I answer, when holy men vow
those things which God requires of them, and which are due from them as
acts of piety; they, at the same time, embrace what God promises
concerning the remission of sins by the help of his Holy Spirit. Hence
it follows that they ascribe nothing to their own strength; and also,
that whatever falls short of entire perfection does not vitiate their
worship, because God, mercifully and with paternal indulgence, pardons
  22. "And this stone which I have set for a pillar." This ceremony was
an appendage to divine worship; for external rites do not make men true
worshippers of God, but are only aids to piety. But because the holy
fathers were then at liberty to erect altars wherever they pleased,
Jacob poured a libation upon the stone, because he had then no other
sacrifice to offer; not that he worshipped God according to his own
will, (for the direction of the Spirit was instead of the written law,)
but he erected in that place a stone--as he was permitted to do by the
kindness and permission of God, which should be a testimony of the
vision. Moreover, this form of speech, that "the stone shall be Bethel,"
is metonymical; as we are sanctioned, by common usage, to transfer to
external signs what properly belongs to the things represented. I have
lately shown how ignorantly posterity has abused this holy exercise of
piety. What next follows respecting the offering of tithes, is not a
simple ceremony, but has a duty of charity annexed; for Jacob
enumerates, in a threefold order, first, the spiritual worship of God;
then the external rite, by which he both assists his own piety, and
makes profession of it before men; in the third place, an oblation, by
which he exercises himself in giving friendly aid to his brethren; for
there is no doubt that tithes were applied to that use.

Chapter XXIX.

1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people
of the east.
2 And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there [were]
three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the
flocks: and a great stone [was] upon the well's mouth.
3 And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone
from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again
upon the well's mouth in his place.
4 And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence [be] ye? And they said,
Of Haran [are] we.
5 And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said,
We know [him].
6 And he said unto them, [Is] he well? And they said, [He is] well: and,
behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.
7 And he said, Lo, [it is] yet high day, neither [is it] time that the
cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go [and]
feed [them].
8 And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together,
and [till] they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the
9 And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep:
for she kept them.
10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his
mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that
Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered
the flock of Laban his mother's brother.
11 And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
12 And Jacob told Rachel that he [was] her father's brother, and that he
[was] Rebekah's son: and she ran and told her father.
13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his
sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him,
and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.
14 And Laban said to him, Surely thou [art] my bone and my flesh. And he
abode with him the space of a month.
15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou [art] my brother, shouldest
thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what [shall] thy wages
16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder [was] Leah, and
the name of the younger [was] Rachel.
17 Leah [was] tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.
18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for
Rachel thy younger daughter.
19 And Laban said, [It is] better that I give her to thee, than that I
should give her to another man: abide with me.
20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him
[but] a few days, for the love he had to her.
21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give [me] my wife, for my days are
fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.
22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a
23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter,
and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.
24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid [for] an
25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it [was] Leah: and
he said to Laban, What [is] this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve
with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the
younger before the firstborn.
27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service
which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.
28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his
daughter to wife also.
29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her
30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than
Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
31 And when the LORD saw that Leah [was] hated, he opened her womb: but
Rachel [was] barren.
32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben:
for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now
therefore my husband will love
33 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD
hath heard that I [was] hated, he hath therefore given me this [son]
also: and she called his name Simeon.
34 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will
my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons:
therefore was his name called Levi.
35 And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I
praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.

1. "Then Jacob went on his journey." Moses now relates the arrival of
Jacob in Mesopotamia, and the manner in which he was received by his
uncle; and although the narration may seem superfluous, it yet contains
nothing but what is useful to be known; for he commends the
extraordinary strength of Jacob's faith, when he says, that "he lifted
up his feet" to come into an unknown land. Again, he would have us to
consider the providence of God, which caused Jacob to fall in with the
shepherds, by whom he was conducted to the home he sought; for this did
not happen accidentally, but he was guided by the hidden hand of God to
that place; and the shepherds, who were to instruct and confirm him
respecting all things, were brought thither at the same time. Therefore,
whenever we may wander in uncertainty through intricate windings, we
must contemplate, with eyes of faith, the secret providence of God which
governs us and our affairs, and leads us to unexpected results.
  4. "My brethren, whence be ye?" The great frankness of that age
appears in this manner of meeting together; for, though the fraternal
name is often abused by dishonest and wicked men, it is yet not to be
doubted that friendly intercourse was then more faithfully cultivated
than it is now. This was the reason why Jacob salutes unknown men as
brethren, undoubtedly according to received custom. Frugality also is
apparent, in that Rachel sometimes pays attention to the flock; for,
since Laban abounds with servants, how does it happen that he employs
his own daughter in a vile and sordid service, except that it was deemed
disgraceful to educate children in idleness, softness, and indulgence?
Whereas, on the contrary, at this day, since ambition, pride, and
refinement, have rendered manners effeminate, the care of domestic
concerns is held in such contempt, that women, for the most part, are
ashamed of their proper office. It followed, from the same purity of
manners which has been mentioned, that Jacob ventured so unceremoniously
to kiss his cousin; for much greater liberty was allowed in their chaste
and modest mode of living. In our times, impurity and ungovernable lusts
are the cause why not only kisses are suspected, but even looks are
dreaded; and not unjustly, since the world is filled with every kind of
corruption, and such perfidy prevails, that the intercourse between men
and women is seldom conducted with modesty: wherefore, that ancient
simplicity ought to cause us deeply to mourn; so that this vile
corruption into which the world has fallen may be distasteful to us, and
that the contagion of it may not affect us and our families. The order
of events, however, is inverted in the narration of Moses; for Jacob did
not kiss Rachel till he had informed her that he was her relative. Hence
also his weeping; for, partly through joy, partly through the memory of
his father's house, and through natural affection, he burst into tears.
  13. "And he told Laban all these things." Since Laban had previously
seen one of Abraham's servants replenished with great wealth, an
unfavourable opinion of his nephew might instantly enter into his mind:
it was therefore necessary for holy Jacob to explain the causes of his
own departure, and the reason why he had been sent away so contemptibly
clothed. It is also probable that he had been instructed by his mother
respecting the signs and marks by which he might convince them of his
relationship: therefore Laban exclaims, "Surely thou art my bone and my
flesh;" intimating that he was fully satisfied, and that he was induced
by indubitable tokens to acknowledge Jacob as his nephew. This knowledge
inclines him to humanity; for the sense of nature dictates that they who
are united by ties of blood should endeavour to assist each other; but
though the bond between relatives is closer, yet our kindness ought to
extend more widely, so that it may diffuse itself through the whole
human race. If, however, all the sons of Adam are thus joined together,
that spiritual relationship which God produces between the faithful, and
than which there is no holier bond of mutual benevolence, ought to be
much more effectual.
  14. "And he abode with him the space of a month." Though Laban did not
doubt that Jacob was his nephew by his sister, he nevertheless puts his
character to trial during a month, and then treats with him respecting
wages. Hence may be inferred the uprightness of the holy man; because he
was not idle while with his uncle, but employed himself in honest
labours, that he might not in idleness eat another's bread for nothing;
hence Laban is compelled to acknowledge that some reward beyond his mere
food was due to him. When he says, "Because thou art my brother,
shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought?" his meaning may be
twofold; either that it would be excessively absurd and unjust to
defraud a relation of his due reward, for whom he ought to have greater
consideration than for any stranger; or that he was unwilling to exact
gratuitous service under the colour of relationship. This second
exposition is the more suitable, and is received nearly by the consent
of all. For they read in one connected sentence, "Because thou art my
brother, shalt thou therefore serve me for nought?" Moreover, we must
note the end for which Moses relates these things. In the first place, a
great principle of equity is set before us in Laban; inasmuch as this
sentiment is inherent in almost all minds, "that justice ought to be
mutually cultivated," till blind cupidity draws them away in another
direction. And God has engraven in man's nature a law of equity; so that
whoever declines from that rule, through an immoderate desire of private
advantage, is left utterly without excuse. But a little while after,
when it came to a matter of practice, Laban, forgetful of this equity,
thinks only of what may be profitable to himself. Such an example is
certainly worthy of notice, for men seldom err in general principles,
and therefore, with one mouth, confess that every man ought to receive
what is his due but as soon as they descend to their own affairs,
perverse self-love blinds them, or at least envelopes them in such
clouds that they are carried in an opposite course. Wherefore, let us
learn to restrain ourselves, that a desire of our own advantage may not
prevail to the sacrifice of justice. And hence has arisen the proverb,
that no one is a fit judge in his own cause, because each, being unduly
favourable to himself, becomes forgetful of what is right. Wherefore, we
must ask God to govern and restrain our affections by a spirit of sound
judgment. Laban, in wishing to enter into a covenant, does what tends to
avoid contentions and complaints. The ancient saying is known, "We
should deal lawfully with our friends, that we may not afterwards be
obliged to go to law with them." For, whence arise so many legal broils,
except that every one is more liberal towards himself, and more
niggardly towards others than he ought to be? Therefore, for the purpose
of cherishing concord, firm compacts are necessary, which may prevent
injustice on one side or the other.
  18. "I will serve thee seven years." The iniquity of Laban betrays
itself in a moment; for it is a shameful barbarity to give his daughter,
by way of reward, in exchange for Jacob's services, making her the
subject of a kind of barter. He ought, on the other hand, not only to
have assigned a portion to his daughter, but also to have acted more
liberally towards his future son-in-law. But under the pretext of
affinity, he defrauds him of the reward of his labour, the very thing
which he had before acknowledged to be unjust. We therefore perceive
still more clearly what I have previously alluded to, that although from
their mother's womb men have a general notion of justice, yet as soon as
their own advantage presents itself to view, they become actually
unjust, unless the Lord reforms them by his Spirit. Moses does not here
relate something rare or unusual, but what is of most common occurrence.
For though men do not set their daughters to sale, yet the desire of
gain hurries the greater part so far away, that they prostitute their
honour and sell their souls. Further, it is not altogether to be deemed
a fault that Jacob was rather inclined to love Rachel; whether it was
that Leah, on account of her tender eyes, was less beautiful, or that
she was pleasing only by the comeliness of her eyes, while Rachel
excelled her altogether in elegance of form. For we see how naturally a
secret kind of affection produces mutual love. Only excess is to be
guarded against, and so much the more diligently, because it is
difficult so to restrain affections of this kind, that they do not
prevail to the stifling of reason. Therefore he who shall be induced to
choose a wife, because of the elegance of her form, will not necessarily
sin, provided reason always maintains the ascendancy, and holds the
wantonness of passion in subjection. Yet perhaps Jacob sinned in being
too self-indulgent, when he desired Rachel the younger sister to be
given to him, to the injury of the elder; and also, while yielding to
the desire of his own eyes, he undervalued the virtues of Leah: for this
is a very culpable want of self-government, when any one chooses a wife
only for the sake of her beauty, whereas excellence of disposition ought
to be deemed of the first importance. But the strength and ardour of his
attachment manifests itself in this, that he felt no weariness in the
labour of seven years: but chastity was also joined with it, so that he
persevered, during this long period, with a patient and quiet mind in
the midst of so many labours. And here again the integrity and
continence of that age is apparent, because, though dwelling under the
same roof, and accustomed to familiar intercourse, Jacob yet conducted
himself with modesty, and abstained from all impropriety. Therefore, at
the close of the appointed time he said, "Give me my wife, that I may go
in unto her," by which he implies that she had been hitherto a pure
  22. "And Laban gathered together." Moses does not mean that a supper
was prepared for the whole people, but that many guests were invited, as
is customary in splendid nuptials; and there is no doubt that he applied
himself with the greater earnestness to adorn that feast, for the
purpose of holding Jacob bound by a sense of shame, so that he should
not dare to depreciate the marriage into which he had been deceived. We
hence gather what, at that time, was the religious observance connected
with the marriage bed. For this was the occasion of Jacob's deception
that, out of regard for the modesty of brides, they were led veiled into
the chamber; but now, the ancient discipline being rejected, men become
almost brutal.
  25. "And he said to Laban." Jacob rightly expostulates respecting the
fraud practiced upon him. And the answer of Laban, though it is not
without a pretext, yet forms no excuse for the fraud. It was not the
custom to give the younger daughters in marriage before the elder: and
injustice would have been done to the firstborn by disturbing this
accustomed order. But he ought not, on that account, craftily to have
betrothed Rachel to Jacob, and then to have substituted Leah in her
place. He should rather have cautioned Jacob himself, in time, to turn
his thoughts to Leah, or else to refrain from marriage with either of
them. But we may learn from this, that wicked and deceitful men, when
once they have turned aside from truth, make no end of transgressing:
meanwhile, they always put forward some pretext for the purpose of
freeing themselves from blame. He had before acted unjustly toward his
nephew in demanding seven years' labour for his daughter; he had also
unjustly set his daughter to sale, without dowry, for the sake of gain;
but the most unworthy deed of all was perfidiously to deprive his nephew
of his betrothed wife, to pervert the sacred laws of marriage, and to
leave nothing safe or sound. Yet we see him pretending that he has an
honorable defense for his conduct, because it was not the custom of the
country to prefer the younger to the elder.
  27. "Fulfil her week." Laban now is become callous in wickedness, for
he extorts other seven years from his nephew to allow him to marry his
other daughter. If he had had ten more daughters, he would have been
ready thus to dispose of them all: yea, of his own accord, he obtrudes
his daughter as an object of merchandise, thinking nothing of the
disgrace of this illicit sale, if only he may make it a source of gain.
In this truly he grievously sins, that he not only involves his nephew
in polygamy, but pollutes both him and his own daughters by incestuous
nuptials. If by any means a wife is not loved by her husband, it is
better to repudiate her than that she should be retained as a captive,
and consumed with grief by the introduction of a second wife. Therefore
the Lord, by Malachi, pronounces divorce to be more tolerable than
polygamy. (Mal. 2: 14.) Laban, blinded by avarice, so sets his daughters
together, that they spend their whole lives in mutual hostility. He also
perverts all the laws of nature by casting two sisters into one
marriage-bed, so that the one is the competitor of the other. Since
Moses sets these crimes before the Israelites in the very commencement
of their history, it is not for them to be inflated by the sense of
their nobility, so that they should boast of their descent from holy
fathers. For, however excellent Jacob might be, he had no other
offspring than that which sprung from an impure source; since, contrary
to nature, two sisters are mixed together in one bed, in the mode of
beasts; and two concubines are afterwards added to the mass. We have
seen indeed, above, that this license was too common among oriental
nations; but it was not allowable for men, at their own pleasure, to
subvert, by a depraved custom, the law of marriage divinely sanctioned
from the beginning. Therefore, Laban is, in every way, inexcusable. And
although necessity may, in some degree, excuse the fault of Jacob, it
cannot altogether absolve him from blame. For he might have dismissed
Leah, because she had not been his lawful wife: because the mutual
consent of the man and the woman, respecting which mistake is
impossible, constitutes marriage. But Jacob reluctantly retains her as
his wife, from whom he was released and free, and thus doubles his fault
by polygamy, and trebles it by an incestuous marriage. Thus we see that
the inordinate love of Rachel, which had been once excited in his mind,
was inflamed to such a degree, that he possessed neither moderation nor
judgment. With respect to the words made use of, interpreters ascribe to
them different meanings. Some refer the demonstrative pronoun to the
week; others to Leah, as if it had been said, that he should not have
Rachel until he had lived with her sister one week. But I rather explain
it of Rachel, that he should purchase a marriage with her by another
seven years' service; not that Laban deferred the nuptials to the end of
that time, but that Jacob was compelled to engage himself in a new
  30. "And he loved also Rachel more than Leah." No doubt Moses intended
to exhibit the sins of Jacob, that we might learn to fear, and to
conform all our actions to the sole rule of God's word. For if the holy
patriarch fell so grievously, who among us is secure from a similar
fall, unless kept by the guardian care of God? At the same time, it
appears how dangerous it is to imitate the fathers while we neglect the
law of the Lord. And yet the foolish Papists so greatly delight
themselves in this imitation, that they do not scruple to observe, as a
law, whatever they find to have been practiced by the fathers. Besides
which, they own as fathers those who are worthy of such sons, so that
any raving monk is of more account with them than all the patriarchs. It
was not without fault on Leah's part that she was despised by her
husband; and the Lord justly chastised her, because she, being aware of
her father's fraud, dishonourably obtained possession of her sister's
husband; but her fault forms no excuse for Jacob's lust.
  31. "And when the Lord saw." Moses here shows that Jacob's extravagant
love was corrected by the Lord; as the affections of the faithful, when
they become inordinate, are wont to be tamed by the rod. Rachel is
loved, not without wrong to her sister, to whom due honour is not given.
The Lord, therefore, interposes as her vindicator, and, by a suitable
remedy, turns the mind of Jacob into that direction, to which it had
been most averse. This passage teaches us, that offspring is a special
gift of God; since the power of rendering one fertile, and of cursing
the womb of the other with barrenness, is expressly ascribed to him. We
must observe further, that the bringing forth of offspring tends to
conciliate husbands to their wives. Whence also the ancients have called
children by the name of pledges; because they avail, in no slight
degree, to increase and to cherish mutual love. When Moses asserts that
Leah was hated, his meaning is, that she was not loved so much as she
ought to have been. For she was not intolerable to Jacob, neither did he
pursue her with hatred; but Moses, by the use of this word, amplifies
his fault, in not having discharged the duty of a husband, and in not
having treated her who was his first wife with adequate kindness and
honour. It is of importance carefully to notice this, because many think
they fulfill their duty if they do not break out into mortal hatred. But
we see that the Holy Spirit pronounces those as hated who are not
sufficiently loved; and we know, that men were created for this end,
that they should love one another. Therefore, none will be counted
guiltless of the crime of hatred before God, but he who embraces his
neighbours with love. For not only will a secret displeasure be
accounted as hatred, but even that neglect of brethren, and that cold
charity which ever reigns in the world. But in proportion as any one is
more closely connected with another, must be the endeavour to adhere to
each other in a more sacred bond of affection. Moreover, with respect to
married persons, though they may not openly disagree, yet if they are
cold in their affection towards each other, this disgust is not far
removed from hatred.
  32. "She called his name Reuben." Moses relates that Leah was not
ungrateful to God. And truly, I do not doubt, that the benefits of God
were then commonly more appreciated than they are now. For a profane
stupor so occupies the mind of nearly all men, that, like cattle, they
swallow up whatever benefits God, in his kindness, bestows upon them.
Further, Leah not only acknowledges God as the author of her
fruitfulness; but also assigns as a reason, that her affliction had been
looked upon by the Lord, and a son had been given her who should draw
the affection of her husband to herself. Whence it appears probable,
that when she saw herself despised, she had recourse to prayer, in order
that she might receive more succour from heaven. For thanksgiving is a
proof that persons have previously exercised themselves in prayer; since
they who hope for nothing from God do, by their indolence, bury in
oblivion all the favours he has conferred upon them. Therefore, Leah
inscribed on the person of her sent a memorial whereby she might stir
herself up to offer praise to God. This passage also teaches, that they
who are unjustly despised by men are regarded by the Lord. Hence it
affords a singularly profitable consolation to the faithful; who, as
experience shows, are for the most part despised in the world. Whenever,
therefore, they are treated harshly and contumeliously by men, let them
take refuge in this thought, that God will be the more propitious to
them. Leah followed the same course in reference to her second son; for
she gave him a name which is derived from "hearing," to recall to her
memory that her sighs had been heard by the Lord. Whence we conjecture
(as I have just before said) that when affliction was pressing upon her,
she cast her griefs into the bosom of God. Her third son she names from
"joining;" as if she would say, now a new link is interposed, so that
she should be more loved by her husband. In her fourth son, she again
declares her piety towards God, for she gives to him the name of
"praise," as having been granted to her by the special kindness of God.
She had, indeed, previously given thanks to the Lord; but whereas more
abundant material for praise is supplied, she acknowledges not once
only, nor by one single method, but frequently, that she has been
assisted by the favour of God.

Chapter XXX.

1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her
sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.
2 And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, [Am] I in
God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall
bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto
5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.
6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and
hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.
7 And Bilhah Rachel's maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.
8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister,
and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and
gave her Jacob to wife.
10 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son.
11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.
12 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a second son.
13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed:
and she called his name Asher.
14 And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in
the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to
Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes.
15 And she said unto her, [Is it] a small matter that thou hast taken my
husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel
said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes.
16 And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to
meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired
thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.
17 And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the
fifth son.
18 And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my
maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar.
19 And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son.
20 And Leah said, God hath endued me [with] a good dowry; now will my
husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called
his name Zebulun.
21 And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her
23 And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my
24 And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me
another son.
25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said
unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my
26 Give [me] my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and
let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.
27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine
eyes, [tarry: for] I have learned by experience that the LORD hath
blessed me for thy sake.
28 And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give [it].
29 And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how
thy cattle was with me.
30 For [it was] little which thou hadst before I [came], and it is [now]
increased unto a multitude; and the LORD hath blessed thee since my
coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?
31 And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not
give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed
[and] keep thy flock:
32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all
the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the
sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and [of such] shall
be my hire.
33 So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it
shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that [is] not speckled
and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be
counted stolen with me.
34 And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.
35 And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked and
spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, [and]
every one that had [some] white in it, and all the brown among the
sheep, and gave [them] into the hand of his sons.
36 And he set three days' journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob
fed the rest of Laban's flocks.
37 And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut
tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which
[was] in the rods.
38 And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the
gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they
should conceive when they came to drink.
39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle
ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.
40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks
toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he
put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban's cattle.
41 And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive,
that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters,
that they might conceive among the rods.
42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put [them] not in: so the feebler
were Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's.
43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and
maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.

1. "And when Rachel saw." Here Moses begins to relate that Jacob was
distracted with domestic strifes. But although the Lord was punishing
him, because he had been guilty of no light sin in marrying two wives,
and especially sisters; yet the chastisement was paternal; and God
himself, seeing that he is wont mercifully to pardon his own people,
restrained in some degree his hand. Whence also it happened, that Jacob
did not immediately repent, but added new offenses to the former. But
first we must speak of Rachel. Whereas she rejoiced to see her sister
subjected to contempt and grief, the Lord represses this sinful joy, by
giving his blessing to Leah, in order to make the condition of both of
them equal. She hears the grateful acknowledgment of her sister, and
learns from the names given to the four sons, that God had pitied, and
had sustained by his favour, her who had been unjustly despised by man.
Nevertheless envy inflames her, and will not suffer anything of the
dignity becoming a wife to appear in her. We see what ambition can do.
For Rachel, in seeking preeminence, does not spare even her own sister;
and scarcely refrains from venting her anger against God, for having
honoured that sister with the gift of fruitfulness. Her emulation did
not proceed from any injuries that she had received, but because she
could not bear to have a partner and an equal, though she herself was
really the younger. What would she have done had she been provoked,
seeing that she envies her sister who was contented with her lot? Now
Moses, by exhibiting this evil in Rachel, would teach us that it is
inherent in all; in order that each of us, tearing it up by the roots,
may vigilantly purify himself from it. That we may be cured of envy, it
behaves us to put away pride and selflove; as Paul prescribes this
single remedy against contentions, "Let nothing be done through
vainglory." (Phil. 2: 3.)
  2. "And Jacob's anger was kindled." The tenderness of Jacob's
affection rendered him unwilling to offend his wife; yet her unworthy
conduct compelled him to do so, when he saw her petulantly exalt
herself, not only against her sister, who piously, homily, and
thankfully was enjoying the gifts of God; but even against God himself,
of whom it is said that "the fruit of the womb is his reward." (Ps. 127:
3.) On this account, therefore, Jacob is angry, because his wife
ascribes nothing to the providence of God, and, by imagining that
children are the offspring of chance, would deprive God of the care and
government of mankind. It is probable that Jacob had been already
sorrowful on account of his wife's barrenness. He now, therefore, fears
lest her folly should still farther provoke God's anger to inflict more
severe strokes. This was a holy indignation, by which Jacob maintained
the honour due to God, while he corrected his wife, and taught her that
it was not without sufficient cause that she had been hitherto barren.
For when he affirms that the Lord had shut her womb, he obliquely
intimates that she ought the more deeply to humble herself.
  3. "Behold my maid Bilhah." Here the vanity of the female disposition
appears. For Rachel is not induced to flee unto the Lord, but strives to
gain a triumph by illicit arts. Therefore she hurries Jacob into a third
marriage. Whence we infer, that there is no end of sinning, when once
the Divine institution is treated with neglect. And this is what I have
said, that Jacob was not immediately brought back to a right state of
mind by Divine chastisements. He acts, indeed, in this instance, at the
instigation of his wife: but is his wife in the place of God, from whom
alone the law of marriage proceeds? But to please his wife, or to yield
to her importunity, he does not scruple to depart from the command of
God. "To bear upon the knees", is nothing more than to commit the child
when born to another to be brought up. Bilhah was a maidservant; and
therefore did not bear for herself but for her mistress, who, claiming
the child as her own, thus procured the honour of a mother. Therefore it
is added, in the way of explanation, "I shall have children", or "I
shall be built up by her." For the word which Moses here uses, is
derived from "ben", a son: because children are as the support and stay
of a house. But Rachel acted sinfully, because she attempted, by an
unlawful method, and in opposition to the will of God, to become a
  5. "And Bilhah conceived." It is wonderful that God should have
deigned to honour an adulterous connexion with offspring: but he does
sometimes thus strive to overcome by kindness the wickedness of men, and
pursues the unworthy with his favour. Moreover, he does not always make
the punishment equal to the offenses of his people, nor does he always
rouse them, alike quickly, from their torpor, but waits for the matured
season of correction. Therefore it was his will that they who were born
from this faulty connexion, should yet be reckoned among the legitimate
children; just as Moses shortly before called Bilhah a wife, who yet
might more properly have been called a harlot. And the common rule does
not hold, that what had no force from the beginning can never acquire
validity by succession of time; for although the compact, into which the
husband and wife sinfully entered against the Divine command and the
sacred order of nature, was void; it came to pass nevertheless, by
special privilege, that the conjunction, which in itself was adulterous,
obtained the honour of wedlock. At length Rachel begins to ascribe to
God what is his own; but this confession of hers is so mixed up with
ambition, that it breathes nothing of sincerity or rectitude. She
pompously announces, that her cause has been undertaken by the Lord. As
if truly, she had been so injured by her sister, that she deserved to be
raised by the favour of God; and as if she had not attempted to deprive
herself of his help. We see, then, that under the pretext of praising
God, she rather does him wrong, by rendering him subservient to her
desires. Add to this, that she imitates hypocrites, who, while in
adversity, rush against God with closed eyes; vet when more prosperous
fortune favours them, indulge in vain boastings, as if God smiled upon
all their deeds and sayings. Rachel, therefore, does not so much
celebrate the goodness of God, as she applauds herself Wherefore let the
faithful, instructed by her example, abstain from polluting the sacred
name of God by hypocrisy.
  8. "With great wrestlings." Others translate it, "I am joined with the
joining of God; as if she exulted in having recovered what she had lost;
or, certainly, in having obtained an equal degree of honour with her
sister. Others render it, "I am doubled with the duplications of God."
But both derive the noun and the verb from the root "patal", which
signifies a twisted thread. The former of these senses comes to this;
that since Rachel has attained a condition equal to that of her sister,
there is no reason why her sister should claim any superiority over her.
But the latter sense expresses more confident boasting, since she
proclaims herself a conqueror, and doubly superior. But a more simple
meaning is (in my opinion) adduced by others, namely, that she "wrestled
with divine or excellent wrestlings." For the Hebrews indicate all
excellence by adding the name of God; because the more excellent
anything is, the more does the glory of God shine in it. But perverse is
that boasting with which she glories over her sister, when she ought
rather suppliantly to have implored forgiveness. In Rachel the pride of
the human mind is depicted; because they whom God has endowed with his
benefits, for the most part are so elated, that they rage contumeliously
against their neighbours. Besides, she foolishly prefers herself to her
sister in fruitfulness, in which she is still manifestly inferior. But
they who are puffed up with pride have also the habit of malignantly
depreciating those gifts which the Lord has bestowed on others, in
comparison with their own smaller gifts. Perhaps, also, she expected a
numerous progeny, as if God were under obligation to her. She did not,
as pious persons are wont to do, conceive hope from benefits received;
but, by a confident presumption of the flesh, made herself sure of
everything she wished. Hitherto, then, she gave no sign of pious
modesty. Whence is this, but because her temporary barrenness had not
yet thoroughly subdued her? Therefore we ought the more to beware, lest
if God relaxes our punishments, we, being inflated by his kindness,
should perish.
  9. "When Leah saw that she had left bearing." Moses returns to Leah,
who, not content with four sons, devised a method whereby she might
always retain her superior rank: and therefore she also, in turn,
substitutes her maid in her place. And truly Rachel deserved such a
reward of her perverse design; since she, desiring to snatch the palm
from her sister, does not consider that the same contrivance to which
she had resorted, might speedily be employed against herself. Yet Leah
sins still more grievously, by using wicked and unjust arts in the
contest. Within a short period, she had experienced the wonderful
blessing of God; and now, because she ceased from bearing, for a little
while, she despairs concerning the future, as if she had never
participated in the Divine favour. What, if her desire was strong; why
did she not resort to the fountain of blessing? In obtruding, therefore,
her maid, she gave proof not only of impatience, but also of distrust;
because with the remembrance of Divine mercy, faith also is extinguished
in her heart. And we know that all who rely upon the Lord are so
tranquil and sedate in their mind, that they patiently wait for what he
is about to give. And it is the just punishment of unbelief when any one
stumbles through excessive haste. So much the more ought we to beware of
the assaults of the flesh, if we desire to maintain a right course.
  As to the name "Gad", this passage is variously expounded by
commentators. In this point they agree, that "bagad" means the same as
if Leah had said "the time of bearing is come." But some suppose "Gad"
to be the prosperous star of Jupiter; others, Mercury; others, good
fortune. They adduce Isaiah 65: 11, where it is written, "they offer a
libation to Gad." But the context of the Prophet shows that this ought
rather to be understood of the host of heaven, or of the number of false
gods; because it immediately follows that they offer sacrifices to the
stars, and furnish tables for a multitude of gods: the punishment is
then added, that as they had fabricated an immense number of deities, so
God will "number" them "to the sword". As it respects the present
passage, nothing is less probable than that Leah should extol the planet
Jupiter instead of God, seeing that she, at least, maintained the
principle that the propagation of the human race flows from God alone. I
wonder also that interpreters understand this of prosperous fortune,
when Moses afterwards, chap. 49: 19, leads us to an opposite meaning.
For the allusion he there makes would be inappropriate, "Gad, a troop
shall overcome him," &c., unless it had been the design of Leah to
congratulate herself on the "troop" of her children. For since she had
so far surpassed her sister, she declares that she has children in great
abundance. When she proclaims herself "happy" in her sixth son, it again
appears in what great esteem fecundity was then held. And certainly it
is a great honour, when God confers on mortals the sacred title of
parents, and through them propagates the human race formed after his own
  14. "And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest." This narration of
the fact that a boy brought home I know not what kind of fruit out of
the fields, and presented it to his mother, by which she purchased of
her sister one nigh with her husband, has the appearance of being light
and puerile. Yet it contains a useful instruction. For we know how
foolishly the Jews glory in extolling the origin of their own nation:
for they scarcely deign to acknowledge that they leave sprung from Adam
and Noah, with the rest of mankind. And certainly they do excel in the
dignity of their ancestors, as Paul testifies, (Rom. 9: 5,) but they do
not acknowledge this as coming from God. Wherefore the Spirit purposely
aimed at beating down this arrogance, when he described their race as
sprung from a beginning, so mean and abject. For he does not here erect
a splendid stage on which they may exhibit themselves; but he humbles
them and exalts the grace of God, seeing that he had brought forth his
Church out of nothing. Respecting the kind of fruit mentioned, I leave
nothing certain to adduce. That it was fragrant is gathered from
Canticles 7: 13. And whereas all translate it "mandrakes", I do not
contend on that point.
  15. "Is it a small matter that thou hast takers my husband?" Moses
leaves more for his readers to reflect upon than he expresses in words;
namely, that Jacob's house had been filled with contentions and strifes.
For Leah speaks haughtily, because her mind had been long so exasperated
that she could not address herself mildly and courteously to her sister:
Perhaps the sisters were not thus contentious by nature; but God
suffered them to contend with each other, that the punishment of
polygamy might be exhibited to posterity. And it is not to be doubted
that this domestic private quarrel, yea, hostile dissension, brought
great grief and torment to the holy man. But the reason why he found
himself thus distracted by opposite parties was, that against all right,
he had broken the unity of the conjugal bond.
  17. "And God hearkened unto Leah." Moses expressly declares this, in
order that we may know how indulgently God dealt with that family. For
who would have thought, that, while Leah was hatefully denying to her
sister the fruits gathered by her boy, and was purchasing, by the price
of those fruits, a night with her husband, there would be any place for
prayers? Moses, therefore, teaches us, that pardon was granted for these
faults, to prove that the Lord would not fail to complete his work
notwithstanding such great infirmity. But Leah ignorantly boasts that
her son was given to her as a reward of her sin; for she had violated
the fidelity of holy wedlock, when she introduced a fresh concubine to
oppose her sister. Truly, she is so far from the confession of her
fault, that she proclaims her own merit. I grant there was some excuse
for her conduct; for she intimates that she was not so much excited by
lust, as by modest love, because she desired to increase her family and
to fulfill the duty of an honorable mother of a family. But though this
pretext is specious in the eyes of men, yet the profanation of holy
marriage cannot be pleasing to God. She errs, therefore, in taking what
was no cause for the cause. And this is the more to be observed; because
it is a fault which too much prevails in the world, for men to reckon
the free gifts of God as their own reward; yea, even to boast of their
deserts, when they are condemned by the word of God. In her sixth son,
she more purely and rightly estimates the divine goodness, when she
gives thanks to God, that, by his kindness, her husband would hereafter
be more closely united to her, (ver. 20). For although he had lived with
her before, yet, being too much attached to Rachel, he was almost
entirely alienated from Leah. It has before been said, that children
born in lawful wedlock are bonds to unite the minds of their parents.
  21. "And afterward she bare a daughter." It is not known whether Jacob
had any other daughter; for it is not uncommon in Scripture, when
genealogies are recorded, to omit the women, since they do not bear
their own name, but lie concealed under the shadow of their husbands.
Meanwhile, if anything worthy of commemoration occurs to any women,
especial mention is then made of them. This was the case with Dinah, on
account of the violence done to her; of which more will be said
hereafter. But whereas the sons of Jacob subsequently regarded it as an
indignity that their sister should marry one of another nation; and as
Moses records nothing of any other daughters, either as being settled in
the land of Canaan, or married in Egypt, it is probable that Dinah was
the only one born to him.
  22. "And God remembered Rachel." Since with God nothing is either
before or after, but all things are present, he is subject to no
forgetfulness, so that, in the lapse of time, he should need to be
reminded of what is past. But the Scripture describes the presence and
memory of God from the effect produced upon ourselves, because we
conceive him to be such as he appears to be by his acts. Moreover,
whether Rachel's child was born the last of all, cannot with certainty
be gathered from the words of Moses. They who, in this place, affirm
that the figure hysteron proteron, which puts the last first, is used,
are moved by the consideration, that if Joseph had been born after the
last of his brethren, the age which Moses records in chapter 41: 46,
would not accord with the fact. But they are deceived in this, that they
reckon the nuptials of Rachel from the end of the second seven years;
whereas it is certainly proved from the context, that although Jacob
agreed to give his service for Rachel, yet he obtained her immediately;
because from the beginning, the strife between the two sisters broke
forth. Moses clearly intimates, in this place, that the blessing of God
was bestowed late, when Rachel had despaired of issue, and had long been
subject to reproach because of her barrenness. On account of this
prosperous omen she gave the name Joseph to her son, deriving the hope
of two sons from the prospect of one.
  25. "Send me away, that I may go." Seeing that Jacob had been retained
by a proposed reward for his services, it might appear that he was
acting craftily in desiring his dismissal from his father-in-law. I
cannot, however, doubt that the desire to return had already entered his
mind, and that he ingenuously avowed his intention. First; having
experienced, in many ways, how unjust, how perfidious, and even cruel,
Laban had been, there is no wonder that he should wish to depart from
him, as soon as ever the opportunity was afforded. Secondly; since, from
the long space of time which had elapsed, he hoped that his brother's
mind would be appeased, he could not but earnestly wish to return to his
parents; especially as he had been oppressed by so many troubles, that
he could scarcely fear a worse condition in any other place. But the
promise of God was the most powerful stimulant of all to excite his
desire to return. For he had not rejected the benediction which was
dearer to him than his own life. To this point his declaration refers,
"I will go to my own place and to my country;" for he does not use this
language concerning Canaan, only because he was born there, but because
he knew that it had been divinely granted to him. For if he had said
that he desired to return, merely because it was his native soil, he
might have been exposed to ridicule; since his father had passed a
wandering and unsettled life, continually changing his abode. I
therefore conclude, that although he might have dwelt commodiously
elsewhere, the oracle of God, by which the land of Canaan had been
destined for him, was ever fresh in his memory. And although, for a
time, he submits to detention, this does not alter his purpose to
depart: for necessity, in part, extorted it from him, since he was
unable to extricate himself from the snares of his uncle; in part also,
he voluntarily gave way, in order that he might acquire something for
himself and his family, lest he should return poor and naked to his own
country. But here the insane wickedness of Laban is discovered. After he
had almost worn out his nephew and son-in-law, by hard and constant toil
for fourteen years, he yet offers him no wages for the future. The
equity, of which at first he had made such pretensions, had already
vanished. For the greater had been the forbearance of Jacob, the more
tyrannical license did he usurp over him. So the world abuses the
gentleness of the pious; and the more meekly they conduct themselves,
the more ferociously does the world assail them. But though, like sheep,
we are exposed, in this world, to the violence and injuries of wolves;
we must not fear lest they should hurt or devour us, since the Heavenly
Shepherd keeps us under his protection.
  27. "I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes." We perceive
hence, that Jacob had not been a burdensome guest, seeing that Laban
soothes him with bland address, in order to procure from him a longer
continuance in his service. For, sordid and grasping as he was, he would
not have suffered Jacob to remain a moment in his house, unless he had
found his presence to be a certain source of gain. Inasmuch therefore,
as he not only did not thrust him out, but anxiously sought to retain
him, we hence infer that the holy man had undergone incredible labours,
which had not only sufficed for the sustenance of a large family, but
had also brought great profit to his father-in-law. Wherefore, he
complains afterwards, not unjustly, that he had endured the heat of the
day, and the cold of the night. Nevertheless, there is no doubt, that
the blessing of God availed more than any labours whatever, so that
Laban perceived Jacob to be a kind of horn of plenty, as he himself
confesses. For he not only commends his fidelity and diligence, but
expressly declares that he himself had I been blessed by the Lord, for
Jacob's sake. It appears, then, that the wealth of Laban had so
increased, from the time of Jacob's coming, that it was as if his gains
had visibly distilled from heaven. Moreover, as the word "nachash",
among the Hebrews, means to know by auguries or by divination, some
interpreters imagine that Laban, having been instructed in magic arts,
found that the presence of Jacob was useful and profitable to him.
Others, however, expound the words more simply, as meaning that he had
proved it to be so by experiment. To me the true interpretation seems to
be, as if he had said, that the blessing of God was as perceptible to
him, as if it had been attested by prophecy, or found out by augury.
  29. "Thou knowest how I have served thee." This answer of Jacob is not
intended to increase the amount of his wages; but he would expostulate
with Laban, and would charge him with acting unjustly and unkindly in
requiring a prolongation of the time of service. There is also no doubt
that he is carried forth, with every desire of his mind, towards the
land of Canaan. Therefore a return thither was, in his view, preferable
to any kind of riches whatever. Yet, in the mealtime, he indirectly
accuses his father-in-law, both of cunning and of inhumanity, in order
that he may extort something from him, if be must remain longer. For he
could not hope that the perfidious old fox would, of himself, perform an
act of justice; neither does Jacob simply commend his own industry, but
shows that he had to deal with an unjust and cruel man. Meanwhile, it is
to be observed, that although he had laboured strenuously, he yet
ascribes nothing to his own labour, but imputes it entirely to the
blessing of God that Laban had been enriched. For though when men
faithfully devote themselves to their duty, they do not lose their
labour; yet their success depends entirely upon the favour of God. What
Paul asserts concerning the efficacy of teaching, extends still further,
"that he who plants and he who waters is nothing," (1 Cor. 3: 7,) for
the similitude is taken from general experience. The use of this
doctrine is twofold. First, whatever I attempt, or to whatever work I
apply my hands, it is my duty to desire God to bless my labour, that it
may not be vain and fruitless. Then, if I have obtained anything, my
second duty is to ascribe the praise to God; without whose blessing, men
in vain rise up early, fatigue themselves the whole day, late take rest,
eat the bread of carefulness, and taste even a little water with sorrow.
With respect to the meaning of the words, when Jacob says, "It was
little that thou hadst in my sight," Jerome has well and skilfully
translated them "before I came." For Moses puts the face of Jacob for
his actual coming and dwelling with Laban.
  30. "And now, when shall I provide for mine own house also? He
reasons, that when he had so long expended his labours for another, it
would be unjust that his own family should be neglected. For nature
prescribes this order, that every one should take care of the family
committed to him. To which point the saying of Solomon is applicable,
"Drink water from thy own fountains, and let rivers flow to thy
neighbours." Had Jacob been alone, he might have devoted himself more
freely to the interests of another; but now, since he is the husband of
four wives, and the father of a numerous offspring, he ought not to be
forgetful of those whom he has received at the hand of God to bring up.
  31. "Thou shalt not give me anything." The antithesis between this and
the preceding clause is to be noticed. For Jacob does not demand for
himself certain and definite wages; but he treats with Laban, on this
condition, that he shall receive whatever offspring may be brought forth
by the sheep and goats of a pure and uniform colour, which shall prove
to be party-coloured and spotted. There is indeed some obscurity in the
words. For, at first, Jacob seems to require for himself the spotted
sheep as a present reward. But from the thirty-third verse another sense
may be gathered: namely, that Jacob would suffer whatever was variegated
in the flock to be separated and delivered to the sons of Laban to be
fed; but that he himself would retain the unspotted sheep and goats. And
certainly it would be absurd that Jacob should now claim part of the
flock for himself, when he had just confessed, that hitherto he had made
no gain. Moreover, the gain thus acquired would have been more than was
just; and there was no hope that this could be obtained from Laban. A
question however arises, by what hope, or by what counsel bad Jacob been
induced to propose this condition? A little afterwards, Moses will
relate that he had used cunning, in order that party-coloured and
spotted lambs might be brought forth by the pure flock; but in the
following chapter he more fully declares that Jacob had been divinely
instructed thus to act. Therefore, although it was improbable in itself
that this agreement should prove useful to the holy man, he yet obeys
the celestial oracle, and wishes to be enriched in no other manner than
according to the will of God. But Laban was dealt with according to his
own disposition; for he eagerly caught at what seemed advantageous to
himself, but God disappointed his shameful cupidity.
  33. "So shall my righteousness answer for me." Literally it is, "My
righteousness shall answer in me." But the particle "bi" signifies to me
or for me. The sense, however, is clear, that Jacob does not expect
success, except through his faith and integrity. Respecting the next
clause, interpreters differ. For some read, "When thou shalt come to my
reward." But others, translating in the third person, explain it of
righteousness, which shall come to the reward, or to the remunerating of
Jacob. Although either sense will suit the passage, I rather refer it to
righteousness; because it is immediately added, "before thee." For it
would be an improper form of expression, "Thou wilt come before thine
own eyes to my reward." It now sufficiently appears what Jacob meant.
For he declares that he hoped for a testimony of his faith and
uprightness from the Lord, in the happy result of his labours, as if he
had said, "The Lord who is the best judge and vindicator of my
righteousness, will indeed show with what sincerity and faithfulness I
have hitherto conducted myself." And though the Lord often permits
sinners to be enriched by wicked arts, and suffers them to acquire
abundant gain by seizing the goods of others as their own: this proves
no exception to the rule, that his blessing is the ordinary attendant on
good faith and equity. Wherefore, Jacob justly gave this token of his
fidelity, that he committed the success of his labours to the Lord, in
order that his integrity might hence be made manifest. The sense of the
words is now clear, "My righteousness shall openly testify for me,
because it will voluntarily come to remunerate me; and that so
obviously, that it shall not he hidden even from thee." A tacit reproof
is couched in this language, intimating that Laban should feel how
unjustly he had withheld the wages of the holy man, and that God would
shortly show, by the result, how wickedly he had dissembled respecting
his own obligation to him. For there is an antithesis to be understood
between the future and the past time, when he says, "tomorrow [or in
time to come] it will answer for me," since indeed, yesterday and the
day before, he could extort no justice from Laban.
  "Every one that is not speckled and spotted." Jacob binds himself to
the crime and punishment of theft, if he should take away any unspotted
sheep from the flock: as if he would say, "Shouldst thou find with me
anything unspotted, I am willing to be charged as a thief; because I
require nothing to be given to me but the spotted lambs." Some expound
the words otherwise, "Whatsoever thou shalt find deficient in thy flock,
require of me, as if I had stolen it;" but this appears to me a forced
  35. "And he removed that day." From this verse the form of the compact
is more certainly known. Laban separates the sheep and goats marked with
spots from the pure flock, that is, from the white or black, and commits
these to his sons to be fed; interposing a three-days' journey between
them and the rest; lest, by promiscuous intercourse, a particoloured
offspring should be produced. It follows, therefore, that, in the flock
which Jacob fed, nothing remained but cattle of one colour: thus but
faint hope of gain remained to the holy man, while every provision was
made for Laban's advantage. It also appears, from the distance of the
places, in which Laban kept his flocks apart, that he was not less
suspicious than covetous; for dishonest men are wont to measure others
by their own standard; whence it happens that they are always
distrustful and alarmed.
  37. "And Jacob took him rods of green poplar." The narration of Moses,
at first sight, may seem absurd: for he either intends to censure holy
Jacob as guilty of fraud, or to praise his industry. But from the
context it will appear that this adroitness was not culpable. Let us
then see how it is to be excused. Should any one contend that he was
impelled to act as he did, by the numerous injuries of his
father-in-law, and that he sought nothing but the reparation of former
losses; the defense would perhaps be plausible: yet in the sight of God
it is neither firm nor probable; for although we may be unjustly
treated, we must not enter the contest with equal injustice. And were it
permitted to avenge our own injuries, or to repair our own wrongs, there
would be no place for legal judgments, and thence would arise horrible
confusion. Therefore Jacob ought not to have resorted to this stratagem,
for the purpose of producing degenerate cattle, but rather to have
followed the rule which the Lord delivers by the mouth of Paul, that the
faithful should study to overcome evil with good, (Rom. 12: 21.) This
simplicity, I confess, ought to have been cultivated by Jacob, unless
the Lord from heaven had commanded otherwise. But in this narrative
there is a hysteron proteron, (a putting of the last first,) for Moses
first relates the fact, and then subjoins that Jacob had attempted
nothing but by the command of God. Wherefore, it is not for those
persons to claim him as their advocate, who oppose malignant and
fraudulent men with fallacies like their own; because Jacob did not, of
his own will, take license craftily to circumvent his father-in-law, by
whom he had been unworthily deceived; but, pursuing the course
prescribed to him by the Lord, kept himself within due bounds. In vain,
also, according to my judgment, do some dispute whence Jacob learnt
this; whether by long practice or by the teaching of his fathers; for it
is possible, that he had been suddenly instructed respecting a matter
previously unknown. If any one object, the absurdity of supposing, that
this act of deceit was suggested by God; the answer is easy, that God is
the author of no fraud, when he stretches out his hand to protect his
servant. Nothing is more appropriate to him, and more in accordance with
his justice, than that he should interpose as an avenger, when any
injury is inflicted. But it is not our part to prescribe to him his
method of acting. He suffered Laban to retain what he unjustly
possessed; but in six years he withdrew his blessing from Laban, and
transferred it to his servant Jacob. If an earthly judge condemns a
thief to restore twofold or fourfold, no one complains: and why should
we concede less to God, than to a mortal and perishing man? He had other
methods in his power; but he purposed to connect his grace with the
labour and diligence of Jacob, that he might openly repay to him those
wages of which he had been long defrauded. For Laban was constrained to
open his eyes, which being before shut, he had been accustomed to
consume the sweat and even the blood of another. Moreover, as it
respects physical causes, it is well known, that the sight of objects by
the female has great effect on the form of the foetus. When this happens
with women, takes it at least place with animals, where is no reason,
but where reigns an enormous rush of carnal lusts. Now Jacob did three
things. For first, he stripped the bark from twigs that he might make
bare some white places by the incisions in the bark, and thus a varying
and manifold colour was produced. Secondly, he chose the times when the
males and females were assembled. Thirdly, he put the twigs in the
waters, for like the drinking feeds the animal parts, it also urges on
the sexual drive. By the stronger cattle Moses may be understood to
speak of those who bore in spring--by the feeble, those who bore in
  43. "And the man increased exceedingly." Moses added this for the
purpose of showing that he was not made thus suddenly rich without a
miracle. We shall see hereafter how great his wealth was. For being
entirely destitute, he yet gathered out of nothing, greater riches than
any man of moderate wealth could do in twenty or thirty years. And that
no one may deem this fabulous, as not being in accordance with the usual
method, Moses meets the objection by saying, that the holy man was
enriched in an extraordinary manner.

Chapter XXXI.

1 And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away
all that [was] our father's; and of [that] which [was] our father's hath
he gotten all this glory.
2 And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it [was] not
toward him as before.
3 And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and
to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.
4 And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,
5 And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it [is] not
toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.
6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.
7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but
God suffered him not to hurt me.
8 If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle
bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire;
then bare all the cattle ringstraked.
9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given [them]
to me.
10 And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I
lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which
leaped upon the cattle [were] ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.
11 And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, [saying], Jacob: And I
said, Here [am] I.
12 And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap
upon the cattle [are] ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have
seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.
13 I [am] the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, [and]
where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this
land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.
14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, [Is there] yet any
portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?
15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath
quite devoured also our money.
16 For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that [is]
ours, and our children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee,
17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;
18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had
gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for
to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.
19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images
that [were] her father's.
20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told
him not that he fled.
21 So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the
river, and set his face [toward] the mount Gilead.
22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.
23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days'
journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.
24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto
him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the
mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.
26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen
away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives [taken]
with the sword?
27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and
didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with
songs, with tabret, and with harp?
28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast
now done foolishly in [so] doing.
29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your
father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak
not to Jacob either good or bad.
30 And now, [though] thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore
longedst after thy father's house, [yet] wherefore hast thou stolen my
31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I
said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our
brethren discern thou what [is] thine with me, and take [it] to thee.
For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
33 And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the
two maidservants' tents; but he found [them] not. Then went he out of
Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.
34 Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's
furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found
[them] not.
35 And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I
cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women [is] upon me. And he
searched, but found not the images.
36 And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and
said to Laban, What [is] my trespass? what [is] my sin, that thou hast
so hotly pursued after me?
37 Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all
thy household stuff? set [it] here before my brethren and thy brethren,
that they may judge betwixt us both.
38 This twenty years [have] I [been] with thee; thy ewes and thy she
goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not
39 That which was torn [of beasts] I brought not unto thee; I bare the
loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, [whether] stolen by day,
or stolen by night.
40 [Thus] I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by
night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen
years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast
changed my wages ten times.
42 Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of
Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God
hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked [thee]
43 And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, [These] daughters [are] my
daughters, and [these] children [are] my children, and [these] cattle
[are] my cattle, and all that thou seest [is] mine: and what can I do
this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have
44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let
it be for a witness between me and thee.
45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up [for] a pillar.
46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took
stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
48 And Laban said, This heap [is] a witness between me and thee this
day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
49 And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we
are absent one from another.
50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take [other]
wives beside my daughters, no man [is] with us; see, God [is] witness
betwixt me and thee.
51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold [this] pillar,
which I have cast betwixt me and thee;
52 This heap [be] witness, and [this] pillar [be] witness, that I will
not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this
heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father,
judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren
to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the
55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his
daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his
  1. "And he heard the words." Although Jacob ardently desired his own
country, and was continually thinking of his return to it; yet his
admirable patience appears in this, that he suspends his purpose till a
new occasion presents itself. I do not, however, deny, that some
imperfection was mixed with this virtue, in that he did not make more
haste to return; but that the promise of God was always retained its his
mind will shortly appear. In this respect, however, he showed something
of human nature, that for the sake of obtaining wealth he postponed his
return for six years: for when Laban was perpetually changing his terms,
he might justly have bidden him farewell. But that he was detained by
force and fear together, we infer from his clandestine flight. Now, at
least, he has a sufficient cause for asking his dismissal; because his
riches had become grievous and hateful to the sons of Laban:
nevertheless he does not dare openly to withdraw himself from their
enmity, but is compelled to flee secretly. Yet though his tardiness is
in some degree excusable, it was probably connected with indolence; even
as the faithful, when they direct their course towards God, often do not
pursue it with becoming fervour. Wherefore, whenever the indolence of
the flesh retards us, let us learn to fan the ardour of our spirits into
a flame. There is no doubt that the Lord corrected the infirmity of his
servant, and gently spurred him on as he proceeded in his course. For if
Laban had treated him kindly and pleasantly, his mind would have been
lulled to sleep; but now he is driven away by adverse looks. So the Lord
often better secures the salvation of his people, by subjecting them to
the hatred, the envy, and the malevolence of the wicked, than by
suffering them to be soothed with bland address. It was far more useful
to holy Jacob to have his father-in-law and his sons opposed, than to
have them courteously obsequious to his wishes; because their favour
might have deprived him of the blessing of God. We also have more than
sufficient experience of the power of earthly attractions, and of the
ease with which, when they abound, the oblivion of celestial blessings
steals over us. Wherefore let us not think it hard to be awakened by the
Lord, when we fall into adversity, or receive but little favour from the
world; for hatred, threats, disgrace, and slanders, are often more
advantageous to us than the applause of all men on every side. Moreover,
we must notice the inhumanity of Laban's sons, who complain throughout
as if they had been plundered by Jacob. But sordid and avaricious men
labour under the disease of thinking that they are robbed of everything
with which they do not gorge themselves. For since their avarice is
insatiable, it follows of necessity that the prosperity of others
torments them, as if they themselves would be thereby reduced to want.
They do not consider whether Jacob acquired this great wealth justly or
unjustly; but they are enraged and envious, because they conceive that
so much has been abstracted from them. Laban had before confessed, that
he had been enriched by the coming of Jacob, and even that he had been
blessed by the Lord for Jacob's sake; but now his sons murmur, and he
himself is tortured with grief, to find that Jacob also is made a
partaker of the same blessing. Hence we perceive the blindness of
avarice which can never be satisfied. Whence also it is called by Paul
"the root of all evil;" because they who desire to swallow up everything
must be perfidious, and cruel, and ungrateful, and in every way unjust.
Besides, it is to be observed that the sons of Laban, in the impetuosity
of their younger years, give vent to their vexation; but the father,
like a cunning old fox, is silent, yet betrays his wickedness by his
  3. "And the Lord said unto Jacob." The timidity of the holy man is
here more plainly seen; for he, perceiving that evil was designed
against him by his father-in-law, still dared not to move a foot, unless
encouraged by a new oracle. But the Lord, who, by facts, had shown him
already that no longer delay was to be made, now also urges him by
words. Let us learn from this example, that although the Lord may incite
us to duty by adversity, yet we shall thereby profit little, unless the
stimulus of the word be added. And we see what will happen to the
reprobate; for either they become stupefied in their wickedness, or they
break out into fury. Wherefore, that the instruction conveyed by outward
things may profit us, we must ask the Lord to shine upon us in his own
word. The design, however, of Moses chiefly refers to this point, that
we may know that Jacob returned to his own country, under the special
guidance of God. Now the land of Canaan is called the land of Abraham
and Isaac, not because they had sprung from it; but because it had been
divinely promised to them as their inheritance. Wherefore, by this voice
the holy man was admonished, that although Isaac had been a stranger,
yet, in the sight of God, he was the heir and lord of that land, in
which he possessed nothing but a sepulchre.
  4. "And Jacob sent." He sends for his wives, in order to explain to
them his intention, and to exhort them to accompany him in his flight;
for it was his duty as a good husband to take them away with him; and
therefore it was necessary to inform them of his design. And he was not
so blind as to be unmindful of the many dangers of his plan. It was
difficult to convey women, who had never left their father's house, to a
remote region, by an unknown journey. Moreover, there was ground to fear
lest they, in seeking protection for themselves, might betray their
husband to his enemies. The coverage of many would so far have failed
them, in such a state of perturbation, that they would have disregarded
conjugal fidelity, to provide for their own safety. Jacob, therefore,
acted with great constancy in choosing rather to expose himself to
danger than to fail in the duty of a good husband and master of a
family. If his wives had refused to accompany him, the call of God would
have compelled him to depart. But God granted him what was far more
desirable, that his whole family, with one consent, were prepared to
follow him: moreover, his wives, with whose mutual strifes his house
before had rung, now freely consent to go with him into exile. So the
Lord, when in good faith we discharge our duty, and shun nothing which
he commands, enables us to succeed, even in the most doubtful affairs.
Further, from the fact that Jacob calls his wives to him into the field,
we infer what an anxious life he led. Certainly it would have been a
primary convenience of his life, to dwell at home with his wives. He was
already advanced in age, and worn down with many toils; and therefore he
had the greater need of their service. Yet satisfied with a cottage in
which he might watch over his flock, he lived apart from them. If, then,
there had been a particle of equity in Laban and his sons, they would
have found no cause for envy.
  5. "I see your father's countenance." This address consists of two
parts. For first, he speaks of his own integrity, and expostulates
concerning the perfidy of his father-in-law. He next testifies that God
is the author of his prosperity, in order that Rachel and Leah may the
more willingly accompany him. And whereas he had become very rich in a
short space of time, he purges himself from all suspicion; and even
appeals to them as witnesses of his diligence. And though Moses does not
minutely relate everything; yet there is no doubt that the honesty of
their husband had been made clear to them by many proofs, and that, on
the other hand, the injuries, frauds, and rapacity of their father, were
well known. When he complains that his wages had been changed ten times,
it is probable that the number ten is simply put for many times.
Nevertheless it may be, that within six years Laban might thus
frequently have broken his agreements; since there would be twice as
many seasons of breeding lambs, namely, at spring and autumn, as we have
said. But this narration of the dream, although it follows in a
subsequent part of the history, shows that holy Jacob had undertaken
nothing but by the Divine command. Moses had before related the
transaction simply, saying nothing respecting the counsel from which it
had proceeded; but now, in the person of Jacob himself, he removes all
doubt respecting it; for he does not intimate that Jacob was lying, in
order, by this artifice, to deceive his wives; but he introduces the
holy servant of God, avowing truly, and without pretence, the case as it
really was. For otherwise he would have abused the name of God, not
without abominable impiety, by connecting this vision with that former
one, in which we see that the gate of heaven was opened unto him.
  13. "I am the God of Bethel." It is not wonderful that the angel
should assume the person of God: either because God the Father appeared
to the holy patriarchs in his own Word, as in a lively mirror, and that
under the form of an angel; or because angels, speaking by the command
of God, rightly utter their words, as from his mouth. For the prophets
are accustomed to this form of speaking; not that they may exalt
themselves into the place of God; but only that the majesty of God,
whose ministers they are, may shine forth in his message. Now, it is
proper that we should more carefully consider the force of this form of
expression. He does not call himself the God of Bethel, because he is
confined within the limits of a given place, but for the purpose of
renewing to his servant the remembrance of his own promise; for holy
Jacob had not yet attained to that degree of perfection which rendered
the more simple rudiments unnecessary for him. But little light of true
doctrine at that time prevailed; and even that was wrapped in many
shadows. Nearly the whole world had apostatized to false gods; and that
region, nay, even the house of his father-in-law, was filled with unholy
superstitions. Therefore, amid so many hindrances, nothing was more
difficult for him than to hold his faith in the one true God firm and
invincible. Wherefore, in the first place, pure religion is commended to
him, in order that, among the various errors of the world, he may adhere
to the obedience and worship of that God whom he had once known.
Secondly; the promise which he had before received is anew confirmed to
him, in order that he may always keep his mind fixed on the special
covenant which God had made with Abraham and his posterity. Thus he is
directed to the land of Canaan, which was his own inheritance; lest the
temporal blessing of God, which he was soon to enjoy, should detain his
heart in Mesopotamia. For since this oracle was only an appendix of the
previous one, whatever benefits God afterwards bestowed ought to be
referred to that first design. We may also conjecture from this passage,
that Jacob had before preached to his household concerning the true God
and the true religion, as became a pious father of his family. For he
would have acted absurdly in uttering this discourse, unless his wives
had been previously instructed respecting that wonderful vision. To the
same point belongs what he had said before, "that the God of his father
had brought him assistance." For it is just as if he would openly
distinguish the God whom he worshipped from the god of Laban. And now,
because he holds familiar discourse with his wives, as on subjects which
they know, the conjecture is probable, that it was not Jacob's fault if
they were not imbued with the knowledge of the one God, and with sincere
piety. Further, by this oracle the Lord declared that he is always
mindful of the godly, even when they seem to be cast down and deserted.
For who would not have said that the outcast Jacob was now deprived of
all celestial help? And truly the Lord appears to him late; but beyond
all expectation shows, that he had never been forgetful of him. Let the
faithful, also, at this day, feel that he is the same towards them; and
if, in any way, the wicked tyrannically oppress them by unjust violence,
let them bear it patiently, until at length, in due time, he shall
avenge them.
  14. "And Rachel and Leah answered." Here we perceive that to be
fulfilled which Paul teaches, that all things work together for good to
the children of God. (Rom. 8: 28.) For since the wives of Jacob had been
unjustly treated by their father, they so far act in opposition to the
natural tenderness of their sex, that at the desire of their husband,
they become willing to follow him into a distant and unknown region.
Therefore, if Jacob is compelled to take many and very bitter draughts
of grief, he is now cheered by the most satisfying compensation, that
his wives are not separated from him by their attachment to their
father's house: but rather, being overcome by the irksome nature of
their sufferings, they earnestly undertake to join him in his flight.
"There is nothing," they say, "which should cause us to remain with our
father; for daughters adhere to their fathers, because they are esteemed
members of his family; but what a cruel rejection is this, not only that
he has prostituted us without dowry, but that he has set us to sale, and
has devoured the price for which he sold us?" By the word money (ver.
15), I understand the price of sale. For they complain that, at least,
they had not received, instead of dowry, the profit which had been
unjustly extorted from their husband, but this gain also had been
unjustly suppressed by their covetous father. Therefore the particle
"gam" is inserted, which is used for the purpose of amplification among
the Hebrews. For this increased not a little the meanness of Laban,
that, as an insatiable whirlpool, he had absorbed the gain acquired by
this most dishonourable traffic. And it is to be noted, that they were
then devoted to their husband, and were therefore free to depart from
their father; especially since they knew that the hand of God was
stretched out to them. There is also no doubt, seeing they were
persuaded that Jacob was a faithful prophet of God, but that they freely
embraced the heavenly oracle from his mouth; for at the close of their
reply, they show that they did not so much yield to his wish as to the
command of God.
  16. "For all the riches which God has taken from our father." Rachel
and Leah confirm the speech of Jacob; but yet in a profane and common
manner, not with a lively and pure sense of religion. For they only make
a passing allusion to the fact, that God, in pity to his servant, had
deigned to honour him with peculiar favour; and in the meantime, insist
upon a reason of little solidity, that what they were carrying away was
justly their due, because a part of the inheritance pertained to them.
They do not argue that the riches they possessed were theirs, because
they had been justly acquired. by the labour of their husband; but
because they themselves ought not to have been defrauded of their dowry,
and now deprived of their lawful inheritance. For this reason they
mention also their children with themselves, as having sprung from the
blood of Laban. By this method they not only obscure the blessing of
God, but indulge themselves in greater license than is right. They also
form a mean estimate of their husband's labours, in boasting that the
fruit of those labours proceeded from themselves. Wherefore we are, by
no means, to seek hence a precedent for the way in which each is to
defend his own right, or to attempt the recovery of it, when it has been
unjustly wrested from him.
  17. "Then Jacob rose up." The departure of Jacob Moses afterwards more
fully relates, he now only briefly says that "he rose up;" by which he
means, that as soon as he could obtain the consent of his wives to go
with him, he yielded to no other obstacles. Herein appears the manly
strength and constancy of his mind. For Moses leaves many things to be
reflected upon by his readers; and especially that intermediate period,
during which the holy man was doubtless agitated with a multiplicity of
cares. He had believed that his exile from home would be only for a
short time: but, deprived of the sight of his parents and of his native
soil during twenty years, he suffered many things so severe and bitter,
that the endurance of them might have rendered him callous, or, at
least, might have so oppressed him as to have consumed the remnant of
his life. He was now verging towards old age, and the coldness of old
age produces tardiness. Yet the flight for which he was preparing was
not free from danger. Therefore it was necessary that he should be armed
with the spirit of fortitude, in order that the vigour and alacrity of
which Moses speaks, might cause him to hasten his steps. And since we
read that the departure of the holy man was effected by stealth, and was
attended with discredit; let us learn, whenever God abases us, to turn
our minds to such examples as this.
  19. "And Rachel had stolen." Although the Hebrews sometimes call those
images "seraphim," which are not set forth as objects of worship: yet
since this term is commonly used in an ill sense, I do not doubt that
they were the household gods of Laban. Even he himself, shortly
afterwards, expressly calls them his gods. It appears hence how great is
the propensity of the human mind to idolatry: since in all ages this
evil has prevailed; namely, that men seek out for themselves visible
representations of God. From the death of Noah not yet two hundred years
had elapsed; Shem had departed but a little while before; his teaching,
handed down by tradition, ought most of all to have flourished among the
posterity of Terah; because the Lord had chosen this family to himself,
as the only sanctuary on earth in which he was to be worshipped in
purity. The voice of Shem himself was sounding in their ears until the
death of Abraham.; yet now, from Terah himself, the common filth of
superstition inundated this place, while the patriarch Shem was still
living and speaking. And though there is no doubt that he endeavoured,
with all his power, to bring back his descendants to a right mind, we
see what was his success. It is not indeed to be believed, that Bethuel
had been entirely ignorant of the call of Abraham; yet neither he, with
his family, was, on that account, withdrawn from this vanity. Holy Jacob
also had not been silent during twenty years, but had endeavoured, by
counsel and admonition, to correct these gross vices, but in vain;
because superstition, in its violent course, prevailed. Therefore, that
idolatry is almost innate in the human mind, the very antiquity of its
origin bears witness. And that it is so firmly fixed there as scarcely
to be capable of being uprooted, shows its obstinacy. But it is still
more absurd, that not even Rachel could be healed of this contagion, in
so great a length of time. She had often heard her husband speaking of
the true and genuine worship of God: yet she is so addicted to the
corruptions which she had imbibed from her childhood, that she is ready
to infect the land chosen by God with them. She imagines that, with her
husband, she is following God as her leader, and at the same time takes
with her the idols by which she would subvert his worship. It is even
possible that by the excessive indulgence of his beloved wife, Jacob
might give too much encouragement to such superstitions. Wherefore, let
pious fathers of families learn to use their utmost diligence that no
stain of evil may remain in their wives or children. Some
inconsiderately excuse Rachel, on the ground that, by a pious theft, she
wished to purge her father's house from idols. But if this had been her
design, why, in crossing the Euphrates, did she not cast away these
abominations? Why did she not, after her departure, explain to her
husband what she had done? But there is no need of conjecture, since,
from the sequel of the history, it is manifest that the house of Jacob
was polluted with idols, even to the time of the violation of Dinah. It
was not, then, the piety of Rachel, but her insane hankering after
superstition which impelled her to the theft: because she thought that
God could not be worshipped but through idols; for this is the source of
the disease, that since men are carnal, they imagine God to be carnal
  20. "And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban." By the Hebrew form of
expression, "stole away the heart of Laban," Moses shows that Jacob
departed privately, or by stealth, unknown to his father-in-law.
Meanwhile, he wishes to point out to what straits Jacob was reduced, so
that he had no hope of deliverance but in flight. For Laban had
determined to hold him all his life as a captive, as if he had been a
slave bound to the soil, or sentenced to the mines. Therefore let us
also learn, by his example, when the Lord calls us, courageously to
strive against every kind of obstacle, and not to be surprised if many
arduous difficulties oppose themselves against us.
  22. "And it was told Laban." The Lord gave to his servant the interval
of a three-days' journey, so that having passed the Euphrates, he might
enter the boundaries of the promised land. And perhaps, in the mean
time, he cooled the rage of Laban, the assault of which, in its first
heat, might have been intolerable severe. By afterward permitting Jacob
to be intercepted in the midst of his journey, God intended to tender
his own interposition the more illustrious. It seemed desirable that
Jacob's course should not be interrupted, and that he should not be
filled with alarm by the hostile approach of his father-in-law; but when
Laban, like a savage wild beast, breathing nothing but slaughter, is
suddenly restrained by the Lord, this was far more likely to confirm the
faith of the holy man, and therefore far more useful to him. For, as in
the very act of giving assistance, the power of God shone forth more
clearly; so, relying on divine help, he passed more courageously through
remaining trials. Whence we learn, that those perturbations which, at
the time, are troublesome to us, yet tend to our salvation, if only we
obediently submit to the will of God; who purposely thus tries us, that
he may indeed show more fully the care which he takes of us. It was a
sad and miserable sight, that Jacob, taking so large a family with him,
should flee as if his conscience had accused him of evil: but it was far
more bitter and more formidable, that Laban, intent on his destruction,
should threaten his life. Yet the method of his deliverance, which is
described by Moses, was more illustrious than any victory. For God,
descending from heaven to bring assistance to his servant, places
himself between the parties, and in a moment assuages the indomitable
fury with which Laban was inflamed.
  23. "And pursued him seven days' journey." Since the cruelty of Laban
was now appeased, or at least bridled, he did not dare severely to
threaten; but laying aside his ferocity, he descended to feigned and
hypocritical blandishments. He complains that injury had been done him,
because he had been kept in ignorance of Jacob's departure, whom he
would rather leave sent forth with customary tokens of joy, in token of
his paternal affection. Thus hypocrites, when the power of inflicting
injury is taken away from them, heap false complaints upon the good and
simple, as if the blame rested with them. Wherefore, if at any time
wicked and perfidious men, when they have unjustly harassed us, put
forward some pretext of equity on their own part, we must bear with the
iniquity; not because a just defense is to be entirely omitted; but
because we find it inevitable that perverse men, ever ready to speak
evil, will shamelessly cast upon us the blame of crimes of which we are
innocent. Meanwhile, we must prudently guard against giving them the
occasion against us which they seek.
  29. "It is in the power of my hand." The Hebrew phrase is different,
"my land is to power;" yet the meaning is clear, that Laban declares he
is ready to take vengeance. Some expound the words thus: "my hand is to
God;" but from other places it appears that the word "el" is taken for
power. But Laban, inflated with foolish boasting, contradicts himself;
for whereas he had been forbidden by God to attempt anything against
Jacob, where was the power of which he boasted? We see, therefore, he
precipitates himself by a blind impulse, as if, at his own pleasure, he
could do anything against the purpose of God. For when he perceives that
God is opposed to him, he yet does not hesitate to glory in his own
strength; and why is this, unless he aimed at being superior to God?
Finally; pride is always the companion of unbelief; so that unbelievers,
although vanquished, yet cease not impetuously to rise up against God.
To this they add another sin, that they complain of being unjustly
oppressed by God.
  "But the God of your father." Why does he not also acknowledge God as
his own God, unless because Satan had so fascinated his mind already,
that he chose rather to wander in darkness than to turn to the light
presented before him? Willingly or unwillingly, he is compelled to yield
to the God of Abraham; and yet he defrauds him of the glory which is
due, by retaining those fictitious deities by which he had been
deceived. We see then that the ungodly, even when they have had proof of
the power of God, yet do not entirely submit themselves to his
authority. Wherefore, when God manifests himself to us, we must also
seek from heaven the spirit of meekness, which shall bend and subdue us
to obedience unto himself.
  30. "Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?" The second head of
accusation which is alleged against Jacob is, that he had not departed
through love to his country, nor for any just and probable cause; but
that, in fact, he was implicated in an act of robbery. Heavy and
disgraceful charge, of which Jacob was far from being guilty! But we
learn hence, that no one can live so innocently in the world, but he
must sometimes bear undeserved reproach and marks of infamy. Whenever
this may happen to us, let that precious promise sustain us, that the
Lord, in his own time, will bring forth our innocence as the morning
light. (Ps. 37: 6.) For by this artifice Satan attempts to seduce us
from the practice of well-doing, when, without any fault of ours, we are
traduced by false calumnies. And since the world is ungrateful, it often
makes the very worst return for acts of kindness. Some, indeed, are
found, who, with heroic magnanimity, despise unfavourable reports,
because they esteem the testimony of a good conscience more highly than
depraved popular opinion. But it behoves the faithful to look to God,
that their conscience may never fail them. We see that Laban calls his
gods "teraphim", not because he thought the Deity was enclosed within
them; but because he worshipped these images in honour of the gods. Or
rather, because, when he was about to pay homage to God, he turned
himself to those images. At this day, by the sole difference of a word,
the Papists think they skilfully effect their escape, because they do
not attribute to idols the name of gods. But the subterfuge is
frivolous, since in reality they are altogether alike; for they pour
forth before pictures or statues whatever honour they acknowledge to be
due to the one God. To the ancient idolaters the pretext was not
wanting, that by a metonymy they styled those images gods, which were
formed for the sake of representing God.
  31. "And Jacob answered." He briefly refutes each head of the
accusation: with respect to his secret departure, he modestly excuses
himself, as having been afraid that he might be deprived of his wives.
And in this way he takes part of the blame to himself, deeming it
sufficient to exonerate himself from the malice of which he was thought
to be guilty. He does not dispute, as a casuist, whether it was lawful
to depart by stealth; but leaves it undetermined whether or not his fear
was culpable. Let all the children of God learn to imitate this modesty,
lest through an immoderate desire to vindicate their own reputation,
they should rush into contentions: just as we have seen many raise
tragic scenes out of nothing, because they will not endure that any
censure, however trifling, should be cast upon them. Jacob, therefore,
was content with this excuse, that he had done nothing wickedly. His
defense on the other charge follows, in which Jacob shows his
confidence, by adjudicating the person to death, with whom the things
stolen should be found. He speaks, indeed, from his heart; but if the
truth had then been discovered, he must, of necessity, have been ashamed
of his rashness. Therefore, though he was not conscious of guilt, he yet
singled through excessive haste, in not having diligently inquired
before he pronounced concerning a doubtful matter. He ought to have
called both his wives and his children, and to have inquired of each how
the affair stood. He was, indeed, persuaded, that his family was so well
conducted, that no suspicion of the theft had ever entered into his
mind; but he ought not so to have relied upon his own discipline, as to
be free from fear when a crime is alleged against his family. Wherefore,
let us learn to suspend our judgment in matters of which we are
ignorant, lest we should repent too late of our temerity. We may add,
that hence it happened, that the pollution which he might have
exterminated immediately, continued still longer in the family of Jacob.
  32. "That Rachel had stolen them." Moses relates the manner in which
Rachel had concealed her theft; namely, by sitting on the idols, and
pretending the custom of women as her excuse. It is a question, whether
she did this through shame or pertinacity. It was disgraceful to be
caught in the act of theft; she also dreaded the severe sentence of her
husband. Yet to me it appears probable that fear did not so much
influence her as the obstinate love of idolatry. For we know how greatly
superstition infatuates the mind. Therefore, as if she had obtained an
incomparable treasure, she thinks that she must attempt anything rather
than allow herself to be deprived of it. Moreover, she chooses rather to
incur the displeasure of her father and her husband, than to relinquish
the object of her superstition. To her stratagem she also adds lying
words, so that she deserves manifold censure.
  36. "And Jacob was wrath, and chode with Laban." Jacob again acts
amiss, in contending with Laban about a matter not sufficiently known,
and in wrongfully fastening on him the charge of calumny. For although
he supposed all his family to be free from blame, yet he was deceived by
his own negligence. He acts, indeed, with moderation, because in
expostulating with Laban he does not use reproaches; but in this he is
not to be excused, that he undertakes the cause of his whole family,
when they were not exempt from blame. If any one should make the
objection to this statement, that Jacob was constrained by fear, because
Laban had brought with him a great band of companions: the circumstances
themselves show, that his mind was thus influenced by moderation rather
than by fear. For he boldly resists, and shows no sign of fear; only he
abstains from the insolence of evil speaking. He then adds that he had
just cause of accusation against Laban; not because he wished to rise in
a spirit of recrimination against his father-in-law; but because it was
right that the kindred and associates of Laban should be made witnesses
of all that had passed, in order that, by the protracted patient
endurance of Jacob, his integrity might be the more manifest. Jacob also
calls to mind, not only that he had been a faithful keeper of the flock,
but also that his labour had been rendered prosperous by the blessing of
God; he adds, besides, that he had been held accountable for all losses.
In this he insinuates against Laban the charge of great injustice: for
it was not the duty of Jacob voluntarily to inflame the avarice and
rapacity of his father-in-law, by attempting to soothe him; but he
yielded, by constraint, to his injuries. When he says that "sleep
departed from his eyes," he not only intimates that he passed sleepless
nights, but that he had so contended against nature itself, as to
defraud himself of necessary repose.
  42. "Except the God of my father." Jacob here ascribes it to the
favour of God, that he was not about to return home entirely empty;
whereby he not only aggravates the sin of Laban, but meets an objection
which might seem at variance with his complaints. He therefore denies
that he has been made rich by the kindness of his father-in-law; but
testifies that he has been favourably regarded by the Lord: as if he had
said, "I owe it not to thee, that thou hast not further injured me; but
God, who is propitious to me, has withstood thee." Now, since God is not
the defender of unfaithfulness, nor is wont to help the wicked, the
integrity of Jacob may be ascertained from the fact that God interposed
as his vindicator. It is also to be observed, that by expressly
distinguishing the God of Abraham from all fictitious gods, he declares
that there is no other true God: by which he, at the same time, proves
himself to be a truly pious worshipper. The expression "the fear of
Isaac," is to be taken passively for the God whom Isaac revered; just
as, on account of the reverence due to him, he is called "the fear and
the dread" of his people. A similar expression occurs immediately after,
in the same chapter. Now the pious, while they fear God, are by no means
horror-struck at his presence, like the reprobates; but trembling at his
judgment, they walk circumspectly before him.
  "God has seen my affliction, and the labour of my hands." This was
spoken from a pious feeling that God would bring help to him when
afflicted, if he should conduct himself with fidelity and honesty.
Therefore, in order that the Lord may sustain us with his favour, let us
learn to discharge our duty rightly; let us not flee from our proper
work; and let us not refuse to purchase peace by submitting to many
inconveniences. Further, if they from whom we have deserved well treat
us severely and unjustly, let us bear our cross in hope and in silence,
until the Lord shall succour us: for he will never forsake us, as the
whole Scripture testifies. But Jacob distinctly presses his
father-in-law with his own confession. For why had God rebuked him,
unless because he was persecuting an innocent man in defiance of justice
and equity; for as I have lately intimated, it is abhorrent to the
nature of God to favour evil and unjust causes.
  43. "These daughters are my daughters." Laban begins now to speak in a
manner very different from before: he sees that he has no farther ground
of contention. Therefore, being convinced, he buries all strife, and
glides into placid and amicable discourse. "Why," he asks, "should I be
hostile to thee, when all things between us are common? Shall I rage
against my own bowels? For both thy wives and thy children are my own
blood; wherefore I ought to be affected towards you, as if you all were
part of myself." He now answers like an honorable man. Whence, then, has
this humanity so suddenly sprung up in the breast of him who lately had
been hurried onward, without any respect to right or wrong, to ruin
Jacob; unless it were, that he knew Jacob to have acted towards him with
fidelity, and to have been at length compelled by necessity to adopt the
design of departing by stealth? And this was an indication that he was
not absolutely desperate: for we may find many persons of such abandoned
impudence, that though overcome and silenced by arguments, they yet do
not cease to rush headlong in insane rebellion. From this passage we
infer, that although avarice and other sinful affections take away
judgment and soundness of mind; there yet remains a knowledge of truth
engraven on the souls of men, which being stirred up emits
scintillations, to prevent the universal triumph of depravity. If any
one before had said, "What does thou, Laban? What brutality is this to
rage against thine own bowels?" the remonstrance would not have been
heard, for he burned with headstrong fury. But now he voluntarily
suggests this to himself, and proclaims what he would have been
unwilling to hear from another. It appears, then, that the light of
justice which now breaks forth, had been smothered in his mind. In
short, it is self-love alone which blinds us; because we all judge
aright where personal interests are not concerned. If, however, it
should so happen that we are for a time in perplexity, we must still
seek to obey the dictates of reason and justice. But if any one hardens
himself in wickedness, the interior and hidden knowledge, of which I
have spoken, will yet remain engraven in his mind, and will suffice for
his condemnation.
  44. "Let us make a covenant, I and thou." Laban here acts as men
conscious of guilt are wont to do, when they wish to guard themselves
against revenge: and this kind of trepidation and anxiety is the just
reward of evil deeds. Besides, wicked men always judge of others from
their own disposition: whence it happens that they have fears on all
sides. Moses before relates a somewhat similar example, when Abimelech
made a covenant with Isaac. Wherefore we must take the greater care, if
we desire to possess tranquil minds, that we act sincerely and without
injury towards our neighbours. Meanwhile Moses shows how placable Jacob
was, and how easily he permitted himself to be conciliated. He had
endured very many and grievous wrongs; but now, forgetting all, he
freely stretches out the hand of kindness: and so far is he from being
pertinacious in defending his own right, that he, in a manner,
anticipates Laban himself, being the first to take a stone, and set it
up for a pillar. And truly it becomes the children of God, not only with
alacrity to embrace peace, but even ardently to search for it, as we are
commanded in Psalm 34: 14. As to the heap of stones, it was always the
practice to use some ceremony which might confirm the compact on both
sides; on this occasion a heap of stones is raised, in order that the
memory of the covenant might be transmitted to posterity. That Jacob
took part in this was a proof, as we have said, of a mind disposed to
peace. He freely complained, indeed, when it was right to do so; but
when the season of pacification arrived, he showed that he cherished no
rancour. Moses, in relating afterwards that "they did eat there, upon
the heap," does not observe the order of the history. For, on both
sides, the conditions of the covenant were agreed upon and declared,
before the feast was celebrated: but this figure of speech (as we have
before seen) was sufficiently in use.
  47. "And Laban called it." Each, in his own language, gives a name, of
the same signification, to the heap. Whence it appears, that Laban used
the Syrian tongue, though born of the race of Heber. But it is not
wonderful that he, dwelling among Syrians, should have accustomed
himself to the language as well as to the manners of the Syrians. And a
little before, he is twice called a Syrian; as if Moses would describe
him as degenerate, and alienated from the Hebrews. But this seems by no
means accordant with the previous history, where we read that the
daughters of Laban gave Hebrew names to their sons. Yet the solution is
not difficult; for since the affinity between these languages was great,
the inflection of one word into another was easy: besides, if the wives
of Jacob were tractable, it is not surprising that they should have
learned his language. And beyond doubt, he would himself make a point of
this matter: seeing he knew that his family was separated from the rest
of the nations. Moses, in using the name of Galeed, does it
proleptically; for since he was writing for his own times, he does not
scruple to give it the generally received name. Moreover we hence infer,
that ceremonies and rites ought to refer to that which those who use
them mutually agree upon. Which rule also ought to be applied to the
sacraments; because if the word by which God enters into covenant with
us be taken away, useless and dead figures will alone remain.
  49. "The Lord watch between me and thee." Laban commits to the
judgment of God, for vengeance, whatever offense either of them should
be guilty of against the other in his absence; as if he would say, "
Though the knowledge of the injury should not reach me, because I shall
be far distant, yet the Lord, who is everywhere present, will behold
it." Which sentiment he more clearly expresses afterwards, when he says,
"No one is with us; God will be witness between me and thee." By which
words he means, that God will be a severe avenger of every wickedness,
though there should be no judge upon earth to decide the cause. And
certainly if there were any religion flourishing within us, the presence
of God would influence us far more than the observation of men. But it
arises from the brutal stupidity of our flesh, that we reverence men
only; as if we might mock God with impunity, when we are not convicted
by the testimony of men. If, then, this common feeling of nature
dictated to Laban, that the frauds which were hidden from men would come
into judgment before God; we who enjoy the light of the gospel should
indeed be ashamed to seek a covert for our fallacies. Hence also, we
gather the legitimate use of an oath, which the Apostle declares in his
epistle to the Hebrews; namely, that men, in order to put an end to
their controversies, resort to the judgment of God.
  50. "If thou shalt take other wives besides my daughters." Laban
declares that it would be a species of perfidy, if Jacob should take to
himself any other wives. But he had himself compelled Jacob to the act
of polygamy: for whence was it that the holy man had more wives than
one, except that Leah had been craftily substituted in the place of
Rachel? But he now, from a pure sentiment of nature, condemns the fault,
of which, blinded by avarice, he had wickedly been the author. And
certainly, when the bond of marriage is broken, than which none among
men is more sacred, the whole of human society sinks into decay.
Wherefore, those fanatical men, who, at this day, delight to defend
polygamy, have no need of any other judge than Laban.
  53. "The God of Abraham." It is indeed rightly and properly done, that
Laban should adjure Jacob by the name of God. For this is the
confirmation of covenants; to appeal to God on both sides, that he may
not suffer perfidy to pass unpunished. But he sinfully blends idols with
the true God, between whom there is nothing in common. Thus, truly, men
involved in superstitions, are accustomed to confound promiscuously
sacred things with profane, and the figments of men with the true God.
He is compelled to give some honour to the God of Abraham, yet he lies
plunged in his own idolatrous pollution; and, that his religion may not
appear the worse, he gives it the colour of antiquity. For in calling
him the God of his father, he boasts that this God was handed down to
him from his ancestors. Meanwhile Jacob does not swear superstitiously.
For Moses expressly declares, that he swats only by the "fear of Isaac;"
whence we learn that he did not assent to the preposterous form of oath
dictated by his father-in-law; no too many do, who, in order to gain the
favour of the wicked, pretend to be of the same religion with them. But
when once the only God is made known to us, we wickedly suppress his
truth, unless by its light all the clouds of error are dispersed.
  54. "And called his brethren to eat bread." In courteously receiving
his kindred, by whom he had been ill-treated, as his guests, Jacob
showed his kindness. Moses also intimates that it was by the special
favour of God that, after the most dreadful storm which threatened the
holy man with destruction, a placid serenity suddenly shone forth. To
the same cause is to be assigned what immediately follows, that Laban
departed in a friendly manner: for by this method the Lord openly
manifested himself as the guardian of his servant, seeing that he
wonderfully delivered him as a lost sheep out of the jaws of the wolf.
And truly, not only was the fury of Laban appeased; but he put on
paternal affection, as if he had been changed into a new man.
  55. "And blessed them." The character of the person is here to be
noticed, because Laban, who had lapsed from true piety, and was a man of
unholy and wicked manners, yet retained the habit of giving his
blessing. For we are hereby taught, that certain principles of divine
knowledge remain in the hearts of the wicked, so that no excuse may be
left to them on the ground of ignorance; for the custom of pronouncing a
blessing arises hence, that men are certainly persuaded that God alone
is the author of all good things. For although they may proudly arrogate
what they please to themselves; yet when they return to their right
mind, they are compelled, whether they will or no, to acknowledge that
all good proceeds from God alone.

Chapter XXXII.

1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
2 And when Jacob saw them, he said, This [is] God's host: and he called
the name of that place Mahanaim.
3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land
of Seir, the country of Edom.
4 And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau;
Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed
there until now:
5 And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and
womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in
thy sight.
6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother
Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the
people that [was] with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels,
into two bands;
8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the
other company which is left shall escape.
9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father
Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to
thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:
10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the
truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I
passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand
of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, [and] the
mother with the children.
12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the
sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.
13 And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to
his hand a present for Esau his brother;
14 Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and
twenty rams,
15 Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls,
twenty she asses, and ten foals.
16 And he delivered [them] into the hand of his servants, every drove by
themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a
space betwixt drove and drove.
17 And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meeteth
thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose [art] thou? and whither goest thou?
and whose [are] these before thee?
18 Then thou shalt say, [They be] thy servant Jacob's; it [is] a present
sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he [is] behind us.
19 And so commanded he the second, and the third, and all that followed
the droves, saying, On this manner shall ye speak unto Esau, when ye
find him.
20 And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob [is] behind us. For he
said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and
afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me.
21 So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in
the company.
22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two
womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.
23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he
24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the
breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the
hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint,
as he wrestled with him.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not
let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he said unto him, What [is] thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for
as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
29 And Jacob asked [him], and said, Tell [me], I pray thee, thy name.
And he said, Wherefore [is] it [that] thou dost ask after my name? And
he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God
face to face, and my life is preserved.
31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted
upon his thigh.
32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not [of] the sinew which shrank,
which [is] upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he
touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.

1. "And Jacob went on his way." After Jacob has escaped from the hands
of his father-in-law, that is, from present death, he meets with his
brother, whose cruelty was as much, or still more, to be dreaded; for by
the threats of this brother he had been driven from his country; and now
no better prospect lies before him. He therefore proceeds with
trepidation, as one who goes to the slaughter. Seeing, however, it was
scarcely possible but that he should sink oppressed by grief, the Lord
affords him timely succour; and prepares him for this conflict, as well
as for others, in such a manner that he should stand forth a brave and
invincible champion in them all. Therefore, that he may know himself to
be defended by the guardianship of God, angels go forth to meet him,
arranged in ranks on both sides. Hebrew interpreters think that the camp
of the enemy had been placed on one side; and that the angels, or rather
God, stood on the other. But it is much more probable, that angels were
distributed in two camps on different sides of Jacob, that he might
perceive himself to be everywhere surrounded and fortified by celestial
troops; as in Psalm 34: 7, it is declared that angels, to preserve the
worshippers of God, pitch their tents around them. Yet I am not
dissatisfied with the opinion of those who take the dual number simply
for the plural; understanding that Jacob was entirely surrounded with an
army of angels. Now the use of this vision was twofold; for, first,
since the holy man was very anxious about the future, the Lord designed
early to remove this cause of terror from him; or, at least, to afford
him some alleviation, lest he should sink under temptation. Secondly,
God designed, when Jacob should have been delivered from his brother, so
to fix the memory of the past benefit in his mind, that it should never
be lost. We know how prone men are to forget the benefits of God. Even
while God is stretching out his hand to help them, scarcely one out of a
hundred raises his eyes towards heaven. Therefore it was necessary that
the visible protection of God should be placed before the eyes of the
holy man; so that, as in a splendid theatre, he might perceive that he
had been lately delivered, not by chance, out of the hand of Laban; but
that he had the angels of God fighting for him; and might certainly
hope, that their help would be ready for him against the attempts of his
brother; and finally, that, when the danger was surmounted, he might
remember the protection he had received from them. This doctrine is of
use to us all, that we may learn to mark the invisible presence of God
in his manifested favours. Chiefly, however, it was necessary that the
holy man should be furnished with new weapons to endure the approaching
contest. He did not know whether his brother Esau had been changed for
the better or the worse. But he would rather incline to the suspicion
that the sanguinary man would devise nothing but what was hostile.
Therefore the angels appear for the purpose of confirming his faith in
future, not less than for that of calling past favours to his
remembrance. The number of these angels also encourages him not a
little: for although a single angel would suffice as a guardian for us,
yet the Lord acts more liberally towards us. Therefore they who think
that each of us is defended by one angel only, wickedly depreciate the
kindness of God. And there is no doubt that the devil, by this crafty
device, has endeavoured, in some measure, to diminish our faith. The
gratitude of the holy man is noted by Moses, in the fact that he assigns
to the place a name, (Galeed,) as a token of perpetual remembrance.
  3. "And Jacob sent messengers." It now happened, by the providence of
God, that Esau, having left his father, had gone to Mount Seir of his
own accord; and had thus departed from the land of promise, by which
means the possession of it would remain void for the posterity of Jacob,
without slaughter among brethren. For it was not to be believed that he
had changed his habitation, either because he was compelled by his
father's command, or because he was willing to be accounted inferior to
his brother. I rather conjecture that he had become greatly enriched,
and that this induced him to leave his father's house. For we know that
profane persons and men of this world so vehemently pant for present
advantages, that when anything offers itself in accordance with their
desire, they are hurried towards it with a brutish impetuosity. Esau was
imperious and ferocious; he was incensed against his mother; had shaken
off all reverence for his father, and knew that he was himself also
obnoxious to them both: his wives were engaged in incessant contentions;
it seemed to him hard and troublesome, to be in the condition of a child
in the family, when he was now advancing to old age; for proud men do
not regard themselves as free, so long as any one has the preeminence
over them. Therefore, in order to pass his life free from the authority
of others, he chose to live in a state of separation from his father;
and, allured by this attraction, he disregarded the promised
inheritance, and left the place for his brother. I have said that this
was done by the divine will: for God himself declares by Malachi, that
it was by a species of banishment that Esau was led to Mount Seir.
(Mal.1:3) For although he departed voluntarily, yet, by the secret
counsel of God was he deprived of that land which he had earnestly
desired. But, attracted by the present lust of dominion, he was blinded
in his choice; since the land of Seir was mountainous and rugged,
destitute of fertility and pleasantness. Moreover, he would appear to
himself a great man, in giving his own name to the country.
Nevertheless, it is probable that Moses called that country the land of
Edom by the figure prolepsis, because it afterwards began to be so
called. The question now occurs, Whence did Jacob know that his brother
dwelt in that region? Though I assert nothing as certain; yet the
conjecture is probable, that he had been informed of it by his mother;
for, in the great number of her servants, a faithful messenger would not
be wanting. And it is easily gathered from the words of Moses, that
Jacob, before he had entered the land, knew the fact respecting the new
residence of his brother. And we know that many things of this kind were
omitted by Moses, which may easily suggest themselves to the mind of the
  4. "Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau." Moses here relates the
anxiety of Jacob to appease his brother. For this suppliant deprecation
was extorted only by great and severe torture of mind. It seems,
however, to be an absurd submission, whereby he cedes to his brother
that dominion for which he had contended at the hazard of his life. For
if Esau has the primogeniture, what does Jacob reserve for himself? For
what end did he bring upon himself such hatred, expose himself to such
dangers, and at length endure twenty years of banishment, if he does not
refuse to be in subjection to his brother? I answer, that though he
gives up the temporal dominion, he yields nothing of his right to the
secret benediction. He knows that the effect of the divine promise is
still suspended: and therefore, being content with the hope of the
future inheritance, he does not hesitate, at present, to prefer his
brother in honour to himself, and to profess himself his brother's
servant. Nor was there anything feigned in these words; because he was
willing to bear his brother on his shoulders; so that he might not lose
his own future right, which was as yet concealed.
  5. "I have oxen." Jacob does not proclaim his riches for the sake of
boasting, but that by this method Esau might be inclined to humanity.
For it would have been exceedingly disgraceful, cruelly to drive away
one who had been enriched, by the favour of God, in a distant land.
Besides, he cuts off occasion of future emulation: for if he had come
empty and famishing, Esau might conceive fresh indignation against him,
through fear of the expense which might be entailed on himself.
Therefore Jacob declares, that he does not come for the purpose of
consuming his father's substance, nor of being made rich by his
brother's ruin: as if he had said, "Let thy earthly inheritance be
secure; thy claim shall not be injured by me; only suffer me to live."
By this example we are taught in what way we are to cultivate peace with
the wicked. The Lord does not indeed forbid us to defend our own right,
so far as our adversaries allow; but we must rather recede from that
right, than originate contention by our own fault.
  6. "And the messengers returned." Esau advances to meet his brother
with a feeling of benevolence: but Jacob, reflecting on his cruel
ferocity, inflated spirits, and savage threats, expects no humanity from
him. And the Lord willed that the mind of his servant should be
oppressed by this anxiety for a time, although without any real cause,
in order the more to excite the fervour of his prayer. For we know what
coldness, on this point, security engenders. Therefore, lest our faith,
being stirred up by no stimulants, should become torpid, God often
suffers us to fear things which are not terrible in themselves. For
although he anticipates our wishes, and opposes our evils, he yet
conceals his remedies until he has exercised our faith. Meanwhile it is
to be noted, that the sons of God are never endued with a constancy so
steadfast, that the infirmity of the flesh does not betray itself in
them. For they who fancy that faith is exempt from all fear, have had no
experience of the true nature of faith. For God does not promise that he
will be present with us for the purpose of removing the sense of our
dangers, but in order that fear may not prevail, and overwhelm us in
despair. Moreover our faith is never so firm at every point, as to repel
wicked doubts and sinful fears, in the way that might be wished.
  7. "And he divided the people." Moses relates that Jacob formed his
plans according to the existing state of affairs. He divides his family
into two parts, and puts his maids in the foremost place, that they may
bear the first assault, if necessary; but he places his free wives
further from the danger. Hence indeed we gather, that Jacob was not so
overcome with fear as to be unable to arrange his plans. We know that
when a panic seizes the mind, it is deprived of discretion; and they who
ought to look after their own concerns, become stupid and inanimate.
Therefore it proceeded from the spirit of faith that Jacob interposed a
certain space between the two parts of his family, in order that if any
destruction approached, the whole seed of the Church might not perish.
For by this scheme, he offered the half of his family to the slaughter,
that, at length, the promised inheritance might come to the remainder
who survived.
  9. O God of my father Abraham." Having arranged his affairs as the
necessity of the occasion suggested, he now retakes himself to prayer.
And this prayer is evidence that the holy man was not so oppressed with
fear as to prevent faith from proving victorious. For he does not, in a
hesitating manner, commend himself and his family to God; but trusting
both to God's promises and to the benefits already received, he casts
his cares and his troubles into his heavenly Father's bosom. We have
declared before, what is the point aimed at in assigning these titles to
God; in calling God the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac, and what
the terms mean; namely, that since men are so far removed from God, that
they cannot, by their own power, ascend to his throne, he himself comes
down to the faithful. God in thus calling himself the God of Abraham and
Isaac, graciously invites their son Jacob to himself: for, access to the
God of his fathers was not difficult to the holy man. Again, since the
whole world had sunk under superstition, God would have himself to be
distinguished from all idols, in order that he might retain an elect
people in his own covenant. Jacob, therefore, in expressly addressing
God as the God of his fathers, places fully before himself the promises
given to him in their person, that he may not pray with a doubtful mind,
but may securely rely on this stay, that the heir of the promised
blessing will have God propitious towards him. And indeed we must seek
the true rule of prayer in the word of God, that we may not rashly break
through to Him, but may approach him in the manner in which he has
revealed himself to us. This appears more clearly from the adjoining
context, where Jacob, recalling the command and promise of God to
memory, is supported as by two pillars. Certainly the legitimate method
of praying is, that the faithful should answer to God who calls them;
and thus there is such a mutual agreement between his word and their
vows, that no sweeter and more harmonious symphony can be imagined. "O
Lord," he says, "I return at thy command: thou also didst promise
protection to me returning; it is therefore right that thou shouldest
become the guide of my journey." This is a holy boldness, when, having
discharged our duty according to God's calling, we familiarly ask of him
whatsoever he has promised; since he, by binding himself gratuitously to
us, becomes in a sense voluntarily our debtor. But whoever, relying on
no command or promise of God, offers his prayers, does nothing but cast
vain and empty words into the air. This passage gives stronger
confirmation to what has been said before, that Jacob did not falsely
pretend to his wives, that God had commanded him to return. For if he
had then spoken falsely, no ground of hope would now be left to him. But
he does not scruple to approach the heavenly tribunal with this
confidence, that he shall be protected by the hand of God, under whose
auspices he had ventured to return to the land of Canaan.
  10. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies." Although this
expression sounds harsh to Latin ears, the sense is not obscure. Jacob
confesses, that greater mercies of God had been heaped upon him than he
had dared to hope for: and therefore, far be it from him that he should
plead anything of dignity or merit, for the purpose of obtaining what he
asks. He therefore says, that he is less than God's favours; because he
felt himself to be unworthy of those excellent gifts which the Lord had
so liberally bestowed upon him. Moreover, that the design of the holy
patriarch may more clearly appear, the craft of Satan is to be observed:
for, in order to deter us from praying, through a sense of our
unworthiness, he would suggest to us this thought, "Who art thou that
thou shouldst dare to enter into the presence of God?" Jacob early
anticipates this objection, in declaring beforehand that he is unworthy
of God's former gifts, and at the same time acknowledges that God is not
like men, in ever becoming weary to continue and increase his acts of
kindness. Meanwhile, Jacob collects materials for confidence from the
fact, that he has so often found God benignant towards him. Therefore,
he had a double end in view; first, because he wished to counteract the
distrust which might steal upon him in consequence of the magnitude of
God's gifts; and then, he turns those gifts to a different purpose, to
assure himself that God would be the same to him that he had hitherto
been. He uses two words, mercies and truth, to show that God is inclined
by his mere goodness to benefit us; and in this way proves his own
faithfulness. This combination of mercy with truth frequently occurs in
the Scriptures, to teach us that all good things flow to us through the
gratuitous favour of God; but that we are made capable of receiving
them, when by faith we embrace his promises.
  "For with my staff." Jacob does not enumerate separately the mercies
of God, but under one species comprises the rest; namely, that whereas
he had passed over Jordan, a poor and solitary traveller, he now returns
rich, and replenished with abundance. The antithesis between a staff and
two troops is to be noticed; in which he compares his former solitude
and poverty with his present affluence.
  11. "Deliver me." After he has declared himself to be bound by so many
of God's benefits that he cannot boast of his own merits, and thus
raised his mind to higher expectation, he now mentions his own
necessity, as if he would say, "O Lord, unless thou choosest to reduce
so many excellent gifts to nothing, now is the time for thee to succour
one, and to avert the destruction which, through my brother, is
suspended over me." But having thus expressed his fear, he adds a clause
concerning the blessing promised him, that he may confirm himself in the
promises made to him. To slay the mother with the children, I suppose to
have been a proverbial saying among the Jews, which means to leave
nothing remaining. It is a metaphor taken from birds, when hawks seize
the young with their dams, and empty the whole nest.
  13. "And took of that which came to his hand." In endeavouring to
appease his brother by presents, he does not act distrustfully, as if he
doubted whether he should be safe under the protection of God. This,
indeed, is a fault too common among men, that when they have prayed to
God, they turn themselves hither and thither, and contrive vain
subterfuges for themselves: whereas the principal advantage of prayer
is, to wait for the Lord in silence and quietness. But the design of the
holy man was not to busy and to vex himself, as one discontented with
the sole help of God. For although he was certainly persuaded that to
have God propitious to him would alone be sufficient, yet he did not
omit the use of the means which were in his power, while leaving success
in the hand of God. For though by prayer we cast our cares upon God,
that we may have peaceful and tranquil minds; yet this security ought
not to render us indolent. For the Lord will have all the aids which he
affords us applied to use. But the diligence of the pious differs
greatly from the restless activity of the world; because the world,
relying on its own industry, independently of the blessing of God, does
not consider what is right or lawful; moreover it is always in
trepidation, and by its bustling, increases more and more its own
disquietude. The pious, however, hoping for the success of their labour,
only from the mercy of God, apply their minds in seeking out means, for
this sole reason, that they may not bury the gifts of God by their own
torpor. When they have discharged their duty, they still depend on the
same grace of God; and when nothing remains which they can attempt, they
nevertheless are at rest.
  14. "Two hundred she-goats." Hence we perceive the value which Jacob
set upon the promise given to him, seeing he does not refuse to make so
great a sacrifice of his property. We know that those things which are
obtained with great toil and trouble are the more highly esteemed. So
that general]y they who are enriched by their own labour are
proportionally sparing and tenacious. It was, however, no trivial
diminution even of great wealth, to give forty cows, thirty camels with
their young, twenty bulls, and as many asses with their foals, two
hundred she-goats, and as many sheep, with twenty rams, and the same
number of he-goats. But Jacob freely lays upon himself this tax, that he
may obtains a safe return to his own country. Certainly it would not
have been difficult to find some nook where he might live with his
property entire: and an equally commodious habitations might have been
found elsewhere. But, that he might not lose the benefit of the promise,
he purchases, at so great a price, from his brother, a peaceable abode
in the land of Canaan. Therefore should we be ashamed of our effeminacy
and tardiness, who wickedly turn aside from the duty of our calling, as
soon as any loss is to be sustained. With a clear and loud voice the
Lord commands us to do what he pleases; but some, because they find it
troublesome to take up their burdens, lie in idleness; pleasures also
keep back some; riches or honours impede others; finally, few follow
God, because scarcely one in a hundred will bear to be losers. In
putting a space between the messengers, and in sending them at different
times from each other, he does it to mitigate by degrees the ferocity of
his brother: Whence we infer again, that he was not so seized with fear,
as to be unable prudently to order his affairs.
  22. "And he rose up that night." After he has prayed to the Lord, and
arranged his plans, he now takes confidence and meets the danger. By
which example the faithful are taught, that whenever any danger
approaches, this order of proceeding is to be observed; first, to resort
directly to the Lord; secondly, to apply to immediate use whatever means
of help may offer themselves; and thirdly, as persons prepared for any
event, to proceed with intrepidity whithersoever the Lord commands. So
Jacob, that he might not fail in this particular, does not dread the
passage which he perceives to be full of hazard, but, as with closed
eyes, pursues his course. Therefore, after his example, we must overcome
anxiety in intricate affairs, lest we should be hindered or retarded in
our duty. He remains alone,--having sent forward his wives and
children,--not that he might himself escape if he heard of their
destruction, but because solitude was more suitable for prayer. And
there is no doubt that, fearing the extremity of his peril, he was
completely carried away with the ardour of supplication to God.
  24. "There wrestled a man with him." Although this vision was
particularly useful to Jacob himself, to teach him beforehand that many
conflicts awaited him, and that he might certainly conclude that he
should be the conqueror in them all; there is yet not the least doubt
that the Lord exhibited, in his person, a specimen of the temptations--
common to all his people--which await them, and must be constantly
submitted to, in this transitory life. Wherefore it is right to keep in
view this designs of the vision, which is to represent all the servants
of God in this world as wrestlers; because the Lord exercises them with
various kinds of conflicts. Moreover, it is not said that Satan, or any
mortal man, wrestled with Jacob, but God himself: to teach us that our
faith is tried by him; and whenever we are tempted, our business is
truly with him, not only because we fight under his auspices, but
because he, as an antagonist, descends into the arena to try our
strength. This, though at first sight it seems absurd, experience and
reason teaches us to be true. For as all prosperity flows from his
goodness, so adversity is either the rod with which he corrects our
sins, or the test of our faith and patience. And since there is no kind
of temptations by which God does not try his faithful people, the
similitude is very suitable, which represents him as coming, hand to
hand, to combat with them. Therefore, what was once exhibited under a
visible form to our father Jacob, is daily fulfilled in the individual
members of the Church; namely, that, in their temptations, it is
necessary for them to wrestle with God. He is said, indeed, to tempt us
in a different manner from Satan; but because he alone is the Author of
our crosses and afflictions, and he alone creates light and darkness,
(as is declared in Isaiah,) he is said to tempt us when he makes a trial
of our faith. But the question now occurs, Who is able to stand against
an Antagonist, at whose breath alone all flesh perishes and vanishes
away, at whose look the mountains melt, at whose word or beck the whole
world is shaken to pieces, and therefore to attempt the least contest
with him would be insane temerity? But it is easy to untie the knot. For
we do not fight against him, except by his own power, and with his own
weapons; for he, having challenged us to this contest, at the same time
furnishes us with means of resistance, so that he both fights against us
and for us. In short, such is his apportioning of it is conflict, that,
while he assails us with one hand, he defends us with the other; yea,
inasmuch as he supplies us with more strength to resist than he employs
in opposing us, we may truly and properly say, that he fights against us
with his left hand, and for us with his right hand. For while he lightly
opposes us, he supplies invincible strength whereby we overcome. It is
true he remains at perfect unity with himself: but the double method in
which he deals with us cannot be otherwise expressed, than that in
striking us with a human rod, he does not put forth his full strength in
the temptation; but that in granting the victory to our faith, he
becomes in us stronger than the power by which he opposes us. And
although these forms of expression are harsh, yet their harshness will
be easily mitigated in practice. For if temptations are contests, (and
we know that they are not accidental, but are divinely appointed for
us,) it follows hence, that God acts in the character of an antagonist,
and on this the rest depends; namely, that in the temptation itself he
appears to be weak *against* us, that he may conquer *in* us. Some
restrict this to one kind of temptation only, where God openly and
avowedly manifests himself as our adversary, as if armed for our
destruction. And truly, I confess, that this differs from common
conflicts, and requires, beyond all others, a rare, and even heroic
strength. Yet I include willingly every kind of conflict in which God
exercises the faithful: since in all they have God for an antagonist,
although he may not openly proclaim himself hostile unto them. That
Moses here calls him a man whom a little after he declares to have been
God, is a sufficiently usual form of speech. For since God appeared
under the form of a man, the name is thence assumed; just as, because of
the visible symbol, the Spirit is called a dove; and, in turn, the name
of the Spirit is transferred to the dove. That this disclosure was not
sooner made to the holy man, I understand to be for this reason, because
God had resolved to call him, as a soldier, robust and skilful in war,
to more severe contests. For as raw recruits are spared, and young oxen
are not immediately yoked to the plough; so the Lord more gently
exercises his own people, until, having gathered strength, they become
more inured to toil. Jacob, therefore, having been accustomed to bear
sufferings, is now led forth to real war. Perhaps also, the Lord had
reference to the conflict which was then approaching. But I think Jacob
was admonished, at his very entrance on the promised land, that he was
not there to expect a tranquil life for himself. For his return to his
own country might seem to be a kind of release; and thus Jacob, like a
soldier who had kept his term of service, would have given himself up to
repose. Wherefore it was highly necessary for him to be taught what his
future conditions should be. We, also, are to learn from him, that we
must fight during the whole course of our life; lest any one, promising
himself rest, should wilfully deceive himself. And this admonition is
very needful for us; for we see how prone we are to sloth. Whence it
arises, that we shall not only be thinking of a truce in perpetual war;
but also of peace in the heat of the conflict, unless the Lord rouse us.
  25. "And when he saw that he prevailed not against him." Here is
described to us the victory of Jacob, which, however, was not gained
without a wound. In saying that the wrestling angel, or God, wished to
retire from the contest, because he saw he should not prevail, Moses
speaks after the manner of men. For we know that God, when he descends
from his majesty to us, is wont to transfer the properties of human
nature to himself. The Lord knew with certainty the event of the
contest, before he came down to engage in it; he had even already
determined what he would do: but his knowledge is here put for the
experience of the thing itself.
  "He touched the hollow of his thigh." Though Jacob gains the victory;
yet the angel strikes him on the thigh, from which cause he was lame
even to the end of his life. And although the vision was by night, yet
the Lord designed this mark of it to continue through all his days, that
it might thence appear not to have been a vain dream. Moreover, by this
sign it is made manifest to all the faithful, that they can come forth
conquerors in their temptations, only by being injured and wounded in
the conflict. For we know that the strength of God is made perfect in
our weakness, in order that our exaltation may be joined with humility;
for if our own strength remained entire, and there were no injury or
dislocation produced, immediately the flesh would become haughty, and we
should forget that we had conquered by the help of God. But the wound
received, and the weakness which follows it, compel us to be modest.
  26. "Let me go." God concedes the praise of victory to his servant,
and is ready to depart, as if unequal to him in strength: not because a
truce was needed by him, to whom it belongs to grant a truce or peace
whenever he pleases; but that Jacob might rejoice over the grace
afforded to him. A wonderful method of triumphing; where the Lord, to
whose power all praise is entirely due, yet chooses that feeble man
shall excel as a conqueror, and thus raises him on high with special
eulogy. At the same time he commends the invincible perseverance of
Jacob, who, having endured a long and severe conflict, still strenuously
maintains his ground. And certainly we adopt a proper mode of
contending, when we never grow weary, till the Lord recedes of his own
accord. We are, indeed, permitted to ask him to consider our infirmity,
and, according to his paternal indulgence, to spare the tender and the
weak: we may even groan under our burden, and desire the termination of
our contests; nevertheless, in the meantime, we must beware lest our
minds should become relaxed or faint; and rather endeavour, with
collected mind and strength, to persist unwearied in the conflict. The
reason which the angel assigns, namely, that the day breaketh, is to
this effect, that Jacob may now that he has been divinely taught by the
nocturnal vision.
  "I will not let thee go, except." Hence it appears, that at length the
holy man knew his antagonist; for this prayer, in which he asks to be
blessed, is no common prayer. The inferior is blessed by the greater;
and therefore it is the property of God alone to bless us. Truly the
father of Jacob did not otherwise bless him, than by divine command, as
one who represented the person of God. A similar office also was imposed
on the priests under the law, that, as ministers and expositors of
divine grace, they might bless the people. Jacob knew, then, that the
combatant with whom he had wrestled was God; because he desires a
blessing from him, which it was not lawful simply to ask from mortal
man. So, in my judgment, ought the place in Hosea (chap. 12: 3) to be
understood, "Jacob prevailed over the angel, and was strengthened; he
wept, and made supplication to him." For the Prophet means, that after
Jacob had come off conqueror, he was yet a suppliant before God, and
prayed with tears. Moreover, this passage teaches us always to expect
the blessing of God, although we may have experienced his presence to be
harsh and grievous, even to the disjointing of our members. For it is
far better for the sons of God to be blessed, though mutilated and half
destroyed, than to desire that peace in which they shall fall asleep, or
than they should withdraw themselves from the presence of God, so as to
turn away from his command, that they may riot with the wicked.
  28. "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob." Jacob, as we have seen,
received his name from his mother's womb, because he had seized the heel
of his brother's foot, and had attempted to hold him back. God now gives
him a new and more honorable name; not that he may entirely abolish the
other, which was a token of memorable grace, but that he may testify a
still higher progress of his grace. Therefore, of the two names the
second is preferred to the former, as being more honorable. The name is
derived from "sarah" or "sur", which signifies to rule, as if he were
called a Prince of God: for I have said, a little before, that God had
transferred the praise of his own strength to Jacob, for the purpose of
triumphing in his person. The explanation of the name which is
immediately annexed, is thus given literally by Moses, "Because thou
hast ruled with, or, towards God and towards man, and shalt prevail."
Yet the sense seems to be faithfully rendered by Jerome: but if Jacob
acted thus heroically with God, much more should he prove superior to
men; for certainly it was the purpose of God to send forth his servant
to various combats, inspired with the confidence resulting from so great
a victory, lest he should afterwards become vacillating. For he does not
merely impose a name, as risen are accustomed to do, but with the name
he gives the thing itself which the name implies, that the event may
correspond with it.
  29. "Tell me, I pray thee, thy name." This seems opposed to what is
declared above; for I have lately said, that when Jacob sought a
blessing, it was a token of his submission. Why, therefore, as if he
were of doubtful mind, does he now inquire the name of him whom he had
before acknowledged to be God? But the solution of the question is easy;
for, though Jacob does acknowledge God, yet, not content will an obscure
and slight knowledge, he wishes to ascend higher. And it is not to be
wondered at, that the holy man, to whom God had manifested himself under
so many veils and coverings, that he had not yet obtained any clear
knowledge of him, should break forth in this wish; nay, it is certain
that all the saints, under the law, were inflamed with this desire. Such
a prayer also of Manoah, is read in the book of Judges, (13:18), to
which the answer from God is added, except that there, the Lord
pronounces his name to be wonderful and secret, in order that Manoah may
not proceed further. The sum therefore is this, that though Jacob's wish
was pious, the Lord does not grant it, because the time of full
revelation was not yet completed: for the fathers, in the beginning,
were required to walk in the twilight of morning; and the Lord
manifested himself to them, by degrees, until, at length, Christ the Sun
of Righteousness arose, in whom perfect brightness shines forth. This is
the reason why he rendered himself more conspicuous to Moses, who
nevertheless was only permitted to behold his glory from behind: yet
because he occupied an intermediate place between patriarchs and
apostles, he is said, in comparison with them, to have seen, face to
face, the God Who had been hidden from the fathers. But now, since God
has approached more nearly unto us, our ingratitude is most impious and
detestable, if we do not run to meet with ardent desire to obtain such
great grace; as also Peter admonishes us in the first chapter of his
first epistle. (Ver. 12, 13.) It is to be observed, that although Jacob
piously desires to know God more fully, yet, because he is carried
beyond the bounds prescribed to the age in which he lived, he suffers a
repulse: for the Lord, cutting short his wish, commands him to rest
contented with his own blessing. But if that measure of illumination
which we have received, was denied to the holy man, how intolerable will
be our curiosity, if it breaks forth beyond the contended limit now
prescribed by God.
  30. "And Jacob called the name of the place." The gratitude of our
father Jacob is again commended, because he took diligent care that the
memory of God's grace should never perish. He therefore leaves a
monument to posterity, from which they might know that God had appeared
there; for this was not a private vision, but had reference to the whole
Church. Moreover, Jacob not only declares that he has seen the face of
God, but also gives thanks that he has been snatched from death. This
language frequently occurs in the Scriptures, and was common among the
ancient people; and not without reason; for, if the earth trembles at
the presence of God, if the mountains melt, if darkness overspreads the
heavens, what must happen to miserable men! Nay, since the immense
majesty of God cannot be comprehended even by angels, but rather absorbs
them; were his glory to shine on us it would destroy us, and reduce us
to nothing, unless he sustained and protected us. So long as we do not
perceive God to be present, we proudly please ourselves; and this is the
imaginary life which the flesh foolishly arrogates to itself when it
inclines towards the earth. But the faithful, when God reveals himself
to them, feel themselves to be more evanescent than any smoke. Finally;
would we bring down the pride of the flesh, we must draw near to God. So
Jacob confesses that, by the special indulgence of God, he had been
rescued from destruction when he saw God. It may however be asked, "Why,
when he had obtained so slight a taste only of God's glory, he should
boast that he had seen him, face to face?" I answer, it is in no way
absurd that Jacob highly celebrates this vision above all others, in
which the Lord had not so plainly appeared unto him; and yet, if it be
compared with the splendour of the gospel, or even of the law, it will
appear like sparks, or obscure rays. The simple meaning then is, that he
saw God in an unwonted and extraordinary manner. Now, if Jacob so
greatly exults and congratulates himself in that slender measure of
knowledge; what ought we to do at this day, to whom Christ, the living
image of God, is evidently set before our eyes in the mirror of the
gospel! Let us therefore learn to open our eyes, lest we be blind at
noonday, as Paul exhorts us in the second epistle to the Corinthians,
the third and fourth chapters.
  31. "And he halted upon his thigh." It is probable, and it may be
gathered even from the words of Moses, that this halting was without the
sense of pain, in order that the miracle might be the more evident. For
God, in the flesh of his servant, has exhibited a spectacle to all ages,
from which the faithful may perceive that no one is such a powerful
combatant as not to carry away some wound after a spiritual convict, for
infirmity ever cleaves to all, that no one may be pleased with himself
above measure. Whereas Moses relates that the Jews abstained from the
shrunken sinew, or that part of the thigh in which it was placed: this
was not done out of superstition. For that age, as we know, was the
infancy of the Church; wherefore the Lord retained the faithful, who
then lived, under the teaching of the schoolmaster. And now, though,
since the coming of Christ, our condition is more free; the memory of
the fact ought to be retained among us, that God disciplined his people
of old by external ceremonies.


1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and
with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and
unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.
2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her
children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.
3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven
times, until he came near to his brother.
4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and
kissed him: and they wept.
5 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and
said, Who [are] those with thee? And he said, The children which God
hath graciously given thy servant.
6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they
bowed themselves.
7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and
after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.
8 And he said, What [meanest] thou by all this drove which I met? And he
said, [These are] to find grace in the sight of my lord.
9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto
10 And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy
sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy
face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with
11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God
hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged
him, and he took [it].
12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go
before thee.
13 And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children [are] tender,
and the flocks and herds with young [are] with me: and if men should
overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.
14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will
lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the
children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.
15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee [some] of the folk that
[are] with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the
sight of my lord.
16 So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.
17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made
booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called
18 And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which [is] in the land
of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the
19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at
the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for an hundred
pieces of money.
20 And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel.

1. "And Jacob lifted up his eyes." We have said how greatly Jacob feared
for himself from his brother; but now when Esau himself approaches, his
terror is not only renewed, but increased. For although he goes forth
like a courageous and spirited combatant to this contest, he is still
not exempt from a sense of danger; whence it follows, that he is not
free, either from anxiety or fear. For his cruel brother had still the
same cause of hatred against him as before. And it was not probable,
that, after he had left his father's house, and had been living as he
pleased, he had become more mild. Therefore, as in a doubtful affair,
and one of great danger, Jacob placed his wives and children in the
order described; that, if Esau should attempt anything hostile, the
whole seed might not perish, but part might have time for flight. The
only thing which appears to be done by him out of order is, that he
prefers Rachel and her son Joseph to all the rest; whereas the substance
of the benediction is really in Judah. But his excuse in reference to
Judah is, that the oracle had not yet been revealed; nor, in fact, was
made known till shortly before his death, in order that he might become
at once its witness and its herald. Meanwhile, it is not to be denied,
that he was excessively indulgent to Rachel. It is, indeed, a proof of
distinguished courage, that, from a desire to preserve a part of his
seed, he precedes his companies, and offers himself as a victim, if
necessity demanded it. For there is no doubt that the promise of God was
his authority and his guide in this design; nor would he have been able,
unless sustained by the contident expectation of celestial life, thus
bravely to meet death. It happens, indeed, sometimes, that a father,
regardless of himself, will expose his life to danger for his children:
but holy Jacob's reason was different; for the promise of God was so
deeply fixed in his mind, that he, disregarding the earth, looked up
towards heaven. But while he follows the word of God, yet by the
affection of the flesh, he is slightly drawn aside from the right way.
For the faith of the holy fathers was not so pure, in all respects, but
that they were liable to swerve to one side or the other. Nevertheless,
the Spirit always so far prevailed, that the infirmity of the flesh
might not divert them from their aim, but that they might hold on their
course. So much the more ought every one of us to be suspicious of
himself, lest he should deem himself perfectly pure, because he intends
to act rightly; for the flesh ever mingles itself with our holy purpose,
and many faults and corruptions steal in upon us. But God deals kindly
with us, and does not impute faults of this kind to us.
  3. "And bowed himself to the ground seven times." This, indeed, he
might do for the sake of giving honour: for we know that the people of
the east are addicted to far more ceremonies than are in use with us. To
me, however, it seems more probable, that Jacob did not pay this honour
simply to his brother, but that he worshipped God, partly to give him
thanks, and partly to implore him to render his brother propitious; for
he is said to have bowed down seven times before he approached his
brother. Therefore, before he came in sight of his brother, he had
already given the token of reverence or worship. Hence we may
conjecture, as I have said, that this homage was paid to God and not to
man: yet this is not at variance with the fact, that he also approached
as a suppliant, for the purpose of assuaging his brother's ferocity by
his humiliation. If any one object, that in this manner he depreciated
his right of primogeniture; the answer is easy, that the holy man, by
the eyes of faith, was looking higher; for he knew that the effect of
the benediction was deferred to its proper season, and was, therefore,
now like the decaying seed under the earth. Therefore, although he was
despoiled of his patrimony, and lay contemptible at his brother's feet;
yet since he knew that his birthright was secured to him, he was
contented with this latent right, counted honours and riches as nothing,
and did not shrink from being regarded as an inferior in the presence of
his brother.
  4. "And Esau ran to meet him." That Esau meets his brother with
unexpected benevolence and kindness, is the effect of the special favour
of God. Therefore, by this method, God proved that he has the hearts of
men in his hand, to soften their hardness, and to mitigate their cruelty
as often as he pleases: in short, that he tames them as wild beasts are
wont to be tamed; and then, that he hearkened to the prayers of his
servant Jacob. Wherefore, if at any time the threats of enemies alarm
us, let us learn to resort to this sacred anchor. God, indeed, works in
various ways, and does not always incline cruel minds to humanity; but,
while they rage, he restrains them from doing harm by his own power: but
if it is right, he can as easily render them placable towards us; and we
here see that Esau became so towards his brother Jacob. It is also
possible, that even while cruelty was pent up within, the feeling of
humanity may have had a temporary ascendancy. And as we see that the
Egyptians were constrained, for a moment, to the exercise of humanity,
although they were rendered nothing better than before, as their
madness, which soon afterwards broke out, bears witness: so it is
credible that the malice of Esau was now under constraint; and not only
so, but that his mind was divinely moved to put on fraternal affection.
For even in the reprobate, God's established order of nature prevails,
not indeed in an even tenor, but as far as he restrains them, to the end
that they may not mingle all things in one common slaughter. And this is
most necessary for the preservation of the human race. For few are so
governed by the spirit of adoption, as sincerely to cultivate mutual
charity among themselves, as brethren. Therefore, that men spare each
other, and do not furiously rush on each other's destruction, arises
from no other cause than the secret providence of God, which watches for
the protection of mankind. But to God the life of his own faithful
people is still more precious, so that he vouchsafes to them peculiar
care. Wherefore it is no wonder, that for the sake of his servant Jacob,
he should have composed the fierce mind of Esau to gentleness.
  5. "And he lifted up his eyes." Moses relates the conversation held
between the brothers. And as Esau had testified his fraternal affection
by tears and embraces, there is no doubt that he inquires after the
children in a spirit of congratulation. The answer of Jacob breathes
piety as well as modesty; for when he replies, that his numerous seed
had been given him by God, he acknowledges and confesses that children
are not so produced by nature as to subvert the truth of the
declaration, that "the fruit of the womb is a reward and gift of God."
And truly, since the fecundity of brute animals is the gift of God, how
much more is this the case with men, who are created after his own
image. Let parents then learn to consider, and to celebrate the singular
kindness of God, in their offspring. It is the language of modesty, when
Jacob calls himself the servant of his brother. Here again it is proper
to recall to memory what I have lately touched upon, that the holy man
caught at nothing either of earthly advantage or honour in the
birthright; because the hidden grace of God was abundantly sufficient
for him, until the appointed time of manifestation. And it becomes us
also, according to his example, while we sojourn in this world, to
depend upon the word of the Lord; that we may not deem it wearisome, to
be held wrapped in the shadow of death, until our real life be
manifested. For although apparently our condition is miserable and
accursed, yet the Lord blesses us with his word; and, on this account
only, pronounces us happy, because he owns us as sons.
  6. "Then the handmaidens came near." The wives of Jacob, having left
their country, had come as exiles into a distant land. Now, at their
first entrance, the terror of death meets them; and when they prostrate
themselves in the presence of Esau, they do not know whether they are
not doing homage to their executioner. This trial was very severe to
them, and grievously tormented the mind of the holy man: but it was
right that his obedience should be thus tried, that he might become an
example to us all. Moreover, the Holy Spirit here places a mirror before
us, in which we may contemplate the state of the Church as it appears in
the world. For though many tokens of the divine favour are manifest in
the family of Jacob; nevertheless we perceive no dignity in him while
lying with unmerited contempt in the presence of a profane man. Jacob
also himself thinks that he is well treated, if he may be permitted by
his brother, as a matter of favour, to dwell in the land of which he was
the heir and lord. Therefore let us bear it patiently, if, at this day
also, the glory of the Church, being covered with a sordid veil, is an
object of derision to the wicked.
  8. "What meanest thou by all this drove?" He does not inquire as if he
were altogether ignorant; seeing he had heard from the servants, that
oxen and camels and asses and other cattle were sent him as a present;
but for the purpose of refusing the gift offered to him: for when
anything does not please us, we are wont to make inquiry as concerning a
thing unknown to us. Jacob, however; is urgent; nor does he cease to
ask, till he induces his brother to receive the gift: for this was as a
pledge of reconciliation. Besides, for the purpose of persuading his
brother, he declares, that it would be taken as a great kindness not to
refuse what was given. For we do not willingly receive anything but what
we certainly know to be offered to us freely and with a ready mind. And
because it is not possible that we should willingly honour any but those
we love, Jacob says that he rejoiced in the sigh of his brother as if he
had seen God or an angel: by which words he means, not only that he
truly loved his brother, but also that he held him in esteem. But it may
seem, that he does wrong to God, in comparing Him with a reprobate man;
and that he speaks falsely, because had the choice been given him, he
would have desired nothing more earnestly than to avoid this meeting
with his brother. Both these knots are easily untied. It is an
accustomed form of speaking among the Hebrews, to call whatever is
excellent, divine. And certainly Esau being thus changed, was no obscure
figure of the favour of God: so that Jacob might properly say, that he
had been exhilarated by that friendly and fraternal reception, as if he
had seen God or an angel; that is, as if God had given some sign of his
presence. And, indeed, he does not speak feignedly, nor pretend
something different from what he has in his mind. For, being himself
perfectly free from all hatred, it was his chief wish, to discharge
whatever duty he could towards his brother; provided that Esau, in
return, would show himself a brother to him.
  10. "Receive my present at my hand." This noun may be taken passively
as well as actively. If understood actively, the sense will be, "Accept
the present by which I desire to testify my goodwill towards thee." If
understood passively, it may be referred to God, as if Jacob had said,
"Those things which the Lord has bestowed upon me by his grace, I
liberally impart to thee, that thou mayest be, in some measure, a
partaker with me of that divine blessing which I have received." But not
to insist upon a word, Jacob immediately afterwards clearly avows that
whatever he possesses, is not the fruit of his labour or industry, but
has been received by him through the grace of God, and by this reasoning
he attempts to induce his brother to accept the gift; as if he had said,
"The Lord has poured upon me an abundance, of which some part, without
any loss to me, may overflow to thee." And though Jacob thus speaks
under the impulse of present circumstances, he yet makes an ingenuous
confession by which he celebrates the grace of God. Nearly the same
words are on the tongues of all; but there are few who truly ascribe to
God what they possess: the greater part sacrifice to their own industry.
Scarcely one in a hundred is convinced, that whatever is good flows from
the gratuitous favour of God; and yet by nature this sense is engraven
upon our minds, but we obliterate it by our ingratitude. It has appeared
already, how labourious was the life of Jacob: nevertheless, though he
had suffered the greatest annoyances, he celebrates only the mercy of
  12. "Let us take our journey." Although Esau was inclined to
benevolence, Jacob still distrusts him: not that he fears to be
ensnared, or that he suspects perfidy to lie hidden under the garb of
friendship; but that he cautiously avoids new occasions of offense: for
a proud and ferocious man might easily be exasperated again by light
causes. Now, though just reason for fear was not wanting to the holy
man, yet I dare not deny that his anxiety was excessive. He suspected
the liberality of Esau; but did he not know that a God was standing
between them, who, as he was convinced by clear and undoubted
experience, watched for his salvation? For, whence such an incredible
change of mind in Esau, unless he had been divinely transformed from a
wolf into a lamb? Let us then learn, from this example, to restrain our
anxieties, lest when God has provided for us, we tremble, as in an
affair of doubt.
  13. "My lord knoweth." The things which Jacob alleges, as grounds of
excuse, are true; nevertheless he introduces them under false pretexts;
except, perhaps, as regards the statement, that he was unwilling to be
burdensome and troublesome to his brother. But since he afterwards turns
his journey in another direction, it appears that he feigned something
foreign to what was really in his mind. He says that he brings with him
many encumbrances, and therefore requests his brother to precede him. "I
will follow (he says) at the feet of the children; that is, I will
proceed gently as the pace of the children will bear; and thus I will
follow at my leisure, until I come to thee in Mount Seir." In these
words he promises what he was not intending to do; for, leaving his
brother, he journeyed to a different place. But truth is so precious to
God, that he will not allow us to lie or deceive, even when no injury
follows. Wherefore, we must take care, when any fear of danger occupies
our minds, that we do not turn aside to these subterfuges.
  17. "And Jacob journeyed to Succoth." In the word Succoth, as Moses
shortly afterwards shows, there is a prolepsis. It is probable that
Jacob rested there for some days, that he might refresh his family and
his flock after the toil of a long journey; for he had found no quiet
resting-place till he came thither. And therefore he gave to that place
the name of Succoth, or "Tents," because he had not dared firmly to
plant his foot elsewhere. For though he had pitched tents in many other
places; yet on this alone he fixes the memorial of divine grace, because
now at length it was granted to him that he might remain in some abode.
But since it was not commodious as a dwelling-place, Jacob proceeded
farther till he came to Sichem. Now, whereas the city has its recent
name from the son of Hamor, its former name is also mentioned, (ver.
18;) for I agree with the interpreters who think Salem to be a proper
name. Although I do not contend, if any one prefers a different
interpretation; namely, that Jacob came in safety to Sichem. But though
this city may have been called Salem, we must nevertheless observe, that
it was different from the city afterwards called Jerusalem; as there
were also two cities which bore the name of Succoth. As respects the
subject in hand, the purchase of land which Moses records in the
nineteenth verse, may seem to have been absurd. For Abraham would buy
nothing all his life but a sepulchre; and Isaac his son, waiving all
immediate possession of lands, was contented with that paternal
inheritance; for God had constituted them lords and heirs of the land,
with this condition, that they should be strangers in it unto death.
Jacob therefore may seem to have done wrong in buying a field for
himself with money, instead of waiting the proper time. I answer, that
Moses has not expressed all that ought to come freely into the mind of
the reader. Certainly from the price we may readily gather that the holy
man was not covetous. He pays a hundred pieces of money; could he
acquire for himself large estates at so small a price, or anything more
shall some nook in which he might live without molestation? Besides,
Moses expressly relates that he bought that part on which he had pitched
his tent opposite the city. Therefore he possessed neither meadows, nor
vineyards, nor stable land. But since the inhabitants did not grant him
an abode near the city, he made an agreement with them, and purchased
peace at a small price. This necessity was his excuse; so that no one
might say, that he had bought from man what he ought to have expected as
the free gift of God: or that, when he ought to have embraced, by hope,
the dominion of the promised land, he had been in too great haste to
enjoy it.
  20. "And he erected there an altar." Jacob having obtained a place in
which he might provide for his family, set up the solemn service of God;
as Moses before testified concerning Abraham and Isaac. For although, in
every place, they gave themselves up to the pure worship of God in
prayers and other acts of devotion; nevertheless they did not neglect
the external confession of piety, whenever the Lord granted them any
fixed place in which they might remain. For (as I have elsewhere stated)
whenever we read that an altar was built by them, we must consider its
design and use: namely, that they might offer victims, and might invoke
the name of God with a pure rite; so that, by this method, their
religion and faith might be made known. I say this, lest any one should
think that they rashly trifled with the worship of God; for it was their
care to direct their actions according to the divinely prescribed rule
which was handed down to them from Noah and Shem. Wherefore, under the
word "altar," let the reader understand, by synecdoche, the external
testimony of piety. Moreover, it may hence be clearly perceived how
greatly the love of divine worship prevailed in the holy man; because
though broken down by various troubles, he nevertheless was not
forgetful of the altar. And not only does he privately worship God in
the secret feeling of his mind; but he exercises himself in ceremonies
which are useful and commanded by God. For he knew that men want helps,
as long as they are in the flesh, and that sacrifices were not
instituted without reason. He had also another purpose; namely, that his
whole family should worship God with the same sense of piety. For it
behaves a pious father of a family diligently to take care that he has
no profane house, but rather that God should reign there as in a
sanctuary. Besides, since the inhabitants of that region had fallen into
many superstitions, and had corrupted the true worship of God, Jacob
wished to make a distinction between himself and them. The Shechemites
and other neighbouring nations had certainly altars of their own.
Therefore Jacob, by establishing a different method of worship for his
household, thus declares theft he has a God peculiar to himself, and has
not degenerated from the holy fathers, from whom the perfect and genuine
religion had proceeded. This course could not but subject him to
reproach, because the Shechemites and other inhabitants would feel that
they were despised: but the holy man deemed anything preferable to
mixing himself with idolaters.
  21. "And he called it El-elohe-Israel." This name appears little
suitable to the altar; for it sounds as if a heap of stones or turf
formed a visible statue of God. But the meaning of the holy man was
different. For, because the altar was a memorial and pledge of all the
visions and promises of God, he honours it with this title, to the end
that, as often as he beheld the altar, he should call God to
remembrance. That inscription of Moses, "The Lord is my help," has the
same signification; and also that which Ezekiel inscribes on the New
Jerusalem, "the Lord is there." And truly in these forms of speaking
there is a want of strict propriety of metaphor; yet this is not without
reason. For as superstitious men foolishly and wickedly attach God to
symbols, and, as it were, draw him down from his heavenly throne to
render him subject to their gross inventions: so the faithful, piously
and rightly, ascend from earthly signs to heaven. The conclusion is
this: Jacob wished to testify that he worshipped no other God than him
who had been manifested by certain oracles, in order that he might
distinguish Him from all idols. And we must observe it as a rule of
modesty, not to speak carelessly concerning the mysteries and the glory
of the Lord, but from a sense of faith, so far, indeed, as he is made
known to us in his word. Moreover Jacob had respect to his posterity;
for since the Lord had appeared to him, on the express condition, that
he would make with him the covenant of salvation, Jacob leaves this
monument, from which, after his death, his descendants might ascertain
that his religion had not flowed from a dark or obscure well, or from a
turbid pool, but from a clear and pure fountain; as if he had engraved
the oracles and visions, by which he had been taught, upon the altar.

Chapter XXXIV.

1 And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to
see the daughters of the land.
2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country,
saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.
3 And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the
damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel.
4 And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to
5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons
were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they
were come.
6 And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with
7 And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard [it]: and
the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought
folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter; which thing ought not to
be done.
8 And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem
longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife.
9 And make ye marriages with us, [and] give your daughters unto us, and
take our daughters unto you.
10 And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell
and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein.
11 And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find
grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give.
12 Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye
shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife.
13 And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father
deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister:
14 And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister
to one that is uncircumcised; for that [were] a reproach unto us:
15 But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we [be], that
every male of you be circumcised;
16 Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your
daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one
17 But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we
take our daughter, and we will be gone.
18 And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor's son.
19 And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had
delight in Jacob's daughter: and he [was] more honourable than all the
house of his father.
20 And Hamor and Shechem his son came unto the gate of their city, and
communed with the men of their city, saying,
21 These men [are] peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the
land, and trade therein; for the land, behold, [it is] large enough for
them; let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them
our daughters.
22 Only herein will the men consent unto us for to dwell with us, to be
one people, if every male among us be circumcised, as they [are]
23 [Shall] not their cattle and their substance and every beast of
theirs [be] ours? only let us consent unto them, and they will dwell
with us.
24 And unto Hamor and unto Shechem his son hearkened all that went out
of the gate of his city; and every male was circumcised, all that went
out of the gate of his city.
25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two
of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man
his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.
26 And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword,
and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went out.
27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because
they had defiled their sister.
28 They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that
which [was] in the city, and that which [was] in the field,
29 And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took
they captive, and spoiled even all that [was] in the house.
30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to
stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the
Perizzites: and I [being] few in number, they shall gather themselves
together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my
31 And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?

1. "And Dinah ... went out." This chapter records a severe contest, with
which God again exercised his servant. how precious the chastity of his
daughter would be to him, we may readily conjecture from the probity of
his whole life. When therefore he heard that she was violated, this
disgrace would inflict the deepest wound of grief upon his mind: yet
soon his grief is trebled, when he hears that his sons, from the desire
of revenge, have committed a most dreadful crime. But let us examine
everything in order. Dinah is ravished, because, having left her
father's house, she wandered about more freely than was proper. She
ought to have remained quietly at home, as both the Apostle teaches and
nature itself dictates; for to girls the virtue is suitable, which the
proverb applies to women, that they should be "oikouroi", or keepers of
the house. Therefore fathers of families are taught to keep their
daughters under strict discipline, if they desire to preserve them free
from all dishonour; for if a vain curiosity was so heavily punished in
the daughter of holy Jacob, not less danger hangs over weak virgins at
this day, if they go too boldly and eagerly into public assemblies, and
excite the passions of youth towards themselves. For it is not to be
doubted that Moses in part casts the blame of the offense upon Dinah
herself, when he says, "she went out to see the daughters of the land;"
whereas she ought to have remained under her mother's eyes in the tent.
  3. "And his soul clave unto Dinah." Moses intimates that she was not
so forcibly violated, that Shechem having once abused her, treated her
with contempt, as is usual with harlots; for he loved her as a wife; and
did not even object to be circumcised that he might have her; but the
fervour of lust had so prevailed, that he first subjected her to
disgrace. And therefore although he embraced Dinah with real and sincere
attachment, yet, in this want of self-government, he grievously sinned.
Shechem "spoke to the heart" of the maid, that is, he addressed her
courteously, to allure her to himself by his bland speeches: whence it
follows, that when she was unwilling and resisted, he used violence
towards her
  4. "And Shechem said to his father Hamor." In this place it is more
clearly expressed, that Shechem desired to have Dinah for his wife; for
his lust was not so unbridled, that when he had defiled, he despised
her. Besides, a laudable modesty is shown, since he pays deference to
the will of his father; for he does not attempt to form a contract of
marriage of his own mind, but leaves this to his father's authority. For
though he had basely fallen through the precipitate ardour of lust; yet
now returning to himself, he follows the guidance of nature. So much the
more ought young men to take heed to themselves, lest in the slippery
period of their age, the lusts of the flesh should impel them to many
crimes. For, at this day, greater license everywhere prevails, so that
no moderation restrains youths from shameful conduct. Since, however,
Shechem, under the rule and direction of nature, desired his father to
be the procurer of his marriage, we hence infer that the right which
parents have over their children is inviolable; so that they who attempt
to overthrow it, confound heaven and earth. Wherefore, since the Pope,
in honour of marriage, has dared to break this sacred bond of nature;
this fornicator Shechem alone, will prove a judge sufficient, and more
than sufficient, to condemn that barbarous conduct.
  5. "And Jacob heard." Moses inserts a single verse concerning the
silent sorrow of Jacob. We know that they who have not been accustomed
to reproaches, are the more grievously affected when any dishonour
happens to them. Therefore the more this prudent man had endeavoured to
keep his family pure from every stain, chaste and well-ordered, the more
deeply is he wounded. But since he is at home alone, he dissembles, and
keeps his grief to himself, till his sons return from the field.
Moreover, by this word, Moses does not mean that Jacob deferred
vengeance till their return; but that, being alone and devoid of counsel
and of consolation, he lay prostrate as one disheartened. The sense then
is, that he was so oppressed with insupportable grief, that he held his
peace. By using the word "defiled," Moses teaches us what is the true
purity of man; namely, when chastity is religiously cultivated, and
every one possesses his vessel in honour. But whoever prostitutes his
body to fornication, filthily defiles himself. If then Dinah is said to
have been polluted, whom Shechem had forcibly violated, what must be
said of voluntary adulterers and fornicators?
  7. "And the sons of Jacob came out of the field." Moses begins to
relate the tragic issue of this history. Shechem, indeed, had acted
wickedly and impiously; but it was far more atrocious and wicked that
the sons of Jacob should murder a whole people, to avenge themselves of
the private fault of one man. It was by no means fitting to seek a cruel
compensation for the levity and rashness of one youth, by the slaughter
of so many men. Again, who had constituted them judges, that they should
dare, with their own hands, to execute vengeance for an injury inflicted
upon them? Perfidy was also superadded, because they proceeded, under
the pretext of a covenant, to perpetrate this enormous crime. In Jacob,
moreover, we have an admirable example of patient endurance; who, though
afflicted with so many evils, yet did not faint under them. But chiefly
we must consider the mercy of God, by which it came to pass, that the
covenant of grace remained with the posterity of Jacob. For what seemed
less suitable, than that a few men in whom such furious rage and such
implacable malice reigned, should be reckoned among the people and the
sons of God, to the exclusion of all the world besides? We see certainly
that it was not through any power of their own that they had not
altogether declined from the kingdom of God. Whence it appears that the
favour which God had vouchsafed unto them was gratuitous, and not
founded upon their merits. We also require to be treated by Him with the
same indulgence, seeing that we should utterly fall away, if God did not
pardon our sins. The sons of Jacob have, indeed, a just cause of
offense, because not only are they affected with their own private
ignominy, but they are tormented with the indignity of the crime,
because their sister had been dragged forth from the house of Jacob, as
from a sanctuary, to be violated. For this they chiefly urge, that it
would have been wickedness to allow such disgrace in the elect and holy
people: but they themselves, through the hatred of one sin, rush
furiously forward to greater and more intolerable crimes. Therefore we
must beware, lest, after we have become severe judges in condemning the
faults of others, we hasten inconsiderately into evil. But chiefly we
must abstain from violent remedies which surpass the evil we desire to
  "Which thing ought not to be done." Interpreters commonly explain the
passage as meaning, "it is not becoming that such a thing should be
done;" but, in my judgment, it applies more properly to the sons of
Jacob, who had determined with themselves that the injury was not to be
borne. Yet they wrongfully appropriate to themselves the right of taking
revenge: why do they not rather reflect thus; "God, who has received us
under his care and protection, will not suffer this injury to pass
unavenged; in the meantime, it is our part to be silent, and to leave
the act of punishing, which is not placed in our hands, entirely to his
sovereign will." Hence we may learn, when we are angry at the sins of
other men, not to attempt anything which is beyond our own duty.
  S. "And Hamor communed with them." Though the sons of Jacob were
justly incensed, yet their indignation ought to have been appeased, or
at least somewhat mitigated, by the great courteousness of Hamor. And if
the humanity of Hamor could not reconcile the sons of Jacob to Shechem,
the old man himself was indeed worthy of a benignant reception. We see
what equitable conditions he offers; he himself was the prince of the
city, the sons of Jacob were strangers. Therefore their minds must have
been savage beyond measure, not to be inclined to levity. Besides, the
suppliant entreaty of Shechem himself deserved this, that they should
have granted forgiveness to his fervent love. Therefore, that they
remained implacable, is a sign of most cruel pride. What would they have
done to enemies who had purposely injured them, when they are not moved
by the prayers of him, who, being deceived by blind love, and by the
error of incontinence, has injured them without any malicious intention?
  13. "And the sons of Jacob answered." The commencement of their
perfidious course is here related: for they, being outrageous rather
than simply angry, wish to overthrow the whole city, and not being
sufficiently strong to contend against so great a number of people, they
contrive a new fraud, in order that they may suddenly rise upon the
inhabitants weakened by wounds. Therefore, since the Shechemites had no
strength to resist, it became a cruel butchery rather than a conquest,
which increased the atrocity of wickedness in Jacob's sons, who cared
for nothing so that they might but gratify their rage. They allege in
excuse, that, whereas they were separated from other nations, it was not
lawful for them to give wives of their own family to the uncircumcised.
Which indeed was true if they said it sincerely; but they falsely use
the sacred name of God as a pretext; yea, their double profanation of
that name proves them to be doubly sacrilegious; for they cared nothing
about circumcision, but were intent on this one thing, how they might
crush the miserable men in a state of weakness. Besides, they wickedly
sever the sign from the truth which it represents; as if any one, by
laying aside his uncircumcision, might suddenly pass over into the
Church of God. And in this mode they pollute the spiritual symbol of
life, by admitting foreigners, promiscuously and without discrimination,
into its society. But since their pretence has some colour of
probability, we must observe what they say, that it would be disgraceful
to them to give their sister to a man uncircumcised. This also is true,
if they who used the words were sincere; for since they bore the mark of
God in their flesh, it was wicked in them to contract marriages with
unbelievers. So also, at the present time, our baptism separates us from
the profane, so that whoever mixes himself with them, fixes a mark of
infamy upon himself.
  18. "And their words pleased Hamor." Moses prosecutes the history
until he comes to the slaughter of the Shechemites. Hamor had, no doubt,
been induced by the entreaties of his son, to show himself thus
tractable. Whence appears the excessive indulgence of the kind old man.
He ought, in the beginning, severely to have corrected the fault of his
son; but he not only covers it as much as possible, but yields to all
his wishes. This moderation and equity would have been commendable, if
what his son had required was just; but that the old man, for the sake
of his son, should adopt a new religion, and suffer a wound to be
inflicted on his own flesh, cannot be deemed free from folly. The youth
is said not to have delayed, because he vehemently loved the maid, and
excelled in dignity among his own citizens; and on account of the honour
of his rank he easily obtained what he wished: for the fervour of his
love would have availed nothing, unless he had possessed the power of
accomplishing his object.
  21. "These men are peaceable." Moses describes the mode of acting,
whereby they persuaded the Shechemites to accept the conditions which
the sons of Jacob had imposed. It was difficult to induce a whole people
to submit in an affair of such magnitude to a few foreigners. For we
know what displeasure a change of religion produces: but Hamor and
Shechem reason from utility; and this is natural rhetoric. For although
honour has a more plausible appearance, it is yet for the most part cold
in persuasion. But among the vulgar, utility carries almost every point;
because the major part eagerly pursues what it deems expedient for
itself. With this design, Hamor and Shechem extol the family of Jacob
for their honesty and tranquil habits, in order that the Shechemites may
deem it useful to themselves to receive such guests. They add that the
land is sufficiently large, so that no loss is to be feared on the part
of the original inhabitants. They then enumerate other advantages;
meanwhile, they cunningly conceal the private and real cause of their
request. Whence it follows that all these pretexts were fallacious. But
it is a very common disease, that men of rank who have great authority,
while making all things subservient to their own private ends, feign
themselves to be considerate for the common good, and pretend to a
desire for the public advantage. And, truly, it may be believed, that
the persons here spoken of were the best among all the people, and were
endowed with singular superiority; for the Shechemites had chosen Hamor
for their prince, as one who was preeminent in excellent gifts. Yet we
see how he and his son lie and deceive, under the appearance of
rectitude. Whence also we perceive hypocrisy to be so deeply rooted in
human minds, that it is a miracle to find any one entirely free from it;
especially where private advantage is concerned. From this example let
all who govern, learn to cultivate sincerity in public designs, without
any sinister regard to their own interests. On the other hand; let the
people exercise self-government, lest they too earnestly seek their own
advantage; because it will often happen that they are caught by a
specious appearance of good, as fishes by the hook. For as self-love is
blind, we are drawn without judgment to the hope of gain. And the Lord
also justly chastises this cupidity, to which he sees us to be unduly
prone, when he suffers us to be deceived by it. Moses says that this
discourse took place in the gate of the city, where public assemblies
were then wont to be held and judgment administered.
  24. "And unto Hamor and unto Shechem his son hearkened", &c.
Apparently this consent may be ascribed to modesty and humanity; for, by
readily obeying their princes, and kindly admitting the strangers to an
equality of rights in the city, they show themselves, in both respects,
modest and humane. But if we reflect on the true import of circumcision,
it will easily appear that they were too much addicted to their own
selfish interests. They knew that, by a new sacrament, they would be
committed to a different worship of God. They had not yet been taught
that the ablutions and sacrifices, to which they had been all their life
accustomed, were unprofitable trifles. Therefore, to change their
religion so carelessly betrays, on their part, a gross contempt of God;
for never do they who seriously worship God, so suddenly cast aside
their superstitions, unless they are convinced by sound doctrine and
arguments. But the Shechemites, blinded by an evil conscience, and by
the hope of gain, pass over, like men half brutalized, to an unknown
God. "Search the isles, (saith the Prophet,) is there any nation which
deserts its, gods, who yet are not gods?" Yet this was done at Shechem,
when no defect had been shown to exist in the received superstitions;
wherefore none ought to wonder that a sad result followed this levity of
mind. nevertheless, Simian and Levi were not, on that account, excusable
for the indulgence of their own cruelty: yea, their impiety appears the
more detestable, because they not only rush impetuously upon men, but,
in a sense, trample upon the sacred covenant of God, of which alone they
make their boast. Certainly, if they had no feeling for the men
themselves, yet reverence for God ought to have restrained their
ferocity, when they reflected from what cause the weakness of the
Shechemites proceeded.
  25. "Simian and Levi, Dinah's brethren." Because Moses says that the
slaughter took place on the third day, the Hebrews think that, at that
time, the pain of the wound was most severe. The proof, however, is not
valid; nor is it of much moment. Although Moses names only two authors
of the slaughter, it does not appear to me probable that they came
alone, but that they were the leaders of the troop: for Jacob had a
large family, and it might be that they called some of their brothers to
join them; yet, because the affair was conducted by their counsel and
direction, it is ascribed to them, as Cartage is said to have been
destroyed by Scipio. Moses also calls them the brothers of Dinah,
because they were by the same mother. We have seen that Dinah was the
daughter of Leah; for which reason Simon and Levi, whose own sister she
was by both parents, were the more enraged at the violation of her
chastity: they were therefore impelled, not so much by the common
reproach brought upon the holy and elect race, (according to their
recent boast,) as by a sense of the infamy brought upon themselves.
However, there is no reader who does not readily perceive how dreadful
and execrable was this crime. One man only had sinned, and he endeavored
to compensate for the injury, by many acts of kindness; but the cruelty
of Simon and Levi could only be satiated by the destruction of the whole
city; and, under the pretext of a covenant, they form a design against
friends and hospitable persons, in a time of peace, which would have
been deemed intolerable against enemies in open war. Hence we perceive
how mercifully God dealt with that people; seeing that, from the
posterity of a sanguinary man, and even of a wicked robber, he raised up
a priesthood for himself. Let the Jews now go and be proud of their
noble origin. But the Lord declared his gratuitous mercy by too many
proofs for the ingratitude of man to be able to obscure it. Moreover, we
hence learn that Moses did not speak from carnal sense; but was the
instrument of the Holy Spirit, and the herald of the celestial Judge;
for though he was a Levite, he yet is so far from sparing his own race,
that he does not hesitate to brand the father of his tribe with
perpetual infamy. And it is not to be doubted that the Lord purposely
intended to stop the mouths of impure and profane men, such as the
Lucianists, who confess that Moses was a very great man, and of rare
excellence; but that he procured for himself, by craft and subtlety,
authority over a great people, as if, indeed, an acute and intelligent
man would not have known that, by this single act of wickedness, the
honor of his race would be greatly tarnished. He had, however, no other
design than to extol the goodness of God towards his people; and truly
there was nothing which he less desired than to exercise dominion, as
appears clearly from the fact, that he transferred the office of
priesthood to another family, and commanded his sons to be only
ministers. With respect to the Shechemites, although in the sight of God
they were not innocent; seeing they preferred their own advantage to a
religion which they thought lawful, yet it was not the Lord's will that
they should be so grievously punished for their fault; but he suffered
this signal punishment to follow the violation of one maid, that he
might testify to all ages his great abhorrence of lust. Besides, seeing
that the iniquity had arisen from a prince of the city, the punishment
is rightly extended to the whole body of the people: for since God never
commits the government to evil and vicious princes, except in righteous
judgment, there is no wonder that, when they sin, they involve their
subjects with them in the same condemnation. Moreover, from this example
let us learn, that if, at any time, fornication prevail with impunity,
God will, at length, exact punishments so much the more severe: for if
the violation of one maid was avenged by the horrible massacre of a
whole city; he will not sleep nor be quiet, if a whole people indulge in
a common license of fornication, and, on all sides, connive at each
other's iniquity. The sons of Jacob acted indeed wickedly; but we must
observe that fornication was, in this manner, divinely condemned.
  27. "The sons of Jacob came." Moses shows that, not content with
simple revenge, they fly together to the spoil. As it respects the
words, they are said to have "come upon the slain," either because they
made themselves a way over the slaughtered bodies; or because, in
addition to the slaughter, they rushed to the plunder. In whichever way
it is taken, Moses teaches that, not satisfied with their former
wickedness, they made this addition to it. Be it, that they were blinded
with anger in shedding blood; yet by what right do they sack the city?
This certainly cannot be ascribed to anger. But these are the ordinary
fruits of human intemperance, that he who gives himself the rein in
perpetrating one wickedness, soon breaks out into another. Thus the sons
of Jacob, from being murderers, become also robbers, and the guilt of
avarice is added to that of cruelty. The more anxious then should be our
endeavors to bridle our desires; lest they should mutually fan each
other, so that at length, by their combined action, a dreadful
conflagration should arise; but especially, we must beware of using
force of arms, which brings with it many perverse and brutal assaults.
Moses says that the sons of Jacob did this, because the Shechemites had
defiled their sister; but the whole city was not guilty. Moses, however,
only states in what way the authors of the slaughter are affected: for
although they wish to appear just avengers of the injury, yet they pay
no respect to what it was lawful for them to do, and make no attempt to
control their depraved affections, and consequently set no bounds to
their wickedness. Should any one prefer taking the expression in a
higher sense, it may be referred to the judgment of God, by which the
whole city was involved in guilt, because no one had opposed the lust of
the prince: perhaps many had consented to it, as not being very much
concerned about the unjust dishonor done to their guests; but the former
sense is what I most approve.
  30. "And Jacob said." Moses declares that the crime was condemned by
the holy man, lest any one should think that he had participated in
their counsel. He also expostulates with his sons, because they had
caused him to stink among the inhabitants of the land; that is, they had
rendered him so odious, that no one would be able to bear him. If then
the neighboring nations should conspire among themselves, he would be
unable to resist them, seeing he had so small a band, in comparison with
their great number. He also expressly names the Canaanites and
Perizzites, who, though they had received no wrong, were yet by nature
exceedingly prone to inflict injury. But Jacob may seem to act
preposterously, in overlooking the offense committed against God, and in
considering only his own danger. Why is he not rather angry at their
cruelty? why is he not offended at their perfidy? why does he not
reprove their rapaciousness? It is however probable, that when he saw
them terror-stricken at their recent crime, he suited miswords to their
state of mind. For he acts as if he were complaining that he, rather
than the Shechemites, was slain by them. We know that men are seldom if
ever drawn to repentance, except by the fear of punishment: especially
when they have any specious pretext as a covering for their fault.
Besides, we know not whether Moses may not have selected this as a part
out of a long expostulation, to cause his readers to understand that the
fury of Simon and Levi was so outrageous, that they were more insensible
than brute beasts to their own destruction and that of their whole
family. This is clear from their own answer, which not only breathes a
barbarous ferocity, but shows that they had no feeling. It was
barbarous, first, because they excuse themselves for having destroyed a
whole people and plundered their city, on account of the injury done by
one man; secondly, because they answer their father so shortly and
contumaciously; thirdly, because they obstinately defend the revenge
which they had rashly taken. Moreover, their insensibility was
prodigious, because they were not affected by the thought of their own
death, and that of their parents, wives, and children, which seemed just
at hand. Thus we are taught, how intemperate anger deprives men of their
senses. We are also admonished, that it is not enough for us to be able
to lay blame on our opponents; but we must always see how far it is
lawful for us to proceed.

Chapter XXXV.

1 And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and
make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest
from the face of Esau thy brother.
2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that [were] with him,
Put away the strange gods that [are] among you, and be clean, and change
your garments:
3 And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar
unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in
the way which I went.
4 And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which [were] in their
hand, and [all their] earrings which [were] in their ears; and Jacob hid
them under the oak which [was] by Shechem.
5 And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that
[were] round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of
6 So Jacob came to Luz, which [is] in the land of Canaan, that [is],
Bethel, he and all the people that [were] with him.
7 And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because
there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.
8 But Deborah Rebecca's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel
under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.
9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and
blessed him.
10 And God said unto him, Thy name [is] Jacob: thy name shall not be
called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his
name Israel.
11 And God said unto him, I [am] God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply;
a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come
out of thy loins;
12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it,
and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.
14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him,
[even] a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he
poured oil thereon.
15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him,
16 And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to
come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.
17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife
said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.
18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died)
that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.
19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which [is]
20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that [is] the pillar of
Rachel's grave unto this day.
21 And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.
22 And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went
and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine: and Israel heard [it]. Now
the sons of Jacob were twelve:
23 The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi,
and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun:
24 The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin:
25 And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali:
26 And the sons of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid; Gad, and Asher: these [are]
the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padanaram.
27 And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of
Arbah, which [is] Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.
28 And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.
29 And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his
people, [being] old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried

  1 "And God said unto Jacob." Moses relates that when Jacob had been
reduced to the last extremity, God came to his help in the right time,
and as at the critical juncture. And thus he shows, in the person of one
man, that God never deserts his Church which he has once embraced, but
will procure its salvation. We must, however, observe the order of his
procedure; for God did not immediately appear to his servant, but
suffered him first to be tormented by grief and excessive cares, that he
might learn patience, deferring his consolation to the time of extreme
necessity. Certainly the condition of Jacob was then most miserable. For
all, on every side, might be so incensed against him that he would be
surrounded with as many deaths as there were neighboring nations: and he
was not so stupid as to be insensible of his danger. God suffered the
holy man to be thus tossed with cares and tormented with troubles,
until, by a kind of resurrection, he restored him, as one half-dead.
Whenever we read this and similar passages, let us reflect that the
providence of God watches for our salvation, even when it most seems to
sleep. Moses does not say how long Jacob was kept in anxiety, but we may
infer from the context, that he had been very greatly perplexed, when
the Lord thus revived him. Moreover, we must observe that the principal
medicine by which he was restored, was contained in the expression, "The
Lord spoke." Why did not God by a miracle translate him to some other
place, and thus immediately remove him from all danger? Why did he not
even, without a word, stretch out the hand over him, and repress the
ferocity of all, so that no one should attempt to hurt him? But Moses
does not insist upon this point in vain. For hereby we are taught whence
our greatest consolation in our afflictions is to be sought; and also,
that it is the principal business of our life, to depend upon the word
of God, as those who are certainly persuaded that, when he has promised
salvation, he will deal well with us, so that we need not hesitate to
walk through the midst of deaths. Another reason for the vision was,
that Jacob might not only truly perceive that God was his deliverer;
but, being forewarned by his word, might learn to ascribe to God
whatever afterwards followed. For seeing that we are slow and dull, bare
experience by no means suffices to attest the favour of God towards us,
unless faith arising from the word be added.
  "Go up to Bethel." Though it is God's design to raise his servant from
death to life, he may yet have appeared to hold him up to derision; for
the objection was ready, "Thou indeed, O Lord, commandest me to go up,
but all the ways are closed; for my sons have raised such a flame
against me, that I cannot remain safe in any hiding-place. I dare
scarcely move a finger: what therefore will become of me, if with a
great multitude, I now begin to move my camp? shall I not provoke new
enmities against me by my movements?" But by this mode the faith of
Jacob was most fully proved; because, knowing God to be the leader and
guardian of his journey, he girded himself to it, relying on the divine
favour. Moreover, the Lord does not simply command what it is his will
to have done, but he encourages his servant, by adding the promise. For,
in reminding him that he is the same God who had before appeared unto
him as he was fleeing in alarm from his brother, a promise is included
in these words. The altar also refers to the same point; for since it is
the divinely appointed token of thanksgiving, it follows that Jacob
would come thither in safety, in order that he might duly celebrate the
grace of God. God chooses and assigns Bethel, rather than any other
place, for his sanctuary; because the very sight of it would greatly
avail to take away terror, when he should remember that there the glory
of the Lord had been seen by him. Further, since God exhorts his servant
to gratitude, he shows that he is kind to the faithful, in order that
they, in return, may own themselves to be indebted for everything to his
grace, and may exercise themselves in the celebration of it.
  2. "Then Jacob said unto his household." The prompt obedience of Jacob
is here described. For when he heard the voice of God, he neither
doubted nor disputed with himself respecting what was necessary to be
done: but, as he was commanded, he quickly prepared himself for his
journey. But to show that he obeyed God, he not only collected his
goods, but also purified his house from idols. For if we desire that God
should be propitious to us, all hindrances are to be removed, which in
any way separate him from us. Hence also we perceive to what point the
theft of Rachel tended. For, (as we have said,) she neither wished to
draw her father away from superstition, but rather followed him in his
fault; nor did she keep this poison to herself, but spread it through
the whole family. Thus was that sacred house infected with the worst
contagion. Whence also it appears, how great is the propensity of
mankind to impious and vicious worship; since the domestics of Jacob, to
whom the pure religion had been handed down, thus eagerly laid hold on
the idols offered to them. And Jacob was not entirely ignorant of the
evil: but it is probable that he was so far under the influence of his
wife, that, by connivance, he silently cherished this plague of his
family. And truly, in one word, he convicts and condemns both himself
and the rest, by calling idols "strange gods." For whence arose the
distinction here made, unless from his knowing that he ought to be
devoted to one God only? For there is a tacit comparison between the God
of Abraham and all other gods which the world had wickedly invented for
itself: not because it was in the power of Abraham to determine who
should be the true God: but because God had manifested himself to
Abraham, he also wished to assume His name. Jacob therefore confesses
his own negligence, in having admitted to his house idols, against which
the door had been closed by God. For wherever the knowledge of the true
God shines, it is necessary to drive far away whatever men fabricate to
themselves which is contrary to the true knowledge of him. But whereas
Jacob had been lulled to sleep either by the blandishments of his wife,
or had neglected to do his duty, through the carelessness of the flesh,
he is now aroused by the fear of danger, to become more earnest in the
pure worship of God. If this happened to the holy patriarch, how much
more ought carnal security to be dreaded by us, in the season of
prosperity? If, however, at any time such torpor and neglect shall have
stolen upon us, may the paternal chastisement of God excite and
stimulate us diligently to purge ourselves from whatever faults we, by
our negligence, may have contracted. The infinite goodness of God is
here conspicuous; seeing that he still deigned to regard the house of
Jacob, though polluted with idols, as his sanctuary. For although Jacob
mingled with idolaters, and even his wife,--a patroness of idolatry,--
slept in his bosom, his sacrifices were always acceptable to God. Yet
this great benignity of God in granting pardon, neither lessens the
fault of the holy man, nor ought to be used by us as an occasion for
negligence. For though Jacob did not approve of these superstitions, yet
it was not owing to him that the pure worship of God was not gradually
subverted. For the corruption which originated with Rachel was now
beginning to spread more widely. And the example of all ages teaches the
same thing. For scarcely ever does the truth of God so prevail among
men, however strenuously pious teachers may labor in maintaining it, but
that some superstitions will remain among the common people. If
dissimulation be added to them, the mischief soon creeps onward, until
it takes possession of the whole body. By being thus cherished, the mass
of superstitions which at this day pervades the Papacy, has gained its
influence. Wherefore we must boldly resist those beginnings of evil,
lest the true religion should be injured by the sloth and silence of the
  "And be clean, and change your garments." This is an exhortation to
the external profession of penitence. For Jacob wishes that his
domestics, who before had polluted themselves, should testify their
renewed purification by a change of garments. With the same design and
end, the people, after they had made the golden calves, were commanded
by Moses to put off their ornaments. Only in that instance a different
method was observed; namely, that the people having laid aside their
ornaments, simply confessed their guilt by mournful and mean apparel:
but in the house of Jacob the garments were changed, in order that they
who had been defiled might come forth as new men: yet the end (as I have
said) was the same, that by this external rite, idolaters might learn
how great was the atrocity of their wickedness. For although, repentance
is an inward virtue, and has its seat in the heart, yet this ceremony
was by no means superfluous; for we know how little disposed men are to
be displeased with themselves on account of their sins, unless they are
pierced with many goads. Again, the glory of God is also concerned in
this, that men should not only inwardly reflect upon their guilt, but at
the same time openly declare it. This then is the sum; although God had
given no express command concerning the purifying of his house, yet
because he had commanded an altar to be raised, Jacob, in order that he
might yield pure obedience to God, took care that all impediments should
be removed; and he did this when necessity compelled him to seek help
from God.
  4. "And they gave unto Jacob." Though the holy man had his house in
suitable subordination; yet as all yielded such prompt obedience to his
command by casting away their idols, I doubt not that they were
influenced by the fear of danger. Whence also we infer how important it
is for us to be aroused from slumber by suffering. For we know how
pertinacious and rebellious is superstition. If, in a peaceful and
joyous state of affairs, Jacob had given any such command, the greater
part of his family would have fraudulently concealed their idols: some,
perhaps, would have obstinately refused to surrender them; but now the
hand of God urges them, and with ready minds they quickly repent. It is
also probable, that, according to the circumstances of the time, Jacob
preached to them concerning the righteous judgment of God, to inspire
them with fear. When he commands them to cleanse themselves, it is as if
he had said, Hitherto ye have been defiled before the Lord; now, seeing
that he has regarded us so mercifully, wash out this filth, lest he
should again avert his face from us. It seems, however, absurd, that
Jacob should have buried the idols under an oak, and not rather have
broken them in pieces and consumed them in the fire, as we read that
Moses did with the golden calves, (Exod. 32: 20,) and Hezekiah with the
brazen serpent, (2 Kings 18: 4.) The fact is not thus related without
reason: but the infirmity of Jacob is touched upon, because he had not
been sufficiently provident against the future. And perhaps the Lord
punished his previous excessive connivance and want of firmness, by
depriving him of prudence or courage. Yet God accepted his obedience,
although it had some remainder of defect, knowing that it was the design
of the holy man to remove idols from his family, and, in token of his
detestation, to bury them in the earth. The ear-rings were doubtless
badges of superstition; as at this day innumerable trifles are seen in
the Papacy, by which impiety displays itself.
  5. "And the terror of God was upon the cities." It now manifestly
appears that deliverance was not in vain promised to the holy man by
God; since, amidst so many hostile swords, he goes forth not only in
safety but undisturbed. By the destruction of the Shechemites all the
neighboring people were inflamed with enmity against a single family;
yet no one moves to take vengeance. The reason is explained by Moses,
that the terror of God had fallen upon them, which repressed their
violent assaults. Hence we may learn that the hearts of men are in the
hands of God; that he can inspire those with fortitude who in themselves
are weak; and, on the other hand, soften their iron-hardness whenever he
pleases. Sometimes, indeed, he suffers many to cast up the foam of their
pride, against whom he afterwards opposes his power: but he often
weakens those with fear who were naturally bold as lions: thus we find
these giants, who were able to devour Jacob a hundred times, so struck
with terror that they faint away. Wherefore, whenever we see the wicked
furiously bent on our destruction, lest our hearts should fail with fear
and be broken by desperation, let us call to mind this terror of God, by
which the rage, however furious, of the whole world may be easily
  7. "And he built there an altar." It has been already stated why it
behaved the holy fathers, wherever they came, to have an altar of their
own, distinct from those of other nations; namely, to make it manifest
that they did not worship gods of various kinds, a practice to which the
world was then everywhere addicted, but that they had a God peculiar to
themselves. For although God is worshipped with the mind, yet an
external confession is the inseparable companion of faith. Besides, all
acknowledge how very useful it is to us to be stirred up by outward
helps to the worship of God. If any one object that these altars
differed nothing from other altars in appearance; I answer, that whereas
others rashly, and with inconsiderate zeal, built altars to unknown
gods, Jacob always adhered to the word of God. And there is no lawful
altar but that which is consecrated by the word; nor indeed did the
worship of Jacob excel by any other mark than this, that he attempted
nothing beyond the command of God. In calling the name of the place "The
God of Beth-el," he is thought to be too familiar; and yet this very
title commends the faith of the holy man, and that rightly, since he
confines himself within the divinely prescribed bounds. The Papists act
foolishly in affecting the praise of humility by a modesty which is most
degrading. But the humility of faith is praiseworthy, seeing it does not
desire to know more than God permits. And as when God descends to us,
he, in a certain sense, abases himself, and stammers with us, so he
allows us to stammer with him. And this is to be truly wise, when we
embrace God in the manner in which he accommodates himself to our
capacity. For in this way, Jacob does not keenly dispute concerning the
essence of God, but renders God familiar to himself by the oracle which
he has received. And because he applies his senses to the revelation,
this stammering and simplicity (as I have said) is acceptable to God.
Now, though at this day, the knowledge of God has shined more clearly,
yet since God, in the gospel, takes upon him the character of a nursing
father, let us learn to subject our minds to him; only let us remember
that he descends to us in order to raise us up to himself. For he does
not speak to us in this earthly manner, to keep us at a distance from
heaven, but rather by this vehicle, to draw us up thither. Meanwhile
this rule must be observed, that since the name of the altar was given
by a celestial oracle, the building of it was a proof of faith. For
where the living voice of God does not sound, whatever pomps may be
introduced will be like shadowy spectres; as in the Papacy nothing can
be seen except bladders filled with wind. It may be added that Jacob
shows the constant tenor of his faith, from the time that God began to
manifest himself to him; because he keeps in view the fact, that the
angels had appeared unto him. For since the word is in the plural
number, I willingly interpret it of angels; and this is not contrary to
the former doctrine; for although the majesty of God was then
conspicuous, so far as he could comprehend it, yet Moses does not
without reason mention the angels whom Jacob saw ascending and
descending on the steps of the ladder. For he then beheld the glory of
God in the angels, as we see the splendor of the sun flowing to us
through his rays.
  8. "But Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, died." Here is inserted a short
narration of the death of Deborah, whom we may conclude to have been a
holy matron, and whom the family of Jacob venerated as a mother; for the
name given in perpetuity to the place, testifies that she was buried
with peculiar honor, and with no common mourning. Shortly afterwards the
death and burial of Rachel are to be recorded: yet Moses does not say
that any sign of mourning for Deborah was transmitted to posterity;
therefore it is probable that she was held by all in the place of a
grandmother: But it may be asked, how she then happened to be in Jacob's
company, seeing that he had not yet come to his father; and the age of a
decrepit old woman rendered her unfit for so long a journey. Some
interpreters imagine that she had been sent by Rebecca to meet her son
Jacob; but I do not see what probability there is in the conjecture; nor
yet have I anything certain to affirm, except that, perhaps, she had
loved Jacob from a boy, because she had nursed him; and when she knew
the cause of his exile, she followed him from her regard for religion.
Certainly Moses does not in vain celebrate her death with an eulogy so
  9. "And God, appeared unto Jacob." Moses, having introduced a few
words on the death of Deborah, recites a second vision, by which Jacob
was confirmed, after his return to Bethel. Once, in this place, God had
appeared unto him, when he was on his way into Mesopotamia. In the
meantime God had testified in various methods, as need required, that he
would be present with him everywhere through his whole journey; but now
he is brought back again to that very place where a more illustrious and
memorable oracle had been given him, in order that he may receive again
a new confirmation of his faith. The blessing of God here means nothing
else than his promise; for though men pray for blessings on each other;
God declares himself to be the sole Dispenser of perfect happiness. Now
Jacob heard at this time nothing new; but the same promise is repeated
to him, that he, as one who had returned from captivity to his own
country, and had gathered new strength to his faith, might accomplish
with greater courage the remaining course of his life.
  10. "Thy name shall not be called any more Jacob." We have before
given the meaning of these words. The former name is not abolished, but
the dignity of the other, which was afterwards put upon him, is
preferred: for he was called Jacob from the womb, because he had
strongly wrestled with his brother; but he was afterwards called Israel,
because he entered into contest with God, and obtained the victory; not
that he had prevailed by his own power, (for he had borrowed courage and
strength and arms from God alone,) but because it was the Lord's will
freely to confer upon him this honor. He therefore speaks comparatively,
showing that the name Jacob is obscure and ignoble when compared with
the name Israel. Some understand it thus, "Not only shalt thou be called
Jacob, but the surname of Israel shall be added;" yet the former
exposition seems to me the more simple; namely, that the old name,
having in it less of splendor, should give place to the second. What
Augustine adduces is specious rather than solid; namely, that he was
called Jacob in reference to his present life, but Israel in reference
to his future life. Let this, however, be regarded as settled, that a
double name was given to the holy man, of which one was by far the most
excellent; for we see that the prophets often combine them both, thus
marking the constancy of God's grace from the beginning to the end.
  11. "I am God Almighty." God here, as elsewhere, proclaims his own
might, in order that Jacob may the more certainly rely on his
faithfulness. He then promises that he will cause Jacob to increase and
multiply, not only into one nation, but into a multitude of nations.
When he speaks of "a nation," he no doubt means that the offspring of
Jacob should become sufficiently numerous to acquire the body and the
name of one great people. But that follows concerning "nations" may
appear absurd; for if we wish it to refer to the nations which, by
gratuitous adoption, are inserted into the race of Abraham, the form of
expression is improper: but if it be understood of sons by naturals
descent, then it would be a curse rather shall a blessing, that the
Church, the safety of which depends on its unity, should be divided into
many distinct nations. But to me it appears that the Lord, in these
words, comprehended both these benefits; for when, under Joshua, the
people was apportioned into tribes, as if the seed of Abraham was
propagated into so many distinct nations; yet the body was not thereby
divided; it is called an assembly of nations, for this reason, because
in connection with that distinction a sacred unity yet flourished. The
language also is not improperly extended to the Gentiles, who, having
been before dispersed, are collected into one congregation by the bond
of faith; and although they were not born of Jacob according to the
flesh; yet, because faith was to them the commencement of a new birth,
and the covenant of salvation, which is the seed of spiritual birth,
flowed from Jacob, all believers are rightly reckoned among his sons,
according to the declaration, "I have constituted thee a father of many
  "And kings shall come out of thy loins." This, in my judgment, ought
properly to be referred to David and his posterity; for God did not
approve of the kingdom of Saul, and therefore it was not established;
and the kingdom of Israel was but a corruption of the legitimate
kingdom. I acknowledge truly that, sometimes, those things which have
sprung from evil sources are numbered among God's benefits; but because
here the simple and pure benediction of God is spoken of, I willingly
understand it of David's successors only. Finally; Jacob is constituted
the lord of the land, as the sole heir of his grandfather Abraham, and
of his father Isaac; for the Lord manifestly excludes Esau from the holy
family, when he transfers the dominion of the land, by hereditary right,
to the posterity of Jacob alone.
  13.  And God went up from him." This ascent of God is analogous to his
descent; for God, who fills heaven and earth, is yet said to descend to
us, though he changes not his place, whenever he gives us any token of
his presence; a mode of expression adopted in accommodation to our
littleness. He went up, therefore, from Jacob, when he disappeared from
his sight, or when the vision ended. By the use of such language, God
shows us the value of his word, because, indeed, he is near to us in the
testimony of his grace; for, seeing that there is a great distance
between us and his heavenly glory, he descends to us by his word. This,
at length, was fully accomplished in the person of Christ; who while, by
his own ascension to heaven, he raised our faith thither; nevertheless
dwells always with us by the power of his Spirit.
  14. "And Jacob set up a pillar." Though it is possible that he may
again have erected a sacred monument, in memory of the second vision;
yet I readily subscribe to the opinion of those who think that reference
is made to what had been done before; as if Moses should say, that was
the ancient temple of God, in which Jacob had poured forth his libation:
for he had not been commanded to come thither for the sake of dwelling
there; but in order that a fresh view of the place might renew his faith
in the ancient oracle, and more fully confirm it. We read elsewhere that
altars were built by the holy fathers, where they intended to remain
longer; but their reason for doing so was different: for whereas Jacob
had made a solemn vow in Bethel, on condition that he should be brought
back by the Lord in safety; thanksgiving is now required of him, after
he has become bound by his vow, that, being strengthened, he may pass
onward on his journey.
  16. "And they journeyed from Bethel." We have seen how severe a wound
the defilement of his daughter inflicted on holy Jacob, and with what
terror the cruel deed of his two sons had inspired him. Various trials
are now blended together, by which he is heavily afflicted throughout
his old age; until, on his departure into Egypt, he receives new joy at
the sight of his son Joseph. But even this was a most grievous
temptation, to be exiled from the promised land even to his death. The
death of his beloved wife is next related; and soon after follows the
incestuous intercourse of his firstborn with his wife Bilhah. A little
later, Isaac his father dies; then his son Joseph is snatched away, whom
he supposes to have been torn in pieces by wild beasts. While he is
almost consumed with perpetual mourning, a famine arises, so that he is
compelled to seek food from Egypt. There another of his sons is kept in
chains; and, at length, he is deprived of his own most beloved Benjamin,
whom he sends away as if his own bowels were torn from him. We see,
therefore, by what a severe conflict, and by what a continued succession
of evils, he was trained to the hope of a better life. And whereas
Rachel died in childbirth, through the fatigue of the journey, before
they reached a resting-place; this would prove no small accession to his
grief. But, as to his being bereaved of his most beloved wife, this was
probably the cause, that the Lord intended to correct the exorbitance of
his affection for her. The Holy Spirit fixes no mark of infamy upon
Leah, seeing that she was a holy woman, and endowed with greater virtue;
but Jacob more highly appreciated Rachel's beauty. This fault in the
holy man was cured by a bitter medicine, when his wife was taken array
from him: and the Lord often deprives the faithful of his own gifts, to
correct their perverse abuse of them. The wicked, indeed, more
audaciously profane the gifts of God; but if God connives longer at
their misconduct, a more severe condemnation remains to them on account
of his forbearance. But in taking away from his own people the occasion
of sinning, he promotes their salvation. Whoever, therefore, desires the
continued use of God's gifts, let him learn not to abuse them, but to
enjoy them with purity and sobriety.
  17. "The midwife said unto her." We know that the ancients were very
desirous of offspring, especially of male offspring. Since Rachel
therefore does not accept this kind of consolation when offered, we
infer that she was completely oppressed with pain. She therefore died in
agonies, thinking of nothing but her sad childbirth and her own sorrows:
from the feeling of which she gave a name to her son; but Jacob
afterwards corrected the error. For the chance of the name sufficiently
shows, that, in his judgment, the excess of sorrow in his wife was
wrong; seeing that she had branded his son with a sinister and
opprobrious name; for that sadness is not free from ingratitude, which
so occupies our minds in adversity that the kindness of God does not
exhilarate them; or, at least, does not infuse some portion of sweetness
to mitigate our grief. Then her burial is mentioned; to which the holy
fathers could not have attended with such religious care, except on
account of their hope of the future resurrection. Whenever, therefore,
we read concerning their burying the dead, as if they were anxious about
the performance of some extraordinary duty, let us think of that end of
which I have spoken; for it was no foolish ceremony, but a lively symbol
of the future resurrection. I acknowledge, indeed, that profane and
degenerate men at that time, in various places, vainly incurred much
expense and toil in burying their dead, only as an empty solace of their
grief. But although they had declined from the original institution into
gross errors, yet the Lord caused that this rite should remain entire
among his own people. Moreover, he designed that a testimony should
exist among unbelievers, by which they might be rendered inexcusable.
For since, independently of instruction, this sentiment was innate in
all men, that to bury the dead was one of the offices of piety, nature
has clearly dictated to them that the human body is formed for
immortality; and, therefore, that, by sinking into death, it does not
utterly perish. The statue or monument, erected by him, signifies the
same thing. He reared no citadel which might stand as a token of his
glory among his posterity: but he took care to raise the memorial of a
sepulchre, which might be a witness to all ages that he was more devoted
to the life to come; and, by the providence of God, this memorial
remained standing, till the people returned out of Egypt.
  22. "Reuben went and lay with Bilhah." A sad and even tragic history
is now related concerning the incestuous intercourse of Reuben with his
mother-in-law. Moses, indeed, calls Bilhah Jacob's concubine: but though
she had not come into the hands of her husband, as the mistress of the
family and a partaker of his goods; yet, as it respected the bed, she
was his lawful wife, as we have before seen. If even a stranger had
defiled the wife of the holy man, it would have been a great disgrace;
it was, however, far more atrocious that he should suffer such an
indignity from his own son. But how great and how detestable was the
dishonor, that the mother of two tribes should not only contaminate
herself with adultery, but even with incest; which crime is so abhorrent
to nature, that, not even among the Gentiles, has it ever been held
tolerable? And truly, by the wonderful artifice of Satan, this great
obscenity penetrated into the holy house, in order that the election of
God might seem to be of no effect. Satan endeavors, by whatever means he
can, to pervert the grace of God in the elect; and since he cannot
effect that, he either covers it with infamy, or at least obscures it.
Hence it happens that disgraceful examples often steal into the Church.
And the Lord, in this manner, suffers his own people to be humbled, that
they may be more attentively careful of themselves, that they may more
earnestly watch unto prayer, and may learn entirely to depend on his
mercy. Moses only relates that Jacob was informed of this crime; but he
conceals his grief, not because he was unfeeling, (for he was not so
stupid as to be insensible to sorrow,) but because his grief was too
great to be expressed. For here Moses seems to have acted as the painter
did who, in representing the sacrifice of Iphigenia, put a veil over her
father's face, because he could not sufficiently express the grief of
his countenance. In addition to this eternal disgrace of the family,
there were other causes of anxiety which transfixed the breast of the
holy man. The sum of his happiness was in his offspring, from which the
salvation of the whole world was to proceed. Whereas, already, two of
his sons had been perfidious and sanguinary robbers; the first-born,
now, exceeds them both in wickedness. But here the gratuitous election
of God has appeared the more illustrious, because it was not on account
of their worthiness that he preferred the sons of Jacob to all the
world; and also because, when they had fallen so basely, this election
nevertheless remained firm and efficacious. Warned by such examples, let
us learn to fortify ourselves against those dreadful scandals by which
Satan strives to disturb us. Let every one also privately apply this to
the strengthening of his own faith. For sometimes even good men slide,
as if they had fallen from grace. Desperation would necessarily be the
consequence of such ruin, unless the Lord, on the other hand, held out
the hope of pardon. A remarkable instance of this is set before us in
Reuben; who, after this extreme act of iniquity, yet retained his rank
of a patriarch in the Church. We must, however, remain under the custody
of fear and watchfulness, lest temptation should seize upon us unawares,
and thus the snares of Satan should envelop us. For the holy Spirit did
not design to set before us an example of vile lust, in order that every
one might rush into incestuous connections; but would rather expose to
infamy the baseness of this crime, in an honorable person, that all, on
that account, might more vehemently abhor it. This passage also refutes
the error of Novatus. Reuben had been properly instructed; he bore in
his flesh, from early infancy, the symbol of the divine covenant; he was
even born again by the Spirit of God; we see, therefore, what was the
deep abyss from which he was raised by the incredible mercy of God. The
Novatians, therefore, and similar fanatics, have no right to cut off the
hope of pardon from the lapsed: for it is no slight injury to Christ, if
we suppose the grace of God to be more restricted by his advent.
  "Now the sons of Jacob were twelve." Moses again recounts the sons of
Jacob in a regular series. Reuben is put the first among them, not for
the sake of honor, but that he may be loaded with the greater
opprobrium: for the greater the honor which any one receives from the
Lord, the more severely is he to be blamed, if he afterwards makes
himself the slave of Satan, and deserts his post. Moses seems to insert
this catalogue before the account of the death of Isaac, for the purpose
of discriminating between the progeny of Jacob and the Idumeans, of whom
he is about to make mention in the following chapter. For on the death
of Isaac the fountain of the holy race became divided, as into two
streams; but since the adoption of God restrained itself to one branch
only, it was necessary to distinguish it from the other.
  28. "And the days of Isaac." The death of Isaac is not related in its
proper order, as will soon appear from the connection of the history:
but, as we have elsewhere seen, the figure hysteron proteron was
familiar to Moses. When it is said, that he died old, and full of days,
the meaning is, that, having fulfilled the course of his life, he
departed by a mature death; this, therefore, is ascribed to the blessing
of God. Nevertheless, I refer these words not merely to the duration of
his life, but also to the state of his feelings; implying that Isaac,
being satisfied with life, willingly and placidly departed out of the
world. For we may see certain decrepit old men, who are not less
desirous of life then they were in the flower of their age; and with one
foot in the grave, they still have a horror of death. Therefore, though
long life is reckoned among the blessings of God; yet it is not enough
for men to be able to count up a great number of years; unless they feel
that they have lived long, and, being satisfied with the favour of God
and with their own age, prepare themselves for their departure. Now, in
order that old men may leave their minds formed to this kind of
moderation, it behaves them to have a good conscience, to the end, that
they may not flee from the presence of God; for an evil conscience
pursues and agitates the wicked with terror. Moses adds, that Isaac was
buried by his two sons. For since, at that time, the resurrection was
not clearly revealed, and its first fruits had not yet appeared, it
behaved the holy fathers to be so much the more diligently trained in
significant ceremonies, in order that they might correct the impression
produced by the semblance of destruction which is presented in death. By
the fact that Esau is put first, we are taught again, that the fruit of
the paternal benediction was not received by Jacob in this life; for he
who was the first-born by right, is still subjected to the other, after
his father's death.

Chapter XXXVI.

1 Now these [are] the generations of Esau, who [is] Edom.
2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of
Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of
Zibeon the Hivite;
3 And Bashemath Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth.
4 And Adah bare to Esau Eliphaz; and Bashemath bare Reuel;
5 And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these [are] the sons
of Esau, which were born unto him in the land of Canaan.
6 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the
persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his
substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the
country from the face of his brother Jacob.
7 For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and
the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of
their cattle.
8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau [is] Edom.
9 And these [are] the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in
mount Seir:
10 These [are] the names of Esau's sons; Eliphaz the son of Adah the
wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Bashemath the wife of Esau.
11 And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, and Gatam, and
12 And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau's son; and she bare to
Eliphaz Amalek: these [were] the sons of Adah Esau's wife.
13 And these [are] the sons of Reuel; Nahath, and Zerah, Shammah, and
Mizzah: these were the sons of Bashemath Esau's wife.
14 And these were the sons of Aholibamah, the daughter of Anah the
daughter of Zibeon, Esau's wife: and she bare to Esau Jeush, and Jaalam,
and Korah.
15 These [were] dukes of the sons of Esau: the sons of Eliphaz the
firstborn [son] of Esau; duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Zepho, duke Kenaz,
16 Duke Korah, duke Gatam, [and] duke Amalek: these [are] the dukes
[that came] of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these [were] the sons of
17 And these [are] the sons of Reuel Esau's son; duke Nahath, duke
Zerah, duke Shammah, duke Mizzah: these [are] the dukes [that came] of
Reuel in the land of Edom; these [are] the sons of Bashemath Esau's
18 And these [are] the sons of Aholibamah Esau's wife; duke Jeush, duke
Jaalam, duke Korah: these [were] the dukes [that came] of Aholibamah the
daughter of Anah, Esau's wife.
19 These [are] the sons of Esau, who [is] Edom, and these [are] their
20 These [are] the sons of Seir the Horite, who inhabited the land;
Lotan, and Shobal, and Zibeon, and Anah,
21 And Dishon, and Ezer, and Dishan: these [are] the dukes of the
Horites, the children of Seir in the land of Edom.
22 And the children of Lotan were Hori and Hemam; and Lotan's sister
[was] Timna.
23 And the children of Shobal [were] these; Alvan, and Manahath, and
Ebal, Shepho, and Onam.
24 And these [are] the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this
[was that] Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the
asses of Zibeon his father.
25 And the children of Anah [were] these; Dishon, and Aholibamah the
daughter of Anah.
26 And these [are] the children of Dishon; Hemdan, and Eshban, and
Ithran, and Cheran.
27 The children of Ezer [are] these; Bilhan, and Zaavan, and Akan.
28 The children of Dishan [are] these; Uz, and Aran.
29 These [are] the dukes [that came] of the Horites; duke Lotan, duke
Shobal, duke Zibeon, duke Anah,
30 Duke Dishon, duke Ezer, duke Dishan: these [are] the dukes [that
came] of Hori, among their dukes in the land of Seir.
31 And these [are] the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before
there reigned any king over the children of Israel.
32 And Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom: and the name of his city
[was] Dinhabah.
33 And Bela died, and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozrah reigned in his
34 And Jobab died, and Husham of the land of Temani reigned in his
35 And Husham died, and Hadad the son of Bedad, who smote Midian in the
field of Moab, reigned in his stead: and the name of his city [was]
36 And Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his stead.
37 And Samlah died, and Saul of Rehoboth [by] the river reigned in his
38 And Saul died, and Baalhanan the son of Achbor reigned in his stead.
39 And Baalhanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar reigned in his stead:
and the name of his city [was] Pau; and his wife's name [was] Mehetabel,
the daughter of Matred, the daughter of Mezahab.
40 And these [are] the names of the dukes [that came] of Esau, according
to their families, after their places, by their names; duke Timnah, duke
Alvah, duke Jetheth,
41 Duke Aholibamah, duke Elah, duke Pinon,
42 Duke Kenaz, duke Teman, duke Mibzar,
43 Duke Magdiel, duke Iram: these [be] the dukes of Edom, according to
their habitations in the land of their possession: he [is] Esau the
father of the Edomites.

  1. "Now these are the generations of Esau." Though Esau was an alien
from the Church in the sight of God; yet since he also, as a son of
Isaac, was favored with a temporal blessing, Moses celebrates his race,
and inscribes a sufficiently lengthened catalogue of the people born
from him. This commemoration, however, resembles an honorable sepulture.
For although Esau, with his posterity, took the precedence; yet this
dignity was like a bubble, which is comprised under the figure of the
world, and which quickly perishes. As, therefore, it has been before
said of other profane nations, so now Esau is exalted as on a lofty
theatre. But since there is no permanent condition out of the kingdom of
God, the splendor attributed to him is evanescent, and the whole of his
pomp departs like the passing scene of the stage. The Holy Spirit
designed, indeed, to testify that the prophecy which Isaac uttered
concerning Esau was not vain; but he has no sooner shown its effect,
than he turns away our eyes, as if he had cast a veil over it, that we
may confine our attention to the race of Jacob. Now, though Esau had
children by three wives, in whom afterwards the blessing of God shone
forth, yet polygamy is not, on that account, approved, nor the impure
lust of man excused: but in this the goodness of God is rather to be
admired, which, contrary to the order of nature, gave a good issue to
evil beginnings.
  6. "And went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob."
Moses does not mean that Esau departed purposely to give place to his
brother; for he was so proud and ferocious, that he never would have
allowed himself to seem his brother's inferior. But Moses, without
regard to Esau's design, commends the secret providence of God, by which
he was driven into exile, that the possession of the land might remain
free for Jacob alone. Esau removed to Mount Seir, through the desire of
present advantage, as is elsewhere stated. Nothing was less in his mind
than to provide for his brother's welfare; but God directed the blind
man by his own hand, that he might not occupy that place in the land
which he had appointed for his own servant. Thus it often happens that
the wicked do good to the elect children of God, contrary to their own
intention; and while their hasty cupidity pants for present advantages,
they promote the eternal salvation of those whose destruction they have
sometimes desired. Let us, then, learn from the passage before us, to
see, by the eyes of faith, both in accidental circumstances (as they are
called) and in the evil desires of men, that secret providence of God,
which directs all events to a result predetermined by himself. For when
Esau went forth, that he might live more commodiously apart from his
father's family, he is said to have departed from the face of his
brother, because the Lord had so determined it. It is stated
indefinitely, that he departed "into the country;" because, being in
uncertainty respecting his plan, he sought a home in various places,
until Mount Seir presented itself; and as we say, he went out at a
  9. "And these are the generations of Esau, the father of the
Edomites." Though Esau had two names, yet in this place the second name
refers to his posterity, who are called Idumeans. For, to make it appear
what God had bestowed upon him for the sake of his father Isaac, Moses
expressly calls him the father of a celebrated and famous people. And
certainly, it served this purpose not a little, to trace the effect and
fulfillment of the prophecy in the progeny of Esau. For if the promise
of God so mightily flourished towards a stranger, how much more
powerfully would it put itself forth towards the children, to whom
pertaineth the adoption, and consequently the inheritance of grace? Esau
was an obscure man, and a sojourner in that country: whence therefore is
it, that suddenly rulers should spring from him, and a great body of
people should flourish, unless because the benediction which proceeded
from the mouth of Isaac, was confirmed by the result? For Esau did not
reign in this desert without opposition; since a people of no ignoble
name previously inhabited Mount Seir. On this account Moses relates that
the men who had before inhabited that land were mighty: so that it would
not have been easy for a stranger to acquire such power as Esau
possessed, if he had not been divinely assisted.
  24. This was that A nab that found the mules. Mules are the adulterous
offspring of the horse and the ass. Moses says that Anal was the author
of this connection. But I do not consider this as said in praise of his
industry; for the Lord has not in vain distinguished the different kinds
of animals from the beginning. But since the vanity of the flesh often
solicits the children of this world, so that they apply their minds to
superfluous matters, Moses marks this unnatural pursuit in Anal, who did
not think it sufficient to have a great number of animals; but he must
add to them a degenerate race produced by unnatural intercourse.
Moreover, we learn hence, that there is more moderation among brute
animals in following the law of nature, than in men, who invent vicious
  31. "These are the kings that reigned," &c. We must keep in memory
what we have said a little before, that reprobates are suddenly exalted,
that they may immediately fall, like the herb upon the roofs, which is
destitute of root, and has a hasty growth, but withers the more quickly.
To the two sons of Isaac had been promised the honour that kings should
spring from them. The Idumeans first began to reign, and thus the
condition of Israel seemed to be inferior. But at length, lapse of time
taught how much better it is, by creeping on the ground, to strike the
roots deep, than to acquire an extravagant pre-eminence for a moment,
which speedily vanishes away. There is, therefore, no reason why the
faithful, who slowly pursue their way, should envy the quick children of
this world, their rapid succession of delights; since the felicity which
the Lord promises them is far more stable, as it is expressed in the
psalm, "The children's children shall dwell there, and their inheritance
shall be perpetual." (Psalm 102: 28.)

Chapter XXXVII.

1 And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the
land of Canaan.
2 These [are] the generations of Jacob. Joseph, [being] seventeen years
old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad [was] with the
sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and
Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he [was]
the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of [many] colours.
4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all
his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.
5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told [it] his brethren: and they
hated him yet the more.
6 And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have
7 For, behold, we [were] binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf
arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round
about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.
8 And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or
shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more
for his dreams, and for his words.
9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said,
Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon
and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
10 And he told [it] to his father, and to his brethren: and his father
rebuked him, and said unto him, What [is] this dream that thou hast
dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down
ourselves to thee to the earth?
11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.
12 And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem.
13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed [the flock] in
Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here
[am I].
14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy
brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent
him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, [he was] wandering in the
field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?
16 And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they
feed [their flocks].
17 And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let
us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in
18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them,
they conspired against him to slay him.
19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.
20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit,
and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see
what will become of his dreams.
21 And Reuben heard [it], and he delivered him out of their hands; and
said, Let us not kill him.
22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, [but] cast him into this
pit that [is] in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might
rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.
23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that
they stript Joseph out of his coat, [his] coat of [many] colours that
[was] on him;
24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit [was] empty,
[there was] no water in it.
25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and
looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with
their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry [it]
down to Egypt.
26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit [is it] if we slay our
brother, and conceal his blood?
27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be
upon him; for he [is] our brother [and] our flesh. And his brethren were
28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted
up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty
[pieces] of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.
29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph [was] not in
the pit; and he rent his clothes.
30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child [is] not; and
I, whither shall I go?
31 And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and
dipped the coat in the blood;
32 And they sent the coat of [many] colours, and they brought [it] to
their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it [be] thy
son's coat or no.
33 And he knew it, and said, [It is] my son's coat; an evil beast hath
devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.
34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and
mourned for his son many days.
35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he
refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave
unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of
Pharaoh's, [and] captain of the guard.

  1. "And Jacob dwelt." Moses confirms what he had before declared,
that, by the departure of Esau, the land was left to holy Jacob as its
sole possessor. Although in appearance he did not obtain a single clod;
yet, contented with the bare sight of the land, he exercised his faith;
and Moses expressly compares him with his father, who had been a
stranger in that land all his life. Therefore, though by the removal of
his brother to another abode, Jacob was no little gainer; yet it was the
Lord's will that this advantage should be hidden from his eyes, in order
that he might depend entirely upon the promise.
  2. "These are the generations of Jacob." By the word "toledoth" we are
not so much to understand a genealogy, as a record of events, which
appears more clearly from the context. For Moses having thus commenced,
does not enumerate sons and grandsons, but explains the cause of the
envy of Joseph's brethren, who formed a wicked conspiracy against him,
and sold him as a slave: as if he had said "Having briefly summed up the
genealogy of Esau, I now revert to the series of my history, as to what
happened to the family of Jacob." Moreover, Moses being about to speak
of the abominable wickedness of Jacob's sons, begins with the statement,
that Joseph was dear beyond the rest to his father, because he had
begotten him in his old age: and as a token of tender love, had clothed
him with a coat woven of many colors. But it was not surprising that the
boy should be a great favorite with his aged father, for so it is wont
to happen: and no just ground is here given for envy; seeing that sons
of a more robust age, by the dictate of nature, might well concede such
a point. Moses, however, states this as the cause of odium, that the
mind of his father was more inclined to him than to the rest. The
brethren conceive enmity against the boy, whom they see to be more
tenderly loved by their father, as having been born in his old age. If
they did not choose to join in this love to their brother, why did they
not excuse it in their father? Hence, then, we perceive their malignant
and perverse disposition. But, that a manycoloured coat and similar
trifles inflamed them to devise a scheme of slaughter, is a proof of
their detestable cruelty. Moses also says that their hatred increased,
because Joseph conveyed the evil speeches of his brethren to their
father. Some expound the word evil as meaning some intolerable crime;
but others more correctly suppose, that it was a complaint of the boy
that his brothers vexed him with their reproaches; for, what follows in
Moses, I take to have been added in explanation, that we may know the
cause for which he had been treated so ill and with such hostility. It
may be asked, why Moses here accuses only the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah,
when, afterwards, he does not exempt the sons of Leah from the same
charge? One, indeed, of her sons, Reuben, was milder than any of the
rest; next to him was Judah, who was his uterine brother. But what is to
be said of Simon? What of Levi? Certainly since they were older, it is
probable that they were leaders in the affair. The suspicion may,
however, be entertained, that because these were the sons of concubines
and not of true wives, their minds would be more quickly moved with
envy; as if their servile extraction, on the mother's side, subjected
them to contempt.
  5. "And Joseph dreamed a dream." Moses having stated what were the
first seeds of this enmity, now ascends higher, and shows that Joseph
had been elected, by the wonderful purpose of God, to great things; that
this had been declared to him in a dream; and that, therefore, the
hatred of his brethren broke forth into madness. God, however, revealed
in dreams what he would do, that afterwards it might be known that
nothing had happened fortuitously: but that what had been fixed by a
celestial decree, was at length, in its proper time, carried forward
through circuitous windings to its completion. It had been predicted to
Abraham that his seed should be wanderers from the land of Canaan. In
order, then, that Jacob might pass over into Egypt, this method was
divinely appointed; namely, that Joseph, being president over Egypt in a
time of famine, might bring his father thither with his whole family,
and supply them with food. Now, from the facts first related, no one
could have conjectured such a result. The sons of Jacob conspire to put
the very person to death, without whom they cannot be preserved; yea, he
who was ordained to be the minister of salvation to them, is thrown into
a well, and with difficulty rescued from the jaws of death. Driven about
by various misfortunes, he seems to be an alien from his father's house.
Afterwards, he is cast into prison, as into another sepulchre, where,
for a long time, he languishes. Nothing, therefore, was less probable
than that the family of Jacob should be preserved by his means, when he
was cut off from it, and carried far away, and not even reckoned among
the living. Nor did any hope of his liberation remain, especially from
the time in which he was neglected by the chief butler; but being
condemned to perpetual imprisonment, he was left there to rot. God,
however, by such complicated methods, accomplishes what he had purposed.
Wherefore, in this history, we have not only a most beautiful example of
Divine Providence, but also two other points are added especially worthy
of notice: first, that the Lord performs his work by wonderful and
unusual modes; and, secondly, that he brings forth the salvation of his
Church, not from magnificent splendor, but from death and the grave.
Besides, in the person of Joseph, a lively image of Christ is presented,
as will more fully appear from the context. But since these subjects
will be often repeated, let us follow the thread of Moses' discourse.
God, of his mere grace, conferred peculiar honour on the boy, who was
the last but one among twelve, in giving him the priority among his
brethren. For, by what merit or virtue shall we say that he attained the
lordship over his brethren? Afterwards he seemed, indeed, to acquire
this by his own great beneficence: but from the dream we learn, that it
was the free gift of God, which in no way depended upon Joseph's
beneficence. Rather, he was ordained to be chief, by the mere good
pleasure of God, in order that he might show kindness to his brethren.
Now, since the Lord was, at that time, wont to reveal his secrets by two
methods--by visions and by dreams--one of these kinds is here noted. For
no doubt Joseph had often dreamed in the common manner: but Moses shows
that a dream was now divinely sent to him, which might have the force
and weight of an oracle. We know that dreams are often produced by our
daily thoughts: sometimes they are indications of an unhealthy state of
the body: but whenever God intends to make known his counsel by dreams,
he engraves on them certain marks, which distinguish them from passing
and frivolous imaginations, in order that their credibility and
authority may stand firm. Thus Joseph, being certainly persuaded that he
had not been deluded by an empty spectra, fearlessly announced his dream
as a celestial oracle. Now, although the dominion is promised to him
under a rural symbol, it is one which does not seem suitable for
instruction to the sons of Jacob; for we know that they were herdsman,
not ploughmen. Since they had no harvest which they could gather in, it
seems hardly congruous that homage should be paid to his sheaf: But
perhaps God designedly chose this similitude, to show that this prophecy
was not founded upon the present fortunes of Joseph, and that the
material of his dominion would not consist in those things which were at
hand, but that it should be a future benefit, the cause of which was to
be sought for elsewhere than at home.
  8. "Shalt thou indeed reign over us?" Here it is plainly shown to us
that the paternal favour of God towards the elect, is like a fan to
excite against them the enmity of the world. When the sons of Jacob
heard that they were fighting in vain against God, their unjust hatred
ought, by such means, to have been corrected. For it was as if God,
setting himself in the midst, would repress their fury by these words,
"Your impious conspiring will be fruitless; for although you boast, I
have constituted as your chief, the man whose ruin your wicked envy
hurries you to seek." Perhaps, also, by this consolatory dream, he
intended to alleviate the trouble of the holy youth. Yet their obstinacy
caused it to be the more increased. Let us then learn not to be grieved
if, at any time, the shining of the grace of God upon us should cause us
to be envied. The sons of Jacob, however, were but too acute
interpreters of the dream: yet they deride it as a fable, because it was
repugnant to their wishes. Thus it often happens that they who are
ill-disposed, quickly perceive what is the will of God: but, because
they feel no reverence, they despise it. To this contumacy, however,
succeeds a stupor which destroys their former quick-sightedness.
  9. "And he dreamed yet another dream." The scope of this dream is the
same. The only difference is, that God, to inspire greater confidence in
the oracle, presents him with a figure from heaven. The brethren of
Joseph had despised what was said concerning the sheaves; the Lord now
calls upon them to look towards heaven, where his august Majesty shines
forth. It may, however, be asked, how it can be reconciled with fact,
that his mother, who was now dead, could come and bow down to him. The
interpretation of certain Hebrews, who refer it to Bilhah, is frigid,
and the sense appears plain without such subterfuges: for the sun and
moon designate the head of the family on each side: thus, in this
figure, Joseph sees himself reverenced by the whole house of his father.
  10. "And his father rebuked him." If Jacob suspected that the dream
originated in vain ambition, he rightly rebuked his son; but if he knew
that God was the author of the dream, he ought not to have expostulated
with him. But that he did know it, may be hence inferred, because he is
afterwards said seriously to have considered it. For Moses, making a
distinction between him and his sons, says that *they* breathed nothing
but the virus of envy; while *he* revolved in his own mind what this
might mean; which could not have happened, unless he had been affected
with reverence. But seeing that a certain religious impression on the
subject rested on his mind, how was it that he rebuked his son? This
truly was not giving honour to God and to his word. For it ought to have
occurred to the mind of Jacob that, although Joseph was under his
authority, he yet sustained a prophetic character. It is probable, when
he saw his sons so malevolent, that he wished to meet the danger by
feigning what he did not feel: for he was not offended at the dream, but
he was unwilling to exasperate the minds of those who, on account of
their pride, would not bear to be in subjection. Therefore I do not
doubt that he feignedly reproved his son, from a desire to appease
contention. Nevertheless, this method of pretending to be adverse to the
truth, when we are endeavoring to appease the anger of those who rage
against it, is by no means approved by God. He ought rather ingenuously
to have exhorted his sons not to "kick against the pricks." Or at least
he should have used this moderate address, "If this is a common dream,
let it be treated with ridicule rather than with anger; but if it has
proceeded from God, it is wicked to speak against it." It is even
possible that the unsuitableness of the dream had struck the mind of the
old man. For we know how difficult it is entirely to throw off all sense
of superiority. Certainly, though Jacob declines slightly from the right
course, yet his piety appears to be of no common order; because his
reverence for the oracle so easily prevailed over every other feeling.
But the most wicked obstinacy betrays itself in his sons, seeing they
break out into greater enmity. For though they despise the dream, yet
they are not made angry about nothing. Gladly would they have had their
brother as a laughing-stock; but a certain secret sense of the Deity
constrains them, so that, with or against their will, they are compelled
to feel that there is something authentic in the dream. Meanwhile, a
blind ferocity impels them to an unintentional resistance against God.
Therefore, that we may be held in obedience to God, let us learn to
bring down our high spirits; because the beginning of docility is for
men to submit to be brought into order. This obstinacy in the sons of
Jacob was most censurable, because they not only rejected the oracle of
God through their hatred of subjection, but were hostile to his
messenger and herald. How much less excusable, then, will be our
hardness, if we do not meekly submit our necks to the yoke of God; since
the doctrine of humility, which subdues and even mortifies us, is not
only more clearly revealed, but also confirmed by the precious blood of
Christ? If, however, we see many refractory persons at this day, who
refuse to embrace the gospel, and who perversely rise up against it, let
us not be disturbed as by some new thing, seeing that the whole human
race is infected with the disease of pride; for by the gospel all the
glory of the flesh is reduced to nothing; rather let us know that all
remain obstinate, except those who are rendered meek by the subduing
influence of the Spirit.
  12. "And his brethren went." Before Moses treats of the horrible
design of fratricide, he describes the journey of Joseph, and amplifies,
by many circumstances, the atrocity of the crime. Their brother
approaches them in the discharge of a duty, to make a fraternal inquiry
after their state. He comes by the command of his father; and obeys it
without reluctance, as appears from his answer. He searches them out
anxiously; and though they had changed their place, he spares neither
labour nor trouble till he finds them. Therefore their cruelty was
something more than madness, seeing they did not shrink with horror from
contriving the death of a brother so pious and humane. We now see that
Moses does not relate, without a purpose, that a man met Joseph in his
wanderings, and told him that his brethren had departed to Dothan. For
the greater was his diligence in his indefatigable pursuit, so much the
less excusable were they by whom such an unworthy recompense was repaid.
  18. "And when they saw him afar off." Here again Moses, so far from
sparing the fame of his own family by adulation, brands its chiefs with
a mark of eternal infamy, and exposes them to the hatred and execration
of all nations. If, at any time, among heathens, a brother murdered his
brother, such impiety was treated with the utmost severity in tragedies,
that it might not pass into an example for imitation. But in profane
history no such thing is found, as that nine brethren should conspire
together for the destruction of an innocent youth, and, like wild
beasts, should pounce upon him with bloody hands. Therefore a horrible,
and even diabolical fury, took possession of the sons of Jacob, when,
having cast aside the sense of nature, they were thus prepared cruelly
to rage against their own blood.
  But, in addition to this wickedness, Moses condemns their impious
contempt of God, "Behold this master of dreams". For why do they insult
the unhappy youth, except because he had been called by the celestial
oracle to an unexpected dignity? Besides, in this manner, they
themselves proclaim their own baseness more publicly than any one could
do, who should purposely undertake severely to chastise them. They
confess that the cause why they persecuted their brother was his having
dreamed; as if truly this ass an inexpiable offense; but if they are
indignant at his dreams, why do they not rather wage war with God? For
Joseph deemed it necessary to receive, as a precious deposit, what had
been divinely revealed unto him. But because they did not dare directly
to assail God, they wrap themselves in clouds, that, losing sight of
God, they may vent their fury against their brother. If such blindness
seized upon the patriarchs, what shall become of the reprobates, whom
obstinate malice drives along, so that they do not hesitate to resist
God even to the last? And we see that they willingly disturb and excite
themselves, as often as they are offended with the threatenings and
chastisements of God, and rise up against his ministers for the sake of
taking vengeance. The same thing, indeed, would at times happen to us
all, unless God should put on his bridle to render us submissive. With
respect to Joseph, the special favour of God was manifested to him, and
he was raised to the highest dignity; but only in a dream, which is
ridiculed by the wicked scorn of his brethren. To this is also added a
conspiracy, so that he narrowly escaped death. Thus the promise of God,
which had exalted him to honour, almost plunges him into the grave. We,
also, who have received the gratuitous adoption of God amidst many
sorrows, experience the same thing. For, from the time that Christ
gathers us into his flock, God permits us to be cast down in various
ways, so that we seem nearer hell than heaven. Therefore, let the
example of Joseph be fixed in our minds, that we be not disquieted when
many crosses spring forth to us from the root of God's favour. For I
have before showed, and the thing itself clearly testifies, that in
Joseph was adumbrated, what was afterwards more fully exhibited in
Christ, the Head of the Church, in order that each member may form
itself to the imitation of his example.
  20. "And cast him into some pit." Before they perpetrate the murder,
they seek a pretext whereby they may conceal their crime from men.
Meanwhile, it never enters into their mind, that what is hidden from men
cannot escape the eyes of God. But so stupid is hypocrisy, that while it
flees from the disgrace of the world, it is careless about the judgment
of God. But it is a disease deeply rooted in the human mind, to put some
specious colour on every extreme act of iniquity. For although an inward
judge convicts the guilty, they yet confirm themselves in impudence,
that their disgrace may not appear unto others.
  "And we shall see what will become of his dreams." As if the truth of
God could be subverted by the death of one man, they boast that they
shall have attained their wish when they have killed their brother;
namely, that his dreams will come to nothing. This is not, indeed, their
avowed purpose, but turbulent envy drives them headlong to fight against
God. But whatever they design in thus contending with God in the dark,
their attempts will, at length, prove vain. For God will always find a
way through the most profound abyss, to the accomplishment of what he
has decreed. If, then, unbelievers provoke us by their reproaches, and
proudly boast that our faith will profit us nothing; let not their
insolence discourage or weaken us, but let us confidently proceed.
  21. "And Reuben heard it." It may be well to observe, while others
were hastening to shed his blood, by whose care Joseph was preserved.
Reuben doubtless, in one affair, was the most wicked of them all, when
he defiled his father's couch; and that unbridled lust, involving other
vices, was the sign of a depraved nature: now suddenly, he alone, having
a regard to piety, and being mindful of fraternal duty, dissolves the
impious conspiracy. It is uncertain whether he was now seeking the means
of making some compensation, for the sake of which he might be restored
to his father's favour. Moses declares that it was his intention to
restore the boy in safety to his father: whence the conjecture which I
have stated is probable, that he thought the life of his brother would
be a sufficient price by which he might reconcile his father's mind to
himself. However this may be, yet the humanity which he showed in
attempting to liberate his brother, is a proof that he was not abandoned
to every kind of wickedness. And perhaps God, by this testimony of his
penitence, designed in some degree to lessen his former disgrace. Whence
we are taught that the characters of men are not to be estimated by a
single act, however atrocious, so as to cause us to despair of their
  22. "Cast him into this pit". The pious fallacy to which Reuben
descended, sufficiently proves with what vehemence the rage of his
brethren was burning. For he neither dares openly to oppose them, nor to
dissuade them from their crime; because he saw that no reasons would
avail to soften them. Nor does it extenuate their cruelty, that they
consent to his proposal, as if they were disposed to clemency; for if
either one course or the other were necessary, it would have been better
for him immediately to die by their hands, than to perish by slow hunger
in the pit, which is the most cruel kind of punishment. Their gross
hypocrisy is rather to be noticed; because they think that they shall be
free from crime, if only they do not stain their hands with their
brother's blood. As if, indeed, it made any difference, whether they ran
their brother through with a sword, or put him to death by suffocation.
For the Lord, when he accuses the Jews by Isaiah, of having hands full
of blood, does not mean that they were assassins, but he calls them
bloody, because they did not spare their suffering brethren. Therefore,
the sons of Jacob are nothing better, in casting their brother alive
under ground, that, as one buried, he might in vain contend with death,
and perish after protracted torments; and in choosing a pit in the
desert, from which no mortal could hear his dying cry, though his
sighing would ascend even to heaven. It was a barbarous thought, that
they should not touch his life, if they did not imbrue their hands in
his blood; since it was a kind of death, not less violent, which they
wished to inflict by hunger. Reuben, however, accommodating his language
to their brutal conceptions, deemed it sufficient to repress, by any
kind of artifice, their impetuosity for the present.
  23. "They stripped Joseph out of his coat." We see that these men are
full of fictions and lies. They carelessly strip their brother; they
feel no dread at casting him with their own hands into the pit, where
hunger worse than ten swords might consume him; because they hope their
crime will be concealed; and in taking home his clothes, no suspicion of
his murder would be excited; because, truly, their father would believe
that he had been torn by a wild beast. Thus Satan infatuates wicked
minds, so that they entangle themselves by frivolous evasions.
Conscience is indeed the fountain of modesty; but Satan so soothes by
his allurements those whom he has entangled in his snares, that
conscience itself, which ought to have cited them as guilty before the
bar of God, only hardens them the more. For, having found out
subterfuges, they break forth far more audaciously into sin, as if they
might commit with impunity whatever escapes the eyes of men. Surely it
is a reprobate sense, a spirit of frenzy and of stupor, which is
withheld from any daring attempt, only by a fear of the shame of men;
while the fear of divine judgment is trodden under foot. And although
all are not carried thus far, yet the fault of paying more honour to men
than to God, is too common. The repetition of the word "coat" in the
sentence of Moses is emphatical, showing that this mark of the father's
love could not mollify their minds.
  25. "And they sat down to eat bread." This was an astonishing
barbarity, that they could quietly feast, while, in intention, they were
guilty of their brother's death: for, had there been one drop of
humanity in their souls, they would at least have felt some inward
compunctions; yea, commonly, the very worst men are afraid after the
commission of a crime. Since the patriarchs fell into such a state of
insensibility, let us learn, from their example, to fear lest, by the
righteous anger of God, the same lethargy should seize upon our senses.
Meanwhile, it is proper to consider the admirable progress of God's
counsel. Joseph had already passed through a double death: and now, as
if by a third death, he is, beyond all expectation, rescued from the
grave. For what was it less than death, to be sold as a slave to
foreigners? Indeed his condition was rendered worse by the chance;
because Reuben, secretly drawing him out of the pit, would have brought
him back to his father: whereas now he is dragged to a distant part of
the earth, without hope of return. But this was a secret turn, by which
God had determined to raise him on high. And at length, he shows by the
event, how much better it was that Joseph should be led far away from
his own family, than that he should remain in safety at home. Moreover,
the speech of Judah, by which he persuades his brethren to sell Joseph,
has somewhat more reason. For he ingenuously confesses that they would
be guilty of homicide, if they suffered him to perish in the pit. What
gain shall we make, he says, if his blood be covered; for our hands will
nevertheless be polluted with blood. By this time their fury was in some
degree abated, so that they listened to more humane counsel; for though
it was outrageous perfidy to sell their brother to strangers; yet it was
something to send him away alive, that, at least, he might be nourished
as a slave. We see, therefore, that the diabolical flame of madness,
with which they had all burned, was abating, when they acknowledged that
they could profit nothing by hiding their crime from the eyes of men;
because homicide must of necessity come into view before God. For at
first, they absolved themselves from guilt, as if no Judge sat in
heaven. But now the sense of nature, which the cruelty of hatred had
before benumbed, begins to exert its power. And certainly, even in the
reprobate, who seem entirely to have cast off humanity, time shows that
some residue of it remains. When wicked and violent affections rage,
their tumultuous fervor hinders nature from acting its part. But no
minds are so stupid, that a consideration of their own wickedness will
not sometimes fill them with remorse: for, in order that men may come
inexcusable to the judgment-seat of God, it is necessary that they
should first be condemned by themselves. They who are capable of cure,
and whom the Lord leads to repentance, differ from the reprobates in
this, that while the latter obstinately conceal the knowledge of their
crimes, the former gradually return from the indulgence of sin, to obey
the voice of reason. Moreover, what Judah here declares concerning his
brother, the Lord, by the prophet, extends to the whole human race.
Whenever, therefore, depraved lust impels to unjust violence, or any
other injury, let us remember this sacred bond by which the whole of
society is bound together, in order that it may restrain us from evil
doings. For man cannot injure men, but he becomes an enemy to his own
flesh, and violates and perverts the whole order of nature.
  28. "Then there passed by Midianites." Some think that Joseph was
twice sold in the same place. For it is certain, since Median was the
son of Abraham and Keturah, that his sons were distinct from the sons of
Ishmael: and Moses has not thoughtlessly put down these different names.
But I thus interpret the passage: that Joseph was exposed for sale to
any one who chose, and seeing the purchase of him was declined by the
Midianites, he was sold to the Ishmaelites. Moreover, though they might
justly suspect the sellers of having stolen him, yet the desire of gain
prevents them from making inquiry. We may also add, what is probable,
that, on the journey, they inquired who Joseph was. But they did not set
such a value on their common origin as to prevent them from eagerly
making gain. This passage, however, teaches us how far the sons of
Abraham, after the flesh, were preferred to the elect offspring, in
which, nevertheless, the hope of the future Church was included. We see
that, of the two sons of Abraham, a posterity so great was propagated,
that from both proceeded merchants in various places: while that part of
his seed which the Lord had chosen to himself was yet small. But so the
children of this world, like premature fruit, quickly arrive at the
greatest wealth and at the summit of happiness; whereas the Church,
slowly creeping through the greatest difficulties, scarcely attains,
during a long period, to the condition of mediocrity.
  30. "And he returned." We may hence gather that Reuben, under pretence
of some other business, stole away from his brethren, that, unknown to
them all, he might restore his brother, drawn out of the pit, to his
father; and that therefore he was absent at the time when Joseph was
sold. And there is no wonder that he was anticipated, when he had taken
his course in a different direction from theirs, intending to reach the
pit by a circuitous path. But now at length Reuben having lost all hope,
unfolds to his brethren the intention which before he dared not confess,
lest the boy should be immediately murdered.
  31. "And they took Joseph's coat." They now return to their first
scheme. In order that their father may have no suspicion of their crime,
they send the bloody coat, from which he might conjecture that Joseph
had been torn by some wild beast. Although Moses alludes to this
briefly, I yet think that they rather sent some of their servants, who
were not accessory to the crime, than any of their number. For he says
soon afterwards, that his sons and daughters came to offer some
consolation to him in his grief. And although in the words they use,
there lurks some appearance of insult, it seems to me more probable that
they gave this command to avert suspicion from themselves. For they
feign themselves to be of confused mind, as is usual in affairs of
perplexity. Yet whatever they intend, their wickedness drives them to
this point, that they inflict a deadly wound upon the mind of their
father. This is the profit which hypocrites gain by their disguises,
that in wishing to escape the consequences of one fault, they add sin to
sin. With respect to Jacob, it is a wonder that after he had been tried
in so many ways, and always come forth a conqueror, he should now sink
under grief. Certainly it was very absurd that the death of his son
should occasion him greater sorrow than the incestuous pollution of his
wife, the slaughter of the Shechemites, and the defilement of his
daughter. Where was that invincible strength, by which he had even
prevailed over the angel? Where the many lessons of patience with which
God had exercised him, in order that he might never fail? This
disposition to mourn, teaches us that no one is endued with such heroic
virtues, as to be exempt from that infirmity of the flesh, which betrays
itself sometimes even in little things; whence also it happens, that
they who have long been accustomed to the cross, and who like veteran
soldiers ought bravely to bear up against every kind of attack, fall
like young recruits in some slight skirmish. Who then among us may not
fear for himself, when we see holy Jacob faint, after having given so
many proofs of patience?
  35. "And all his sons and daughters rose up." The burden of his grief
is more clearly expressed by the circumstance that all his sons and
daughters meet together to comfort him. For by the term "rose up," is
implied a common deliberation, they having agreed to come together,
because necessity urged them. But hence it appears how vast is the
innate dissimulation of men. The sons of Jacob assume a character by no
means suitable to them; and perform an office of piety, from which their
minds are most alien. If they had had respect unto God, they would have
acknowledged their fault, and though no remedy might have been found for
their evil, yet repentance would have brought forth some fruit; but now
they are satisfied with a vanity as empty as the wind. By this example
we are taught how carefully we ought to avoid dissimulation, which
continually implicates men in new snares.
  "But he refused to be comforted." It may be asked, whether Jacob had
entirely cast off the virtue of patience: for so much the language seems
to mean. Besides, he sins more grievously, because he, knowingly and
voluntarily, indulges in grief: for this is as if he would purposely
augment his sorrow, which is to rebel against God. But I suppose his
refusal to be restricted to that alleviation of grief which man might
offer. For nothing is more unreasonable than that a holy man, who, all
his life had borne the yoke of God with such meekness of disposition,
should now, like an unbroken horse, bite his bridle; in order that, by
nourishing his grief, he might confirm himself in unsubdued impetuosity.
I therefore do not doubt that he was willing now to submit himself unto
the Lord, though he rejects human consolations. He seems also angrily to
chide his sons, whose envy and malevolence towards Joseph he knew, as if
he would upbraid them by declaring that he esteemed this one son more
than all the rest: since he rather desires to be with him, dead in the
grave, than to enjoy the society of ten living sons whom he had yet
remaining; for I except little Benjamin. I do not, however, here excuse
that excess of grief which I have lately condemned. And certainly he
proves himself to be overwhelmed with sadness, in speaking of the grave,
as if the sons of God did not pass through death to a better life. And
hence we learn the blindness of immoderate grief, which almost quenches
the light of faith in the saints; so much the more diligent, then, ought
we to be in our endeavor to restrain it. Job greatly excelled in piety;
yet we see, after he had been oppressed by the magnitude of his grief,
in what a profane manner he mixes men with beasts in death. If the
angelic minds of holy men were thus darkened by sadness, how much deeper
gloom will rest upon us, unless God, by the shining of his word and
Spirit, should scatter it, and we also, with suitable anxiety, meet the
temptation, before it overwhelms us? The principal mitigation of sorrow
is the consolation of the future life; to which whosoever applies
himself, need not fear lest he should be absorbed by excess of grief.
Now though the immoderate sorrow of Jacob is not to be approved; yet the
special design of Moses was, to set a mark of infamy on that iron
hardness which cruelly reigned in the hearts of his sons. They saw that,
if their father should miserably perish, consumed with grief, they would
be the cause of it; in short, they saw that he was already dying through
their wickedness. If they are not able to heal the wound, why, at least,
do they not attempt to alleviate his pain? Therefore they are
exceedingly cruel, seeing that they have not sufficient care of their
father's life, to cause them to drop a single word in mitigation of his
sorrow, when it was in their power to do so.
  36. "And the Midianites sold him into Egypt." It was a sad spectacle,
that Joseph should be thus driven from one hand to another. For it added
no small indignity to his former suffering, that he is set to sale as a
slave. The Lord, however, ceased not to care for him. He even suffered
him to be transferred from hand to hand, in order that, at length, it
might indeed appear, that he had come, by celestial guidance, to that
very dominion which had been promised him in his dreams. Potiphar is
called a eunuch, not because he was one really; but because, among the
Orientals, it was usual to denote the satraps and princes of the court
by that name. The Hebrews are not agreed respecting the dignity which
Moses ascribes to him; for some explain it as the "chief of the
slaughterers," whom the Greek interpreters follow. But I rather agree
with others, who say that he was "the prefect of the soldiers;" not that
he had the command of the whole army, but because he had the royal
troops under his hand and authority: such are now the captains of the
guard, if you join with it another office which the prefects of the
prison exercise. For this may be gathered from the thirty-ninth chapter.

Chapter XXXVIII.

1 And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his
brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name [was] Hirah.
2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name
[was] Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.
3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.
4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.
5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name
Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name [was] Tamar.
7 And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and
the LORD slew him.
8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry
her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass,
when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled [it] on the
ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him
11 Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy
father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest
peradventure he die also, as his brethren [did]. And Tamar went and
dwelt in her father's house.
12 And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and
Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he
and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.
13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to
Timnath to shear his sheep.
14 And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a
vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which [is] by the
way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given
unto him to wife.
15 When Judah saw her, he thought her [to be] an harlot; because she had
covered her face.
16 And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let
me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she [was] his daughter in
law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in
unto me?
17 And he said, I will send [thee] a kid from the flock. And she said,
Wilt thou give [me] a pledge, till thou send [it]?
18 And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet,
and thy bracelets, and thy staff that [is] in thine hand. And he gave
[it] her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.
19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put
on the garments of her widowhood.
20 And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to
receive [his] pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not.
21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where [is] the harlot,
that [was] openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in
this [place].
22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the
men of the place said, [that] there was no harlot in this [place].
23 And Judah said, Let her take [it] to her, lest we be shamed: behold,
I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.
24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah,
saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also,
behold, she [is] with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her
forth, and let her be burnt.
25 When she [was] brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying,
By the man, whose these [are, am] I with child: and she said, Discern, I
pray thee, whose [are] these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.
26 And Judah acknowledged [them], and said, She hath been more righteous
than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her
again no more.
27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins
[were] in her womb.
28 And it came to pass, when she travailed, that [the one] put out [his]
hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread,
saying, This came out first.
29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his
brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? [this]
breach [be] upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.
30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon
his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

  1. "And it came to pass at that time, that Judah." Before Moses
proceeds in relating the history of Joseph, he inserts the genealogy of
Judah, to which he devotes more labour, because the Redeemer was thence
to derive his origin; for the continuous history of that tribe, from
which salvation was to be bought, could not remain unknown, without
loss. And yet its glorious nobility is not here celebrated, but the
greatest disgrace of the family is exposed. What is here related, so far
from inflating the minds of the sons of Judah, ought rather to cover
them with shame. Now although, at first sight, the dignity of Christ
seems to be somewhat tarnished by such dishonor: yet since here also is
seen that "emptying" of which St. Paul speaks, it rather redounds to his
glory, than, in the least degree, detracts from it. First, we wrong
Christ, unless we deem him alone sufficient to blot out any ignominy
arising from the misconduct of his progenitors, which offer to
unbelievers occasion of offense. Secondly, we know that the riches of
God's grace shines chiefly in this, that Christ clothed himself in our
flesh, with the design of making himself of no reputation. Lastly, it
was fitting that the race from which he sprang should be dishonored by
reproaches, that we, being content with him alone, might seek nothing
besides him; yea, that we might not seek earthly splendor in him, seeing
that carnal ambition is always too much inclined to such a course. These
two things, then, we may notice; first, that peculiar honour was given
to the tribe of Judah, which had been divinely elected as the source
whence the salvation of the world should flow; and secondly, that the
narration of Moses is by no means honorable to the persons of whom he
speaks; so that the Jews have no right to arrogate anything to
themselves or to their fathers. Meanwhile, let us remember that Christ
derives no glory from his ancestors; and even, that he himself has no
glory in the flesh, but that his chief and most illustrious triumph was
on the cross. Moreover, that we may not be offended at the stains with
which his ancestry was defiled, let us know that, by his infinite
purity, they were all cleansed; just as the sun, by absorbing whatever
impurities are in the earth and air, purges the world.
  2. "And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite." I am not
satisfied with the interpretation which some give of "merchant" to the
word Canaanite. For Moses charges Judah with perverse lust, because he
took a wife out of that nation with which the children of Abraham were
divinely commanded to be at perpetual strife. For neither he nor his
other brethren were ignorant that they sojourned in the land of Canaan,
under the stipulation, that afterwards their enemies were to be cut off
and destroyed, in order that they might possess the promised dominion
over it. Moses, therefore, justly regards it as a fault, that Judah
should entangle himself in a forbidden alliance; and the Lord, at
length, cursed the offspring thus accruing to Judah, that the prince and
head of the tribe of Judah might not be born, nor Christ himself
descend, from this connection. This also ought to be numbered among the
exercises of Jacob's patience, that a wicked grandson was born to him
through Judah, of whose sin he was not ignorant. Moses says, that the
youth was cut off by the vengeance of God. The same thing is not said of
others whom a sudden death has swept away in the flower of their age. I
doubt not, therefore, that the wickedness, of which death was the
immediate punishment, was extraordinary, and known to all men. And
although this trial was in itself severe to the holy patriarch; yet
nothing tormented his mind more than the thought, that he could scarcely
hope for the promise of God to be so ratified that the inheritance of
grace should remain in the possession of wicked and abandoned men. It is
true that a large family of children is regarded as a source of human
happiness. But this was the peculiar condition of the holy patriarch,
that, though God had promised him an elect and blessed seed, he now sees
an accursed progeny increase and shoot forth together with his
offspring, which might destroy the expected grace. It is said, that Er
was wicked in the sight of the Lord, (verse 7.) Notwithstanding, his
iniquity was not hidden from men. Moses, however, means that he was not
merely infected with common vices, but rather was so addicted to crimes,
that he was intolerable in the sight of God.
  7. "And the Lord slew him." We know that long life is reckoned among
the gifts of God; and justly: for since it is by no means a despicable
honour that we are created after the image of God, the longer any one
lives in the world, and daily experiences God's care over him, it is
certain that he is the more bountifully dealt with by the Lord. Even
amidst the many miseries with which life is filled, this divine goodness
still shines forth, that God invites us to himself, and exercises us in
the knowledge of himself; while at the same time he adorns us with such
dignity, that he subjects to our authority whatever is in the world.
Wherefore it is no wonder that God, as an act of kindness, prolongs the
life of man. Whence it follows, that when the wicked are taken away by a
premature death, a punishment for their wickedness is inflicted upon
them: for it is as if the Lord should pronounce judgment from heaven,
that they are unworthy to be sustained by the earth, unworthy to enjoy
the common light of heaven. Let us therefore learn, as long as God keeps
us in the world, to meditate on his benefits, to the end that every one
may the more cheerfully endeavor to give praise to God for the life
received from him. And although, at the present day also, sudden death
is to be reckoned among the scourges of God; since that doctrine is
always true, "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their
days," (Ps. 55: 23;) yet God executed this judgment more fully under the
law, when the knowledge of a future life was comparatively obscure; for
now, since the resurrection is clearly manifested to us in Christ, it is
not right that death should be so greatly dreaded. And this difference
between us and the ancient people of God is elsewhere noted.
Nevertheless, it can never be laid down as a general rule, that they who
had a long life were thereby proved to be pleasing and acceptable to the
Lord, whereas God has sometimes lengthened the life of reprobates, in
aggravation of their punishment. We know that Cain survived his brother
Abel many centuries. But as God does not always, and to all persons,
cause his temporal benefits manifestly to flow in a perpetual and
equable course; so neither, on the other hand, does he always execute
temporal punishments by the same rule. It is enough that, as far as the
present life is concerned, certain examples of punishments and rewards
are set before us. Moreover, as the miseries of the present life, which
spring from the corruption of nature, do not extinguish the first and
special grace of God; so, on the other hand, death, which is in itself
the curse of God, is so far from doing any injury, that it tends, by a
supernatural remedy, to the salvation of the elect. Especially now, from
the time that the first-fruits of the resurrection in Christ have been
offered, the condition of those who are quickly taken out of life is in
no way deteriorated; because Christ himself is gain both for life and
death. But the vengeance of God was so clear and remarkable in the death
of Er, that the earth might plainly appear to have been purged as from
its filthiness.
  8. "Go in unto thy brother's wife." Although no law had hitherto been
prescribed concerning brother's marriages, that the surviving brother
should raise up seed to one who was dead; it is, nevertheless, not
wonderful that, by the mere instinct of nature, men should have been
inclined to this course. For since each man is born for the preservation
of the whole race, if any one dies without children, there seems to be
here some defect of nature. It was deemed therefore an act of humanity
to acquire some name for the dead, from which it might appear that they
had lived. Now, the only reason why the children born to the surviving
brother, should be reckoned to him who had died, was, that there might
be no dry branch in the family; and in this manner they took away the
reproach of barrenness. Besides, since the woman is given as a help to
the man, when any woman married into a family, she was, in a certain
sense, given up to the name of that family. According to this reasoning,
Tamar was not altogether free, but was held under an obligation to the
house of Judah, to procreate some seed. Now, though this does not
proceed from any rule of piety, yet the Lord had impressed it upon the
hearts of man as a duty of humanity; as he afterwards commanded it to
the Jews in their polity. Hence we infer the malignity of Onan, who
envied his brother this honour, and would not allow him, when dead, to
obtain the title of father; and this redounds to the dishonor of the
whole family. We see that many grant their own sons to their friends for
adoption: it was, therefore, an outrageous act of barbarity to deny to
his own brother what is given even to strangers. Moreover he has not
only shortened his brother concerning the right due to him, but he
rather spilled seed on the ground than to raise a son in his brother's
  10. "And the thing which he did displeased the LORD." Less neatly the
Jews speak about this matter. I will contend myself with briefly
mentioning this, as far as the sense of shame allows to discuss it. It
is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and
woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on
the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the
hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before
he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned
by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent
and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and
as cruel as shamefully has thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as
much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race.
When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through
aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was
guilty of a similar crime, by defiling the earth with his seed, so that
Tamar would not receive a future inheritor.
  11. "Then said Judah to Tamar." Moses intimates that Tamar was not at
liberty to marry into another family, so long as Judah wished to retain
her under his own authority. It is possible that she voluntarily
submitted herself to the will of her father-in-law, when she might have
refused: but the language seems to mean, that it was according to a
received practice, that Tamar should not pass over to another family,
except at the will of her father-in-law, as long as there was a
successor who might raise up seed by her. However this may be, Judah
acted very unjustly in keeping one bound, whom he intended to defraud.
For truly there was no cause why he should be unwilling to allow her to
depart free from his house, unless he dreaded the charge of inconstancy.
But he should not have allowed this ambitious sense of shame to render
him perfidious and cruel to his daughter-in-law. Besides, this injury
sprung from a wrong judgment: because, without considering the causes of
the death of his sons, he falsely and unjustly transfers the blame to an
innocent woman. He believes the marriage with Tamar to have been an
unhappy one; why therefore does he not, for his own sake, permit her to
seek a husband elsewhere? But in this also he does wrong, that whereas
the cause of his sons' destruction was their own wickedness, he judges
unfavorably of Tamar herself, to whom no evil could be imputed. Let us
then learn from this example, whenever anything adverse happens to us,
not to transfer the blame to another, nor to gather from all quarters
doubtful suspicions, but to shake off our own sins. We must also beware
lest a foolish shame should so prevail over us, that while we endeavor
to preserve our reputation uninjured among men, we should not be equally
careful to maintain a good conscience before God.
  13. "And it was told Tamar." Moses relates how Tamer avenged herself
for the injury done her. She did not at first perceive the fraud, but
discovered it after a long course of time. When Shelah had grown up,
finding herself deceived, she turned her thoughts to revenge. And it is
not to be doubted that she had long meditated, and, as it were, hatched
this design. For the message respecting Judah's departure was not
brought to her accidentally; but, because she was intent upon her
purpose, she had set spies who should bring her an account of all his
doings. Now, although she formed a plan which was base, and unworthy of
a modest woman, yet this circumstance is some alleviation of her crime,
that she did not desire a connection with Judah, except while in a state
of celibacy. In the meantime, she is hurried, by a blind error of mind,
into another crime, not less detestable than adultery. For, by adultery,
conjugal fidelity would have been violated; but, by this incestuous
intercourse, the whole dignity of nature is subverted. This ought
carefully to be observed, that they who are injured should not hastily
rush to unlawful remedies. It was not lust which impelled Tamar to
prostitute herself. She grieved, indeed, that she had been forbidden to
marry, that she might remain barren at home: but she had no other
purpose than to reproach her father-in-law with the fraud by which he
had deceived her: at the same time, we see that she committed an
atrocious crime. This is wont to happen, even in good causes, when any
one indulges his carnal affections more than is right. What Moses
alludes to respecting garments of widowhood, pertains to the law of
modesty. For elegant clothing which may attract the eyes of men, does
not become widows. And therefore, Paul concedes more to wives than to
them; as having husbands whom they should wish to please.
  14. "And sat in an open place." Interpreters expound this passage
variously. Literally, it is "in the door of fountains, or of eyes." Some
suppose there was a fountain which branched into two streams; others
think that a broad place is indicated, in which the eyes may look around
in all directions. But a third exposition is more worthy of reception;
namely, that by this expression is meant a way which is forked and
divided into two; because then, as it were, a door is opened before the
eyes, that they which are really in one way may diverge in two
directions. Probably it was a place whence Tamer might be seen, to which
some by-way was near, where Judah might turn, so that he should not be
guilty of fornication, in a public way, under the eyes of all. When it
is said she veiled her face, we hence infer that the license of
fornication was not so unbridled as that which, at this day, prevails in
many places. For she dressed herself after the manner of harlots, that
Judah might suspect nothing. And the Lord has caused this sense of shame
to remain engraved on the hearts of those who live wickedly, that they
may be witnesses to themselves of their own vileness. For if men could
wash out the stains from their sins, we know that they would do so most
willingly. Whence it follows, that while they flee from the light, they
are affected with horror against their will, that their conscience may
anticipate the judgment of God. By degrees, indeed, the greater part
have so far exceeded all measure in stupor and impudence, that they are
less careful to hide their faults; yet God has never suffered the sense
of nature to be so entirely extinguished, by the brutal intemperance of
those who desire to sin with impunity, but that their own obscenity
shall compel even the most wicked to be ashamed. Base was therefore the
impudence of that cynic philosopher, who, being catched in vice, boasted
of planting a person. In short, the veil of Tamer shows that fornication
was not only a base and filthy thing in the sight of God and the angels;
but that it has always been condemned, even by those who have practiced
  15. "When Judah saw her." It was a great disgrace to Judah that he
hastily desired intercourse with an unknown woman. He was now old; and
therefore age alone, even in a lascivious man, ought to have restrained
the fervor of intemperance. He sees the woman at a distance, and it is
not possible that he should have been captivated by her beauty. The lust
kindles him as a stallion neighs when it smells a mare. Hence we gather,
that the fear of God, or a regard to justice and prosperity, cannot have
flourished greatly in the heart of one who thus eagerly breaks forth to
the indulgence of his passions. He is therefore set before us as an
example, that we may learn how easily the lust of the flesh would break
forth, unless the Lord should restrain it; and thus, conscious of our
infirmity, let us desire from the Lord, a spirit of continence and
moderation. But lest the same security should steal over us, which
caused Judah to precipitate himself into fornication; let us mark, that
the dishonor which Judah sustained in consequence of his incest, was a
punishment divinely inflicted upon him. Who then will indulge in a crime
which he sees, by this dreadful kind of vengeance, to be so very hateful
to God?
  16. "What wilt thou give me," &c. Tamar did not wish to make a gain by
the prostitution of her person, but to have a certain pledge, in order
that she might boast of the revenge taken for the injury she had
received: and indeed there is no doubt that God blinded Judah, as he
deserved; for how did it happen that he did not know the voice of his
daughter-in-law, with which he had been long familiar? Besides, if a
pledge must be given for the promised kid, what folly to deliver up his
ring to a harlot? I pass over the absurdity of his giving a double
pledge. It appears, therefore, that he was then bereft of all judgment;
and for no other cause are these things written by Moses, than to teach
us that his miserable mind was darkened by the just judgment of God,
because, by heaping sin upon sin, he had quenched the light of the
  20. "And Judah sent the kid." He sends by the hand of a friend, that
he may not reveal his ignominy to a stranger. This is also the reason
why he does not dare to complain of the lost pledges, lest he should
expose himself to ridicule. For I do not approve the sense given, by
some, to the words, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed, as if
Judah would excuse himself, as having fulfilled the promise he had
given. Another meaning is far more suitable; namely, that Judah would
rather lose the ring, than, by spreading the matter further, give
occasion to the speeches of the vulgar; because lighter is the loss of
money than of character. He might also fear being exposed to ridicule
for having been so credulous. But he was chiefly afraid of the disgrace
arising from his fornication. Here we see that men who are not governed
by the Spirit of God are always more solicitous about the opinion of the
world than about the judgment of God. For why, when the lust of the
flesh excited him, did it not come into his mind, "Behold now I shall
become vile in the sight of God and of angels?" Why, at least, after his
lust has cooled, does he not blush at the secret knowledge of his sin?
But he is secure, if only he can protect himself from public infamy.
This passage, however, teaches, what I have said before, that
fornication is condemned by the common sense of men, lest any one should
seek to excuse himself on the ground of ignorance.
  24. "And it came to pass about three months after." Tamar might sooner
have exposed the crime; but she waited till she should be demanded for
capital punishment; for then she would have stronger ground for
expostulation. The reason why Judah subjects his daughter-in-law to a
punishment so severe, was, that he deemed her guilty of adultery: for
what the Lord afterwards confirmed by his law, appears then to have
prevailed by custom among men, that a maid, from the time of her
espousals, should be strictly faithful to her husband. Tamar had married
into the family of Judah; she was then espoused to his third son. It was
not therefore simple and common fornication which was the question for
judgment; but the crime of adultery, which Judah prosecuted in his own
right, because he had been injured in the person of his son. Now this
kind of punishment is a proof that adultery has been greatly abhorred in
all ages. The law of God commands adulterers to be stoned. Before
punishment was sanctioned by a written law, the adulterous woman was, by
the consent of all, committed to the flames. This seems to have been
done by a divine instinct, that, under the direction and authority of
nature, the sanctity of marriage might be fortified, as by a firm guard:
and although man is not the lord of his own body, but there is a mutual
obligation between himself and his wife, yet husbands who have had
illicit intercourse with unmarried women have not been subject to
capital punishment; because that punishment was awarded to women, not
only on account of their immodesty, but also, of the disgrace which the
woman brings upon her husband, and of the confusion caused by the
clandestine admixture of seeds. For what else will remain safe in human
society, if license be given to bring in by stealth the offspring of a
stranger? To steal a name which may be given to spurious offspring? And
to transfer to them property taken away from the lawful heirs? It is no
wonder, then, that formerly the fidelity of marriage was so sternly
asserted on this point. How much more vile, and how much less excusable,
is our negligence at this day, which cherishes adulteries, by allowing
them to pass with impunity. Capital punishment, indeed, is deemed too
severe for the measure of the offense. Why then do we punish lighter
faults with greater rigor? Truly, the world was beguiled by the wiles of
Satan, when it suffered the law, engraven on all by nature, to become
obsolete. meanwhile, a pretext has been found for this gross madness, in
that Christ dismissed the adulteress in safety, (John 8: 11,) as if,
truly, he had undertaken to indict punishment upon thieves, homicides,
liars, and sorcerers. In vain, therefore, is a rule sought to be
established by an act of Christ, who purposely abstained from the office
of an earthly judge. It may however be asked, since Judah, who thus
boldly usurps the right of the sword, was a private person, and even a
stranger in the land; whence had he this great liberty to be the arbiter
of life and death? I answer, that the words ought not to be taken as if
he would command, on his own authority, his daughter-in-law to be put to
death, or as if executioners were ready at his nod; but because the
offense was verified and made known, he, as her accuser, freely
pronounces concerning the punishment, as if the sentence had already
been passed by the judges. Indeed I do not doubt that assemblies were
then wont to be held, in which judgments were passed; and therefore I
simply explain, that Judah commanded Tamar to be brought forward in
public; in order that, the cause being tried, she might be punished
according to custom. But the specification of the punishment is to this
effect, that the case is one which does not admit of dispute; because
Tamar is convicted of the crime before she is cited to judgment.
  26. "And Judah acknowledged them." The open reproach of Tamar
proceeded from the desire of revenge. She does not seek an interview
with her father-in-law, for the purpose of appeasing his mind; but, with
a deliberate contempt of death, she demands him as the companion of her
doom. That Judah immediately acknowledges his fault, is a proof of his
honesty; for we see with how many fallacies nearly all are wont to cover
their sins, until they are dragged to the light, and all means of
denying their guilt have failed. Here, though no one is present who
could extort a confession, by force or threats, Judah voluntarily stoops
to make one, and takes the greater share of the blame to himself. Yet,
seeing that, in confessing his fault, he is now silent respecting
punishment; we hence infer, that they who are rigid in censuring others,
are much more pliant in forgiving themselves. In this, therefore, we
ought to imitate him; that, without rack or torture, truth should so far
prevail with us, that we should not be ashamed to confess, before the
whole world, those sins with which God charges us. But we must avoid his
partiality; lest, while we are harsh towards others, we should spare
ourselves. This narrative also teaches us the importance of not
condemning any one unheard; not only because it is better that the
innocent should be absolved than that a guilty person should perish, but
also, because a defense brings many things to light, which sometimes
render a change in the form of judgment necessary.
  "She has been more righteous than I." The expression is not strictly
proper; for he does not simply approve of Tamar's conduct; but speaks
comparatively, as if he would say, that he had been, unjustly and
without cause, angry against a woman, by whom he himself might rather
have been accused. Moreover, by the result, it appears how tardily the
world proceeds in exacting punishment for crimes, where no private
person stands forward to avenge his own injury. An atrocious and
horrible crime had been committed; as long as Judah thought himself
aggrieved, he pressed on with vehemence, and the door of judgment was
opened. But now, when the accusation is withdrawn, both escape; though
certainly it was the duty of all to rise up against them. Moses however
intimates that Judah was sincerely penitent; because "he knew" his
daughter-in-law "again no more." He also confirms what I have said
before, that by nature men are imbued with a great horror of such a
crime. For whence did it arise, that he abstained from intercourse with
Tamar, unless he judged naturally, that it was infamous for a
father-in-law to be connected with his daughter-in-law? Whoever attempts
to destroy the distinction which nature dictates, between what is base
and what is honorable, engages, like the giants, in open war with God.
  27. "Behold twins were in her womb." Although both Judah obtained
pardon for his error, and Tamar for her wicked contrivance; yet the
Lord, in order to humble them, caused a prodigy to take place in the
birth. Something similar had before happened in the case of Jacob and
Esau, but for a different reason: as we know that prodigies sometimes
portend good, sometimes evil. Here, however, there is no doubt that the
twins, in their very birth, bring with them marks of their parents'
infamy. For it was both profitable to themselves that the memory of
their shame should be renewed, and it served as a public example, that
such a crime should be branded with eternal disgrace. There is an
ambiguity in the meaning of the midwife's words. Some suppose the
"breaking forth" to apply to the membrane of the womb, which is broken
when the foetus comes forth. Others more correctly suppose, that the
midwife wondered how Pharez, having broken through the barrier
interposed, should have come out first; for his brother, who had
preceded him, was, as an intervening wall, opposed to him. To some the
expression appears to be an imprecation; as if it had been said, "Let
the blame of the rupture be upon thee." But Moses, so far as I can
judge, intends to point out nothing more, than that a prodigy took place
at the birth.


1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of
Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of
the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.
2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was
in the house of his master the Egyptian.
3 And his master saw that the LORD [was] with him, and that the LORD
made all that he did to prosper in his hand.
4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made
him overseer over his house, and all [that] he had he put into his hand.
5 And it came to pass from the time [that] he had made him overseer in
his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the
Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was
upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.
6 And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he
had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was [a] goodly
[person], and well favoured.
7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast
her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.
8 But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master
wotteth not what [is] with me in the house, and he hath committed all
that he hath to my hand;
9 [There is] none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept
back any thing from me but thee, because thou [art] his wife: how then
can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?
10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he
hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, [or] to be with her.
11 And it came to pass about this time, that [Joseph] went into the
house to do his business; and [there was] none of the men of the house
there within.
12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left
his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her
hand, and was fled forth,
14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them,
saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in
unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:
15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and
cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.
16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.
17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew
servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:
18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left
his garment with me, and fled out.
19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife,
which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to
me; that his wrath was kindled.
20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place
where the king's prisoners [were] bound: and he was there in the prison.
21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him
favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the
prisoners that [were] in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he
was the doer [of it].
23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing [that was] under his
hand; because the LORD was with him, and [that] which he did, the LORD
made [it] to prosper.

1. "And Joseph was brought down." For the purpose of connecting it with
the remaining part of the history, Moses repeats what he had briefly
touched upon, that Joseph had been sold to Potiphar the Egyptian: he
then subjoins that God was with Joseph, so that he prospered in all
things. For although it often happens that all things proceed with
wicked men according to their wish, whom God nevertheless does not bless
with his favour; still the sentiment is true and the expression of it
proper, that it is never well with men, except so far as the Lord shows
himself to be gracious to them. For he vouchsafes his blessing, for a
time, even to reprobates, with whom he is justly angry, in order that he
may gently invite and even allure them to repentance; and may render
them more inexcusable, if they remain obstinate; meanwhile, he curses
their felicity. Therefore, while they think they have reached the height
of fortune, their prosperity, in which they delighted themselves, is
turned into ruin. Now whensoever God deprives men of his blessing,
whether they be strangers or of his own household, they must necessarily
decline; because no good flows except from Him as the fountain. The
world indeed forms for itself a goddess of fortune, who whirls round the
affairs of men; or each man adores his own industry; but Scripture draws
us away from this depraved imagination, and declares that adversity is a
sign of God's absence, but prosperity, a sign of his presence. However,
there is not the least doubt that the peculiar and extraordinary favour
of God appeared towards Joseph, so that he was plainly known to be
blessed by God. Moses immediately afterwards adds, that Joseph was in
the house of his master, to teach us that he was not at once elevated to
an honorable condition. There was nothing more desirable than liberty;
but he is reckoned among the slaves, and lives precariously, holding his
life itself subject to the will of his master. Let us then learn, even
amidst our sufferings, to perceive the grace of God; and let it suffice
us, when anything severe is to be endured, to have our cup mingled with
some portion of sweetness, lest we should be ungrateful to God, who, in
this manner, declares that he is present with us.
  3. "And his master saw." Here that which has been lately alluded to
more clearly appears, that the grace of God shone forth in Joseph, in no
common or usual manner; since it became thus manifest to a man who was a
heathen, and, in this respect, blind. How much more base is our
ingratitude, if we do not refer all our prosperous events to God as
their author; seeing that Scripture often teaches us, that nothing
proceeding from men, whether counsels, or labors, or any means which
they can devise, will profit them, except so far as God gives his
blessing. And whereas Potiphar, on this account, conceived so much
greater regard for Joseph, as to set him over his house; we hence
gather, that heathens may be so affected by religion, as to be
constrained to ascribe glory to God. However, his ingratitude again
betrays itself, when he despises that God whose gifts he estimates so
highly in the person of Joseph. He ought at least to have inquired who
that God was, that he might conform himself to the worship due to him:
but he deems it enough, insomuch as he thinks it will be for his private
advantage, to acknowledge that Joseph was divinely directed, in order
that he may use his labour with greater profit.
  "The lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand." This was a
wonderful method of procedure, that the entire blessing by which the
Lord was pleased to testify his paternal love towards Joseph, should
turn to the gain of the Egyptians. For since Joseph neither sowed nor
reaped for himself, he was not at all enriched by his labour. But in
this way it was brought about that a proud man, who otherwise might have
abused him as a vile and sordid slave, should treat him humanely and
liberally. And the Lord often soothes the wicked by such favors, lest
when they have suffered any injury, they should turn the fury of their
indignation against the pious. We here see how abundantly the grace of
God is poured out upon the faithful, since a portion of his kindness
flows from them even to the reprobate. We are also taught what an
advantage it is to receive the elect children of God to our hospitality,
or to join ourselves to those whom the divine favour thus accompanies,
that it may diffuse its fragrance to those who are near them. But since
it would not greatly profit us to be saturated with those temporal
benefits of God, which suffocate and ruin the reprobate; we ought to
centre all our wishes on this one point, that God may be propitious to
us. Far better was it for Joseph that Potiphar's wealth should be
increased for his sake; than it was for Potiphar to make great gain by
  6. "And he left all that he had." Joseph reaped this fruit of the
divine love and kindness towards him, that he was cheered by some
alleviation of his servitude, at least, for a short time. But a new
temptation soon assailed him. For the favour which he had obtained was
not only annihilated, but became the cause and origin of a harsher
fortune. Joseph was governor over the whole house of Potiphar. From that
post of honour he is hurried into prison, in order that he may be soon
brought forth to the punishment of death. What then could enter into his
mind, but that he was forsaken and abandoned by God, and was continually
exposed to new dangers? He might even imagine that God had declared
himself his enemy. This history, therefore, teaches us that the pious
have need of peculiar discernment to enable them, with the eyes of
faith, to consider those benefits of God by which he mitigates the
severity of their crosses. For when he seems to stretch out his hand to
them, for the sake of bringing them assistance, the light which had
shone forth often vanishes in a moment, and denser darkness follows in
its place. But here it is evident, that the Lord, though he often
plunges his own people into the waves of adversity, yet does not deceive
them; seeing that, by sometimes moderating their sufferings, he grants
them time to breathe. So Joseph, though fallen from his office as
governor of the house, was yet never deserted; nor had that relaxation
of his sufferings proved in vain, by which his mind was raised, not to
pride, but to the patient endurance of a new cross. And truly for this
end, God meets with us in our difficulties, that then, with collected
strength, as men refreshed, we may be the better prepared for other
  "And Joseph was a goodly person, and well-favoured." Whereas elegance
of form was the occasion of great calamity to holy Joseph, let us learn
not greatly to desire those graces of person which may conciliate the
favour of the world; but rather let each be content with his own lot. We
see to how many dangers they are exposed, who excel in beauty; for it is
very difficult for such to restrain themselves from all lascivious
desires. Although in Joseph religion so prevailed that he abhorred all
impurity; yet Satan contrived a means of destruction for him, from
another quarter, just as he is accustomed to turn the gifts of God into
snares whereby to catch souls. Wherefore we must earnestly ask of God,
that amid so many dangers, he would govern us by his Spirit, and
preserve those gifts with which he has adorned us, pure from every
stain. When it is said that Potiphar's wife "cast her eyes upon Joseph,"
the Holy Spirit, by this form of speech, admonishes all women, that if
they have chastity in their heart, they must guard it by modesty of
demeanor. For, on this account also, they bear a veil upon their heads,
that they may restrain themselves from every sinful allurement: not that
it is wrong for a woman to look at men; but Moses here describes an
impure and dissolute look. She had often before looked upon Joseph
without sin: but now, for the first time, she casts her eyes upon him,
and contemplates his beauty more boldly and wantonly than became a
modest woman. Thus we see that the eyes were as torches to inflame the
heart to lust. By which example we are taught that nothing is more easy,
than for all our senses to infect our minds with depraved desires,
unless we are very earnestly on our guard. For Satan never ceases
diligently to suggest those things which may incite us to sin. The
senses both readily embrace the occasion of sin which is presented to
them, and also eagerly and quickly convey it to the mind. Wherefore let
every one endeavor sedulously to govern his eyes, and his ears, and the
other members of his body, unless he wishes to open so many doors to
Satan, into the innermost affections of his heart: and especially as the
sense of the eyes is the most tender, no common care must be used in
putting them under restraint.
  7. "Lie with me." Moses only briefly touches upon the chief points,
and the sum of the things he relates. For there is no doubt that this
impure woman endeavored, by various arts, to allure the pious youth, and
that she insinuated herself by indirect blandishments, before she broke
forth to such a shameless kind of license. But Moses, omitting other
things, shows that she had been pushed so far by base lust, as not to
shrink from openly soliciting a connection with Joseph. Now as this
filthiness is a signal proof that carnal lust acts from blind and
furious impulses; so, in the person of Joseph, an admirable example of
fidelity and continence is set before us. His fidelity and integrity
appear in this, that he acknowledges himself to be the more strictly
bound, the greater the power with which he is entrusted. Ingenuous and
courageous men have this property, that the more is confided to them,
the less they can bear to deceive: but it is a rare virtue for those who
have the power of doing injury to cultivate honesty gratuitously.
Wherefore Joseph is not undeservedly commended by Moses, for regarding
the authority with which he was invested by his master, as a bridle to
restrain him from transgressing the bounds of duty. Besides, he gives
also a proof of his gratitude, in bringing forward the benefits received
from his master, as a reason why he should not subject him to any
disgrace. And truly hence arises at this day such confusion everywhere,
that men are half brutal, because this sacred bond of mutual society is
broken. All, indeed, confess, that if they have received any benefit
from another, they are under obligation to him: one even reproaches
another for his ingratitude; but there are few who sincerely follow the
example of Joseph. Lest, however, he should seem to be restrained only
by a regard to man, he also declares that the act would be offensive to
God. And, indeed, nothing is more powerful to overcome temptation than
the fear of God. But he designedly commends the generosity of his
master, in order that the wicked woman may desist from her abandoned
purpose. To the same point is the objection which he mentions, "Neither
has he kept anything back from me but thee, because thou art his wife."
Why does he say this, except that, by recalling the religious obligation
of marriage, he may wound the corrupt mind of the woman, and may cure
her of her insane passion? Therefore he not only strenuously strives to
liberate himself from her wicked allurements; but, lest her lusts should
prove indomitable, he proposes to her the best remedy. And we may know
that the sanctity of marriage is here commended to us in the history of
Joseph, whereby the Lord would declare himself to be the maintainer of
matrimonial fidelity, so that none who violate another's bed should
escape his vengeance. For he is a surety between the man and his wife,
and requires mutual chastity from each. Whence it follows that, besides
the injury inflicted upon man, God himself is grievously wronged.
  10. "As she spake to Joseph day by day." The constancy of Joseph is
commended; from which it appears that a real fear of God reigned in his
mind. Whence it came to pass that he not only repelled one attack, but
stood forth, to the last, the conqueror of all temptations. We know how
easy it is to fall when Satan tempts us through another: because we seem
exempt from blame, if he who induces us to commit the crime, bears a
part of it. Holy Joseph, therefore, must have been endowed with the
extraordinary power of the Spirit, seeing that he stood invincible to
the last, against all the allurements of the impious woman. So much the
more detestable is the wickedness of her, who is neither corrected by
time, nor restrained by many repulses. When she sees a stranger, and one
who had been sold as a slave, so discreet and so faithful to his master,
when she is also sacredly admonished by him not to provoke the anger of
God, how indomitable is that lust which gives no place to shame. Now,
because we here see into what evils persons will rush, when regard to
propriety is extinguished by carnal intemperance, we must entreat the
Lord that He will not suffer the light of his Spirit to be quenched
within us.
  11. "And it came to pass about this time." That is, in the process of
time, seeing she will not desist from soliciting holy Joseph, it happens
at length, that she adds force to blandishments. Now, Moses here
describes the crisis of the combat. Joseph had already exhibited a noble
and memorable example of constancy; because, as a youth, so often
tempted, through a constant succession of many days, he had preserved
the even tenor of his way; and at that age, to which pardon is wont to
be granted, if it break forth into intemperance, he was more moderate
than almost any old man. But now when the woman openly raves, and her
love is turned into fury, the more arduous the contest has become, the
more worthy of praise is his magnanimity, which remains inflexible
against this assault. Joseph saw that he must incur the danger of losing
both his character and his life: he chose to sacrifice his character,
and was prepared to relinquish life itself, rather than to be guilty of
such wickedness before God. Seeing the Spirit of God proposes to us such
an example in a youth, what excuse does he leave for men and women of
mature age, if they voluntarily precipitate themselves into crime, or
fall into it by a light temptation? To this, therefore, we must bend all
our efforts, that regard for God alone, may prevail to subdue all carnal
affections, and even that we may more highly value a good and upright
conscience than the plaudits of the whole world. For no one will prove
that he heartily loves virtue, but he who, being content with God as his
only witness, does not hesitate to submit to any disgrace, rather than
decline from the path of duty. And truly, since even among heathens such
proverbs as these are current, "that conscience is a thousand
witnesses," and that it is "a most beautiful theatre," we should be
greatly ashamed of our stupor, unless the tribunal of God stands so
conspicuously in our view, as to cast all the perverse judgments of the
world into the shade. Therefore, away with those vain pretexts, "I wish
to avoid offense," "I am afraid lest men should interpret amiss what I
have done aright;" because God does not regard himself as being duly
honored, unless we, ceasing to be anxious about our own reputation,
follow wheresoever he alone calls us; not that he wishes us simply to be
indifferent to our own reputation, but because it is an indignity, as
well as an absurdity, that he should not be preferred to men. Let, then,
the faithful, as much as in them lies, endeavor to edify their neighbors
by the example of an upright life; and for this end, let them prudently
guard against every mark of evil; but if it be necessary to endure the
infamy of the world, let them through this temptation also, proceed in
the direction of their divine vocation
  "He has brought in an Hebrew unto us." Here we see what desperation
can effect. For the wicked woman breaks forth from love into fury.
Whence it clearly appears what brutal impulses lust brings with it, when
its reins are loosened. Certainly alien Satan has once gained the
dominion over miserable men, he never ceases to hurry them hither and
thither, until he drives them headlong by the spirit of giddiness and
madness. We see, also, how he hardens to obstinacy the reprobate, whom
he holds fast bound under his power. God, indeed, often inspires the
wicked with terror, so that they commit their crimes with trembling. And
it is possible that the signs of a guilty conscience appeared in the
countenance and in the words of this impure woman: nevertheless, Satan
confirms her in that degree of hardness, that she boldly adopts the
design to ruin the holy youth; and, at the moment, contrives the fraud
by which she may oppress him, though innocent, just as if she had long
meditated, at leisure, on his destruction. She had before sought
secrecy, that no witness might be present; now she calls her domestics,
that, by this kind of prejudging of the case, she may condemn the youth
before her husband. Besides, she involves her husband in the accusation,
that she may compel him, by a sense of shame, to punish the guiltless.
"It is by thy fault, (she says,) that this stranger has been mocking
me." What other course does she leave open to her husband, than that he
should hasten, with closed eyes, to avenge her, for the sake of purging
himself from this charge? Therefore, though all wicked persons are
fearful, yet they contract such hardness from their stupor, that no fear
hinders them from rushing obstinately forward into every abyss of
iniquity, and insolently trampling upon the good and simple. And we must
obscene this trial of the holy man, in order that we may take care to be
clothed with that spirit of fortitude, which not even the iron-hardness
of the wicked shall be able to break. Even this other trial was not a
light one, that he receives so unworthy a reward of his humanity. He had
covered the disgrace of the woman in silence, in order that she might
have had opportunity to repent, if she had been curable; he now sees
that, by his modesty, he has brought himself into danger of death. We
learn, by his not sinking under the trial, that it was his sincere
determination to yield himself freely to the service of God. And we must
do the same, in order that the ingratitude of men may, by no means,
cause us to swerve from our duty.
  19. "When his master heard the words of his wife." Seeing that a
colour so probable was given to the transaction, there is no wonder that
jealousy, the motions of which are exceedingly vehement and ardent,
should so far have prevailed with Potiphar, as to cause him to credit
the calumnies of his wife. Yet the levity with which he instantly thrust
a servant, whom he had found prudent and honest, into prison, without
examining the cause, cannot be excused. He ought certainly to have been
less under the influence of his wife. And, therefore, he received the
just reward of his too easy folly, by cherishing with honour, a harlot
in the place of a wife, and by almost performing the office of a pander.
This example is useful to all; yet husbands especially are taught that
they must use prudence, lest they should be carried rashly hither and
thither, at the will of their wives. And, truly, since we everywhere see
that they who are too obsequious to their wives are held up to ridicule;
let us know that the folly of these men is condemned by the just
judgment of God, so that we may learn to pray for the spirit of gravity
and moderation. There is no doubt that Moses expressly condemns the
rashness of Potiphar, in becoming inflamed against Joseph, as soon as he
had heard his wife, and in giving the reins to his indignation, just as
if the guilt of Joseph had been proved; for thus all equity is excluded,
no just defense is allowed, and finally, the true and accurate
investigation of the cause is utterly rejected. But it may be asked, How
could the jealousy of Potiphar be excited, since Moses before has said
that he was an eunuch? The solution of the question is easy; they were
accustomed to be called eunuchs in the East, not only who were so
really, but who were satraps and nobles. Wherefore, this name is of the
same force as if Moses had said that he was one of the chief men of the
  20. "And put him into the prison." Though Moses does not state with
what degree of severity Joseph was afflicted at the beginning of his
imprisonment, yet we readily gather that he was not allowed any liberty,
but was thrust into some obscure dungeon. The authority of Potiphar was
paramount; he had the keeper of the prison under his power, and at his
disposal. What clemency could be hoped for from a man who was jealous
and carried away with the vehemence of his anger? There is no doubt that
what is related of Joseph in Psalm 105: 18, "His feet were made fast in
fetters, and the iron entered into his soul," had been handed down by
tradition from the fathers. What a reward of innocence! For, according
to the flesh, he might ascribe whatever he was suffering to his
integrity. Truly, in this temptation he must have mourned in great
perplexity and anxiety before God. And though Moses does not record his
prayers, yet, since it is certain that he was not crushed beneath the
cross, and did not murmur against it, it is also probable that he was
reposing on the hope of Divine help. And to flee unto God is the only
stay which will support us in our afflictions, the only armour which
renders us invincible.
  21. "But the Lord was with Joseph." It appears, from the testimony of
the Psalmist just cited, that Joseph's extreme sufferings were not
immediately alleviated. The Lord purposely suffered him to be reduced to
extremity, that he might bring him back as from the grave. We know that
as the light of the sun is most clearly seen when we are looking from a
dark place; so, in the darkness of our miseries, the grace of God shines
more brightly when, beyond expectation, he succors us. Moreover, Moses
says, the Lord was with Joseph, because he extended this grace or mercy
towards him; whence we may learn, that God, even when he delivers us
from unjust violence, or when he assists us in a good cause, is yet
induced to do so by his own goodness. For since we are unworthy that he
should grant us his help, the cause of its communication must be in
himself; seeing that he is merciful. Certainly if merits, which should
lay God under obligation, are to be sought for in men, they would have
been found in Joseph; yet Moses declares that he was assisted by the
gratuitous favour of God. This, however, is no obstacle to his leaving
received the reward of his piety, which is perfectly consistent with the
gratuitous kindness of God. The manner of exercising this kindness is
also added; namely, that the Lord gave him favour with the keeper of the
prison. There is, indeed, no doubt that Joseph was acceptable to the
keeper for many reasons: for even virtue conciliates favour to itself;
and Moses has before shown that the holy man was amiable in many ways;
but because it often happens that the children of God are treated with
as great inhumanity as if they were the worst of all men, Moses
expressly states that the keeper of the prison, at length, became
humane; because his mind, which was not spontaneously disposed to
equity, had been divinely inclined to it. Therefore, that the keeper of
the prison, having laid aside his cruelty, acted with kindness and
gentleness, was a change which proceeded from God, who governs the
hearts of men according to his own will. But it is a wonder that the
keeper of the prison did not fear lest he should incur the displeasure
of Potiphar: and even that Potiphar himself, who without difficulty
could have interfered, should yet have suffered a man whom he mortally
hated to be thus kindly and liberally treated. It may be answered with
truth, that his cruelty had been divinely restrained: but it is also
probable that he had suspected, and at length, been made acquainted with
the subtle scheme of his wife. Although, however, he might be appeased
towards holy Joseph, he was unwilling to acquit him to his own dishonor.
Meanwhile the remarkable integrity of Joseph manifests itself in this,
that when he is made the guard of the prison, and has the free
administration of it, he nevertheless does not attempt to escape, but
waits for the proper season of his liberation.

Chapter XL.

1 And it came to pass after these things, [that] the butler of the king
of Egypt and [his] baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt.
2 And Pharaoh was wroth against two [of] his officers, against the chief
of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers.
3 And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into
the prison, the place where Joseph [was] bound.
4 And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served
them: and they continued a season in ward.
5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one
night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler
and the baker of the king of Egypt, which [were] bound in the prison.
6 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them,
and, behold, they [were] sad.
7 And he asked Pharaoh's officers that [were] with him in the ward of
his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye [so] sadly to day?
8 And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and [there is] no
interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, [Do] not interpretations
[belong] to God? tell me [them], I pray you.
9 And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my
dream, behold, a vine [was] before me;
10 And in the vine [were] three branches: and it [was] as though it
budded, [and] her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought
forth ripe grapes:
11 And Pharaoh's cup [was] in my hand: and I took the grapes, and
pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand.
12 And Joseph said unto him, This [is] the interpretation of it: The
three branches [are] three days:
13 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore
thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand,
after the former manner when thou wast his butler.
14 But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I
pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me
out of this house:
15 For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here
also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.
16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said
unto Joseph, I also [was] in my dream, and, behold, [I had] three white
baskets on my head:
17 And in the uppermost basket [there was] of all manner of bakemeats
for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head.
18 And Joseph answered and said, This [is] the interpretation thereof:
The three baskets [are] three days:
19 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee,
and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from
off thee.
20 And it came to pass the third day, [which was] Pharaoh's birthday,
that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of
the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.
21 And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he
gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand:
22 But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.
23 Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.

  1. "And it came to pass after these things." We have already seen,
that when Joseph was in bonds, God cared for him. For whence arose the
relaxation afforded him, but from the divine favour? Therefore, God,
before he opened the door for his servant's deliverance, entered into
the very prison to sustain him with his strength. But a far more
illustrious benefit follows; for he is not only liberated from prison,
but exalted to the highest degree of honour. In the meantime, the
providence of God led the holy man through wonderful and most intricate
paths. The butler and baker of the king are cast into the prison; Joseph
expounds to them their dreams. Restoration to his office having been
promised to the butler, some light of hope beams upon the holy captive;
for the butler agreed, after he should have returned to his post, to
become the advocate for Joseph's pardon. But, again, that hope was
speedily cut off, when the butler failed to speak a word to the king on
behalf of the miserable captive. Joseph, therefore, seemed to himself to
be buried in perpetual oblivion, until the Lord again suddenly rekindles
the light which had been smothered, and almost extinguished. Thus, when
he might have delivered the holy man directly from prison, he chose to
lead him around by circuitous paths, the better to prove his patience,
and to manifest, by the mode of his deliverance, that he has wonderful
methods of working, hidden from our view. He does this that we may learn
not to measure, by our own sense, the salvation which he has promised
us; but that we may suffer ourselves to be turned hither or thither by
his hand, until he shall have performed his work. By the butler and the
baker we are not to understand any common person of each rank, but those
who presided over the rest; for, soon afterwards, they are called
eunuchs or nobles. Ridiculous is the fiction of the trifler Gerundensis,
who, according to his manner, asserts that they were made eunuchs for
the sake of infamy, because Pharaoh had been enraged against them. They
were, in short, two of the chief men of the court. Moses now more
clearly declares that the prison was under the authority of Potiphar.
Whence we learn what I have before said, that his anger had been
mitigated, since without his consent, the jailer could not have acted
with such clemency towards Joseph. Even Moses ascribes such a measure of
humanity to Potiphar, that he committed the butler and baker to the
charge of Joseph. Unless, perhaps, a new successor had been then
appointed in Potiphar's place; which, however, is easily refuted from
the context, because a little afterwards Moses says that the master of
Joseph was the captain of the guard, (ver. 3.) When Moses says they were
kept in prison a season, some understand by the word, a whole year; but
in my judgment they are mistaken; it rather denotes a long but uncertain
time, as appears from other places.
  5. "And they dreamed a dream." What I have before alluded to
respecting dreams must be recalled to memory; namely, that many
frivolous things are presented to us, which pass away and are forgotten;
some, however, have the force and significance of prophecy. Of this kind
were these two dreams, by which God made known the hidden result of a
future matter. For unless the mark of a celestial oracle had been
engraven upon then, the butler and the baker would not have been in such
consternation of mind. I acknowledge, indeed, that men are sometimes
vehemently agitated by vain and rashly conceived dreams; yet their
terror and anxiety gradually subsides; but God had fixed an arrow in the
minds of the butler and the baker, which would not suffer them to rest;
and by this means, each was rendered more attentive to the
interpretation of his dream. Moses, therefore, expressly declares that
it was a presage of something certain.
  6. "And Joseph came in unto them, in the morning." As I have lately
said, we ought here to behold, with the eyes of faith, the wonderful
providence of God. For, although the butler and baker are certainly
informed of their own fate; yet this was not done so much out of regard
to them, as in favour of Joseph; whom God designed, by this method, to
make known to the king. Therefore, by a secret instinct he had rendered
them sad and astonished, as if he would lead them by the hand to his
servant Joseph. It is, however, to be observed, that by a new
inspiration of the Spirit, the gift of prophecy, which he had not before
possessed, was imparted to him in the prison. When he had previously
dreamed himself, he remained, for a while, in suspense and doubt
respecting the divine revelation; but now he is a certain interpreter to
others. And though, when he was inquiring into the cause of their
sadness, he perhaps did not think of dreams; yet, from the next verse it
appears that he was conscious to himself of having received the gift of
the Spirit; and, in this confidence, he exhorts them to relate the
dreams, of which he was about to be the interpreter. Do not
interpretations (he says) belong to God? Certain]y he does not
arrogantly transfer to himself what he acknowledges to be peculiar to
God; but according to the means which his vocation supplied, he offers
them his service. This must be noted, in order that no one may
undesignedly usurp more to himself than he knows that God has granted
him. For, on this account, Paul so diligently teaches that the gifts of
the Spirit are variously distributed, (1 Cor. 12: 4,) and that God has
assigned to each a certain post, in order that no one may act
ambitiously, or intrude himself into another's office; but rather that
each should keep himself within the bounds of his own calling. Unless
this degree of moderation shall prevail, all things will necessarily be
thrown into confusion; because the truth of God will be distorted by the
foolish temerity of many; peace and concord will be disturbed, and, in
short, no good order will be maintained. Let us learn, therefore, that
Joseph confidently promised an interpretation of the dreams, because he
knew that he was furnished and adorned with this gift by God. The same
remark applies to his interrogation respecting the dreams. For he does
not attempt to proceed beyond what his own power authorized him to do:
he does not, therefore, divine what they had dreamed, but confesses it
was hidden from him. The method pursued by Daniel was different, for he
was enabled, by a direct revelation, to state and interpret the dream
which had entirely escaped the memory of the king of Babylon. (Dan. 2:
28.) He, therefore, relying upon a larger measure of the Spirit, does
not hesitate to profess that he can both divine and interpret dreams.
But Joseph, to whom the half only of these gifts was imparted, keeps
himself within legitimate bounds. Besides, he not only guards himself
against presumption; but, by declaring that whatever he has received is
from God, he ingenuously testifies that he has nothing from himself. He
does not, therefore, boast of his own quickness or clear-sightedness,
but wishes only to be known as the servant of God. Let those who excel,
follow this rule; lest, by ascribing too much to themselves, (which
commonly happens,) they obscure the grace of God. Moreover, this vanity
is to be restrained, not only that God alone may be glorified, and may
not be robbed of his right; but that prophets, and teachers, and all
others who are indued with heavenly grace, may humbly submit themselves
to the direction of the Spirit. What Moses says is also to be observed,
that Joseph was concerned at the sadness of those who were with him in
prison. For thus men become softened by their own afflictions, so that
they do not despise others who are in misery; and, in this way, common
sufferings generate sympathy. Wherefore it is not wonderful that God
should exercise us with various sorrows; since nothing is more becoming
than humanity towards our brethren, who, being weighed down with trials,
lie under contempt. This humanity, however, must be learned by
experience; because our innate ferocity is more and more inflated by
  12. "The three branches are three days." Joseph does not here offer
what he thought to be probable, like some ambiguous conjecturer; but
asserts, by the revelation of the Spirit, the meaning of the dream. For
why does he say, that by the three branches, three days rather than
years are signified, unless because the Spirit of God had suggested it?
Joseph, therefore, proceeds, by a special impulse above nature, to
expound the dream; and by immediately commending himself to the butler,
as if he was already restored, shows how certain and indubitable was the
truth of his interpretation: as if he had said, "Be convinced that what
thou hast heard of me has come from God." Where also he shows how
honorably he thinks of the oracles of God, seeing that he pronounces
concerning the future effect with as much confidence as if it had
already taken place. But it may be deemed absurd, that Joseph asks for a
reward of his prophecy. I answer, that he did not speak as one who would
set the gift of God to sale: but it came into his mind, that a method of
deliverance was now set before him by God, which it was not lawful for
him to reject. Indeed, I do not doubt that a hope of better fortune had
been divinely imparted to him. For God, who, even from his childhood,
had twice promised him dominion, did not leave him, amidst so many
straits, entirely destitute of all consolation. Now this opportunity of
seeking deliverance was offered to him by none but God. Wherefore, it is
not surprising that Joseph should thus make use of it. With respect to
the expression, "Lift up thine head;" it signifies to raise any one from
a low and contemptible condition, to one of some reputation. Therefore,
"Pharaoh will lift up thine head," means, he will bring thee forth from
the darkness of the prisons, or he will raise thee who art fallen, and
restore thee to thy former rank. For I take the word to mean simply
place or rank, and not basis.
  14. "Show kindness I pray thee unto me." Although the expression "show
kindness" is used among the Hebrews to describe the common exercise of
humanity; there is yet no doubt that Joseph spoke simply as his own sad
and afflicted condition suggested, for the purpose of inclining the mind
of the butler to procure him help. He insists, however, chiefly on this,
that he had been thrust into prison for no crime, in order that the
butler might not refuse his assistance to an innocent man. For although
they who are most wicked find patrons; yet commendation elicited by
importunity, which rescues a wicked man from deserved punishment, is in
itself an odious and infamous thing. It is, however, probable that
Joseph explained his whole cause, so that he fully convinced the butler
of his innocence.
  16. "When the chief baker saw." He does not care respecting the skill
and fidelity of Joseph as an interpreter; but because Joseph had brought
good and useful tidings to his companion, he also desires an
interpretation, which he hopes will prove according to his mind. So,
many, with ardor and alacrity, desire the word of God, not because they
simply wish to be governed by the Lord, and to know what is right, but
because they dream of mere enjoyment. When, however, the doctrine does
not correspond with their wishes, they depart sorrowful and wounded.
Now, although the explanation of the dream was about to prove unpleasant
and severe; yet Joseph, by declaring, without ambiguity, what had been
revealed unto him, executed with fidelity the office divinely committed
to him. This freedom must be maintained by prophets and teachers, that
they may not hesitate, by their teaching, to inflict a wound on those
whom God has sentenced to death. All love to be flattered. Hence the
majority of teachers, in desiring to yield to the corrupt wishes of the
world, adulterate the word of God. Wherefore, no one is a sincere
minister of God's word, but he, who despising reproach, and being ready,
as often as it may be necessary, to attack various offenses, will frame
his method of teaching according to the command of God. Joseph would,
indeed, have preferred to augur well concerning both; but since it is
not in his power to give a prosperous fortune to any one, nothing
remains for him but frankly to pronounce whatever he has received from
the Lord. So, formerly, although the people chose for themselves
prophets who would promise them abundance of wine and oil and corn,
while they exclaimed loudly against the holy prophets, because they let
fall nothing but threatening, (for these complaints are related in
Micah,) yet it was the duty of the servants of the Lord, who had been
sent to denounce vengeance, to proceed with severity, although they
brought upon themselves hatred and danger.
  19. "Pharaoh shall lift up thy head from off thee." This phrase (in
the original) is ambiguous without some addition; and may be taken in a
good or a bad sense; just as we say, "With regard to any one," or "With
respect to him;" here the expression is added "from thee." Yet there
seems to be an allusion of this kind, as if Joseph had said, "Pharaoh
will lift up thy head, that he may take it off." Now, when Moses
relates, that what Joseph had predicted happened to both of them, he
proves by this sign that Joseph was a true prophet of God, as it is
written in Jeremiah. (28: 9.) For that the prophets sometimes threatened
punishments, which God abstained from inflicting, was done for this
reason, because to such prophecies a condition was annexed. But when the
Lord speaks positively by his servants, it is necessary that whatever he
predicts should be confirmed by the result. Therefore, Moses expressly
commends in Joseph, his confidence in the heavenly oracle. With regard
to what Moses records, that Pharaoh celebrated his birth-day by a great
feast, we know that this custom has always been in use, not only among
kings, but also among plebeian men. Nor is the custom to be condemned,
if only men would keep the right end in view; namely, that of giving
thanks unto God by whom they were created and brought up, and whom they
have found, in innumerable ways, to be a beneficent Father. But such is
the depravity of the world, that it greatly distorts those things which
formerly were honestly instituted by their fathers, into contrary
corruptions. Thus, by a vicious practice, it has become common for
nearly all to abandon themselves to luxury and wantonness on their
birth-day. In short, they keep up the memory of God, as the Author of
their life, in such a manner as if it were their set purpose to forget
  23. "Yet did not the chief butler remember." This was the most severe
trial of Joseph's patience, as we have before intimated. For since he
had obtained an advocate who, without trouble, was able to extricate him
from prison, especially as the opportunity of doing so had been granted
to him by God, he felt a certain assurance of deliverance, and earnestly
waited for it every hour. But when he had remained to the end of the
second year in suspense, not only did this hope vanish, but greater
despair than ever rested upon his mind. Therefore, we are all taught, in
his person, that nothing is more improper, than to prescribe the time in
which God shall help us; since he purposely, for a long season, keeps
his own people in anxious suspense, that, by this very experiment, they
may truly know what it is to trust in Him. Besides, in this manner he
designed openly to claim for himself the glory of Joseph's liberation.
For, if liberty had been granted to him through the entreaty of the
butler, it would have been generally believed that this benefit was from
man and not from God. Moreover, when Moses says, that the butler was
forgetful of Joseph, let it be so understood, that he did not dare to
make any mention of him, lest he should be subjected to reproach, or
should be troublesome to the king himself. For it is common with
courtiers perfidiously to betray the innocent, and to deliver them to be
slain, rather than to offend those of whom they themselves are afraid.

Chapter XLI.

1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh
dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river.
2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine
and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow.
3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill
favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the [other] kine upon the brink
of the river.
4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well
favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.
5 And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of
corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.
6 And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up
after them.
7 And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And
Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, [it was] a dream.
8 And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and
he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men
thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but [there was] none that
could interpret them unto Pharaoh.
9 Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my
faults this day:
10 Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the
captain of the guard's house, [both] me and the chief baker:
11 And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man
according to the interpretation of his dream.
12 And [there was] there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the
captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our
dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret.
13 And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he
restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out
of the dungeon: and he shaved [himself], and changed his raiment, and
came in unto Pharaoh.
15 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and [there is]
none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, [that] thou
canst understand a dream to interpret it.
16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, [It is] not in me: God shall
give Pharaoh an answer of peace.
17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the
bank of the river:
18 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fatfleshed
and well favoured; and they fed in a meadow:
19 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill
favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt
for badness:
20 And the lean and the ill favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat
21 And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had
eaten them; but they [were] still ill favoured, as at the beginning. So
I awoke.
22 And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk,
full and good:
23 And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, [and] blasted with the east
wind, sprung up after them:
24 And the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told [this]
unto the magicians; but [there was] none that could declare [it] to me.
25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh [is] one: God hath
shewed Pharaoh what he [is] about to do.
26 The seven good kine [are] seven years; and the seven good ears [are]
seven years: the dream [is] one.
27 And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them
[are] seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind
shall be seven years of famine.
28 This [is] the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God [is]
about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh.
29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the
land of Egypt:
30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the
plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall
consume the land;
31 And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that
famine following; for it [shall be] very grievous.
32 And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; [it is]
because the thing [is] established by God, and God will shortly bring it
to pass.
33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set
him over the land of Egypt.
34 Let Pharaoh do [this], and let him appoint officers over the land,
and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous
35 And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and
lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the
36 And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years
of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not
through the famine.
37 And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all
his servants.
38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find [such a one] as this
[is], a man in whom the Spirit of God [is]?
39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all
this, [there is] none so discreet and wise as thou [art]:
40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my
people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land
of Egypt.
42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's
hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain
about his neck;
43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they
cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him [ruler] over all the
land of Egypt.
44 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I [am] Pharaoh, and without thee shall
no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.
45 And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to
wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went
out over [all] the land of Egypt.
46 And Joseph [was] thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king
of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went
throughout all the land of Egypt.
47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.
48 And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the
land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the
field, which [was] round about every city, laid he up in the same.
49 And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he
left numbering; for [it was] without number.
50 And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came,
which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.
51 And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, [said
he], hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.
52 And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me
to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.
53 And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt,
were ended.
54 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had
said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt
there was bread.
55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to
Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto
Joseph; what he saith to you, do.
56 And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened
all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed
sore in the land of Egypt.
57 And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy [corn];
because that the famine was [so] sore in all lands.

1. "At the end of two full years." What anxiety oppressed the mind of
the holy man during this time, each of us may conjecture from his own
feeling; for we are so tender and effeminate, that we can scarcely bear
to be put off for a short time. The Lord exercised his servant not only
by a delay of long continuance, but also by another kind of temptation,
because he took all human grounds of hope away from him: therefore Moses
puts "years of days" for complete and full years. That we may better
understand the invincible nature of his fortitude, we must also notice
that winding course of divine providence, of which I have spoken, and by
which Joseph was led about, till he rose into notice with the king. In
the king's dream, this is worthy to be observed in the first place, that
God sometimes deigns to present his oracles even to unbelieving and
profane men. It was certainly a singular honour to be instructed
concerning an event yet fourteen years future: for truly the will of God
was manifested to Pharaoh, just as if he had been taught by the word,
except that the interpretation of it was to be sought elsewhere. And
although God designs his word especially for the Church, yet it ought
not to be deemed absurd that he sometimes admits even aliens into his
school, though for an inferior end. The doctrine which leads to the hope
of eternal life belongs to the Church; while the children of this world
are only taught, incidentally, concerning the state of the present life.
If we observe this distinction, we shall not wonder that some oracles
are common to profane and heathen men, though the Church possesses the
spiritual doctrine of life, as the treasure of its own inheritance. That
another dream succeeded to the former, arose from two causes; for God
both designed to rouse the mind of Pharaoh to more diligent inquiry, and
to add more light to a vision which was obscure. In short, he follows
the same course in this dream which he does in his daily method of
procedure; for he repeats a second time what he has before delivered,
and sometimes inculcates still more frequently, not only that the
doctrine may penetrate more deeply into men's hearts, and thus affect
them the more; but also that he may render it more familiar to their
minds. That by the second dream God designed to illustrate more fully
what was obscure in the first, appears from this, that the figure used
was more appropriate to the subject revealed. At first, Pharaoh saw fat
cows devoured by lean ones. This did not so clearly prefigure the seven
years' abundance, and as many years of want in corn and other seeds, as
the vision of the ears of corn did: for the similitude, in the latter
case, better agrees with the thing represented.
  8. "In the morning his spirit was troubled." A sting was left in
Pharaoh's heart, that he might know that he had to deal with God; for
this anxiety was as an inward seal of the Spirit of God, to give
authenticity to the dream; although Pharaoh deserved to be deprived of
the advantage of this revelation, when he resorted to magicians and
soothsayers, who were wont to turn the truth of God into a lie. He was
convinced by a secret impulse that the dream sent by God portended
something important; but he seeks out imposters, who would darken, by
their fallacies, the light which was divinely kindled; and it is the
folly of the human mind to gather to itself leaders and teachers of
error. No doubt he believed them to be true prophets; but because he
voluntarily closes his eyes, and hastens into the snare, his false
opinion forms no sufficient excuse for him; otherwise men, by merely
shutting their eyes, might have some plausible pretext for mocking God
with impunity: and we see that many seek protection for themselves in
that gross ignorance in which they knowingly and purposely involve
themselves. Pharaoh, therefore, as far as he was able, deprived himself
of the benefit of the prophecy, by seeking for magicians as the
interpreters of it. So we see it daily happens that many lose hold of
the truth, because they either bring a cloud over themselves by their
own indolence, or too eagerly catch at false and spurious inventions.
But because the Lord would, at that time, succor the kingdom of Egypt,
he drew Pharaoh back, as by main force, from his error.
  "There was none that could interpret." By this remedy God provided
that the dream should not fail. We know what an inflated and impudent
race of men these soothsayers were, and how extravagantly they boasted.
How did it then happen that they gave the king no answer, seeing they
might have trifled in any way whatever with a credulous man, who
willingly suffered himself to be deluded? Therefore, that he might
desist from inquiry, he is not allowed to find what he had expected in
his magicians: and the Lord so strikes dumb the wicked workers of
deceit, that they cannot even find a specious explanation of the dreams.
Moreover, by this method, the anxiety of the king is sharpened; because
he considers that what has escaped the sagacity of the magicians must be
something very serious and secret. By which example we are taught, that
the Lord provides the best for us, when he removes the incitements of
error from those of us who with to be deceived; and we must regard it as
a singular favour, when either false prophets are silenced, or their
fatuity is, in any manner, discovered to us. As for the rest, the king
might hence easily gather how frivolous and nugatory was the profession
of wisdom, in which the Egyptians gloried above all others; for they
boasted that they were possessed of the science of divination which
ascended above the very heavens. But now, as far as they are concerned,
the king is without counsel, and, being disappointed of his hope, is
filled with anguish; nevertheless he does not so awake as to shake off
his superstition. Thus we see that men, though admonished, remain still
in their torpor. Whence we plainly perceive how inexcusable is the
obstinacy of the world, which does not desist from following those
delusions which are openly condemned as foolishness, from heaven.
  9. "Then spake the chief butler." Although the Lord took pity on
Egypt, yet he did it not for the sake of the king, or of the country,
but that Joseph might, at length, be brought out of prison; and further,
that, in the time of famine, food might be supplied to the Church: for
although the produce was stored with no design beyond that of providing
for the kingdom of Egypt; yet God chiefly cared for his Church, which he
esteemed more highly than ten worlds. Therefore the butler, who had
resolved to be silent respecting Joseph, is constrained to speak for the
liberation of the holy man. In saying, "I do remember my faults this
day," he is understood by some as confessing the fault of ingratitude,
because he had not kept the promise he had given. But the meaning is
different; for he could not speak concerning his imprisonment, without
interposing a preface of this kind, through fear, lest suspicion should
enter into the mind of the king, that his servant thought himself
injured; or, should take offense, as if the butler had not been sensible
of the benefit conferred upon him. We know how sensitive are the minds
of kings; and the courtier had found this out by long experience:
therefore he begins by acknowledging that he had been justly cast into
prison. Whence it follows that he was indebted to the clemency of the
king for restoration to his former state.
  14. "Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph." We see in the person of a
proud king, as in a glass, what necessity can effect. They whose
circumstances are happy and prosperous will scarcely condescend to hear
those whom they esteem true prophets, still less will they listen to
strangers. Wherefore it was necessary that the obstinacy of Pharaoh
should be first subdued, in order that he might send for Joseph, and
accept him as his master and instructor. The same kind of preparation is
also necessary even for the elect; because they never become docile
until the pride of the flesh is laid low. Whenever, therefore, we are
cast into grievous troubles, which keep us in perplexity and anxiety,
let us know that God, in this manner, is accomplishing his design of
rendering us obedient to himself. When Moses relates that Joseph, before
he came into the presence of the king, changed his garments, we may
hence conjecture that his clothing was mean. To the same point, what is
added respecting his "shaving himself," ought, in my opinion, to be
referred: for since Egypt was a nations of effeminate delicacy, it is
probable that they, being studious of neatness and elegance, rather
nourished their hair than otherwise. But as Joseph put off his squalid
raiment, so, that he might have no remaining cause of shame, he is
shaved. Let us know, then, that the servant of God lay in filth even to
the day of his deliverance.
  15. "And Pharaoh said unto Joseph." We see that Pharaoh offers himself
as a disciple to Joseph, being persuaded, by the statement of the
butler, that he is a prophet of God. This is, indeed, a constrained
humility; but it is expressly recorded, in order that, when the
opportunity of learning is afforded us, we may not refuse reverently to
honour the gifts of the Spirit. Now, though Joseph, in referring Pharaoh
to God, seems to deny that he himself is about to interpret the dream,
yet his answer bears on a different point: for, because he knew that he
was conversing with a heathen addicted to superstitions, he wishes,
above all things, to ascribe to God the glory due to him; as if he had
said, I am able to do nothing in this matter, nor will I offer anything
as from myself; but God alone shall be the interpreter of his own
secret. Should any one object, that whenever God uses the agency of men,
their office ought to be referred to in connection with his command:
that indeed I acknowledge, but yet so that the whole glory may remain
with God; according to the saying of St. Paul, "Neither is he that
planteth anything, neither he that watereth." (1 Cor. 3: 7.) Moreover,
Joseph not only desires to imbue the mind of Pharaoh with some relish
for piety, but, by ascribing the gift of interpreting dreams to God
alone, confesses that he is destitute of it, until he obtains it from
God. Wherefore, let us also learn, from the example of holy Joseph, to
honour the grace of God even among unbelievers; and if they shut the
door against the entire and full doctrine of piety; we must, at least,
endeavor to instill some drops of it into their minds. Let us also
reflect on this, that nothing is less tolerable than for men to arrogate
to themselves anything as their own; for this is the first step of
wisdom, to ascribe nothing to ourselves; but modestly to confess, that
whatever in us is worthy of praise, flows only from the fountain of
God's grace. It is especially worthy of notice, that as the Spirit of
understanding is given to any one from heaven, he will become a proper
and faithful interpreter of God.
  16. "God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." Joseph added this
from the kindly feeling of his heart; for he did not yet comprehend what
the nature of the oracle would be. Therefore he could not, in his
character as a prophet, promise a successful and desirable issue; but,
as it was his duty sincerely to deliver what he received from the Lord,
however sad and severe it might prove; so, on the other hand, this
liberty presented no obstacle to his wishing a joyful issue to the king.
Therefore, what is here said to the king concerning peace, is a prayer
rather than a prophecy.
  17. "In my dream." This whole narration does not need to be explained,
for Pharaoh only repeats what we have before considered, with the
addition, that the lean cows, having devoured the fat ones, were
rendered nothing better. Whereby God designed to testify, that the
dearth would be so great, that the people, instead of being nourished by
the abundance of food gathered together, would be famished, and drag on
a miserable existence. Joseph, in answering that the two dreams were
one, simply means, that one and the same thing was showed unto Pharaoh
by two figures. But before he introduces his interpretation, he
maintains that this is not a merely vanishing dream, but a divine
oracle: for unless the vision had proceeded from God, it would have been
foolish to inquire anxiously what it portended. Pharaoh, therefore, does
not here labour in vain in inquiring into the counsel of God. The form
of speaking, however, requires to be noticed; because Joseph does not
barely say that God will declare beforehand what may happen from some
other quarter, but what he himself is about to do. We hence infer, that
God does not indolently contemplate the fortuitous issue of things, as
most philosophers vainly talk; but that he determines, at his own will,
what shall happen. Wherefore, in predicting events, he does not give a
response from the tables of fate, as the poets feign concerning their
Apollo, whom they regard as a prophet of events which are not in his own
power, but declares that whatever shall happen will be his own work. So
Isaiah, that he may ascribe to God alone the glory due to him,
attributes to him, both the revealing of things future, and the
government of ail his events, by his own authority. (Is. 45: 7.) For he
cries aloud that God is neither deceived, nor deceives, like the idols;
and he declares that God alone is the author of good and evil;
understanding by evil, adversity. Wherefore, unless we would cast God
down from his throne, we must leave to him his power of action, as well
as his foreknowledge. And this passage is the more worthy of
observation; because, in all ages, many foolish persons have endeavored
to rob God of half his glory, and now (as I have said) the same figment
pleases many philosophers; because they think it absurd to ascribe to
God whatever is done in the world: as if truly the Scripture had in vain
declared, that his "judgments are a great deep." (Ps. 36: 6.) But while
they would subject the works of God to the judgment of their own brain,
having rejected his word, they prefer giving credit to Plato respecting
celestial mysteries. "That God," they say, "has foreknowledge of all
things, does not involve the necessity of their occurrence:" as if,
indeed, we asserted, that bare prescience was the cause of things,
instead of maintaining the connection established by Moses, that God
foreknows things that are future, because he had determined to do them;
but they ignorantly and perversely separate the providence of God from
his eternal counsel, and his continual operation. Above all things, it
is right to be fully persuaded that, whenever the earth is barren,
whether frost, or drought, or hail, or any other thing, may be the cause
of it, the whole result is directed by the counsel of God.
  32. "And for that the dream was doubled." Joseph does not mean to say,
that what God may have declared but once, is mutable: but he would
prevent Pharaoh's confidence respecting the event revealed, from being
shaken. For since God pronounces nothing but from his own fixed and
steadfast purpose, it is enough that he should have spoken once. But our
dullness and inconstancy cause him to repeat the same thing the more
frequently, in order that what he has certainly decreed, may be fixed in
our hearts; otherwise, as our disposition is variable, so, what we have
once heard from his mouth, is tossed up and down by us, until it
entirely escapes our memory. Moreover, Joseph not only commemorates the
stability of the heavenly decree, but also declares that what God has
determined to do, is near at hand, lest Pharaoh himself should slumber
in the confident expectation of longer delay. For though we confess that
the judgments of God are always hanging over our heads, yet unless we
are stimulated by the thought of their speedy approach, we are but
slightly affected with anxiety and fear respecting them.
  33. "Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man." Joseph does more than
he had been asked to do; for he is not merely the interpreter of the
dream; but, as fulfilling the office of a prophet, he adds instruction
and counsel. For we know that the true and lawful prophets of God do not
barely predict what will happen in future; but propose remedies for
impending evils. Therefore Joseph, after he had uttered a prophecy of
the changes which would take place in fourteen years, now teaches what
ought to be done; and exhorts Pharaoh to be vigilant in the discharge of
this duty. And one of the marks by which God always distinguished his
own prophets from false prognosticators, was to endue them with the
power of teaching and exhorting, that they might not uselessly predict
future events. Let us grant that the predictions of Apollo, and of all
the magicians were true, and were not entangled with ambiguous
expressions; yet whither did they tend, but either to drive men headlong
in perverse confidence, or to plunge them into despair? A very different
method of prophesying was divinely prescribed, which would form men to
piety, would lead them to repentance, and would excite them to prayer
when oppressed with fear. Moreover, because the prophecy of which
mention is here made, was published only for the temporal advantage of
this fleeting life, Joseph proceeds no further than to show the king for
what purpose the dream had been sent to him; as if he had said, "Be not
sorry on account of this revelation; accept this advantage from it, that
thou mayest succor the poverty of thy kingdom." However, there is no
doubt that God guided his tongue, in order that Pharaoh might entrust
him with this office. For he does not craftily insinuate himself into
the king's favour; nor abuse the gift of revelation to his private gain:
but, what had been divinely ordained was brought to its proper issue
without his knowledge; namely, that the famishing house of Jacob should
find unexpected sustenance.
  35. "Under the hand of Pharaoh." Whereas prosperity so intoxicates
men, that the greater part make no provision for themselves against the
future, but absorb the present abundance by intemperance; Joseph advises
the king to take care that the country may have its produce laid up in
store. Besides, the common people would also form themselves to habits
of frugality, when they understood that this great quantity of corn was
not collected in vain by the king, but that a remedy was hereby sought
for some unwonted calamity. In short, because luxury generally prevails
in prosperity, and wastes the blessings of God, the bridle of authority
was necessary. This is the reason why Joseph directed that garners
should be established under the power of the king, and that corn should
be gathered into them. He concludes at length, that the dream was
useful, although at first sight, it would seem sad and inauspicious:
because, immediately after the wound had been shown, the means of cure
were suggested.
  38. "Can we find such a one as this? We see that necessity is an
excellent teacher. If prefects or judges are to be created, some one is
advanced to the honour because he is a favorite, without consideration
of his desert; whence it happens that they who are most unworthy
frequently creep into office. And although we see political order
disturbed and mankind involved in many inconveniences, because they who
are least suitable, rashly push themselves, by wicked contrivances, into
affairs for which they are not able to manage; nevertheless, ambition
triumphs, and subverts equity. But necessity extorts a sober judgment.
Pharaoh says nothing but what is naturally engraven on the hearts of all
men, that honors ought to be conferred on none but competent persons,
and such as God has furnished with the necessary qualifications.
Experience, however, abundantly teaches, that this law of nature slips
from the memory, whenever men are free to offend against it with
impunity. Therefore the pride of Pharaoh was wisely so subdued, that he,
setting aside ambition, preferred a foreigner just brought out of
prison, to all his courtiers, because he excelled them in virtue. The
same necessity restrained the nobles of the kingdom, so that they did
not each contend, according to their custom, to obtain the priority of
rank for themselves. And although it was but a compulsory modesty,
inasmuch as they were ashamed to resist the public good; yet there is no
doubt, that God inspired them with fear, so that, by the common consent
of all, Joseph was made president of the whole kingdom. It is also to be
observed that Pharaoh, though he had been infatuated by his soothsayers,
nevertheless honors the gifts of the spirit in Joseph: because God,
indeed, never suffers man to become so brutalized, as not to feel his
power, even in their darkness. And therefore whatever impious defection
may hurry them away, there still abides with them a remaining sense of
Deity. Meanwhile, that knowledge is of little worth, which does not
correct a man's former madness; for he despises the God whom with his
mouth he proclaims: and has no conception of any other than I know not
what confused divinity. This kind of knowledge often enlightens profane
men, yet not so as to cause them to repent. Whereby we are admonished to
regard any particular principle as of small value, till solid piety
springs from it and flourishes.
  40. "Thou shalt be over my house." Not only is Joseph made governor of
Egypt, but is adorned also with the insignia of royalty, that all may
reverence him, and may obey his command. The royal signet is put upon
his finger for the confirmation of decrees. He is clothed in robes of
fine linen, which were then a luxury, and were not to be had at any
common price. He is placed in the most honorable chariot. It may,
however, be asked, whether it was lawful for the holy man to appear with
so great pomp? I answer, although such splendor can scarcely ever be
free from blame, and therefore frugality in external ornaments is best;
yet all kind of splendor in kings and other princes of the world is not
to be condemned, provided they neither too earnestly desire it, nor make
an ostentatious display of it. Moderation is, indeed, always to be
cultivated; but since it was not in Joseph's power to prescribe the mode
of investiture, and the royal authority would not have been granted to
him without the accustomed pomp of state, he was at liberty to accept
more than seemed in itself desirable. If the option be given to the
servants of God, nothing is safer for them, than to cut off whatever
they can of outward splendor. And where it is necessary for them to
accommodate themselves to public custom, they must beware of all
ostentation and vanity. With respect to the explanation of the words;
whereas we render them, "At thy mouth all the people shall kiss," others
prefer to read, "shall be armed;" others, "shall be fed at thy will or
commandment;" but as the proper signification of the verb "nashak" is to
kiss, I do not see why interpreters should twist it to another sense.
Yet I do not think that here any special token of reverence is intended;
but the phrase rather seems to be metaphorical, to the effect that the
people should cordially receive and obediently embrace whatever might
proceed from the mouth of Joseph: as if Pharaoh had said, "Whatever he
may command, it is my will that the people shall receive with one
consent, as if all should kiss him." "The second chariot," is read by
the Hebrews in construction, for the chariot of the viceroy, who holds
the second place from the king. The sense, however, is clear, that
Joseph has the precedence of all the nobles of Egypt.
  There are various opinions about the meaning of the word "avraich".
They who explain it by "tender father," because Joseph, being yet in
tender years, was endowed with the prudence and gravity of old age, seem
to me to bring something from afar to correspond with their own fancy.
They who render it "the father of the king," as if the word were
compounded of the Hebrew noun "av", and the Arabic "rach", have little
more colour for their interpretation. If, indeed, the word be Hebrew,
the meaning preferred by others, "Bow the knee,", seems to me more
probable. But because I rather suppose that Egyptian terms are referred
to by Moses, both in this place and shortly afterwards, I advise the
readers not to distort them in vain. And truly those interpreters are
ridiculously subtle, who suppose that a Hebrew name was given him by an
Egyptian king, which they render either "the Redeemer of the world," or
"the Expounder of mysteries." I prefer following the Greek interpreters,
who, by leaving both words untouched, sufficiently prove that they
thought them to be of a foreign language. That the father-in-law of
Joseph was, as is commonly believed, a priest, is what I cannot refute,
though I can scarcely be induced to believe it. Therefore, since "cohen"
signifies a prince as well as a priest, it seems to me probable that he
was one of the nobles of the court, who might also be the satrap or
prefect of the city of On.
  46. "And, Joseph was thirty years old." For two reasons Moses records
the age at which Joseph was advanced to the government of the kingdom.
First, because it is seldom that old men give themselves up to be
governed by the young: whence it may be inferred that it was by the
singular providence of God that Joseph governed without being envied,
and that reverence and majesty were given him beyond his years. For if
there was danger lest Timothy's youth should render him contemptible,
Joseph would have been equally exposed to contempt, unless authority had
been divinely procured for him. And although he could not have obtained
this authority by his own industry, yet it is probable that the
extraordinary virtues with which God had endowed him, availed not a
little to increase and confirm it. A second reason for noting his age
is, that the reader may reflect on the long duration of the sufferings
with which he had been, in various ways, afflicted. And however humane
his treatment might have been; still, thirteen years of exile, which had
prevented his return to his father's house, not merely by the bond of
servitude, but also by imprisonment, would prove a most grievous trial.
Therefore, it was only after he had been proved by long endurance, that
he was advanced to a better state. Moses then subjoins, that he
discharged his duties with diligence and with most punctual fidelity;
for the circuit taken by him, which is here mentioned, was a proof of no
common industry. He might, indeed, have appointed messengers, on whose
shoulders he could have laid the greater part of the labour and trouble;
but because he knew himself to be divinely called to the work, as one
who had to render an account to the divine tribunal, he refused no part
of the burden. And Moses, in a few words, praises his incredible
prudence, in having quickly found out the best method of preserving the
corn. For it was an arduous task to erect storehouses in every city,
which should contain the entire produce of one year, and a fifth part
more. This arrangement was also not less a proof of sagacity, in
providing that the inhabitants of any given region should not have to
seek food at a distance. Immediately afterwards his integrity is
mentioned, which was equally deserving of praise; because in the immense
accumulation which was made, he abstained from all self-indulgence, just
as if some humble office only, had been assigned to him. But it is to
the praise of both these virtues that, after he has collected immense
heaps, he remits nothing of his wonted diligence, until he has
accomplished all the duties of the office which he had undertaken. The
ancient proverb says, "Satiety produces disgust," and in the same manner
abundance is commonly the mother of idleness. Whence, therefore, is it,
that the diligence of Joseph holds on its even course, and does not
become remiss at the sight of present abundance, except because he
prudently considers, that, however great the plenty might be, seven
years of famine would swallow it all up? He manifested also his
fidelity, and his extraordinary care for the public safety, in this,
that he did not become weary by the assiduous labour of seven years, nor
did he ever rest till he had made provision for the seven years which
still remained.
  50. "And unto Joseph were born two sons." Although the names which
Joseph gave his sons in consequence of the issue of his affairs, breathe
somewhat of piety, because in them he celebrates the kindness of God:
yet the oblivion of his father's house, which, he says, had been brought
upon him, can scarcely be altogether excused. It was a pious and holy
motive to gratitude, that God had caused him to "forget" all his former
miseries; but no honour ought to have been so highly valued, as to
displace from his mind the desire and the remembrance of his father's
house. Granted that he is Viceroy of Egypt, yet his condition is
unhappy, as long as he is an exile from the Church. Some, in order to
exculpate the holy man, explain the passage as meaning that he so
rejoiced in the present favour of God, as to make him afterwards
forgetful of the injuries inflicted upon him by his brethren; but this
(in my judgment) is far too forced. And truly, we must not anxiously
labour to excuse the sin of Joseph; but rather, I think, we are
admonished how greatly we ought to be on our guard against the
attractions of the world, lest our minds should be unduly gratified by
them. Behold Joseph, although he purely worships God, is yet so
captivated by the sweetness of honour, and has his mind so clouded, that
he becomes indifferent to his father's house, and pleases himself in
Egypt. But this was almost to wander from the fold of God. It was,
indeed, a becoming modesty, that from a desire of proclaiming the Divine
goodness towards him, he was not ashamed to perpetuate a memorial of his
depressed condition in the names of his sons. They who are raised on
high, from an obscure and ignoble position, desire to extinguish the
knowledge of their origin, because they deem it disgraceful to
themselves. Joseph, however, regarded the commendation of Divine grace
more highly than an ostentatious future nobility.
  53. "And the seven years ... were ended." Already the former unwonted
fertility, which showed Joseph to have been a true prophet, had procured
for him a name and reputation; and in this way the Egyptians had been
restrained from raising any tumult against him. Nevertheless, it is
wonderful that a people so proud should have borne, in the time of
prosperity, the rule of a foreigner. But the famine which followed
proved a more sharp and severe curb for the subjugation of their lofty
and ferocious spirits, in order that they might be brought into
subjection to authority. When, however, Moses says that there was corn
in all the land of Egypt, while the neighboring regions were suffering
from hunger, he seems to intimate that wheat had also been laid up by
private persons. And, indeed, (as we have said elsewhere,) it was
impossible but the rumour of the approaching famine would be spread
abroad, and would everywhere infuse fears and solicitude, so that each
person would make some provision for himself. Nevertheless, however
provident each might be, what they had preserved would, in a short time,
be consumed. Whence it appeared with what skill and prudence Joseph had
perceived from the beginning, that Egypt would not be safe, unless
provisions were publicly gathered together under the hand of the king.
  55. "Go unto Joseph." It is by no means unusual for kings, while their
subjects are oppressed by extreme sufferings, to give themselves up to
pleasures. But Moses here means something else; for Pharaoh does not
exonerate himself from the trouble of distributing corn, because he
wishes to enjoy a repose free from all inconvenience; but because he has
such confidence in holy Joseph, that he willingly leaves all things to
him, and does not allow him to be disturbed in the discharge of the
office which he had undertaken.

Chapter XLII.

1 Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his
sons, Why do ye look one upon another?
2 And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you
down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.
3 And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
4 But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for
he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.
5 And the sons of Israel came to buy [corn] among those that came: for
the famine was in the land of Canaan.
6 And Joseph [was] the governor over the land, [and] he [it was] that
sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and
bowed down themselves before him [with] their faces to the earth.
7 And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself
strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them,
Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
9 And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said
unto them, Ye [are] spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
10 And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy
servants come.
11 We [are] all one man's sons; we [are] true [men], thy servants are no
12 And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye
are come.
13 And they said, Thy servants [are] twelve brethren, the sons of one
man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest [is] this day with
our father, and one [is] not.
14 And Joseph said unto them, That [is it] that I spake unto you,
saying, Ye [are] spies:
15 Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go
forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.
16 Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept
in prison, that your words may be proved, whether [there be any] truth
in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye [are] spies.
17 And he put them all together into ward three days.
18 And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; [for] I
fear God:
19 If ye [be] true [men], let one of your brethren be bound in the house
of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
20 But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be
verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.
21 And they said one to another, We [are] verily guilty concerning our
brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us,
and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do
not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold,
also his blood is required.
23 And they knew not that Joseph understood [them]; for he spake unto
them by an interpreter.
24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them
again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him
before their eyes.
25 Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore
every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way:
and thus did he unto them.
26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.
27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the
inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it [was] in his sack's mouth.
28 And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, [it is]
even in my sack: and their heart failed [them], and they were afraid,
saying one to another, What [is] this [that] God hath done unto us?
29 And they came unto Jacob their father unto the land of Canaan, and
told him all that befell unto them; saying,
30 The man, [who is] the lord of the land, spake roughly to us, and took
us for spies of the country.
31 And we said unto him, We [are] true [men]; we are no spies:
32 We [be] twelve brethren, sons of our father; one [is] not, and the
youngest [is] this day with our father in the land of Canaan.
33 And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I
know that ye [are] true [men]; leave one of your brethren [here] with
me, and take [food for] the famine of your households, and be gone:
34 And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye
[are] no spies, but [that] ye [are] true [men: so] will I deliver you
your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.
35 And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every
man's bundle of money [was] in his sack: and when [both] they and their
father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.
36 And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved [of my
children]: Joseph [is] not, and Simeon [is] not, and ye will take
Benjamin [away]: all these things are against me.
37 And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I
bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to
thee again.
38 And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is
dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the
which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the

  1. "Now when Jacob saw." Moses begins, in this chapter, to treat of
the occasion which drew Jacob with his whole family into Egypt; and thus
leaves it to us to consider by what hidden and unexpected methods God
may perform whatever he has decreed. Though, therefore, the providence
of God is in itself a labyrinth; yet when we connect the issue of things
with their beginnings, that admirable method of operation shines clearly
in our view, which is not generally acknowledged, only because it is far
removed from our observation. Also our own indolence hinders us from
perceiving God, with the eyes of faith, as holding the government of the
world; because we either imagine fortune to be the mistress of events,
or else, adhering to near and natural causes, we weave them together,
and spread them as veils before our eyes. Whereas, therefore, scarcely
any more illustrious representation of Divine Providence is to be found
than this history furnishes; let pious readers careful]y exercise
themselves in meditation upon it, in order that they may acknowledge
those things which, in appearance, are fortuitous, to be directed by the
hand of God.
  "Why do ye look one upon another?" Men are said to look one upon
another, when each is waiting for the other, and, for want of counsel,
no one dares to attempt anything. Jacob, therefore, censures this
inactivity of his sons, because none of them endeavors to provide for
the present necessity. Moses also says that they went into Egypt at the
command of their father, and even without Benjamin; by which he
intimates that filial reverence at that time was great; because envy of
their brother did not prevent them from leaving their wives and
children, and undertaking a long journey. He also adds, that they came
in the midst of a great crowd of people; which enhances the fame of
Joseph; who, while supplying food for all Egypt, and dispensing it by
measure, till the end of the drought, could also afford assistance to
neighbouring nations.
  6. "And Joseph was the governors over the land." Moses connects the
honour of Joseph with his fidelity and diligence. For although he was
possessed of supreme authority, he nevertheless submitted to every
possible laborious service, just as if he had been a hired servant. From
which example we must learn, that as any one excels in honour, he is
bound to be the more fully occupied in business; but that they who
desire to combine leisure with dignity, utterly pervert the sacred order
of God. Let it be, moreover, understood, that the corn was sold by
Joseph, not as if he measured it out with his own hands, or himself
received the money for it, seeing that it was set to sale in many parts
of the kingdom, and he could scarcely have attended to one single
storehouse: but that the whole of the stores were under his power.
  7. "He made himself strange unto them." It may be asked for what
purpose Joseph thus tormented his brethren with threats and with terror.
For if he was actuated by a sense of the injury received from them, he
cannot be acquitted of the desire of revenge. It is, however, probable,
that he was impelled neither by anger nor a thirst of vengeance, but
that he was induced by two just causes to act as he did. For he both
desired to regain his brother Benjamin, and wished to ascertain,--as if
by putting them to the torture,--what was in their mind, whether they
repented or not; and, in short, what had been their course of life since
he had seen them last. For, had he made himself known at the first
interview, it was to be feared lest they, keeping their father out of
sight, and wishing to cast a vail over the detestable wickedness which
they had committed, should only increase it by a new crime. There
lurked, also, a not unreasonable suspicion concerning his brother
Benjamin, lest they should attempt something perfidious and cruel
against him. It was therefore important that they should be more
thoroughly sifted; so that Joseph, being fully informed of the state of
his father's house, might take his measures according to circumstances;
and also, that previous to pardon, some punishment might be inflicted
which would lead them more carefully to reflect upon the atrocity of
their crime. For whereas he afterwards showed himself to be placable and
humane; this did not arise from the fact, that his anger being assuaged,
he became, by degrees, inclined to compassion; but rather, as Moses
elsewhere subjoins, that he sought retirement, because he could "no
longer refrain himself;" herein intimating at the same time, that Joseph
had forcibly repressed his tears so long as he retained a severe aspect;
and, therefore, that he had felt throughout the same affection of pity
towards them. And it appears that a special impulse moved him to this
whole course of action. For it was no common thing, that Joseph,
beholding so many authors of his calamities, was neither angry nor
changed in his manner, nor broke out into reproaches; but was composed
both in his countenance and his speech, as if he had long meditated at
leisure, respecting the course he would pursue. But it may be inquired
again, whether his dissimulation, which was joined with a falsehood, is
not to be blamed; for we know how pleasing integrity is to God, and how
strictly he prohibits his own people from deceit and falsehoods. Whether
God governed his servant by some special movement, to depart without
fault, from the common rule of action, I know not; seeing that the
faithful may sometimes piously do things which cannot lawfully be drawn
into a precedent. Of this, however, in considering the acts of the holy
fathers, we must always beware; lest they should lead us away from that
law which the Lord prescribes to all in common. By the general command
of God, we must all cultivate sincerity. That Joseph feigned something
different from the truth, affords no pretext to excuse us if we attempt
anything of the same kind. For, though a liberty granted by privilege
would be pardoned, yet if any one, relying on a private example, does
not scruple to subvert the law of God, so as to give himself license to
do what is therein forbidden, he shall justly suffer the punishment of
his audacity. And yet I do not think that we ought to be very anxious to
excuse Joseph, because it is probable that he suffered something from
human infirmity, which God forgave him; for by Divine mercy alone could
that dissimulation, which in itself was not without fault, escape
  9. "And Joseph remembered the dreams." When the boy Joseph had spoken
of receiving obeisance, the absurdity of the thing impelled his brethren
wickedly to devise his death. Now, although they bow down to him without
knowing him, there is yet nothing better for them. Indeed, their only
means of safety, is to prostrate themselves at his feet, and to be
received by him as suppliants. Meanwhile, their conspiracy, by which
they attempted to subvert the celestial decree, lest they should have to
bear the yoke, was rendered fruitless. So the Lord forcibly restrains
the obstinate, just as wild and refractory horses are wont to be more
severely treated, the more they kick and are restive. Wherefore, there
is nothing better than meekly to compose the mind to gentleness, that
each may take his own lot contentedly, though it be not very splendid.
It may, however, seem absurd, that Joseph should, at this time, have
recalled his dream to mind, as if it had been forgotten through the
lapse of years; which, indeed, could not be, unless he had lost sight of
the promises of God. I answer, nothing is here recorded but what
frequently happens to ourselves: for although the word of God may be
dwelling in our hearts, yet it does not continually occur to us, but
rather is sometimes so smothered that it may seem to be extinct,
especially when faith is oppressed by the darkness of affliction.
Besides, it is nothing wonderful, if a long series of evils should have
buried, in a kind of oblivion, his dreams which indicated prosperity.
God had exalted him, by these dreams, to the hope of great and
distinguished authority. He is, however, cast into a well not unlike a
grave. He is taken hence to be sold as a slave; he is carried to a
distant land; and, as if slavery would not prove sufficiently severe, he
is shut up in prison. And though his misery is in some degree mitigated,
when he is released from his iron fetters, yet there was little, if any,
prospect of deliverance. I do not, however, think that the hope
entertained by him was entirely destroyed, but that a cloud passed over
it, which deprived him of the light of comfort. A different kind of
temptation followed; because nothing is more common than for great and
unexpected felicity to intoxicate its possessors. And thus it happened,
as we have recently read, that a forgetfulness of his father's house
stole over the mind of the holy man. He was not, therefore, so mindful
of his dreams as he ought to have been. Another excuse may probably be
alleged; that he, at the moment, compared his dreams with the event. And
truly it was no common virtue to apply what was passing, thus
immediately for the confirmation of the Divine oracle. For we readily
perceive, that those dreams which so quickly recur to the memory, had
not been obliterated through length of time. So the disciples remembered
the words of the Lord after he had risen from the dead; because, by the
sight of the fact predicted, their knowledge became more clear; whereas,
before, nothing but transient sparks of it had shined in their hearts.
  15. "By the life of Pharaoh." From this formula of swearing a new
question is raised; for that which is commanded in the law, that we
should swear only by the name of God, had already been engraven on the
hearts of the pious; since nature dictates that this honour is to be
given to God alone, that men should defer to his judgment, and should
make him the supreme arbiter and vindicator of faith and truth. If we
should say that this was not simply an oath, but a kind of obtestation,
the holy man will be, in some degree, excusable. He who swears by God
wishes him to interpose in order to inflict punishment on perjury. They
who swear by their life or by their hand, deposit, as it were, what they
deem most valuable, as a pledge of their faithfulness. By this method
the majesty of God is not transferred to mortal man; because it is a
very different thing to cite him as witness who has the right of taking
vengeance, and to assert by something most dear to us, that what we say
is true. So Moses, when he calls heaven and earth to witness, does not
ascribe deity to them, and thus fabricate a new idol; but, in order that
higher authority may be given to the law, he declares that there is no
part of the world which will not cry out before the tribunal of God,
against the ingratitude of the people, if they reject the doctrine of
salvation. Notwithstanding, there is, I confess, in this form of
swearing which Joseph uses, something deserving of censure; for it was a
profane adulation, among the Egyptians, to swear by the life of the
king. Just as the Romans swore by the genius of their prince, after they
had been reduced to such bondage that they made their Caesar equal to
gods. Certainly this mode of swearing is abhorrent to true piety. Whence
it may be perceived that nothing is more difficult to the holy servants
of God than to keep themselves so pure, while conversant with the filth
of the world, as to contract no spots of defilement from it. Joseph,
indeed, was never so infected with the corruptions of the court, but
that he remained a pure worshipped of God: nevertheless we see, that in
accommodating himself to this depraved custom of speaking, he had
received some stain. His repetition of the expression shows, that when
any one has once become accustomed to evil, he becomes exceedingly prone
to sin again and again. We observe, that they who have once rashly
assumed the license of swearing, pour forth an oath every third word,
even when speaking of the most frivolous things. So much the greater
caution ought we to use, lest any such indulgence should harden us in
this wicked custom.
  17. "And he put them altogether into ward." Here, not by words only,
as before, but by the act itself, Joseph shows himself severe towards
his brethren, when he shuts them all up in prison, as if about to bring
them to punishment: and during three days torments them with fear. We
said a little while ago, that from this act no rule for acting severely
and rigidly is to be drawn; because it is doubtful whether he acted
rightly or otherwise. Again, it is to be feared lest they who plead his
example should be far removed from his mildness, and that they should
prove to be rather his apes than his true imitators. Meanwhile, it
plainly appears what he was aiming at; for he does not mitigate their
punishment, as if at the end of three days he was appeased; but he
renders them more anxious about the redemption of their brother, whom he
retains as a hostage. Lest, however, immoderate fear should deter them
from returning, he promises to act with good faith towards them: and to
convince them of that, he declares that he fears God, which expression
is worthy of observation. Doubtless he speaks from the inward feeling of
his heart, when he declares that he will deal well and truly with them,
because he fears God. Therefore the commencement and the fountain of
that good and honest conscience, whereby we cultivate fidelity and
justice towards men, is the fear of God. There appears indeed some
probity in the despisers of God; but it soon goes off in smoke, unless
the depraved affections of the flesh are restrained as with a bridle, by
the thought that God is to be feared, because he will be the Judge of
the world. For whoever does not think that he must render an account,
will never so cultivate integrity as to refrain from pursuing what he
supposes will be useful to himself. Wherefore, if we wish to be free
from perfidy, craft, cruelty, and all wicked desire of doing injure, we
must labour earnestly that religion may flourish among us. For whenever
we act with want of sincerity or humanity towards each other, impiety
openly betrays itself. For whatever there is of rectitude or justice in
the world, Joseph comprised in this short sentence, when he said, that
he feared God.
  21. "And they said one to another." This is a remarkable passage,
showing that the sons of Jacob, when reduced to the greatest straits,
recall to memory a fratricide committed thirteen years previously.
Before affliction pressed upon them, they were in a state of torpor.
Moses relates that, even lately, they had spoken without agitation of
Joseph's death, as if conscious to themselves of no evil. But now they
are compelled (so to speak) to enter into their own consciences. We see
then, how in adversity, God searches and tries men; and how, while
dissipating all their flattering illusions, he not only pierces their
minds with secret fear, but extorts a confession which they would gladly
avoid. And this kind of examination is very necessary for us. Wonderful
is the hypocrisy of men in covering their evils; and if impunity be
allowed, their negligence will be increased twofold. Wherefore no remedy
remains, except that they who give themselves up to slumber when the
Lord deals gently with them, should be awakened by afflictions and
punishments. Joseph therefore produced some good effect, when he
extorted from his brethren the acknowledgment of their sin, in which
they had securely pleased themselves. And the Lord had compassion on
them, in taking away the covering with which they had been too long
deceived. In the same manner, while he daily chastises us by the hand of
man, he draws us, as guilty, to his tribunal. Nevertheless it would
profit but little to be tried by adversity, unless he inwardly touched
the heart; for we see how few reflect on their sins, although admonished
by most severe punishments; certainly no one comes to this state of mind
but with reluctance. Wherefore, there is no doubt that God, in order to
lead the sons of Jacob to repentance, impelled them, as well by the
secret instinct of his Spirit as by outward chastisement, to become
sensible of that sin which had been too long concealed. Let the reader
also observe, that the sons of Jacob did not only fix their minds on
something which was close at hand, but considered that divine
punishments were inflicted in various ways upon sinners. And doubtless,
in order to apprehend the divine judgments, we must extend our views
afar. Sometimes indeed God, by inflicting present punishment on sinners,
holds them up for observation as on a theatre; but often, as if aiming
at another object, he takes vengeance on our sins unexpectedly, and from
an unseen quarter. If the sons of Jacob had merely looked for some
present cause of their sufferings, they could have done nothing but
loudly complain that they had been injured; and at length despair would
have followed. But while considering how far and wide the providence of
God extends, looking beyond the occasion immediately before their eyes,
they ascend to a remote cause. It is, however, doubtful, whether they
say that they shall be held guilty on account of their brother, or for
their brother's sake, or that they will themselves confess that they
have sinned: for the Hebrew noun, "ashaimim" is ambiguous because it
sometimes refers to the crime committed, and sometimes to the
punishment, as in Latin, "piaculum" signifies both the crime and the
expiation. On the whole, it is of little consequence which meaning is
preferred, for they acknowledge their sin either in its guilt or its
punishment. But the latter sense appears to me the more simple and
genuine, that they are deservedly punished because they had been so
cruel to their brother.
  "In that we saw the anguish of his soul." They acknowledge that it is
by the just judgment of God, that they obtained nothing by their
suppliant entreaties, because they themselves had acted so cruelly
towards their brother. Christ had not yet uttered the sentence, "With
what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again," (Matt. 7:
2,) but it was a dictate of nature, that they who had been cruel to
others, were unworthy of commiseration. The more heed ought we to take,
that we prove not deaf to so many threatening of Scripture. Dreadful is
that denunciation, "Whose stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he
also shall cry himself, and shall not be heard." (Prov. 21: 13.)
Therefore while we have time, let us learn to exercise humanity, to
sympathize with the miserable, and to stretch out our hand for the sake
of giving assistance. But if at any time it happens that we are treated
roughly by men, and our prayers are proudly rejected; then, at least,
let the question occur to us, whether we ourselves have in anything
acted unkindly towards others; for although it were better to be wise
beforehand; it is, nevertheless, some advantage, whenever others proudly
despise us, to reflect whether they with whom we have had to deal, have
not experienced similar hardships from us. "Our brother," they say,
"entreated us when he was in the last extremity: we rejected his
prayers: therefore it is by divine retribution that we can obtain
nothing." By these words they bear witness that the hearts of men are so
under Divine government, that they can be inclined to equity, or
hardened in inflexible rigor. Moreover, their cruelty was hateful to
God, because, since his goodness is diffused through heaven and earth,
and his beneficence is extended not only to men, but even to brute
animals, nothing is more contrary to his nature, than that we should
cruelly reject those who implore our protection.
  22. "And Reuben answered them." Because he had attempted to deliver
Joseph out of the hands of his brethren, in order to restore him in
safety to his father, he magnifies their fault, in not having, at that
time, listened to any prudent counsel: and I understand his words as
conveying a reproof for their too late repentance. Whereas Joseph was
not yet satisfied with this confession, but retained Simon in bonds, and
dismissed the rest in suspense and perplexity, this was not done from
malevolence, but because he was not certain about the safety of his
brother Benjamin, and the state of his father's house. For he might
justly fear lest, when they found that their wicked contrivance of
putting their brother to death, was discovered, they might again attempt
some horrible crime, as desperate men are wont to do; or, at least,
might desert their father, and flee to some other country. Nevertheless
the act of Joseph is not to be drawn into a precedent: because it is not
always right to be thus austere. We ought also to beware lest the
offender be swallowed up by grief, if we are not mild, and disposed to
forgiveness. Therefore we must seek the spirit of discretion from
heaven, which shall so govern us that we may do nothing by rash
impetuosity, or immoderate severity. This, indeed, is to be remembered,
that under the stern countenance of Joseph was concealed not only a mild
and placid disposition, but the most tender affection.
  27. "And as one of them opened his sack." With what intention Joseph
had commanded the price paid for the corn to be secretly deposited in
the sacks of his brethren, may easily be conjectured; for he feared lest
his father being already impoverished, would not be able again to buy
provisions. The brethren, having found their money, knew not where to
seek the cause; except that, being terrified, they perceived that the
hand of God was against them. That they were greatly astonished appears
from their not voluntarily returning to Joseph, in order to prove their
own innocence: for the remedy of the evil was at hand, if they had not
been utterly blinded. Wherefore we must ask God to supply us, in
doubtful and troubled affairs, not only with fortitude, but also with
prudence. We see also how little can be effected even by a great
multitude, unless the Lord preside among them. The sons of Jacob ought
mutually to have exhorted each other, and to have consulted together
what was necessary to be done: but there is an end to all deliberation;
no solace nor remedy is suggested. Even while each sees the rest
agitated, they mutually increase each other's trepidation. Therefore,
the society and countenance of men will profit us nothing, unless the
Lord strengthen us from heaven.
  28. "What is this that God has done unto us?" They do not expostulate
with God, as if they thought this danger had come upon them without
cause: but, perceiving that God was angry with them in many ways, they
deplore their wretchedness. But why do they not rather turn their
thoughts to Joseph? For the suspicion was natural, that this had been
done by fraud, because he wished to lay new snares for them. How does it
happen, then, that losing sight of man, they set God as an avenger
directly before them? Truly, because this single thought possessed their
minds, that a just reward, and such as their sins deserved, would be
given them; and, from that time, they referred whatever evils happened
to the same cause. Before (as we have said) they were asleep: but from
the time that they began to be affected by the lively fear of God's
judgment, his providence always presented itself to their view. So
David, when, by the inward suggestion of the Spirit, he has learned that
the rod with which he was chastised had been sent from heaven, is not
distracted or perplexed, though he sees plainly that the evils have
proceeded from another quarter; but prays to God to heal the wounds
which He had made. It is no common act of prudence, and is at the same
time profitable, whenever any adversity overtakes us, to accustom
ourselves to the consideration of the judgments of God. We see how
unbelievers, while they imagine their misfortunes to be accidental, or
while they are bent on accusing their enemies, only exasperate their
grief by fretting and raging, and thus cause the anger of God to burn
the more against them. But he who, in his affliction, exercises himself
in reflecting on his own sins, and sets God before him as his Judge,
will humble himself in the divine presence, and will compose his mind to
patience by the hope of pardon. Let us, however, remember that the
providence of God is not truly acknowledged, except in connection with
his justice. Forthough the men by whose hand he chastises us are often
unjust, yet, in an incomprehensible manner, he executes his judgments
through them, against which judgments it is not lawful for us either to
reply or to murmur. For sometimes even the reprobate, though they
acknowledge themselves to be stricken by the hand of God, yet do not
cease to complain against him, as Moses teaches us by the example of
Cain. I do not, however, understand that this complaint was made by the
sons of Jacob, for the purpose of charging God with tyrannical violence;
but because they, being overcome with fear, inferred from this double
punishment that God was highly displeased with them.
  29. "And they came unto Jacob their father." Here is a long repetition
of the former history, but it is not superfluous; because Moses wished
to show how anxiously they made their excuse to their father for having
left Simon in chains, and how strenuously they pleaded with him, that,
for the sake of obtaining Simeon's liberty, he should allow them to take
their brother Benjamin: for this was greatly to the purpose. We know
what a sharp dart is hunger: and yet, though the only method of
relieving their want was to fetch corn out of Egypt, Jacob would rather
that he and his family should perish, than allow Benjamin to accompany
the rest. What can he mean by thus peremptorily refusing what his sons
were compelled by necessity to ask, except to show that he was
suspicious of them? This also more clearly appears from his own words,
when he imputes his bereavement to them. For, though their declaration,
that Joseph had been torn by a wild beast, had some colour of
probability, there still remained in the heart of the holy patriarch a
secret wound, arising from suspicion; because he was fully aware of
their fierce and cruel hatred of the innocent youth. Moreover, it is
useful for us to know this; for it appears hence how miserable was the
condition of the holy man, whose mind, during thirteen successive years,
had been tortured with dire anxiety. Besides, his very silence added
greatly to his torment, because he was compelled to conceal the grief he
felt. But the chief burden of the evil was the temptation which
oppressed him, that the promise of God might prove illusory and vain.
For he had no hope except from the promised seed; but he seemed to be
bringing up devils at home, from whom a blessing was no more to be
expected than life from death. He thought Joseph to be dead, Benjamin
alone remained to him uncorrupted: how could the salvation of the world
proceed from such a vicious offspring? He must, therefore, have been
endowed with great constancy, seeing he did not cease to rely upon God;
and being certainly persuaded that he cherished in his house the Church,
of which scarcely any appearance was left, he bore with his sons till
they should repent. Let the faithful now apply this example to
themselves, lest their minds should give way at the horrible devastation
which is almost everywhere perceived.
  35. "As they emptied their sacks." Here, again, it appears how greatly
they had been alarmed in their journey, seeing that each had not at
least examined his sack, after money had been found in one. But these
things are written to show that, as soon as men are smitten with fear,
they have no particle of wisdom and of soundness of mind, until God
tranquilizes them. Moreover, Joseph did not act with sufficient
consideration, in that he occasioned very great grief to his father,
whose poverty he really intended to relieve. Whence we learn that even
the most prudent are not always so careful, but that something may flow
from their acts which they do not wish.
  36. "Me have ye bereaved." Jacob does not, indeed, openly accuse his
sons of the crime of their brother's murder; yet he is angry as if, two
of his sons being already taken away, they were hastening to destroy the
third. For he says that all these evils were falling on himself alone;
because he does not think that they were affected as they ought to be,
nor shared his grief with him, but were carelessly making light of the
destruction of their brethren, as if they had no interest in their
lives. It seems, however, exceedingly barbarous that Reuben should offer
his two sons to his father to be slain, if he did not bring Benjamin
back. Jacob might, indeed, slay his own grandchildren: what comfort,
then, could he take in acting cruelly to his own bowels? But this is
what I before alluded to, that they were suspected of having dealt
perfidiously towards Joseph; for which reason Reuben deemed it necessary
to assuage his father's fear, by such a vehement protestation; and to
give this pledge, that he and his brethren were designing nothing wicked
against Benjamin.
  38. "My son shall not go down with you." Again we see, as in a lively
picture, with what sorrow holy Jacob had been oppressed. He sees his
whole family famishing: he would rather be torn away from life than from
his son: whence we gather that he was not iron-hearted: but his patience
is the more deserving of praise, because he contended with the infirmity
of the flesh, and did not sink under it. And although Moses does not
give a rhetorical amplification to his language, we nevertheless easily
perceive that he was overcome with excessive grief, when he thus
complained to his sons, "You are too cruel to your father, in taking
away from me a third son, after I have been plundered of first one and
then another."

Chapter XLIII.

1 And the famine [was] sore in the land.
2 And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had
brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a
little food.
3 And Judah spake unto him, saying, The man did solemnly protest unto
us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother [be] with you.
4 If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee
5 But if thou wilt not send [him], we will not go down: for the man said
unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother [be] with you.
6 And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye [so] ill with me, [as] to tell the
man whether ye had yet a brother?
7 And they said, The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our
kindred, saying, [Is] your father yet alive? have ye [another] brother?
and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we
certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?
8 And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we
will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou,
[and] also our little ones.
9 I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I
bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the
blame for ever:
10 For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second
11 And their father Israel said unto them, If [it must be] so now, do
this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry
down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and
myrrh, nuts, and almonds:
12 And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought
again in the mouth of your sacks, carry [it] again in your hand;
peradventure it [was] an oversight:
13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:
14 And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away
your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved [of my children], I
am bereaved.
15 And the men took that present, and they took double money in their
hand, and Benjamin; and rose up, and went down to Egypt, and stood
before Joseph.
16 And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his
house, Bring [these] men home, and slay, and make ready; for [these] men
shall dine with me at noon.
17 And the man did as Joseph bade; and the man brought the men into
Joseph's house.
18 And the men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph's
house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our
sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion
against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses.
19 And they came near to the steward of Joseph's house, and they
communed with him at the door of the house,
20 And said, O sir, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food:
21 And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our
sacks, and, behold, [every] man's money [was] in the mouth of his sack,
our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand.
22 And other money have we brought down in our hands to buy food: we
cannot tell who put our money in our sacks.
23 And he said, Peace [be] to you, fear not: your God, and the God of
your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money.
And he brought Simeon out unto them.
24 And the man brought the men into Joseph's house, and gave [them]
water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.
25 And they made ready the present against Joseph came at noon: for they
heard that they should eat bread there.
26 And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which [was]
in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth.
27 And he asked them of [their] welfare, and said, [Is] your father
well, the old man of whom ye spake? [Is] he yet alive?
28 And they answered, Thy servant our father [is] in good health, he
[is] yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance.
29 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's
son, and said, [Is] this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me?
And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son.
30 And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and
he sought [where] to weep; and he entered into [his] chamber, and wept
31 And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and
said, Set on bread.
32 And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and
for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the
Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that [is] an
abomination unto the Egyptians.
33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright,
and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at
34 And he took [and sent] messes unto them from before him: but
Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank,
and were merry with him.

  1. "And the famine was sore in the land." In this chapter is recorded
the second journey of the sons of Jacob into Egypt, when the former
supply of provision had been exhausted. It may, however, here be asked,
how Jacob could have supported his family, even for a few days, with so
small a quantity of corn: for, suppose it to be granted that several
asses were conducted by each of the brethren, what was this to sustain
three hundred persons? For, since Abraham had a much larger number of
servants, and mention has been made above of the servants of Isaac; it
is incredible that Jacob was so entirely destitute, as to have no
servants left. If we say, that he, being a stranger, had been compelled
to sell them all, it is but an uncertain guess. It seems to me more
probable that they lived on acorns, herbs, and roots. For we know that
the orientals, especially when any necessity urges, are content with
slender and dry food, and we shall see presently, that, in this scarcity
of wheat, there was a supply of other food. I suppose, therefore, that
no more corn had been bought than would suffice to furnish a frugal and
restricted measure of food for Jacob himself, and for his children and
grandchildren: and that the food of the servants was otherwise provided
for. There is, indeed, no doubt that the whole region had been compelled
to resort to acorns, and fruits of this kind, for food for the servants,
and that wheat en bread was a luxury belonging to the rich. This was,
indeed, a severe trial, that holy Jacob, of whom God had engaged to take
care, should almost perish, with his family, through hunger, and that
the land of which he was constituted the lord, in order that he might
there happily enjoy the abundance of all things, should even deny him
bread as a stranger. For he might seriously doubt what was the meaning
of that remarkable promise, "I am God Almighty, grow and multiply: I
will bless thee." It is profitable for us to know these conflicts of the
holy fathers, that, fighting with the same arms with which they
conquered, we also may stand invincible, although God should withhold
present help.
  3. "And Judah spake unto him, saying." Judah seems to feign something,
for the purpose of extorting from his father what he knew he would not
freely grant; but it is probable that many discourses had been held on
both sides, which Moses, according to his custom, has not related. And
since Joseph so ardently desired the sight of his brother Benjamin, it
is not surprising that he should have labored, in every possible way, to
obtain it. It may also have happened that he had caused some
notification or legal summons to be served, by which his brother was
cited to make his appearance, as in judicial causes. This however
deserves to be noticed, that Moses relates the long disputation which
Jacob had with his sons, in order that we may know with what difficulty
he allowed his son Benjamin to be torn away from him. For, though hunger
was pressing, he nevertheless contended for retaining him, just as if he
were striving for the salvation of his whole family. Whence, again, we
may conjecture, that he suspected his sons of a wicked conspiracy; and
on this account Judah offers himself as a surety. For he does not
promise anything respecting the event, but only, for the sake of
clearing himself and his brethren, he takes Benjamin under his care,
with this condition, that if any injury should be done to Benjamin, he
would bear the punishment and the blame. From the example of Jacob let
us learn patient endurance, should the Lord often compel us, by pressure
of circumstances, to do many things contrary to the inclination of our
own minds; for Jacob sends away his son, as if he were delivering him
over unto death.
  11. "Take of the best fruits." Though the fruits which Moses
enumerates were, for the most part, not very precious, because the
condition of holy Jacob was not such that he could send any royal
present; yet, according to his slender ability, he wished to appease
Joseph. Besides we know that fruits are not always estimated according
to their cost. And now, having commanded his sons to do what he thought
necessary, he has recourse to prayer, that God would give them favour
with the governor of Egypt. We must attend to both these points whenever
we are perplexed in any business; for we must not omit any of those
things which are expedient, or which may seem to be of use; and yet we
must place our reliance upon God. For the tranquillity of faith has no
affinity with indolence: but he who expects a prosperous issue of his
affairs from the Lord, will, at the same time, look closely to the means
which are in his power, and will apply them to present use. Meanwhile,
let the faithful observe this moderation, that when they have tried all
means, they still ascribe nothing to their own industry. At the same
time, let them be certainly convinced that all their endeavours will be
in vain, unless the Lord bless them. It is to be observed, also, in the
form of his supplication, that Jacob regards the hearts of men as
subject to the will of God. When we have to deal with men, we too often
neglect to look unto the Lord, because we do not sufficiently
acknowledge him as the secret governor of their hearts. But to whatever
extent unruly men may be carried away by violence, it is yet certain
that their passions are turned by God in whatever direction he pleases,
so that he can mitigate their ferocity as often as he sees good; or can
permit those to become cruel, who before were disposed to mildness. So
Jacob, although his sons had found an austere severity in Joseph, yet
trusts that his heart will be so in the hand of God, that it shall be
suddenly mounded to humanity. Therefore, as we must hope in the Lord,
when men deal unjustly with us, and must pray that they may be changed
for the better; so, on the other hand, we must remember that, when they
act with severity towards us, it is not done without the counsel of God.
  14. "If I be bereaved." Jacob may seem here to be hardly consistent
with himself; for, if the prayer which Moses has just related, was the
effect of faith, he ought to have been more calm; and, at least, to have
given occasion to the manifestation of the grace of God. But he appears
to cut himself off from every ground of confidence, when he supposes
that nothing is left for him but bereavement. It is like the speech of a
man in despair, "I shall remain bereaved as I am." As if truly he had
prayed in vain; or had feignedly professed that the remedy was in the
hand of God. If, however, we observe to whom his speech was directed,
the solution is easy. It is by no means doubtful that he stood firmly on
the promise which had been given to him, and therefore he would hope for
some fruit of his prayers; yet he wished deeply to affect his sons, in
order that they might take greater care of their brother. For, it was in
no common manner that Benjamin was intrusted to their protection, when
they saw their father altogether overcome and almost lifeless with
grief, until he should receive his son again in safety. Interpreters,
however, expound these words variously. Some think that he complained,
because now he was about to be entirely bereaved. To others, the meaning
seems to be, that nothing worse could happen; since he had lost Joseph,
whom he had preferred to all the rest. Others are disposed to mark a
double bereavement, as if he had said, "I have lost two sons, and now a
third follows them." But what, if we should thus interpret the words, "I
see what is my condition; I am a most wretched old man; my house, which
lately was filled with people, I find almost deserted." So that, in
general terms, he is deploring the loss of all his sons, and is not
speaking of a part only. Moreover, it was his design to inspire his sons
with a degree of solicitude which should cause them to attend to their
duty with greater fidelity and diligence.
  16. "And he said to the ruler of his house." Here we perceive the
fraternal disposition of Joseph; though it is uncertain whether he was
perfectly reconciled, as I will shortly show, in its proper place. If,
however, remembering the injury, he loved his brethren less than before,
he was still far from having vindictive feelings towards them. But
because it was something suspicious that foreigners and men of ignoble
rank should be received in a friendly manner, like known guests, to a
banquet, by the chief governor of the kingdom, the sons of Jacob would
conceive a new fear; namely, that he wished to cast them all into
chains; and that their money had been craftily concealed in their sacks,
in order that it might prove the occasion of accusation against them. It
is however probable, that the crime which they had committed against
Joseph, occurred to their minds, and that this fear had proceeded from a
guilty conscience. For, unless the judgment of God had tormented them,
there was no cause why they should apprehend such an act of perfidy. It
may seem absurd, that unknown men should be received to a feast by a
prince of the highest dignity. But why not rather incline to a different
conjecture; namely, that the governor of Egypt has done this for the
purpose of exhibiting to his friends the new and unwonted spectacle of
eleven brethren sitting at one table? It will, indeed, sometimes happen
that similar anxiety to that felt by Joseph's brethren, may invade even
the best of men; but I would rather ascribe it to the judgment of God,
that the sons of Jacob, whose conscience accused them of having
inhumanely treated their brother, suspected that they would be dealt
with in the same manner. However, they take an early opportunity of
vindicating themselves, before inquiry is made respecting the theft.
Now, freely to declare that the money had been found in their sacks, and
that they had brought it from home to repay it immediately was a strong
mark of their innocence. Moreover, they do this in the very porch of the
house, because they suspected that, as soon as they entered, the
question would be put to them.
  23. "Peace be to you." Because "shalom", among the Hebrews, signifies
not only peace, but any prosperous and desirable condition, as well as
any joyful event, this passage may be expounded in two ways: either that
the ruler of Joseph's house commands them to be of a peaceful and secure
mind; or that he pronounces it to be well and happy with them. The sum
of his answer, however, amounts to this, that there was no reason for
fear, because their affairs were in a prosperous state. And since, after
the manner of men, it was not possible that they should have paid the
money for the corn which was found in their sacks, he ascribes this to
the favour of God. For though true religion was then almost extinct in
the world, God nevertheless caused some knowledge of his goodness always
to remain in the hearts of men, which should render them responsible.
Hence it has happened that, following nature as their guide, unbelievers
have called every peculiarly excellent gift Divine. Moreover, because
corruption was so prevalent, that each nation deemed it lawful to
worship different gods, the ruler of Joseph's house distinguishes the
God worshipped by the sons of Jacob from Egyptian idols. The conjecture,
however, is probable, that this man had been imbued with some sense of
religion. We know how great was the arrogance of that nation, and that
it supposed the whole world besides, to be deceived in the worship of
gods. Therefore, unless he had learned something better, he never would
have assigned so great an honour to any other gods than those of his own
country. Moreover, he does not ascribe the miracle to the God of the
land of Canaan, but to the peculiar God of their father. I, therefore,
do not doubt that Joseph, though not permitted openly to correct
anything in the received superstitions, endeavored, at least in his own
house, to establish the true worship of the one God, and always held
fast the covenant, concerning which, as a boy, he had heard his father
speak. This is the more to be observed, because the holy man could not
swerve, even in the least degree, from the common practice, without
incurring the odium of a nation so proud. Therefore, the excellency of
Joseph is commended in the person of his steward; because without fear
of public envy, he gives honour, within his own walls, to the true God.
If any one should ask, whence he knew that Jacob was a worshipped of the
true God; the answer is ready; that Joseph, notwithstanding his assumed
severity, had commanded that Simon should be gently treated in prison.
Though he had been left as a hostage, yet, if he had been regarded as a
spy, the keeper of the prison would have dealt more harshly with him.
There must, therefore, have been some command given respecting the
humane or moderate treatment of him. Whence the probable conjecture is
elicited, that Joseph had explained the affair to his steward, who was
admitted to his secret counsels.
  25. "Against Joseph came at noon-day." It is doubtful whether this was
the ordinary hour of dining among the Egyptians, or whether Joseph, on
that day, sat down earlier than he was accustomed to do, on account of
his guests. It is, however, most likely that the usual custom of dining
was observed. Although, among the people of the East, there might be a
different manner of living, dinners were in use, not only among the
Egyptians, but also in Judea, and in other neighboring regions. Yet it
is probable that this was to them, also, in the place of a supper, both
because they would sit long at table, and our quick method of eating
would not have been tolerable to people in those heated climes;
especially when they received guests with greater luxury than usual, as
it will presently appear, was done at this time. The washing of the
feet, (as we have seen before,) was a part of hospitality, and intended
to relieve weariness; because, in those parts, the feet might easily
become inflamed whenever they journeyed on foot. It was also more
honorable, according to ancient custom, that a portion of food should be
sent to each from Joseph, rather than that it should be distributed by
the cook. But because these things are trivial, and are not conducive to
piety, I only slightly touch upon them; and would even omit them
entirely, except that, to remove a scruple from the minds of the
unskillful, is sometimes useful, if it be but done sparingly and with
  32. "Because the Egyptians might not eat," &c. Moses says they might
not eat with the Hebrews, because they abhorred it, as being unlawful.
For seeing that their religion forbade it, they were so bound, that they
could not do what they did not dare to do. This passage teaches us how
great was the pride of that nation; for, whence did it arise that they
so utterly detested the Hebrews, unless because they thought themselves
alone to be pure and holy in the world, and acceptable to God? God,
indeed, commands his worshipers to abstain from all the pollutions of
the Gentiles. But it behaves any one who separates himself from others,
to be himself pure and upright. Therefore superstitious persons vainly
attempt to claim this privilege for themselves, seeing they carry their
impurity within, and are destitute of sincerity. Superstition, also, is
affected with another disease; namely, that it is full of pride, so that
it despises all men, under the pretext that they are vicious. It is
asked, however, whether the Egyptians were separated from Joseph,
because they regarded him as polluted: for this the words of Moses seem
to intimate. If this interpretation is received, then they esteemed
their false religion so highly, that they did not scruple to load their
governor with reproaches. I rather conjecture, that Joseph sat apart
from them, for the sake of honour; since it would be absurd that they,
who disdained to sit at the same table with him, should be invited as
his guests. Therefore it is probable that this distinct order was made
by Joseph himself, that he might maintain his own dignity; and yet that
the sons of Jacob were not mixed with the Egyptians, because the former
were an abomination to the latter. For though the origin of Joseph was
known, yet he had so passed over to the Egyptians, that he had become as
one of their body. For which reason, also, the king had given him a
name, when he adorned him with the insignia of his office as chief
governor. Now, when we see that the church of God was, at that time, so
proudly despised by profane men, we need not wonder that we also, at the
present day, are subjected to similar reproach. Meanwhile, we must
endeavor to keep ourselves pure from the filth of the world, for the
Lord's sake; and yet this desire must be so at tempered, that we may be
alienated from the vices, rather than from the persons of men. For on
this account does God sanctify his children, that they may beware of the
vices of the unbelievers among whom they are conversant; and
nevertheless may allure, as many as are curable, to a participation of
their piety. Two things are here to be attended to; first, that we may
be fully persuaded of the genuineness of our faith; secondly, that our
excessive and fruitless fastidiousness may not entirely alienate many
from the Lord, who otherwise might have been won. For we are not
expressly commanded so to abhor the wicked, as not eat with them; but to
avoid such association as may subject us to the same yoke. Besides, this
passage confirms what I have before said, that the Hebrews had derived
their name, not from their passing over the river; (as some falsely
imagine,) but from their ancestor Heber. Nor was the fame of a single
small and distantly situated family, sufficiently celebrated in Egypt,
to become the cause of public dissension.
  33. "The first-born according to his birthright." Although of the sons
of Jacob four were born of bond-women; yet, since they were the elder,
they had precedence of their younger brethren, who had descended from
free-born mothers; whence it appears that they had been accustomed by
their father to keep this order. What, then, some one may say, becomes
of the declaration, "the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with
the son of the free-woman?" Truly, I think, since Ishmael was rejected,
by the divine oracle proceeding from the mouth of Sarah, as Esau was
afterwards, Jacob was fully taught that he had as many heirs as he had
sons. Hence arose that equality which caused each to keep his place,
first, middle, or last, according to his age. But the design of Moses
was to show, that although Benjamin was the youngest, yet he was
preferred to all the rest in honour; because Joseph could not refrain
from giving him the principal token of his love. It was, indeed, his
intention to remain unknown; but affection so far prevails, that, beyond
the purpose of his mind, he suddenly breaks out into a declaration of
his affection. From the concluding portion of the chapter we gather,
what I recently intimated, that the feast was unusually luxurious, and
that they were received to it, in a liberal and joyful manner, beyond
the daily custom. For the word "Shakar", they "were merry," signifies,
either that they were not always accustomed to drink wine, or that there
was more than ordinary indulgence at the sumptuous tables spread for
them. Here, however, no intemperance is implied, (so that drunkards may
not plead the example of the holy fathers as a pretext for their crime,)
but an honorable and moderate liberality. I acknowledge, indeed, that
the word has a double meaning, and is often taken in an ill sense; as in
chap. 9:, ver. 21, and in similar places: but in the present instance
the design of Moses is clear. Should any one object, that a frugal use
of food and drink is simply that which suffices for the nourishing of
the body: I answer, although food is properly for the supply of our
necessities, yet the legitimate use of it may proceed further. For it is
not in vain, that our food has savour as well as vital nutriment; but
thus our heavenly Father sweetly delights us with his delicacies. And
his benignity is not in vain commended in Psalm 104: 15, where he is
said to create "wine that maketh glad the heart of man." Nevertheless,
the more kindly he indulges us, the more solicitously ought we to
restrict ourselves to a frugal use of his gifts. For we know how
unbridled are the appetites of the flesh. Whence it happens that, in
abundance, it is almost always lascivious, and in penury, impatient. We
must, however, adhere to St. Paul's method, that we know how to abound
and to suffer need; that is, we must take great care if we have unusual
plenty, that it does not hurry us into luxury; and, on the other hand,
we must see to it, that we bear poverty with an equal mind. Some one,
perhaps, will say, that the flesh is more than sufficiently ingenious in
giving a specious colour to its excesses; and, therefore, nothing more
should be allowed to it than necessity demands. And, truly, I confess,
we must diligently attend to what Paul prescribes, (Rom. 13: 14,) "Make
not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." But because
it greatly concerns all pious people to receive their food from the hand
of God, with quiet consciences, it is necessary for them to know to what
extent the use of food and wine is lawful.

Chapter XLIV.

1 And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men's
sacks [with] food, as much as they can carry, and put every man's money
in his sack's mouth.
2 And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack's mouth of the youngest,
and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had
3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and
their asses.
4 [And] when they were gone out of the city, [and] not [yet] far off,
Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou
dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for
5 [Is] not this [it] in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he
divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.
6 And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.
7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God
forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:
8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks' mouths, we brought
again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out
of thy lord's house silver or gold?
9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we
also will be my lord's bondmen.
10 And he said, Now also [let] it [be] according unto your words: he
with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.
11 Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and
opened every man his sack.
12 And he searched, [and] began at the eldest, and left at the youngest:
and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack.
13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and
returned to the city.
14 And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he [was] yet
there: and they fell before him on the ground.
15 And Joseph said unto them, What deed [is] this that ye have done? wot
ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?
16 And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak?
or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy
servants: behold, we [are] my lord's servants, both we, and [he] also
with whom the cup is found.
17 And he said, God forbid that I should do so: [but] the man in whose
hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you
up in peace unto your father.
18 Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant,
I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger
burn against thy servant: for thou [art] even as Pharaoh.
19 My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother?
20 And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child
of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is
left of his mother, and his father loveth him.
21 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may
set mine eyes upon him.
22 And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for [if]
he should leave his father, [his father] would die.
23 And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come
down with you, ye shall see my face no more.
24 And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we
told him the words of my lord.
25 And our father said, Go again, [and] buy us a little food.
26 And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us,
then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our
youngest brother [be] with us.
27 And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me
two [sons]:
28 And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in
pieces; and I saw him not since:
29 And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall
bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad [be]
not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life;
31 It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad [is] not [with us],
that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of
thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.
32 For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If
I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for
33 Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad
a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
34 For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad [be] not with me?
lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.

  1. "And he commanded the steward of his house." Here Moses relates how
skillfully Joseph had contrived to try the dispositions of his brethren.
We have said elsewhere that, whereas God has commanded us to cultivate
simplicity, we are not to take this, and similar examples, as affording
license to turn aside to indirect and crafty arts. For it may have been
that Joseph was impelled by a special influence of the Spirit to this
course. He had also a reason, of no common kind, for inquiring very
strictly in what manner his brethren were affected. Charity is not
suspicious. Why, then, does he so distrust his brethren; and why cannot
he suppose that they have anything good, unless he shall first have
subjected them to the most rigid examination? Truly, since he had found
them to be exceedingly cruel and perfidious, it is but an excusable
suspicion, if he does not believe them to be changed for the better,
until he has obtained a thorough perception and conviction of their
penitence. But since, in this respect, it is a rare and very difficult
virtue to observe a proper medium, we must beware of imitating the
example of Joseph, in an austere course of acting, unless we have laid
all vindictive feelings aside, and are pure and free from all enmity.
For love, when it is pure, and exempt from all turbid influence, will
best decide how far it is right to proceed. It may, however, be asked,
"If the sons of Jacob had been easily induced to betray the safety of
Benjamin, what would Joseph himself have done?" We may readily
conjecture, that he examined their fidelity, in order that, if he should
find them dishonest, he might retain Benjamin, and drive them with shame
from his presence. But, by pursuing this method, his father would have
been deserted, and the Church of God ruined. And certainly, it is not
without hazard to himself that he thus terrifies them: because he could
scarcely have avoided the necessity of denouncing some more grievous and
severe punishment against them, if they had again relapsed. It was,
therefore, due to the special favour of God, that they proved themselves
different from what he had feared. In the meantime, the advantage of his
examination was twofold; first, because the clearly ascertained
integrity of his brethren rendered his mind more placable towards them;
and secondly, because it lightened, at least in some degree, the former
infamy, which they had contracted by their wickedness.
  2. "And put my cup, the silver cup." It may seem wonderful that,
considering his great opulence, Joseph had not rather drunk out of a
golden cup. Doubtless, either the moderation of that age was still
greater than has since prevailed, and the splendor of it less sumptuous;
or else this conduct must be attributed to the moderation of the man,
who, in the midst of universal license, yet was contented with a plain
and decent, rather than with a magnificent style of living. Unless,
perhaps, on account of the excellence of the workmanship, the silver was
more valuable than gold: as it is manifest from secular history, that
the workmanship has often been more expensive than the material itself.
It is, however, probable, that Joseph was sparing in domestic splendor,
for the sake of avoiding envy. For unless he had been prudently on his
guard, a contention would have arisen between him and the courtiers,
resulting from a spirit of emulation. Moreover, he commands the cup to
be enclosed in Benjamin's sack, in order that he might claim him as his
own, when convicted of the theft, and might send the rest away: however,
he accuses all alike, as if he knew not who among them had committed the
crime. And first, he reproves their ingratitude, because, when they had
been so kindly received, they made the worst possible return; next, he
contends that the crime was inexpiable, because they had stolen what was
most valuable to him; namely, the cup in which he was accustomed both to
drink and to divine. And he does this through his steward, whom he had
not trained to acts of tyranny and violence. Whence I infer, that the
steward was not altogether ignorant of his master's design.
  5. "Whereby indeed, he divineth." This clause is variously expounded.
For some take it as if Joseph pretended that he consulted soothsayers in
order to find out the thief. Others translate it, "by which he has tried
you, or searched you out;" others, that the stolen cup had given Joseph
an unfavorable omen. The genuine sense seems to me to be this: that he
had used the cup for divinations and for magical arts; which, however,
we have said, he feigned, for the sake of aggravating the charge brought
against them. But the question arises, how does Joseph allow himself to
resort to such an expedient? For besides that it was sinful for him to
profess augury; he vainly and unworthily transfers to imaginary deities
the honour due only to divine grace. On a former occasion, he had
declared that he was unable to interpret dreams, except so far as God
should suggest the truth to him; now he obscures this entire ascription
of praise to divine grace; and what is worse, by boasting that he is a
magician rather than proclaiming himself a prophet of God, he impiously
profanes the gift of the Holy Spirit. Doubtless, in this dissimulation,
it is not to be denied, that he sinned grievously. Yet I think that, at
the first, he had endeavored, by all means in his power, to give unto
God his due honour; and it was not his fault that the whole kingdom of
Egypt was ignorant of the fact that he excelled in skill, not by magical
arts, but by a celestial gift. But since the Egyptians were accustomed
to the illusions of the magicians, this ancient error so prevailed, that
they believed Joseph to be one of them; and I do not doubt that this
rumour was spread abroad among the people, although contrary to his
desire and intention. Now Joseph, in feigning himself to be a stranger
to his brethren, combines many falsehoods in one, and takes advantage of
the prevailing vulgar opinion that he used auguries. Whence we gather,
that when any one swerves from the right line, he is prone to fall into
various sins. Wherefore, being warned by this example, let us learn to
allow ourselves in nothing except what we know is approved by God. But
especial]y must we avoid all dissimulation, which either produces or
confirms mischievous impostures. Besides, we are warned, that it is not
sufficient for any one to oppose a prevailing vice for a time; unless he
add constancy of resistance, even though the evil may become excessive.
For he discharges his duty very defectively, who, having once testified
that he is displeased with what is evil, afterwards, by his silence or
connivance, gives it a kind of assent.
  7. "And they said unto him." The sons of Jacob boldly excuse
themselves, because a good conscience gives them confidence. They also
argue from the greater to the less: for they contend, that their having
voluntarily brought back the money, which they might with impunity have
applied to their own use, was such a proof of their honesty, as to make
it incredible that they should have been so blinded by a little gain, as
to bring upon themselves the greatest disgrace, together with immediate
danger of their lives. They, therefore, declared themselves ready to
submit to any punishment, if they were found guilty of the theft. When
the cup was discovered in Benjamin's sack, Moses does not relate any of
their complaints; but only declares, that they testified the most bitter
grief by rending their garments. I do not doubt that they were struck
dumb by the unexpected result; for they were confounded, not only by the
magnitude of their grief, but by perceiving themselves to be obnoxious
to punishment, for that of which their conscience did not accuse them.
Therefore, when they come into the presence of Joseph, they confess the
injury, not because they acknowledge that the crime has been committed
by them, but because excuse would be of no avail; as if they would say,
"It is of no use to deny a thing which is manifest in itself." In this
sense, they say that their iniquity has been found out by God; because,
although they had some secret suspicion of fraud, thinking that this had
been a contrivance for the purpose of bringing an unjust charge against
them, they choose rather to trace the cause of their punishment to the
secret judgment of God. Some interpreters believe that they here
confessed their crime committed against Joseph; but that opinion is
easily refuted, because they constantly affirm that he had been torn by
a wild beast, or had perished by some accident. Therefore, the more
simple meaning is that which I have adduced; that although the truth of
the fact is not apparent, yet they are punished by God as guilty
persons. They do not, however, speak hypocritically; but being troubled
and astonished in their perplexed affairs, there is nothing left for
them but the consciousness that this punishment is inflicted by the
secret judgment of God. And I wish that they who, when smitten by the
rod of God, do not immediately perceive the cause, would adopt the same
course; and when they find that men are unjustly incensed against them,
would recall to mind the secret judgments of God, by which it becomes us
to be humbled. Moreover, whereas Judah speaks in the name of them all,
we may hence infer, that he had already obtained precedence among his
brethren. And Moses exhibits him as their head and chief, when he
expressly states that he and the rest came. For though the dignity of
primogeniture had not yet been conferred upon him, by the solemn
judgment of his father, yet it was intended for him. Certainly, in
taking the post of speaker for the rest, his authority appears in his
language. Again, it is necessary to recall to memory, in reference to
the language of Joseph, what I have before said, that although at first
he had endeavored to ascribe the glory to God, he now sins in pretending
that he is a soothsayer or diviner. Some, to extenuate the fault, say
that the allusion is, not to the art of augury, but to his skill in
judging; there is, however, no need to resort to forced expositions for
the sake of excusing the man; for he speaks according to the common
understanding of the multitude, and thus foolishly countenances the
received opinion.
  16. "Behold, we are my lord's servants." They had before called
themselves servants through modesty; now they consign themselves over to
him as slaves. But in the case of Benjamin they plead for a mitigation
of the severity of the punishment; and this is a kind of entreaty, that
he might not be capitally punished, as they had agreed to, at the first.
  17. "God forbid that I should do so." If Joseph intended to retain
Benjamin alone, and to dismiss the others, he would have done his
utmost, to rend the Church of God by the worst possible dissension. But
I have previously shown (what may also be elicited from the context)
that his design was nothing else than to pierce their hearts more
deeply. He must have anticipated great mischief, if he had perceived
that they did not care for their brother: but the Lord provided against
this danger, by causing the earnest apology of Judah not only to soften
his mind, but even to draw forth tears and weeping in profusion.
  18. "Let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word." Judah suppliantly
asks that leave may be given him to speak, because his narrative was
about to be prolix. And whereas nobles are offended, and take it
angrily, if any address them with too great familiarity, Judas begins by
declaring that he is not ignorant of the great honour which Joseph had
received in Egypt, for the purpose of showing that he was becoming bold,
not through impertinence, but through necessity. Afterwards he recites
in what manner he and his brethren had departed from their father. There
are two principal heads of his discourse; first, that they should be the
means of bringing a sorrow upon their father which would prove fatal;
and secondly, that he had bound himself individually, by covenant, to
bring the youth back. With respect to the grief of his father, it is a
sign of no common filial piety, that he wished himself to be put in
Benjamin's place, and to undergo perpetual exile and servitude, rather
than convey to the miserable old man tidings which would be the cause of
his destruction. He proves his sincerity by offering himself as a
surety, in order that he may liberate his brother. Because "chata" among
the Hebrews, sometimes signifies to be in fault, and sometimes to be
under penalty; some translate the passage, "I shall have sinned against
my father;" or, "I shall be accused of sin;" while others render it, "I
shall be deemed guilty, because he will complain of having been deceived
by my promise." The latter sense is the more appropriate, because,
truly, he would not escape disgrace and censure from his father, as
having cruelly betrayed a youth committed to his care.

Chapter XLV.

1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by
him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no
man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
2 And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I [am] Joseph; doth my father yet
live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at
his presence.
4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And
they came near. And he said, I [am] Joseph your brother, whom ye sold
into Egypt.
5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold
me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
6 For these two years [hath] the famine [been] in the land: and yet
[there are] five years, in the which [there shall] neither [be] earing
nor harvest.
7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth,
and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 So now [it was] not you [that] sent me hither, but God: and he hath
made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler
throughout all the land of Egypt.
9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son
Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry
10 And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near
unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy
flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast:
11 And there will I nourish thee; for yet [there are] five years of
famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to
12 And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that
[it is] my mouth that speaketh unto you.
13 And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that
ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.
14 And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin
wept upon his neck.
15 Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after
that his brethren talked with him.
16 And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's
brethren are come: and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants.
17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye; lade
your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan;
18 And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I
will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of
the land.
19 Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land
of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your
father, and come.
20 Also regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land of Egypt
[is] yours.
21 And the children of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons,
according to the commandment of Pharaoh, and gave them provision for the
22 To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin
he gave three hundred [pieces] of silver, and five changes of raiment.
23 And to his father he sent after this [manner]; ten asses laden with
the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread
and meat for his father by the way.
24 So he sent his brethren away, and they departed: and he said unto
them, See that ye fall not out by the way.
25 And they went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto
Jacob their father,
26 And told him, saying, Joseph [is] yet alive, and he [is] governor
over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed
them not.
27 And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto
them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the
spirit of Jacob their father revived:
28 And Israel said, [It is] enough; Joseph my son [is] yet alive: I will
go and see him before I die.

  1. "Then Joseph could not refrain himself." Moses relates in this
chapter the manner in which Joseph made himself known to his brethren.
In the first place, he declares, that Joseph had done violence to his
feelings, as long as he presented to them an austere and harsh
countenance. At length the strong fraternal affection, which he had
suppressed during the time that he was breathing severe threatening,
poured itself forth with more abundant force: whence it appears that
nothing severe or cruel had before been harbored in his mind. And
whereas it thus bursts forth in tears, this softness or tenderness is
more deserving of praise than if he had maintained an equable temper.
Therefore the stoics speak foolishly when they say, that it is an heroic
virtue not to be touched with compassion. Had Joseph stood inflexible,
who would not have pronounced him to be a stupid, or iron-hearted man?
But now, by the vehemence of his feelings, he manifests a noble
magnanimity, as well as a divine moderation; because he was so superior
both to anger and to hatred, that he ardently loved those who had
wickedly conspired to effect his ruin, though they had received no
injury from him. He commands all men to depart, not because he was
ashamed of his kindred, (for he does not afterwards dissemble the fact
that they were his brethren, and he freely permits the report of it to
be carried to the king's palace,) but because he is considerate for
their feelings, that he might not make known their detestable crime to
many witnesses. And it was not the smallest part of his clemency, to
desire that their disgrace should be wholly buried in oblivion. We see,
therefore, that witnesses were removed, for no other reason than that he
might more freely comfort his brethren; for he not only spared them, by
not exposing their crime; but when shut up alone with them, he abstained
from all bitterness of language, and gladly administered to them
friendly consolation.
  3. "I am Joseph." Although he had given them the clearest token of his
mildness and his love, yet, when he told them his name, they were
terrified, as if he had thundered against them: for while they revolve
in their minds what they have deserved, the power of Joseph seems so
formidable to them, that they anticipate nothing for themselves but
death. When, however, he sees them overcome with fear, he utters no
reproach, but only labors to calm their perturbation. Nay, he continues
gently to soothe them, until he has rendered them composed and cheerful.
By this example we are taught to take heed lest sadness should overwhelm
those who are truly and seriously humbled under a sense of shame. So
long as the offender is deaf to reproofs, or securely flatters himself,
or wicked]y and obstinately repels admonitions, or excuses himself by
hypocrisy, greater severity is to be used towards him. But rigor should
have its bounds, and as soon as the offender lies prostrate, and
trembles under the sense of his sin, let that moderation immediately
follow which may raise him who is cast down, by the hope of pardon.
Therefore, in order that our severity may be rightly and duly
attempered, we must cultivate this inward affection of Joseph, which
will show itself at the proper time.
  4. "Come near to me, I pray you." This is more efficacious than any
mere words, that he kindly invites them to his embrace. Yet he also
tries to remove their care and fear by the most courteous language he
can use. He so attempers his speech, indeed, that he mildly accuses, and
again consoles them; nevertheless, the consolation greatly predominates,
because he sees that they are on the point of desperation, unless he
affords them timely relief. Moreover, in relating that he had been sold,
he does not renew the memory of their guilt, with the intention of
expostulating with them; but only because it is always profitable that
the sense of sin should remain, provided that immoderate terror does not
absorb the unhappy man, after he has acknowledged his fault. And whereas
the brethren of Joseph were more than sufficiently terrified, he insists
the more fully on the second part of his purpose; namely, that he may
heal the wound. This is the reason why he repeats, that God had sent him
for their preservation; that by the counsel of God himself he had been
sent beforehand into Egypt to preserve them alive; and that, in short,
he had not been sent into Egypt by them, but had been led thither by the
hand of God.
  8. "So now, it was not you that sent me hither." This is a remarkable
passage, in which we are taught that the right course of events is never
so disturbed by the depravity and wickedness of men, but that God can
direct them to a good end. We are also instructed in what manner and for
what purpose we must consider the providence of God. When men of
inquisitive minds dispute concerning it, they not only mingle and
pervert all things without regard to the end designed, but invent every
absurdity in their power, in order to sully the justice of God. And this
rashness causes some pious and moderate men to wish this portion of
doctrine to be concealed from view; for as soon as it is publicly
declared that God holds the government of the whole world, and that
nothing is done but by his will and authority, they who think with
little reverence of the mysteries of God, break forth into various
questions, not only frivolous but injurious. But, as this profane
intemperance of mind is to be restrained, so a just measure is to be
observed on the other hand, lest we should encourage a gross ignorance
of those things which are not only made plain in the word of God, but
are exceedingly useful to be known. Good men are ashamed to confess,
that what men undertake cannot be accomplished except by the will of
God; fearing lest unbridled tongues should cry out immediately, either
that God is the author of sin, or that wicked men are not to be accused
of crime, seeing they fulfill the counsel of God. But although this
sacrilegious fury cannot be effectually rebutted, it may suffice that we
hold it in detestation. Meanwhile, it is right to maintain, what is
declared by the clear testimonies of Scripture, that whatever men may
contrive, yet, amidst all their tumult, God from heaven overrules their
counsels and attempts; and, in short, does, by their hands, what he has
himself decreed. Good men, who fear to expose the justice of God to the
calumnies of the impious, resort to this distinction, that God wills
some things, but permits others to be done. As if, truly, any degree of
liberty of action, were he to cease from governing, would be left to
men. If he had only permitted Joseph to be carried into Egypt, he had
not ordained him to be the minister of deliverance to his father Jacob
and his sons; which he is now expressly declared to have done. Away,
then, with that vain figment, that, by the permission of God only, and
not by his counsel or will, those evils are committed which he
afterwards turns to a good account. I speak of evils with respect to
men, who propose nothing else to themselves but to act perversely. And
as the vice dwells in them, so ought the whole blame also to be laid
upon them. But God works wonderfully through their means, in order that,
from their impurity, he may bring forth his perfect righteousness. This
method of acting is secret, and far above our understanding. Therefore
it is not wonderful that the licentiousness of our flesh should rise
against it. But so much the more diligently must we be on our guard,
that we do not attempt to reduce this lofty standard to the measure of
our own littleness. Let this sentiment remain fixed with us, that while
the lust of men exults, and intemperately hurries them hither and
thither, God is the ruler, and, by his secret rein, directs their
motions whithersoever he pleases. At the same time, however, it must
also be maintained, that God acts so far distinctly from them, that no
vice can attach itself to his providence, and that his decrees have no
affinity with the crimes of men. Of which mode of procedure a most
illustrious example is placed before our eyes in this history. Joseph
was sold by his brethren; for what reason, but because they wished, by
any means whatever, to ruin and annihilate him? The same work is
ascribed to God, but for a very different end; namely, that in a time of
famine the family of Jacob might have an unexpected supply of food.
Therefore he willed that Joseph should be as one dead, for a short time,
in order that he might suddenly bring him forth from the grave, as the
preserver of life. Whence it appears, that although he seems, at the
commencement, to do the same thing as the wicked; yet there is a wide
distance between their wickedness and his admirable judgment. Let us now
examine the words of Joseph. For the consolation of his brethren he
seems to draw the veil of oblivion over their fault. But we know that
men are not exempt from guilt, although God may, beyond expectation,
bring what they wickedly attempt, to a good and happy issue. For what
advantage was it to Judas that the redemption of the world proceeded
from his wicked treachery? Joseph, however, though he withdraws, in some
degree, the minds of his brethren from a consideration of their own
guilt, until they can breathe again after their immoderate terror,
neither traces their fault to God as its cause, nor really absolves them
from it; as we shall see more clearly in the last chapter. And
doubtless, it must be maintained, that the deeds of men are not to be
estimated according to the event, but according to the measure in which
they may have failed in their duty, or may have attempted something
contrary to the Divine command, and may have gone beyond the bounds of
their calling. Someone, for instance, has neglected his wife or
children, and has not diligently attended to their necessities; and
though they do not die, unless God wills it, yet the inhumanity of the
father, who wickedly deserted them when he ought to have relieved them,
is not screened or excused by this pretext. Therefore, they whose
consciences accuse them of evil, derive no advantage from the pretence
that the providence of God exonerates them from blame. But on the other
hand, whenever the Lord interposes to prevent the evil of those who
desire to injure us, and not that only, but turns even their wicked
designs to our good; he subdues, by this method, our carnal affections,
and renders us more just and placable. Thus we see that Joseph was a
skillful interpreter of the providence of God, when he borrowed from it
an argument for granting forgiveness to his brethren. The magnitude of
the crime committed against him might so have incensed him as to cause
him to burn with the desire of revenge: but when he reflects that their
wickedness had been overruled by the wonderful and unwonted goodness of
God, forgetting the injury received, he kindly embraces the men whose
dishonor God had covered with his grace. And truly charity is ingenious
in hiding the faults of brethren, and therefore she freely applies to
this use anything which may tend to appease anger, and to set enmities
at rest. Joseph also is carried forward to another view of the case;
namely, that he had been divinely chosen to help his brethren. Whence it
happens, that he not only remits their offense, but that, from an
earnest desire to discharge the duty enjoined upon him, he delivers them
from fear and anxiety as well as from want. This is the reason why he
asserts that he was ordained to "put for them a remnant," that is, to
preserve a remaining seed, or rather to preserve them alive, and that by
an excellent and wonderful deliverance. In saying that he is a father to
Pharaoh, he is not carried away with empty boasting as vain men are wont
to be; nor does he make an ostentatious display of his wealth; but he
proves, from an event so great and incredible, that he had not obtained
the post he occupied by accident, nor by human means; but rather that,
by the wonderful counsel of God, a lofty throne had been raised for him,
from which he might succor his father and his whole family.
  9. "Thus saith thy son Joseph." In giving this command, he shows that
he spoke of his power in order to inspire his father with stronger
confidence. We know how dilatory old men are; and, besides, it was
difficult to tear holy Jacob away from the inheritance which was
divinely promised to him. Therefore Joseph, having pointed out the
necessity for the step, declares what a desirable relief the Lord had
offered. It may, however, be asked, why the oracle did not occur to
their minds, concerning which they had been instructed by their fathers,
namely, that they should be strangers and servants in a strange land.
(Gen. 15: 13.) For it seems that Joseph here promises nothing but mere
pleasures, as if no future adversity was to be apprehended. But though
nothing is expressly declared on this point by Moses, yet I am induced,
by a probable conjecture, to believe that Jacob was not forgetful of the
oracle. For, unless he had been retained by some celestial chain, he
never could have remained in Egypt after the expiration of the time of
scarcity. For by remaining there voluntarily, he would have appeared to
cast away the hope of the inheritance promised him by God. Seeing, then,
that he does not provide for his return into the land of Canaan, but
only commands his corpse to be carried thither; nor yet exhorts his sons
to a speedy return, but suffers them to settle in Egypt; he does this,
not from indolence, or because he is allured by the attractions of
Egypt, or has become weary of the land of Canaan; but because he is
preparing himself and his offspring to bear that tyranny, concerning
which he had been forewarned by his father Isaac. Therefore he regards
it as an advantage that, at his first coming, he is hospitably received;
but, in the meantime, he revolves in his mind what had been spoken to
  16. "And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house." What Moses
now relates, was prior in the order of events. For before Joseph sent
for his father, the report of the coming of his brethren had reached the
palace. And Joseph would not have promised so confidently a home to his
brethren in Egypt, except by the king's permission. What, therefore,
Moses had before briefly alluded to, he now more fully explains; namely,
that the king, with a ready and cheerful mind, declared his high esteem
for Joseph, in freely offering to his father and brethren, the most
fertile part of Egypt for their dwelling. And from another statement of
Moses it appears that, as long as he lived, the Israelites were treated
with clemency and kindness. For, in the first chapter of Exodus, and the
eighth verse, the commencement of the tyranny and cruelty is said to
have been made by his successor, to whom Joseph was unknown.
  22. "And to all of them he gave each man changes of raiment." That he
furnishes his brethren with supplies for their journey is not wonderful:
but to what purpose was it that he loaded them with money and garments,
seeing they would so soon return? I, indeed, do not doubt that he did it
on account of his father and the wives of his brethren, in order that
they might have less reluctance to leave the land of Canaan. For he knew
that his message would scarcely be believed, unless some manifest tokens
of its truth were presented. It might also be, that he not only
endeavored to allure those who were absent, but that he also wished to
testify, more and more, his love towards his brethren. But the former
consideration has more weight with me, because he took greater care in
furnishing Benjamin than the rest. Jerome has translated the expression,
"changes of raiment," by "two robes," and other interpreters, following
him, expound it as meaning "different kinds of garments." I know not
whether this be solid. I rather suppose they were elegant garments, such
as were used at nuptials and on festal days; for I think that constant
custom was silently opposed to this variety of dress.
  24. "See that ye fall not out by the way." Some explain the passage as
meaning, that Joseph asks his brethren to be of tranquil mind, and not
to disturb themselves with needless fear; he rather exhorts them,
however, to mutual peace. For, since the word "ragaz" sometimes
signifies to tremble or be afraid, and sometimes, to make a tumult, the
latter sense is the more appropriate: for we know that the children of
God are not only easily appeased, if any one has injured them, but that
they also desire others should live together in concord. Joseph was
pacified towards his brethren; but at the same time he admonishes them
not to stir up any strife among themselves. For there was reason to fear
lest each, in attempting to excuse himself, should try to lay the blame
on others, and thus contention would arise. We ought to imitate this
kindness of Joseph; that we may prevent, as much as possible, quarrels
and strifes of words; for Christ requires of his disciples, not only
that they should be lovers of peace, but also that they should be
peace-makers. Wherefore, it is our duty to remove, in time, all matter
and occasion of strife. Besides, we must know, that what Joseph taught
his brethren, is the command of the Spirit of God to us all; namely,
that we should not be angry with each other. And because it generally
happens that, in faults common to different parties, one maliciously
accuses another; let each of us learn to acknowledge and confess his own
fault, lest altercations should end in combats.
  26. "And Jacob's heart fainted." We know that some persons have
fainted with sudden and unexpected joy. Therefore, certain interpreters
suppose that the heart of Jacob was, in a sense, suffocated, as if
seized by a kind of ecstatic stupor. But Moses assigns a different
cause; namely, that not having confidence in his sons, he was agitated
between hope and fear. And we know, that they who are held in suspense,
by hearing some incredible message, are struck with torpor, as if they
were lifeless. It was not, therefore, a simple affection of joy, but a
certain mingled perturbation which shook the mind of Jacob. Therefore,
Moses shortly after says, that his spirit revived; when he, having
returned to himself, and being composed in mind, believed that which he
had heard to be true. And he shows that his love towards Joseph had not
languished through length of time, inasmuch as he set no value upon his
own life, except so far as it would permit him to enjoy a sight of
Joseph. He had before assigned to himself continual sorrow, even to the
grave; but now he declares that he shall have a joyful death.

Chapter XLVI.

1 And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to
Beersheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac.
2 And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said,
Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here [am] I.
3 And he said, I [am] God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down
into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:
4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee
up [again]: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.
5 And Jacob rose up from Beersheba: and the sons of Israel carried Jacob
their father, and their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons
which Pharaoh had sent to carry him.
6 And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten in
the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with
7 His sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons'
daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt.
8 And these [are] the names of the children of Israel, which came into
Egypt, Jacob and his sons: Reuben, Jacob's firstborn.
9 And the sons of Reuben; Hanoch, and Phallu, and Hezron, and Carmi.
10 And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and
Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman.
11 And the sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
12 And the sons of Judah; Er, and Onan, and Shelah, and Pharez, and
Zerah: but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. And the sons of
Pharez were Hezron and Hamul.
13 And the sons of Issachar; Tola, and Phuvah, and Job, and Shimron.
14 And the sons of Zebulun; Sered, and Elon, and Jahleel.
15 These [be] the sons of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob in Padanaram,
with his daughter Dinah: all the souls of his sons and his daughters
[were] thirty and three.
16 And the sons of Gad; Ziphion, and Haggi, Shuni, and Ezbon, Eri, and
Arodi, and Areli.
17 And the sons of Asher; Jimnah, and Ishuah, and Isui, and Beriah, and
Serah their sister: and the sons of Beriah; Heber, and Malchiel.
18 These [are] the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter,
and these she bare unto Jacob, [even] sixteen souls.
19 The sons of Rachel Jacob's wife; Joseph, and Benjamin.
20 And unto Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim,
which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.
21 And the sons of Benjamin [were] Belah, and Becher, and Ashbel, Gera,
and Naaman, Ehi, and Rosh, Muppim, and Huppim, and Ard.
22 These [are] the sons of Rachel, which were born to Jacob: all the
souls [were] fourteen.
23 And the sons of Dan; Hushim.
24 And the sons of Naphtali; Jahzeel, and Guni, and Jezer, and Shillem.
25 These [are] the sons of Bilhah, which Laban gave unto Rachel his
daughter, and she bare these unto Jacob: all the souls [were] seven.
26 All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his
loins, besides Jacob's sons' wives, all the souls [were] threescore and
27 And the sons of Joseph, which were born him in Egypt, [were] two
souls: all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt,
[were] threescore and ten.
28 And he sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to direct his face unto
Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen.
29 And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his
father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his
neck, and wept on his neck a good while.
30 And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy
face, because thou [art] yet alive.
31 And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father's house, I
will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and say unto him, My brethren, and my
father's house, which [were] in the land of Canaan, are come unto me;
32 And the men [are] shepherds, for their trade hath been to feed
cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all
that they have.
33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall
say, What [is] your occupation?
34 That ye shall say, Thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from
our youth even until now, both we, [and] also our fathers: that ye may
dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd [is] an abomination unto
the Egyptians.

  1. "And Israel took his journey." Because the holy man is compelled to
leave the land of Canaan and to go elsewhere, he offers, on his
departure, a sacrifice to the Lord, for the purpose of testifying that
the covenant which God had made with his fathers was confirmed and
ratified to himself. For, though he was accustomed to exercise himself
in the external worship of God, there was yet a special reason for this
sacrifice. And, doubtless, he had then peculiar need of support, lest
his faith should fail: for he was about to be deprived of the
inheritance promised to him, and of the sight of that land which was the
type and the pledge of the heavenly country. Might it not come into his
mind that he had hitherto been deluded with a vain hope? Therefore, by
renewing the memory of the divine covenant, he applies a suitable remedy
against falling from the faith. For this reason, he offers a sacrifice
on the very boundaries of that land, as I have just said; that we might
know it to be something more than usual. And he presents this worship to
the God of his fathers, to testify that, although he is departing from
that land, into which Abraham had been called; yet he does not thereby
cut himself off from the God in whose worship he had been educated. It
was truly a remarkable proof of constancy, that when cast out by famine
into another region, so that he might not even be permitted to sojourn
in the land of which he was the lawful lord; he yet retains, deeply
impressed on his mind, the hope of his hidden right. It was not without
subjecting himself to odium that he differed openly from other nations,
by worshipping the God of his fathers. But what profit was there in
having a religion different from all others? Seeing, then, that he does
not repent of having worshipped the God of his fathers, and that he now
also perseveres in fear and reverence towards him; we hence infer how
deeply he was rooted in true piety. By offering a sacrifice, he both
increases his own strength, and makes profession of his faith; because,
although piety is not bound to external symbols, yet he will not neglect
those helps, the use of which he has found to be, by no means,
  2. "And God spake unto Israel." In this manner, God proves that the
sacrifice of Jacob was acceptable to him, and again stretches out his
hand to ratify anew his covenant. The vision by night availed for the
purpose of giving greater dignity to the oracle. Jacob indeed, inasmuch
as he was docile and ready to yield obedience to God, did not need to be
impelled by force and terror; yet, because he was a man encompassed with
flesh, it was profitable for him that he should be affected as with the
glory of a present God, in order that the word might penetrate more
effectually into his heart. It is, however, proper to recall to memory
what I have said before, that the word was joined with it; because a
silent vision would have profited little or nothing. We know that
superstition eagerly snatches at mere spectres; by which means it
presents God in a form of its own. But since no living image of God can
exist without the word, whenever God has appeared to his servants, he
has also spoken to them. Wherefore, in all outward signs, let us be ever
attentive to his voice, if we would not be deluded by the wiles of
Satan. But if those visions, in which the majesty of God shines, require
to be animated by the word, then they who obtrude signs, invented at the
will of men, upon the Church, exhibit nothing else than the empty pomps
of a profane theatre. Just as in the Papacy, those things which are
called sacraments, are lifeless phantoms which draw away deluded souls
from the true God. Let this mutual connection, then, be observed, that
the vision which gives greater dignity to the word, precedes it; and
that the word follows immediately, as if it were the soul of the vision.
And there is no question that this was an appearance of the visible
glory of God, which did not leave Jacob in suspense and hesitation; but
which, by removing his doubt, firmly sustained him, so that he
confidently embraced the oracle.
  3. "Jacob, Jacob." The design of the repetition was to render him more
attentive. For, by thus familiarly addressing him, God more gently
insinuates himself into his mind: as, in the Scripture, he kindly
allures us, that he may prepare us to become his disciples. The docility
of the holy man appears hence, that as soon as he is persuaded that God
speaks, he replies that he is ready to receive with reverence whatever
may be spoken, to follow wheresoever he may be called, and to undertake
whatever may be commanded. Afterwards, a promise is added, by which God
confirms and revives the faith of his servant. Whereas, the descent into
Egypt was to him a sad event, he is bidden to be of good and cheerful
mind; inasmuch as the Lord would always be his keeper, and after having
increased him there to a great nation, would bring him back again to the
place, whence he now compelled him to depart. And, indeed, Jacob's chief
consolation turned on this point; that he should not perpetually wander
up and down as an exile, but should, at length, enjoy the expected
inheritance. For, since the possession of the land of Canaan was the
token of the Divine favour, of spiritual blessings, and of eternal
felicity; if holy Jacob was defrauded of this, it would have availed him
little or nothing to have riches, and all kinds of wealth and power
heaped upon him, in Egypt. The return promised him is not, however, to
be understood of his own person, but refers to his posterity. Now, as
Jacob, relying on the promise, is commanded boldly to go down into
Egypt; so it is the duty of all the pious, after his example, to derive
such strength from the grace of God, that they may gird themselves to
obey his commands. The title by which God here distinguishes himself, is
attached to the former oracles which Jacob had received by tradition
from his fathers. For why does he not rather call himself the Creator of
heaven and earth, than the God of Isaac or of Abraham, except for this
reason, that the dominion over the land of Canaan depends on the
previous covenant, which he now ratifies anew? At the same time also, he
encourages his servant by examples drawn from his own family, lest he
should cease to proceed with constancy in his calling. For, when he had
seen that his father Isaac, and had heard that his grandfather Abraham,
though long surrounded by great troubles, never gave way to any
temptations, it ill became him to be overcome by weariness in the same
course; especially since, in the act of dying, they handed their lamp to
their posterity, and took diligent care to leave the light of their
faith to survive them in their family. In short, Jacob is taught that he
must not seek, in crooked and diverse paths, that God whom he had
learned, from his childhood, to regard as the Ruler of the family of
Abraham; provided it did not degenerate from his piety. Moreover, we
have elsewhere stated how far, in this respect, the authority of the
Fathers ought to prevail. For it was not the design of God, either that
Jacob should subject himself to men, or should approve, without
discrimination, whatever was handed down from his ancestors,--seeing
that he so often condemns in the Jews, a foolish imitation of their
fathers,--but his design was to keep Jacob in the true knowledge of
  4. "And Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes." This clause was
added for the sake of showing greater indulgence. For though Jacob, in
desiring that, when he died, his eyes should be closed by the hand of
Joseph, showed that some infirmity of the flesh was involved in the
wish; yet God is willing to comply with it, for the sake of moderating
the grief of a fresh banishment. Moreover, we know that the custom of
closing the eyes was of the greatest antiquity; and that this office was
discharged by one most closely connected with the deceased either by
blood or affection.
  5. "And Jacob rose up." By using the words "rose up," Moses seems to
denote that Jacob received new vigor from the vision. For although the
former promises were not forgotten, yet the addition of the recent
memorial came most opportunely, in order that he, bearing the land of
Canaan in his heart, might endure his absence from it with equanimity.
When it is said that he took with him all that he had acquired, or
possessed in the land of Canaan, it is probable that his servants and
handmaids came together with his cattle. But, on his departure, no
mention is made of them: nay, a little afterwards, when Moses enumerates
the separate heads of each tribe, he says that only seventy souls came
with him. Should any one say that Jacob had been compelled to liberate
his slaves, on account of the famine, or that he lost them through some
misfortune to us unknown, the conjecture is unsatisfactory; for it is
most incredible that he, who had been an industrious master of a family,
and had abounded in the earthly blessings of God, should have become so
entirely destitute, that not even one little servant remained to him. It
is more probable that, when the children of Israel were themselves
employed in servile works, they were then deprived of their servants in
Egypt; or, at least, a sufficient number was not left them, to inspire
them with confidence in any enterprise. And although, in the account of
their deliverance, Moses is silent respecting their servants, yet it may
be easily gathered from other passages, that they did not depart without
  8. "These are the names of the children of Israel." He recounts the
sons and grandsons of Jacob, till he arrives at their full number. The
statement that there were but seventy souls, while Stephen (Acts 7: 14)
adds five more, is made, I doubt not, by an error of the transcribers.
For the solution of Augustine is weak, that Stephen, by a prolepsis,
enumerates also three who afterwards were born in Egypt; for he must
then have formed a far longer catalogue. Again, this interpretation is
repugnant to the design of the Holy Spirit, as we shall hereafter see:
because the subject here treated of, is not respecting the number of
children Jacob left behind him at his death, but respecting the number
of his family on the day when he went down into Egypt. He is said to
have brought with him, or to have found there, seventy souls born unto
him, in order that the comparison of this very small number, with that
immense multitude which the Lord afterwards led forth, might the more
fully illustrate His wonderful benediction. But that the error is to be
imputed to the transcribers, is hence apparent, that with the Greek
interpreters, it has crept only into one passage, while, elsewhere, they
agree with the Hebrew reckoning. And it was easy when numerals were
signified by marks, for one passage to be corrupted. I suspect also that
this happened from the following cause, that those who had to deal with
the Scripture were generally ignorant of the Hebrew language; so that,
conceiving the passage in the Acts to be vitiated, they rashly changed
the true number. If any one, however, chooses rather to suppose that
Luke in this instance accommodated himself to the rude and illiterate,
who were accustomed to the Greek version, I do not contend with them. In
the words of Moses there is, indeed, no ambiguity, nor is there any
reason why so small a matter, in which there is no absurdity, should
give us any trouble; for it is not wonderful, that, in this mode of
notation, one letter should have been put in the place of another. It is
more to the purpose, to examine wherefore this small number of persons
is recorded by Moses. For, the more improbable it appears, that seventy
men, in no lengthened space of time, should have grown to such a
multitude; so much the more clearly does the grace of God shine forth.
And this is also the reason why he so frequently mentions this number.
For it was, by no means, according to human apprehension, a likely
method of propagating the Church, that Abraham should live childless
even to old age; that, after the death of Isaac, Jacob alone should
remain; that he, being increased with a moderate family, should be shut
up in a corner of Egypt, and that there an incredible number of people
should spring up from this dry fountain. When Moses declares that Shaul,
one of the sons of Simon, was born of a Canaanitish woman, while he does
not even mention the mothers of the other sons, his intention, I doubt
not, is to fix a mark of dishonor on his race. For the holy Fathers were
on their guard, not to mix in marriage with that nation, from which they
were separated by the decree of heaven. When Moses, having put down the
names of Leah's sons, says there were thirty-three souls, whereas he has
only mentioned thirty-two; I understand that Jacob himself is to be
reckoned the first in order. The statement that he had so many sons or
daughters by Leah does not oppose this conclusion. For although,
strictly speaking, his discourse is concerning sons, yet he commences
with the head of the family. I reject the interpretation of the Hebrews,
who suppose Jochebed the mother of Moses to be included, as being
overstrained. A question suggests itself concerning the daughters,
whether there were more than two. If Dinah alone were named, it might be
said that express mention was made of her, because of the notorious fact
which had happened to her. But since Moses enumerates another female in
the progeny of Aser, I rather conjecture that these had remained
unmarried, or single; for no mention is made of those who were wives.
  28. "And he sent Judah before him unto Joseph." Because Goshen had
been selected by Joseph as the abode of his father and his brethren,
Jacob now desires, that, on his coming, he may find the place prepared
for him: for the expression which Moses uses, implies, not that he
requires a house to be built and furnished for him, but only that he may
be permitted there to pitch his tent without molestation. For it was
necessary that some unoccupied place should be assigned him; lest, by
taking possession of the pastures or fields of the inhabitants, he might
give them an occasion for exciting a tumult.
In the meeting of Jacob with his son Joseph, Moses describes their
vehement feeling of joy, to show that the holy Fathers were not
destitute of natural affection. It must, however, be remembered that,
although the affections spring from good principles, yet they always
contract some evil, from the corrupt propensity of the flesh; and have
chiefly this fault, that they always exceed their bounds: whence it
follows, that they do not need to be eradicated, but to be kept within
due bounds.
  31. "I will go up and show Pharaoh." After Joseph had gone forth to
meet his father for the purpose of doing him honour, he also provides
what will be useful for him. On this account, he advises Jacob to
declare that he and all his family were keepers of cattle, to the end
that he might obtain, from the king, a dwelling-place for them, in the
land of Goshen. Now although his moderation deserves commendation on the
ground, that he usurps no authority to himself, but that, as one of the
common people, he waits the pleasure of the king: he yet may be thought
craftily to have devised a pretext, by which he might circumvent the
king. We see what he desired. Seeing that the land of Goshen was
fertile, and celebrated for its rich pastures; this advantage so allured
his mind, that he wished to fix his father there: but then, keeping out
of Pharaoh's sight the richness of the land, he puts forth another
reason; namely, that Jacob with his sons, were men held in abomination,
and that, therefore, he was seeking a place of seclusion, in which they
might dwell apart from the Egyptians. It is not, however, very difficult
to untie this knot. The fertility of the land of Goshen was so fully
known to the king, that no room was left for fraud or calming, (though
kings are often too profuse, and foolishly waste much, because they know
not what they grant,) yea, Pharaoh, of his own accord, had offered them,
unsolicited, the best and choicest place in the kingdom. Therefore this
bounty of his was not elicited from him by stratagem; because he was
free to form his own judgment respecting what he would give. And truly
Joseph, in order that he might act modestly, felt it necessary to seek a
habitation in Goshen, on this pretext. For it would have been absurd, or
at least inconsiderate, for men who were obscure and strangers, to
desire an abode in the best and most convenient place for themselves, as
if they possessed a right to choose for themselves. Joseph, therefore,
having regard to his own modesty and that of his father, adduces another
cause, which was yet a true one. For seeing that the Egyptians held the
occupation of shepherds in abhorrence, he explains to the king that this
would be a suitable retreat for his brethren. Herein was no
dissimulation, because, in no other place, was a quiet habitation
accessible to them. Nevertheless, though it was hard for the holy
Fathers to be thus opprobriously rejected, and, as it were, to be
loathed by a whole nation; yet this ignominy with which they were
branded, was most profitable to themselves. For, had they been mingled
with the Egyptians, they might have been scattered far and wide; but
now, seeing that they are objects of detestation, and are thought
unworthy to be admitted to common society, they learn, in this state of
separation from others, to cherish more fervently mutual union between
themselves; and thus the body of the Church, which God had set apart
from the whole world, is not dispersed. So the Lord often permits us to
be despised or rejected by the world, that being liberated and cleansed
from its pollution, we may cultivate holiness. Finally, he does not
suffer us to be bound by chains to the earth, in order that we may be
borne upward to heaven.

Chapter XLVII.

1 Then Joseph came and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my
brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have, are
come out of the land of Canaan; and, behold, they [are] in the land of
2 And he took some of his brethren, [even] five men, and presented them
unto Pharaoh.
3 And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What [is] your occupation? And
they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants [are] shepherds, both we, [and]
also our fathers.
4 They said moreover unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we
come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine
[is] sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy
servants dwell in the land of Goshen.
5 And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are
come unto thee:
6 The land of Egypt [is] before thee; in the best of the land make thy
father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and
if thou knowest [any] men of activity among them, then make them rulers
over my cattle.
7 And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh:
and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
8 And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old [art] thou?
9 And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage
[are] an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the
years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years
of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.
10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.
11 And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a
possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of
Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded.
12 And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his
father's household, with bread, according to [their] families.
13 And [there was] no bread in all the land; for the famine [was] very
sore, so that the land of Egypt and [all] the land of Canaan fainted by
reason of the famine.
14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of
Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought: and
Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house.
15 And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of
Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for
why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth.
16 And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your
cattle, if money fail.
17 And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread
[in exchange] for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the
herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their
cattle for that year.
18 When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and
said unto him, We will not hide [it] from my lord, how that our money is
spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in
the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands:
19 Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy
us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto
Pharaoh: and give [us] seed, that we may live, and not die, that the
land be not desolate.
20 And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the
Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over
them: so the land became Pharaoh's.
21 And as for the people, he removed them to cities from [one] end of
the borders of Egypt even to the [other] end thereof.
22 Only the land of the priests bought he not; for the priests had a
portion [assigned them] of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which
Pharaoh gave them: wherefore they sold not their lands.
23 Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day
and your land for Pharaoh: lo, [here is] seed for you, and ye shall sow
the land.
24 And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the
fifth [part] unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of
the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for
food for your little ones.
25 And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the
sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.
26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, [that]
Pharaoh should have the fifth [part]; except the land of the priests
only, [which] became not Pharaoh's.
27 And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and
they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.
28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the whole
age of Jacob was an hundred forty and seven years.
29 And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son
Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put,
I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me;
bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt:
30 But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt,
and bury me in their buryingplace. And he said, I will do as thou hast
31 And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed
himself upon the bed's head.

  1. "Then Joseph came." Joseph indirectly intimates to the king, his
desire to obtain a habitation for his brethren in the land of Goshen.
Yet this modesty was (as we have said) free from cunning. For Pharaoh
both immediately recognizes his wish, and liberally grants it to him;
declaring beforehand that the land of Goshen was most excellent. Whence
we gather, that what he gave, he gave in the exercise of his own
judgment, not in ignorance; and that he was not unacquainted with the
wish of Joseph, who yet did not dare to ask for what was the best.
Joseph may be easily excused for having commanded his father, with the
greater part of his brethren, to remain in that region. For neither was
it possible for them to bring their cattle along with them, nor yet to
leave their cattle in order to come and salute the king; until some
settled abode was assigned them, where, having pitched their tents, they
might arrange their affairs. For it would have shown a want of respect,
to take possession of a place, as if it had been granted to them; when
they had not yet received the permission of the king. They, therefore,
remain in that district, in a state of suspense, until, having
ascertained the will of the king, they may, with greater certainty, fix
their abode there. That Joseph "brought five from the extreme limits of
his brethren," is commonly thus explained, that they who were of least
stature were brought into the presence of the king: because it was to be
feared lest he might take the stronger into his army. But since the
Hebrew word "qatsah" signifies the two extremities, the beginning and
the end; I think they were chosen from the first and the last, in order
that the king, by looking at them might form his judgment concerning the
age of the whole.
  3. "Thy servants are shepherds." This confession was humiliating to
the sons of Jacob, and especially to Joseph himself, whose high, and
almost regal dignity, was thus marked with a spot of disgrace: for among
the Egyptians (as we have said) this kind of life was disgraceful and
infamous. Why, then, did not Joseph adopt the course, which he might
easily have done, of describing his brethren as persons engaged in
agriculture, or any other honest and creditable method of living? They
were not so addicted to the feeding of cattle as to be altogether
ignorant of agriculture, or incapable of accustoming themselves to other
modes of gaining a livelihood: and although they would not immediately
have found it productive, we see how ready the liberality of the king
was to help them. Indeed it would not have been difficult for them to
become invested with offices at court. How then does it happen that
Joseph, knowingly and purposely, exposes his brethren to an ignominy,
which must bring dishonor also on himself, except because he was not
very anxious to escape from worldly contempt? To live in splendor among
the Egyptians would have had, at first, a plausible appearance; but his
family would have been placed in a dangerous position. Now, however,
their mean and contemptible mode of life proves a wall of separation
between them and the Egyptians: yea, Joseph seems purposely to labour to
cast off, in a moment, the nobility he had acquired, that his own
posterity might not be swallowed up in the population of Egypt, but
might rather merge in the body of his ancestral family. If, however,
this consideration did not enter their minds, there is no doubt that the
Lord directed their tongues, so as to prevent the noxious admixture, and
to keep the body of the Church pure and distinct. This passage also
teaches us, how much better it is to possess a remote corner in the
courts of the Lord, than to dwell in the midst of palaces, beyond the
precincts of the Church. Therefore, let us not think it grievous to
secure a sacred union with the sons of God, by enduring the contempt and
reproaches of the world; even as Joseph preferred this union to all the
luxuries of Egypt. But if any one thinks that he cannot otherwise serve
God in purity, than by rendering himself disgusting to the world; away
with all this folly! The design of God was this, to keep the sons of
Jacob in a degraded position, until he should restore them to the land
of Canaan: for the purpose, then, of preserving themselves in unity till
the promised deliverance should take place, they did not conceal the
fact that they were shepherds. We must beware, therefore, lest the
desire of empty honour should elate us: whereas the Lord reveals no
other way of salvation, than that of bringing us under discipline.
Wherefore let us willingly be without honour, for a time, that,
hereafter, angels may receive us to a participation of their eternal
glory. By this example also, they who are brought up in humble
employments, are taught that they have no need to be ashamed of their
lot. It ought to be enough, and more than enough, for them, that the
mode of living which they pursue is lawful, and acceptable to God. The
remaining confession of the brethren (verse 4) was not unattended with a
sense of shame; in which they say, that they had come to sojourn there,
compelled by hunger; but hence arose advantage not to be despised. For
as they came down few, and perishing with hunger, and so branded with
infamy that scarcely any one would deign to speak with them; the glory
of God afterwards shone so much the more illustriously out of this
darkness, when, in the third century from that time, he wonderfully led
them forth, a mighty nation.
  5. "And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph." It is to be ascribed to the favour
of God that Pharaoh was not offended when they desired that a separate
dwelling-place might be granted to them; for we know that nothing is
more indignantly borne by kings, than that their favors should be
rejected. Pharaoh offers them a perpetual home, but they rather wish to
depart from him. Should any one ascribe this to modesty, on the ground
that it would have been proud to ask for the right of citizenship, in
order that they might enjoy the same privilege as natives; the
suggestion is indeed plausible. It is, however, fallacious, for in
asking to be admitted as guests and strangers, they took timely
precaution that Pharaoh should not hold them bound in the chains of
servitude. The passage of Sophocles is known:--
  "Hos tis de pros turannon emporeuetai,
  Keinou hoti doulos, kan eleutheros molei".
         "Who refuge seeks within a tyrant's door,
         When once he enters there, is free no more."
                                          Langhorne's Plutarch.
  It was therefore of importance to the sons of Jacob to declare, in
limine, on what condition they wished to live in Egypt. And so much the
more inexcusable was the cruelty exercised towards them, when, in
violation of this compact, they were most severely oppressed, and were
denied that opportunity of departure, for which they had stipulated.
Isaiah indeed says that the king of Egypt had some pretext for his
conduct, because the sons of Jacob had voluntarily placed themselves
under his authority, (Is. 52: 4;) but he is speaking comparatively, in
order that he may the more grievously accuse the Assyrians, who had
invaded the posterity of Jacob, when they were quiet in their own
country, and expelled them thence by unjust violence. Therefore the law
of hospitality was wickedly violated when the Israelites were oppressed
as slaves, and when the return into their own country, for which they
had silently covenanted, was denied them; though they had professed that
they had come thither as guests; for fidelity and humanity ought to have
been exercised towards them, by the king, when once they were received
under his protection. It appears, therefore, that the children of Israel
so guarded themselves, as in the presence of God, that they had just
ground of complaint against the Egyptians. But seeing that the pledge
given them by the king proved of no advantage to them according to the
flesh; let the faithful learn, from their example, to train themselves
to patience. For it commonly happens, that he who enters the court of a
tyrant, is under the necessity of laying down his liberty at the door.
  6. "The land of Egypt." This is recorded not only to show that Jacob
was courteously received, but also, that nothing was given him by Joseph
but at the command of the king. For the greater was his power, the more
strictly was he bound to take care, lest, being liberal with the king's
property, he might defraud both him and his people. And I would that
this moderation so prevailed among the nobles of the world, that they
would conduct themselves, in their private affairs, no otherwise than if
they were plebeians: but now, they seem to themselves to have no power,
unless they may prove it by their license to sin. And although Joseph,
by the king's permission, places his family amidst the best pastures;
yet he does not avail himself of the other portion of the royal
beneficence, to make his brethren keepers of the king's cattle; not only
because this privilege would have excited the envy of many against them,
but because he was unwilling to be entangled in such a snare.
  7. "And Joseph brought in Jacob his father." Although Moses relates,
in a continuous narrative, that Jacob was brought to the king, yet I do
not doubt that some time had intervened; at least, till he had obtained
a place wherein he might dwell; and where he might leave his family more
safely, and with a more tranquil mind; and also, where he might refresh
himself, for a little while, after the fatigue of his journey. And
whereas he is said to have blessed Pharaoh, by this term Moses does not
mean a common and profane salutation, but the pious and holy prayer of a
servant of God. For the children of this world salute kings and princes
for the sake of honour, but, by no means, raise their thoughts to God.
Jacob acts otherwise; for he adjoins to civil reverence that pious
affection which causes him to commend the safety of the king to God. And
Jeremiah prescribes this rule to the Jews, that they should pray for the
peace of Babylon as long as they were to live in exile; because in the
peace of that land and empire their own peace would be involved. (Jer.
29: 7.) If this duty was enjoined on miserable captives, forcibly
deprived of their liberty, and torn from their own country; how much
more did Jacob owe it to a king so humane and beneficent? But of
whatever character they may be who rule over us, we are commanded to
offer up public prayers for them. (1 Tim. 2: 1.) Therefore the same
subjection to authority is required severally from each of us.
  8. "How old art thou?" This familiar question proves that Jacob was
received courteously and without ceremony. But the answer is of far
greater moment, in which Jacob declares that the time of his pilgrimage
was a hundred and thirty years. For the Apostle, in his epistle to the
Hebrews, (11: 13-16,) gathers hence the memorable doctrine, that God was
not ashamed to be called the God of the patriarchs, because they had
confessed themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Of one
man only this is mentioned; but because he had been instructed by his
forefathers, and had handed down the same instruction to his son, the
Apostle honours them all with the same eulogy. Therefore, as they were
not ashamed to wander during the whole course of their life, and to be
opprobriously called foreigners and strangers wherever they came; so God
vouchsafed to them the incomparable dignity, that they should be heirs
of heaven. But (as it has been said before) no persons ever had a more
peculiar and hereditary possession in the world, than the holy fathers
had in the land of Canaan. The Lord is said to have cast his line, in
order that he might assign to each nation its bounds: but an eternal
possession, through a continual succession of ages, was never promised
to any nation, as it was to the posterity of Abraham. In what spirit,
then, ought we to dwell in a world, where no certain repose, or fixed
abode is promised us? Moreover, this is described by Paul as the common
condition of all pious persons under the reign of Christ, that they
should "have no certain dwelling-place;" (1 Cor. 4: 11;) not that all
should be alike cast out as exiles, but because the Lord calls all his
people, as by the sound of the trumpet, to be wanderers, lest they
should become fixed in their nests on earth. Therefore, whether any one
remains in his own country, or is compelled continually to change his
place, let him diligently exercise himself in the meditation, that he is
sojourning, for a short time, upon earth, till, having completed his
course, he shall depart to the heavenly country.
  9. "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been." Jacob
may here seem to complain that he had lived but a little while, and
that, in this short space of time, he had endured many and grievous
afflictions. Why does he not rather recount the great and manifold
favors of God which formed an abundant compensation for every kind of
evil? Besides, his complaint respecting the shortness of life seems
unworthy of him; for why did he not deem a whole century and a third
part of another sufficient for him? But if any one will rightly weigh
his words, he rather expresses his own gratitude, in celebrating the
goodness of God towards his fathers. For he does not so much deplore his
own decrepitude, as he extols the vigor divinely afforded to his
fathers. Certainly it was no new and unwonted thing to see a man, at his
age, broken down and failing, and already near to the grave. Wherefore,
this comparison (as I have said) was only intended to ascribe glory to
God, whose blessing towards Abraham and Isaac had been greater than to
himself. But he does not compare himself with his fathers in sufferings,
as if they had been treated with greater indulgence; for we know that
they had been tried to the utmost with all kinds of temptations: he
merely states that he had not attained their age; as if he had said, "I,
indeed, have arrived at those years which, by others, is deemed a mature
old age, and which complete the proper term of life; but the Lord so
prolonged the life of my fathers, that they far exceeded this limit." He
makes mention of evil days, in order to show that he was not so much
broken down and consumed by years, as by labors and troubles; as if he
had said, "My senses might yet have flourished in their vigor, if my
strength had not been exhausted by continual labors, by excessive cares,
and by most grievous sufferings." We now see that nothing was less in
the mind of the holy man than to expostulate with God. Yet it may seem
absurd that he speaks of his life as being shorter than that of his
fathers. For, whence does he conjecture that so little time should still
remain for him, as to prevent him from attaining their age?  Should any
one answer, that he formed this conjecture from the weakness of his
body, which was half dead; the solution will not prove satisfactory. For
Isaac had dimness of sight and trembling limbs thirty years before his
death. But it is not absurd to suppose that Jacob was every moment
giving himself over to death, as if the sepulchre were before his eyes.
He was, however, uncertain what length of time was decreed for him in
the secret counsel of God. Wherefore, being unconcerned about the
remainder of his life, he speaks just as if he were about to die on the
next day.
  12. "And Joseph nourished his father, &c., according to their
families." Some explain the expression, "the mouth of the little one,"
as if Joseph nourished his father and his whole family, in the manner in
which food is conveyed to the mouths of children. These interpreters
regard the form of speech as emphatical, because, during the famine,
Jacob and his family had no more anxiety about the providing of food
than children, who cannot even stretch out their hand to receive it.
Others translate it "youth," but I know not with what meaning. Others
take it, simply, according to the proportion and number of the little
children. To me the genuine sense seems to be that he fed all, from the
greatest to the least. Therefore, there was sufficient bread for the
whole family of Jacob, because, by the care of Joseph, provision was
made to supply nourishment even to the little ones. In this manner Moses
commemorates both the clemency of God, and the piety of Joseph; for it
was an instance of uncommon attention, that these hungry husband men,
who had not a grain of corn, were entirely fed at his expense.
  13. "And all the land of Canaan fainted." It was a memorable judgment
of God, that the most fertile regions, which were accustomed to supply
provisions for distant and transmarine nations, were reduced to such
poverty that they were almost consumed. The word "lahah," which Moses
uses, is explained in two ways. Some say that they were driven to
madness on account of the famine; others, that they were so destitute of
food that they fainted; but whichever method of interpretation be
approved, we see that they who had been accustomed to supply others with
food, were themselves famishing. Therefore it is not for those who
cultivate fertile lands to trust in their abundance; rather let them
acknowledge that a large supply of provision does not so much spring
from the bowels of the earth, as it distills, or rather flows down from
heaven, by the secret blessing of God. For there is no luxuriance so
great, that it is not soon exchanged for barrenness, when God sprinkles
it with salt instead of rain. Meanwhile, it is right to turn our eyes to
that special kindness of God by which he nourishes his own people in the
midst of famine, as it is said in the thirty seventh Psalm and the
nineteenth verse. If, however, God is pleased to try us with famine, we
must pray that he would prepare us to endure hunger with a meek and
equal mind, lest we should rage, like fierce, and even ravenous wild
beasts. And although it is possible that grievous commotions were raised
during the protracted scarcity, (as it is said in the old proverb that
the belly has no ears,) yet the more simple sense of the passage seems
to me to be, that the Egyptians and Canaanites had sunk under the
famine, and were lying prostrate, as if at the point of death. Moreover,
Moses pursues the history of the famine, with the intention of showing
that the prediction of Joseph was verified by the event; and that, by
his skill and industry, the greatest dangers were so well and
dexterously provided against, that Egypt ought justly to acknowledge him
as the author of its deliverance.
  14. "And Joseph gathered up all the money." Moses first declares that
the Egyptian king had acted well and wisely, in committing the work of
providing corn to the sole care and authority of Joseph. He then
commends the sincere and faithful administration of Joseph himself. We
know how few persons can touch the money of kings without defiling
themselves by peculation. Amid such vast heaps of money, the opportunity
of plundering was not less than the difficulty of self-restraint. But
Moses says, that whatever money Joseph collected, he brought into the
house of the king. It was a rare and unparalleled integrity, to keep the
hands pure amidst such heaps of gold. And he would not have been able to
conduct himself with such moderation, unless his divine calling had
proved as a bridle to hold him in; for they who are restrained from
thefts and rapaciousness by worldly motives alone, would immediately put
forth their hand to the prey, unless they feared the eyes and the
judgments of men. But inasmuch as Joseph might have sinned without a
witness of his fault; it follows that the true fear of God flourished in
his breast. Plausible and well coloured pretexts, in excuse of the
theft, would doubtless present themselves. "When you are serving a
tyrant, why may it not be lawful for you to apply some part of the gain
to your own advantage?" So much the more does it appear that he was
fortified by downright honesty; since he repelled all temptations, lest
he should desire fraudulently to enrich himself at the expense of
  15. "And when money failed." Moses does not mean that all the money in
Egypt had been brought into the royal treasury; for there were many of
the nobles of the court free from the effects of the famine; but the
simple meaning of the expression is that nearly all had been exhausted;
that now the common people had not money enough to buy corn; and that,
at length, extreme necessity had driven the Egyptians to the second
remedy of which he is about to speak. Moreover, although, like persons
driven to desperation, they might seem arrogantly to rise up against
Joseph; yet the context shows that nothing was farther from their minds
than to terrify, by their boldness, the man whose compassion they
suppliantly implore. Wherefore the question, "Why should we die in thy
presence?" has no other signification than that they felt themselves
ruined, unless his clemency should afford them relief. But it may be
asked how the Canaanites supported their lives. There is indeed no doubt
that a grievous pestilence, the attendant on famine, would carry off
many, unless they received assistance from other regions, or were
miserally fed on herbs and roots. And perhaps the barrenness was not
there so great, but that they might gather half, or a third part of
their food, from the fields,
  16. "Give your cattle." It was a miserable spectacle, and one which
might have softened hearts of iron, to see rich farmers, who previously
had kept provision stored in their granaries for others, now begging
food. Therefore, Joseph might be deemed cruel, because he does not give
bread gratuitously to those who are poor and exhausted, but robs them of
all their cattle, sheep, and asses. Seeing, however, that Joseph is
transacting the business of another, I dare not charge his strictness
with cruelty. If, during the seven fruitful years, he had extorted corn
by force from an unwilling people, he would now have acted tyrannically
in seizing their flocks and herds. But seeing that they had been at
liberty to lay up, in their private stores, what they had sold to the
king, they now pay the just penalty of their negligence. Joseph also
perceived that they were deprived of their possessions by a divine
interposition, in order that the king alone might be enriched by the
spoils of all. Besides, since it was lawful for him to offer corn for
sale, it was also lawful for him to exchange it for cattle. Truly, the
corn belonged to the king; why then should he not demand a price from
the purchasers? But they were poor, and therefore it was but just to
succor them in their want. Were this rule to prevail, the greater part
of sales would be unlawful. For no one freely parts with what he
possesses. Wherefore, if his valuation of the cattle was fair, I do not
see what was deserving of reprehension in the conduct of Joseph;
especially as he was not dealing with his own property, but had been
appointed prefect over the corn, with this condition, that he should
acquire gain, not for himself, but for the king. If any one should
object that he ought at least to have exhorted the lying to content
himself with the abundant pecuniary wealth which he had obtained; I
answer, that Moses relates, by the way, but a few things out of many.
Any one, therefore, may easily conjecture, that a business of such great
consequence, was not transacted by Joseph, without the cognizance and
judgment of the king. But what, if it appeared to the king's counselors,
an equitable arrangement, that the farmers should receive, in return for
their cattle, food for the whole year? Lastly, seeing that we stand or
fall by the judgment of God alone, it is not for us to condemn what his
law has left undecided.
  18. "They came to him the second year." Moses does not reckon the
second year from the date of the famine, but from the time when the
money had failed. But since they knew, from the oracle, that the
termination of the dearth was drawing near, they desired not only that
corn should be given them for food, but also for seed. Whence it appears
that they had become wise too late, and had neglected the useful
admonition of God, at the time when they ought to have made provision
for the future. Moreover, when they declare that their money and cattle
had failed, they do it, not for the purpose of expostulating with
Joseph, as if they had been unjustly deprived of these things by him;
but for the purpose of showing that the only thing remaining for them
was to purchase food and seed at the price of their lands, and that they
could not otherwise be preserved, unless Joseph would enter into this
compact. For it would have been the part of impudence to offer no price
or compensation. They begin by saying, that they had nothing at hand,
and that, therefore, their lives would be lost, unless Joseph were
willing to buy their lands; and in order to excite his compassion, they
ask again, why he would suffer them to die, and their very land to
perish? For this is the death of the earth, when the cultivation of it
is neglected, and when, being reduced to a desert, it can bring forth
nothing more.
  20. "And Joseph bought all the land." Any one might suppose it to be
the height of cruel and inexplicable avarice, that Joseph should take
away from the miserable husband men, the very fields, by the produce of
which they nourished the kingdom. But I have before showed, that unless
every kind of purchase is to be condemned, there is no reason why Joseph
should be blamed. If any one should say that he abused their penury;
this alone would suffice for his excuse, that no wiles of his, no
circumvention, no force, no threats, had reduced the Egyptians to this
necessity. He transacted the king's business with equal fidelity and
industry; and fulfilled the duties of his office, without resorting to
violent edicts. When the famine became urgent, it was lawful to expose
wheat to sale, as well to the rich as to the poor: afterwards it was not
less lawful to buy the cattle; and now, at last, why should it not be
lawful to acquire the land for the king, at a just price? To this may be
added, that he extorted nothing, but entered into treaty with them, at
their own request. I confess, indeed, that it is not right to take
whatever may be offered without discrimination: for if severe necessity
presses, then he who wishes, by all means, to escape it, will submit to
hard conditions. Therefore, when any one thus invites us, to defraud
him, we are not, by his necessities, rendered excusable. But I do not
defend Joseph, on this sole ground, that the Egyptians voluntarily
offered him their lands, as men who were ready to purchase life, at any
price; but I say, this ought also to be considered, that he acted with
equity, even though he left them nothing. The terms would have been more
severe, if they themselves had been consigned to perpetual slavery; but
he now concedes to them personal liberty, and only covenants for their
fields, which, perhaps, the greater part of the people had bought from
the poor. If he had stripped of their clothing those whom he was feeding
with corn, this would have been to put them indirectly and slowly to
death. For what difference does it make, whether I compel a man to die
by hunger or by cold? But Joseph so succors the Egyptians, that in
future they should be free, and should be able to obtain a moderate
subsistence by their labour. For though they might have to change their
abode, yet they are all made stewards of the king: and Joseph restores
to them, not only the lands, but the implements which he had bought.
Whence it appears that he had used what clemency he was able, in order
to relieve them. Meanwhile, let those who are too intent on wealth
beware lest they should falsely employ Joseph's example as a pretext:
because it is certain that all contracts, which are not formed according
to the rule of charity, are vicious in the sight of God; and that we
ought, according to that equity which is inwardly dictated to us by a
secret instinct of nature, so to act towards others, as we wish to be
dealt with ourselves.
  21. "And as for the people, he removed them to cities." This removal
was, indeed, severe; but if we reflect how much better it was to depart
to another place; in order that they might be free cultivators of the
land, than to be attached to the soil, and employed as slaves in servile
work; no one will deny that this was a tolerable, and even a humane
exercise of authority. Had each person cultivated his field, as he had
been accustomed to do, the exaction of tribute would have seemed to be
grievous. Joseph, therefore, contrived a middle course, which might
mitigate the new and unwonted burden, by assigning new lands to each,
with a tribute attached to them. The passage may, however, be
differently expounded; namely, that Joseph caused all the farmers to go
to the cities to receive the provisions, and to settle their public
accounts. If this sense is approved, the fact that Egypt was divided
into provinces, afterwards called names, "nomoi", may probably hence
have received its origin. This removing from place to place would,
however, have been alike injurious to the king and to the people at
large, because they would not be able to make their skill and practice
applicable to new situations. Yet, since the matter is not of great
moment, and the signification of the word is ambiguous, I leave the
question undecided.
  22. "Only the land of the priests." The priests were exempted from the
common law, because the king granted them a maintenance. It is, indeed,
doubtful, whether this was a supply for their present necessity, or
whether he was accustomed to nourish them at his own expense. But seeing
that Moses makes mention of their lands, I rattler incline to the
conjecture, that, whereas they had before been rich, and this dearth had
deprived them of their income, the king conferred this privilege upon
them; and hence it arose that their lands remained unto them free. The
ancient historians, however, injudiciously invent many fables concerning
the state of that land. I know not whether the statement that the
farmers, content with small wages, sow and reap for the king and the
priests, is to be traced to this regulation of Joseph or not. But,
passing by these things, it is more to the purpose to observe, what
Moses wished distinctly to testify; namely, that a heathen king paid
particular attention to Divine worship, in supporting the priests
gratuitously, for the purpose of sparing their lands and their property.
Truly this is placed before our eyes, as a mirror, in which we may
discern that a sentiment of piety which they cannot wholly efface, is
implanted in the minds of men. It was the part of foolish, as well as of
wicked superstition, that Pharaoh nourished such priests as these, who
infatuated the people by their impostures: yet this was, in itself, a
design worthy of commendation, that he did not suffer the worship of God
to fall into decay; which, in a short time, must have happened, if the
priests had perished in the famine. Whence we infer how sedulously we
ought to be on our guard, that we undertake nothing with an indiscreet
zeal; because nothing is more easy, in so great a corruption of human
nature, than for religion to degenerate into frivolous trifles.
Nevertheless, because this inconsiderate devotion (as it may be called)
flowed from a right principle, what should be the conduct of our
princes, who desire to be deemed Christians? If Pharaoh was so
solicitous about his priests, that he nourished them to his own
destruction, and that of his whole kingdom, in order that he might not
be guilty of impiety against false gods; what sacrilege is it, in
Christian princes, that the lawful and sincere ministers of holy things
should be neglected, whose work they know to be approved by God, and
salutary to themselves? But it may be asked, whether it was lawful for
holy Joseph to undertake this office, for by so doing, he employed his
labour in cherishing impious superstitions? But though I can readily
grant that in such great, and arduous, and manifold offices of trust, it
was easy for him to slide into various faults; yet I dare not absolutely
condemn this act; nor can I, however, deny that he may have erred, in
not resisting these superstitions with sufficient boldness. But since he
was required by no law, to destroy the priests by hunger, and was not
altogether allowed to dispense the king's corn at his own pleasure; if
the king wished that food should be gratuitously supplied to the
priests, he was no more at liberty to deny it to them than to the nobles
at court. Therefore, though he did not willingly take charge of such
dependents, yet when the king imposed the duty upon him, he could not
refuse it, though he knew them to be unworthy to be fed on the dirt of
  23. "Then Joseph said unto the people." Here Moses describes the
singular humanity of Joseph, which, as it then repressed all complaints,
so, at this time, it justly dispels and refutes the calumnies with which
he is assailed. The men, who were entirely destitute, and, in a sense,
exiles, he reinstates in their possessions, on the most equitable
condition, that they should pay a fifth part of the produce to the king.
It is well known that formerly, in various places, kings have demanded
by law the payment of tenths; but that, in the time of war, they doubled
this tax. Therefore, what injury, can we say, was done to the Egyptians,
when Joseph burdened the land, bought for the king, with a fifth part of
its income; especially seeing that country is so much richer than
others, that with less labour than elsewhere, it brings forth fruit for
the maintenance of its cultivators? Should any one object that the king
would have acted more frankly had he taken the fifth part of the land;
the answer is obvious, that this was useful not only as an example, but
also, for the purpose of quieting the people, by shutting the mouths of
the captious. And certainly this indirect method, by which Joseph
introduced the tax of a fifth part, had no other object than that of
inducing the Egyptians to cultivate their lands with more alacrity, when
they were convinced that, by such a compact, they were treated with
clemency. And to this effect was their confession, which is recorded by
Moses, expressed. For, first, they acknowledge that they owe their lives
to him; secondly, they do not refuse to be the servants of the king.
Whence we gather, that the holy man so conducted himself between the two
parties, as greatly to enrich the king, without oppressing the people by
tyranny. And I wish that all governors would practice this moderation,
that they would only so far study the advantage of kings, as could be
done without injury to the people. There is a celebrated saying of
Tiberius Caesar, which savored little of tyranny, though he appears to
have been a sanguinary and insatiable tyrant, that it is the part of a
shepherd to shear the flock, but not to tear off the skin. At this day,
however, kings do not believe that they rule freely, unless they not
only flay their subjects, but entirely devour them. For they do not
generally invest any with authority, except those who are sworn to the
practice of slaughter. So much the more does the clemency of Joseph
deserve praise, who so administered the affairs of Egypt, as to render
the immense gains of the king compatible with a tolerable condition of
the people.
  27. "And Israel dwelt in the land." Moses does not mean that Jacob and
his sons were proprietors of that land which Pharaoh had granted them as
a dwelling-place, in the same manner in which the other parts of Egypt
were given to the inhabitants for a perpetual possession: but that they
dwelt there commodiously for a time, and thus were in possession by
favour, provided they continued to be peaceable. Hence the cause that
they so greatly increased, in a very short space of time. Therefore,
what is here related by Moses belongs to the history of the following
period; and he now returns to the proper thread of his narrative, in
which he purposed to show how God protected his Church from many deaths;
and not that only, but wonderfully exalted it by his own secret power.
  28. "And Jacob lived." It was no common source of temptation to the
holy old man, to be an exile from the land of Canaan, for so many years.
Be it so, that on account of the famine, he was compelled to go to
Egypt; why could he not return when the fifth year was passed? For he
did not stupidly lie there in a state of torpor, but he remained quiet,
because free egress was not allowed him. Wherefore, also, in this
respect, God did not lightly exercise his patience. For, however sweet
might be the delights of Egypt, yet he was more than miserable to be
deprived of the sight of that land which was the lively figure of his
celestial country. With the men of this world, indeed, earthly advantage
would have prevailed: but such was the piety of the holy man, that the
profit of the flesh weighed nothing against the loss of spiritual good.
But he was more deeply wounded, when he saw his death approaching:
because, not only was he himself deprived of the inheritance promised to
him, but he was leaving his sons, of doubtful, or at least of feeble,
faith, buried in Egypt as in a sepulchre. Moreover, his example is
proposed to us, that our minds may not languish or become enfeebled by
the weariness of a protracted warfare: yea, the more Satan attempts to
depress it}em to the earth, the more fervently let them look and soar
towards heaven.
  29. "And he called his son Joseph." Hence we infer, not only the
anxiety of Jacob, but his invincible magnanimity. It is a proof of great
courage, that none of the wealth or the pleasures of Egypt could so
allure him, as to prevent him from sighing for the land of Canaan, in
which he had always passed a painful and laborious life. But the
constancy of his faith appeared still more excellent, when he,
commanding his dead body to be carried back to Canaan, encouraged his
sons to hope for deliverance. Thus it happened that he, being dead,
animated those who were alive and remained, as with the sound of a
trumpet. For, to what purpose was this great care respecting his
sepulture, except that the promise of God might be confirmed to his
posterity? Therefore, though his faith was tossed as upon the waves, yet
it was so far from suffering shipwreck, that it conducted others into
the haven. Moreover, he demands an oath from his son Joseph, not so much
on account of distrust, as to show that a matter of the greatest
consequence was in hand. Certainly he would not, by lightly swearing,
profane the name of God: but the more sacred and solemn the promise was,
the more ought all his sons to remember, that it was of great importance
that his body should be carried to the sepulchre of his fathers. It is
also probable that he prudently thought of alleviating any enmity which
might be excited against his son Joseph. For he knew that this choice of
his sepulchre would be, by no means, gratifying to the Egyptians; seeing
it seemed like casting a reproach on their whole kingdom. This stranger,
forsooth, as if he could find no fit place for his body in this splendid
and noble country, wishes to be buried in the land of Canaan. Therefore,
in order that Joseph might more freely dare to ask, and might more
easily obtain, this favour from the king, Jacob binds him by an oath.
And certainly Joseph afterwards makes use of this pretext, to avoid
giving offense. This also was the reason why he required Joseph to do
for him that last office, which was a duty devolving on the brothers in
common; for such a favour would scarcely have been granted to the rest;
and they would not have ventured on the act, unless permission had been
obtained. But, as strangers and mean men, they had neither favour nor
authority. Besides, it was especially necessary for Joseph to be on his
guard, lest becoming ensnared by the allurements of Egypt, he should
gradually forsake his own kindred. It must, however, be known, that the
solemnity of an oath was designedly interposed by Jacob, to show that he
did not, in vain, desire for himself, a sepulchre in the land where he
had met with an unfavorable reception; where he had endured many
sufferings; and from which, at length, being expelled by hunger, he had
become an exile. As to his commanding the hand to be put under his
thigh, we have explained what this symbol means in chapter 24 ver. 2.
  30. "But I will lie with my fathers." It appears from this passage,
that the word "sleep," whenever it is put for "die," does not refer to
the soul, but to the body. For, what did it concern him, to be buried
with his fathers in the double cave, unless to testify that he was
associated with them after death? And by what bond were he and they
joined together, except this, that not even death itself could
extinguish the power of their faith; which would seem to utter this
voice from the same sepulchre, "Now also we have a common inheritance".
  31. "And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head." By this
expression, Moses again affirms that Jacob esteemed it a singular
kindness, that his son should have promised to do what he had required
respecting his burial. For he exerts his weak body as much as he is
able, in order to give thanks unto God, as if he had obtained something
most desirable. He is said to have worshipped towards the head of his
bed: because, seeing he was quite unable to rise from the bed on which
he lay, he yet composed himself with a solemn air in the attitude of one
who was praying. The same is recorded of David (1 Kings 1: 47) when,
having obtained his last wish, he celebrates the grace of God. The
Greeks have translated it, "at the top of his staff:" which the Apostle
has followed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, (11: 21.) And though the
interpreters seem to have been deceived by the similitude of words;
because, with the Hebrews, "mitah" signifies "bed," "motah", "a staff;"
yet the Apostle allows himself to cite the passage as it was then
commonly used, lest he might offend unskillful readers, without
necessity. Moreover, they who expound the words to mean that Jacob
worshipped the sceptre of his son, absurdly trifle. The exposition of
others, that he bowed his head, leaning on the top of his staff, is, to
say the least, tolerable. But since there is no ambiguity in the words
of Moses, let it suffice to keep in memory what I have said, that, by
this ceremony, he openly manifested the greatness of his joy.

Chapter XLVIII.

1 And it came to pass after these things, that [one] told Joseph,
Behold, thy father [is] sick: and he took with him his two sons,
Manasseh and Ephraim.
2 And [one] told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto
thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed.
3 And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in
the land of Canaan, and blessed me,
4 And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply
thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this
land to thy seed after thee [for] an everlasting possession.
5 And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee
in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, [are] mine; as
Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.
6 And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, [and]
shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.
7 And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land
of Canaan in the way, when yet [there was] but a little way to come unto
Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same [is]
8 And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who [are] these?
9 And Joseph said unto his father, They [are] my sons, whom God hath
given me in this [place]. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me,
and I will bless them.
10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, [so that] he could not see.
And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced
11 And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and,
lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed.
12 And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed
himself with his face to the earth.
13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's
left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and
brought [them] near unto him.
14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid [it] upon Ephraim's
head, who [was] the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head,
guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh [was] the firstborn.
15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham
and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,
16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my
name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and
let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head
of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to
remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head.
18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this [is] the
firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
19 And his father refused, and said, I know [it], my son, I know [it]:
he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his
younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a
multitude of nations.
20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless,
saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim
before Manasseh.
21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with
you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.
22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I
took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

  1. "After these things." Moses now passes to the last act of Jacob's
life, which, as we shall see, was especially worthy of remembrance. For,
since he knew that he was invested by God with no common character, in
being made the father of the fathers of the Church, he fulfilled, in the
immediate prospect of death, the prophetic office, respecting the future
state of the Church, which had been enjoined upon him. Private persons
arrange their domestic affairs by their last wills; but very different
was the method pursued by this holy man, with whom God had established
his covenant, with this annexed condition, that the succession of grace
should flow down to his posterity. But before I enter fully on the
consideration of this subject, these two things are to be observed, to
which Moses briefly alludes: first, that Joseph, being informed of his
father's sickness, immediately went to see him; and, secondly, that
Jacob, having heard of his arrival, attempted to raise his feeble and
trembling body, for the sake of doing him honour. Certainly, the reason
why Joseph was so desirous of seeing his father, and so prompt to
discharge all the other duties of filial piety, was, that he regarded it
as a greater privilege to be a son of Jacob, than to preside over a
hundred kingdoms. For, in bringing his sons with him, he acted as if he
would emancipate them from the country in which they had been born, and
restore them to their own stock. For they could not be reckoned among
the progeny of Abraham, without rendering themselves detested by the
Egyptians. Nevertheless, Joseph prefers that reproach for them, to every
kind of wealth and glory, if they may but become one with the sacred
body of the Church. His father, however, rising before him, pays him
becoming honour, for the kindness received at his hand. Meanwhile, by so
doing, he fulfils his part in the prediction, which before had inflamed
his sons with rage; lest his constituting Ephraim and Manasseh the heads
of two tribes, should seem grievous and offensive to his sons.
  3. "And Jacob said unto Joseph." The design of the holy man was to
withdraw his son from the wealth and honors of Egypt, and to reunite him
to the holy race, from which he had been, for a little while, separated.
Moreover, he neither proudly boasts of his own excellence, nor of his
present riches, nor of his power, for the sake of inducing his son to
comply with his wishes; but simply sets before him the covenant of God.
So also it is right, that the grace of adoption, as soon as it is
offered to us, should, by filling our thoughts, extinguish our desire
for everything splendid and costly in the world. This passage is,
doubtless, remarkable. Joseph was possessed of the most exalted dignity;
he foresees that the most excellent nobility would pass, through the
memory of his name, to his posterity: he is able to leave them an ample
patrimony: nor would it be difficult so to advance them in royal favour,
that they might obtain rank among the nobles of the kingdom. Too many
examples show how easy it is not only to be caught, but altogether
fascinated, by such allurements. Yea, the greater part know, by their
own experience, that, as soon as the least ray of hope beams upon us,
from the world, we are torn away from the Lord, and alienated from the
pursuit of the heavenly life. If a very few drops thus inebriate our
flesh, how dangerous is it to drink from the full bowl? But to all the
riches and honors of Egypt, Jacob opposes the vision in which God had
adopted himself and his race, as his own people. Whenever, therefore,
Satan shall try to entangle us with the allurements of the world, that
he may draw us away from heaven, let us remember for what end we are
called; in order that, in comparison with the inestimable treasure of
eternal life, all that the flesh would otherwise prefer, may become
loathsome. For, if holy Joseph formerly held an obscure vision in such
esteem, that, for this sole object, forgetting Egypt, he gladly passed
over to the despised flock of the Church; how shameful, at this day, is
our folly, how vile our stupor, how detestable our ingratitude, if, at
least, we are not equally affected, when our heavenly Father, having
opened the gate of his kingdom, with unutterable sweetness invites us to
himself? At the same time, however, we must observe, that holy Jacob
does not obtrude vain imaginations, for the purpose of alluring his son;
but places before him the sure promise of God, on which he may safely
rely. Whence we are taught, that our faith is not rightly founded on
anything except the sole word of God; and also, that this is a
sufficiently firm support of faith, to prevent it from ever being shaken
or overthrown by any devices whatever. Wherefore, whenever Satan
attempts to draw us hither and thither by his enticements, let us learn
to turn our minds to the word of God, and so firmly to rely upon its
hidden blessings, that, with a lofty spirit, we may spurn those things
which the flesh now sees and touches. Jacob says that God appeared to
him in the land of Canaan, in order that Joseph, aspiring after that
land, might become alienated in the affection of his heart from the
kingdom of Egypt.
  "And blessed me." In this place the word "blessed" does not signify
the present effect or manifestation of a happy life, in the way in which
the Lord is sometimes said to bless his people, when he indeed declares,
by the favour with which he follows them, that he openly makes them
happy, because they are received under his protection. But Jacob regards
himself as blessed, because he, having embraced the grace promised to
him, does not doubt of its effect. And, therefore, I take what
immediately follows; namely, "I will make thee fruitful", &c., as
explanatory of what precedes. Now the Lord promised that he would cause
an assembly of nations to descend from him: because thirteen tribes, of
which the whole body of the nation consisted, were, in a sense, so many
nations. But since this was nothing more than a prelude to that
greatness which should afterwards follow, when God, having scattered
seed over the whole world, should gather together a church for himself,
out of all nations; we may, while we recognize the accomplishment of the
benediction under the old dispensation, yet allow that it refers to
something greater. When therefore the people increased to so great a
multitude, and thirteen populous tribes flowed from the twelve
patriarchs, Jacob began already to grow to an assembly of nations. But
from the time that the spiritual Israel was diffused through all
quarters of the world, and various nations were congregated into one
Church, this multiplication tended towards its completion. Wherefore, it
is no wonder that holy Jacob should so highly estimate this most
distinguished mark of divine favour, though, indeed, it was deeply
hidden from carnal perception. But inasmuch as the Lord had held him
long in suspense, profane men have said, that the old man was in his
dotage. Few indeed are to be found, in this age, like Joseph, who
disregarding the enjoyment of pleasures which are at hand, yield entire
submission to the plain declaration of God's word. But as Jacob, relying
in confidence on invisible grace, had overcome every kind of temptation:
so now his son, and the true heir of his faith, regards with reverence
the oracles of the Lord; esteeming more highly the promise which he was
persuaded had come down from heaven, though it was in the form of a
dream, than all the riches of Egypt which he enjoyed.
  "For an everlasting possession." We have elsewhere shown the meaning
of this expression: namely, that the Israelites should be perpetual
heirs of the land until the coming of Christ, by which the world was
renewed. The Hebrew word "olam" is by some taken merely for a long time,
by others for eternity: but seeing that Christ prolongs, to the end of
time, the grace which was previously shadowed forth to the patriarchs;
the phrase, in my judgment, refers to eternity. For that portion of land
was promised to the ancient people of God, until the renovation
introduced by Christ: and now, ever since the Lord has assigned the
whole world to his people, a fuller fruition of the inheritance belongs
to us.
  5. "And now thy two sons." Jacob confers on his son the special
privilege, that he, being one, should constitute two chiefs; that is,
that his two sons should succeed to an equal right with their uncles, as
if they had been heirs in the first degree. But what is this! that a
decrepit old man assigns to his grandchildren, as a royal patrimony, a
sixth part of the land in which he had entered as a stranger, and from
which now again he is an exile! Who would not have said that he was
dealing in fables? It is a common proverb, that no one can give what he
has not. What, therefore, did it profit Joseph to be constituted, by an
imaginary title, lord of that land, in which the donor of it was
scarcely permitted to drink the very water he had dug for with great
labour, and from which, at length, famine expelled him? But it hence
appears with what firm faith the holy fathers relied upon the word of
the Lord, seeing they chose rather to depend upon his lips, than to
possess a fixed habitation in the land. Jacob is dying an exile in
Egypt; and meanwhile, calls away the governor of Egypt from his dignity
into exile, that he may be well and happy. Joseph, because he
acknowledges his father as a prophet of God, who utters no inventions of
his own, esteems as highly the dominion offered to him, which has never
yet become apparent, as if it were already in his possession. Moreover,
that Jacob commands the other sons of Joseph, (if there should be any,)
to be reckoned in the families of these two brothers, is as if he
directed them to be adopted by the two whom he adopts to himself.
  7. "And as for me, when I came from Padan." He mentions the death and
burial of his wife Rachel, in order that the name of his mother might
prove a stimulus to the mind of Joseph. For since all the sons of Jacob
had sprung from Syria, it was not a little to the purpose, that they
should be thorough]y acquainted with the history which we have before
considered, namely, that their father, returning into the land of
Canaan, by the command and under the protection of God, brought his
wives with him. For if it was not grievous to women, to leave their
father, and to journey into a distant land, their example ought to be no
slight inducement to their sons to bid farewell to Egypt; and at the
command of the same God, strenuously prepare themselves for taking
possession of the land of Canaan.
  8. "And Israel beheld Joseph's sons." I have no doubt that he had
inquired concerning the youths, before he called them his heirs. But in
the narration of Moses there is a hysteron proteron. And in the answer
of Joseph we observe, what we have elsewhere alluded to, that the fruit
of the womb is not born by chance, but is to be reckoned among the
precious gifts of God. This confession indeed finds a ready utterance
from the tongues of all; but there are few who heartily acknowledge that
their seed has been given them by God. And hence a large proportion of
man's offspring becomes continually more and more degenerate: because
the ingratitude of the world renders it unable to perceive the effect of
the blessings of God. We must now briefly consider the design of Moses:
which was to show that a solemn symbol was interposed, by which the
adoption might be ratified. Jacob puts his hands upon his grandsons; for
what end? Truly to prove that he gave them a place among his sons: and
thus constitutes Joseph who was one, into two chiefs. For this was not
his wish as a private person; according to the manner in which fathers
and grandfathers are wont to pray for prosperity to their descendants:
but a divine authority suggested it, as was afterwards proved by the
event. Therefore he commands them to be brought near to him, that he
might confer on them a new honour, as if he had been appointed the
dispenser of it by the Lord; and Joseph, on the other hand, begins with
adoration, giving thanks to God.
  12. "And Joseph brought them out." Moses explains more fully what he
had touched upon in a single word. Joseph brings forth his sons from his
own lap to his father's knees, not only for the sake of honour, but that
he may present them to receive a blessing from the prophet of God; for
he was certainly persuaded, that holy Jacob did not desire to embrace
his grandsons after the common manner of men; but inasmuch as he was the
interpreter of God, he wished to impart to them the blessing deposited
with himself. And although, in dividing the land of Canaan, he assigned
them equal portions with his sons, yet the imposition of his hands had
respect to something higher; namely, that they should be two of the
patriarchs of the Church, and should hold an honorable preeminence in
the spiritual kingdom of God.
  14. "And Israel stretched out his right hand." Seeing his eyes were
dim with age, so that he could not, by looking, discern which was the
elder, he yet intentionally placed his hands across. And therefore Moses
says that he guided his hands wittingly, because he did not rashly put
them forth, nor transfer them from one youth to the other for the sake
of feeling them: but using judgment, he purposely directed his right
hand to Ephraim who was the younger: but placed his left hand on the
first-born. Whence we gather that the Holy Spirit was the director of
this act, who irradiated the mind of the holy man, and caused him to see
more correctly, than those who were the most clear-sighted, into the
nature of this symbolical act. I shall avoid saying more, because we
shall be able to inquire into it from other passages.
  15. "God before whom." Although Jacob knew that a dispensation of the
grace of God was committed to him, in order that he might effectual]y
bless his grandchildren; yet he arrogates nothing to himself, but
suppliantly resorts to prayer, lest he should, in the least degree,
detract from the glory of God. For as he was the legitimate
administrator of the blessing, so it behaved him to acknowledge God as
its sole Author. And hence a common rule is to be deduced for all the
ministers and pastors of the Church. For though they are not only called
witnesses of celestial grace, but are also entrusted with the
dispensation of spiritual gifts; yet when they are compared with God,
they are nothing; because he alone contains all things within himself.
Wherefore let them learn willingly to keep their own place, lest they
should obscure the name of God. And truly, since the Lord, by no means,
appoints his ministers, with the intention of derogating from his own
power; therefore, mortal man cannot, without sacrilege, desire to seem
anything separate from God. In the words of Jacob we must note, first,
that he invokes God, in whose sight his fathers Abraham and Isaac had
walked: for since the blessing depended upon the covenant entered into
with them, it was necessary that their faith should be an intervening
link between them and their descendants. God had chosen them and their
posterity for a people unto himself: but the promise was efficacious for
this reason, because, being apprehended by faith, it had taken a lively
root. And thus it came to pass, that they transmitted the light of
succession to Jacob himself. We now see that he does not bring forward,
in vain, or unseasonably, that faith of the fathers, without which he
would not have been a legitimate successor of grace, by the covenant of
God: not that Abraham and Isaac had acquired so great an honour for
themselves, and their posterity; or were, in themselves, so excellent;
but because the Lord seals and sanctions by faith, those benefits which
he promises us, so that they shall not fail.
  "The God which fed me." Jacob now descends to his own feelings, and
states that from his youth he had constantly experienced, in various
ways, the divine favour towards him. He had before made the knowledge of
God received through his word, and the faith of his fathers, the basis
of the blessing he pronounces; he now adds another confirmation from
experience itself; as if he would say, that he was not pronouncing a
blessing which consisted in an empty sound of words, but one of which he
had himself enjoyed the fruit, all his life long. Now though God causes
his sun to shine indiscriminately on the good and evil, and feeds
unbelievers as well as believers: yet because he affords, only to the
latter, the peculiar sense of his paternal love in the use of his gifts,
Jacob rightly uses this as a reason for the confirmation of his faith,
that he had always been protected by the help of God. Unbelievers are
fed, even to the full, by the liberality of God: but they gorge
themselves, like swine, which, while acorns are falling for them from
the trees, yet have their snouts fixed to the earth. But in God's
benefits this is the principal thing, that they are pledges or tokens of
his paternal love towards us. Jacob, therefore, from the sense of piety,
with which the children of God are endued, rightly adduces, as proof of
the promised grace, whatever good things God had bestowed upon him; as
if he would say, that he himself was a decisive example to show how
truly and faithfully the Lord had engaged by covenant to be a father to
the children of Abraham. Let us also learn hence, carefully to consider
and meditate upon whatever benefits we receive from the hand of God,
that they may prove so many supports for the confirmation of our faith.
The best method of seeking God is to begin at his word; after this, (if
I may so speak,) experimental knowledge is added. Now whereas, in this
place, the singular gratitude of the holy man is conspicuous; yet this
circumstance adds to his honour, that, while involved in manifold
sufferings, by which he was almost borne down, he celebrates the
continual goodness of God. For although, by the rare and wonderful power
of God, he had been, in an extraordinary manner, delivered from many
dangers; yet it was a mark of an exalted and courageous mind, to be able
to surmount so many and so great obstacles, to fly on the wings of faith
to the goodness of God, and instead of being overwhelmed by a mass of
evils, to perceive the same goodness in the thickest darkness.
  16. "The Angel which redeemed me." He so joins the Angel to God as to
make him his equal. Truly he offers him divine worship, and asks the
same things from him as from God. If this be understood indifferently of
any angel what ever, the sentence is absurd. Nay, rather, as Jacob
himself sustains the name and character of God, in blessing his son, he
is superior, in this respect, to the angels. Wherefore it is necessary
that Christ should be here meant, who does not bear in vain the title of
Angel, because he had become the perpetual Mediator. And Paul testifies
that he was the Leader and Guide of the journey of his ancient people.
(1 Cor. 10: 4.) He had not yet indeed been sent by the Father, to
approach more nearly to us by taking our flesh, but because he was
always the bond of connection between God and man, and because God
formally manifested himself in no other way than through him, he is
properly called the Angel. To which may be added, that the faith of the
fathers was always fixed on his future mission. He was therefore the
Angel, because even then he poured forth his rays, that the saints might
approach God, through him, as Mediator. For there was always so wide a
distance between God and men, that, without a mediator; there could be
no communication. Nevertheless though Christ appeared in the form of an
angel, we must remember what the Apostle says to the Hebrews, (2: 16,)
that "he took not on him the nature of angels," so as to become one of
them, in the manner in which he truly became man; for even when angels
put on human bodies, they did not, on that account, become men. Now
since we are taught, in these words, that the peculiar office of Christ
is to defend us and to deliver us from all evil, let us take heed not to
bury this grace in impious oblivion: yea, seeing that now it is more
clearly exhibited to us, than formerly to the saints under the law,
since Christ openly declares that the faithful are committed to his
care, that not one of them might perish, (John 17: 12,) so much the more
ought it to flourish in our hearts, both that it may be highly
celebrated by us with suitable praise, and that it may stir us up to
seek this guardianship of our best Protector. And this is exceedingly
necessary for us; for if we reflect how many dangers surround us, that
we scarcely pass a day without being delivered from a thousand deaths;
whence does this arise, except from that care which is taken of us, by
the Son of God, who has received us under his protection, from the hand
of his Father.
  "And let my name be named on them." This is a mark of the adoption
before mentioned: for he puts his name upon them, that they may obtain a
place among the patriarchs. Indeed the Hebrew phrase signifies nothing
else than to be reckoned among the family of Jacob. Thus the name of the
husband is said to be called upon the wife, (Is. 4: 1,) because the wife
borrows the name from the head to which she is subject. So much the more
ridiculous is the ignorance of the Papists, who would prove hence that
the dead are to be invoked in prayers. Jacob, say they, desired after
his death to be invoked by his posterity. What! that being prayed to, he
might bring them succor; and not--according to the plain intention of
the speaker--that Ephraim and Manasseh might be added to the society of
the patriarchs, to constitute two tribes of the holy people! Moreover it
is wonderful, that the Papists, leaving under this pretext framed for
themselves innumerable patrons, should have passed over Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob, as unworthy of the office. But the Lord, by this brutish
stupor, has avenged their impious profanation of his name. What Jacob
adds in the next clause, namely, that they should "grow into a
multitude", refers also to the same promise. The sum amounts to this,
that the Lord would complete in them, what he had promised to the
  17. "And when Joseph saw." Because by crossing his arms, Jacob had so
placed his hands as to put his left hand upon the head of the
first-born, Joseph wished to correct this proceeding, as if it had been
a mistake. He thought that the error arose from dimness of vision; but
his father followed the Spirit of God as his secret guide, in order that
he might transfer the title of honour, which nature had conferred upon
the elder to the younger. For, as he did not rashly assume to himself
the office of conveying the blessing; so was it not lawful for him to
attempt anything according to his own will. And at length it was evident
by the event, that whatever he had done had been dictated to him from
heaven. Whereas Joseph took it amiss, that Manasseh, who by the right of
nature was first, should be cast down to the second place, this feeling
arose from faith and from holy reverence for the prophetic office. For
he would easily have borne to see him make a mistake in the order of
embracing the youths; if he had not known that his father; as a minister
of divine grace, so far from acting a futile part, was but pronouncing
on earth what God would ratify in heaven. Yet he errs in binding the
grace of God to the accustomed order of nature: as if the Lord did not
often purposely change the law of nature, to teach us that what he
freely confers upon us, is entirely the result of his own will. If God
were rendering to every one his due, a certain rule might properly be
applied to the distribution of his favors; but since he owes no one
anything, he is free to confer gifts at his own pleasure. More
especially, lest any one should glory in the flesh, he designedly
illustrates his own free mercy, in choosing those who had no worthiness
of their own. What shall we say was the cause, why he raised Ephraim
above his own brother, to whom, according to usage, he was inferior? If
any one should suppose that Ephraim had some hidden seed of excellence,
he not only vainly trifles, but impiously perverts the counsel of God.
For since God derives from himself and from his own liberality, the
cause, why he prefers one of the two to the other: he confers the honour
upon the younger, for the purpose of showing that he is bound by no
claims of human merit; but that he distributes his gifts freely, as it
seems good unto him. And while this liberty of God is extended to every
kind of good, it yet shines the most clearly in the first adoption,
whereby he predestinates to himself, those whom he sees fit, out of the
ruined mass. Wherefore, be it our part to leave to God his whole power
untouched, and if at any time, our carnal sense rebels, let us know that
none are more truly wise than they who are willing to account themselves
blind, when contemplating the wonderful dealings of God, in order that
they may trace the cause of any difference he makes, to himself alone.
We have seen above, that the eyes of Jacob were dim: but in crossing his
arms, with apparent negligence, in order to comply with God's purpose of
election, he is more clear-sighted than his son Joseph, who, according
to the sense of the flesh, inquires with too much acuteness. They who
insanely imagine that this judgment was formed from a view of their
works, sufficiently declare, by this one thing, that they do not hold
the first rudiments of faith. For either the adoption common both to
Manasseh and to Ephraim, was a free gift, or a reward of debt.
Concerning this second supposition all ambiguity is removed, by many
passages of Scripture, in which the Lord makes known his goodness, in
having freely loved and chosen his people. Now no one is so ignorant; as
not to perceive that the first place is not assigned to one or the
other, according to merit; but is given gratuitously, since it so
pleases the Lord. With regard to the posture of the hands, the subtlety
of certain persons, who conjecture that the mystery of the cross was
included in it, is absurd; for the Lord intended nothing more than that
the crossing of the right hand and the left should indicate a change in
the accustomed order of nature.
  19. "He also shall become a people." Jacob does not dispute which of
the youths shall be the more worthy; but only pronounces what God had
decreed with himself, concerning each, and, what would take place after
a long succession of time. He seeks, therefore, no causes elsewhere; but
contents himself with this one statement, that Ephraim will be more
greatly multiplied than Manasseh. And truly our dignity is hidden in the
counsel of God alone, until, by his vocation, he makes it manifest what
he wills to do with us. Meanwhile, sinful emulation is forbidden, when
he commands Manasseh to be contented with his lot. They are therefore
altogether insane, who hew out dry and perforated cisterns, in seeking
causes of divine adoption; whereas, everywhere, the Scripture defines in
one word, that they are called to salvation whom God has chosen, (Rom.
8: 29,) and that the primary source of election is his free good
pleasure. The form of the benediction, which is shortly afterwards
related, more fully confirms what I have alluded to, that the grace of
God towards both is commended, in order that Manasseh, considering that
more was given to him than he deserved, might not envy his brother.
Moreover, this blessing pronounced on Ephraim and Manasseh is not to be
taken in the same sense as the former, in which it is said, "In thy seed
shall all nations be blessed:" but the simple meaning is, that the grace
of God should be so conspicuous towards the two sons of Joseph, as to
furnish the people of Israel with a form by which to express their good
  21. "And Israel said unto Joseph." Jacob repeats what he had said. And
truly all his sons, and especially Joseph and his sons, required
something more than one simple confirmation, in order that they might
not fix their abode in Egypt, but might dwell, in their minds, in the
land of Canaan. He mentions his own death, for the purpose of teaching
them that the eternal truth of God by no means depended on the life of
men: as if he had said, my life, seeing it is short and fading, passes
away; but the promise of God, which has no limit, will flourish when I
also am dead. No vision had appeared unto his sons, but God had ordained
the holy old man as the intermediate sponsor of his covenant. He
therefore sedulously fulfills the office enjoined upon him, taking
timely precaution that their faith should not be shaken by his death. So
when the Lord delivers his word to the world by mortal men, although
they die, having finished their course of life according to the flesh;
yet the voice of God is not extinguished with them, but quickens us even
at the present day. Therefore Peter writes, that he will endeavor, that
after his decease, the Church may be mindful of the doctrine committed
unto him. (2 Pet. 1: 15.)
  "Unto the land of your fathers." It is not without reason that he
claims for himself and his fathers, the dominion over that land in which
they had always wandered as strangers; for whereas it might seem that
the promise of God had failed, he excites his sons to a good hope, and
pronounces, with a courageous spirit, that land to be his own, in which,
at length, he scarcely obtained a sepulchre, and that only by favour.
Whence then was this great confidence, except that he would accustom his
sons, by his example, to have faith in the word of God? Now this
doctrine is also common to us; because we never rely with sufficient
firmness on the word of God, so long as we are led by our own feelings.
Nay, until our faith rises to lay hold on those things which are removed
afar off, we know not what it is to set our seal to the word of God.
  22. "I have given to thee one portion." In order to increase the
confidence of his son Joseph, Jacob here assigns him a portion beyond
his proper lot. Some expound the passage otherwise; as if he called him
a double heir in his two sons, thus honoring him with one portion more
than the rest. But there is no doubt that he means a certain territory.
And John, (chap. 4: 5,) removes all controversy; for, speaking of the
field adjoining Sychar, which before was called Shechem, says, it was
that which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. And, in the last chapter of
Joshua, (ver. 32,) it is said to have come into the possession of the
sons of Joseph. But in the word "shechem", which among the Hebrews
signifies a part, allusion is made to the proper name of the place. But
here a question arises; how can he say that he had obtained the field by
his sword and by his bow, which he had purchased with money, as is
stated before, (chap. 33: 19,) and is again recorded in the above
mentioned chapter of Joshua? Seeing, however, that only a small portion
of the field, where he might pitch his tents, was bought, I do not doubt
that here he comprised a much greater space. For we may easily
calculate, from the price, how small a portion of land he possessed,
before the destruction of the city. He gives, therefore, now to his son
Joseph, not only the place of his tent, which had cost a hundred pieces
of silver, but the field which had been the common of the city of
Sychar. But it remains to inquire how he may be said to have obtained it
by his sword, whereas the inhabitants had been wickedly and cruelly
slain by Simon and Levi. How then could it be acquired by the right of
conquest, from those against whom war had been unjustly brought; or
rather, against whom, without any war, the most cruel perfidy had been
practiced? Jerome resorts to allegory, saying that the field was
obtained by money, which is called strength, or justice. Others suppose
a prolepsis, as if Jacob was speaking of a future acquisition of the
land: a meaning which, though I do not reject, seems yet somewhat
forced. I rather incline to this interpretation: first, that he wished
to testify that he had taken nothing by means of his two sons Simon and
Levi; who, having raged like robbers, were not lawful conquerors, and
had never obtained a single foot of land, after the perpetration of the
slaughter. For, so far were they from gaining anything, that they
compelled their father to fly; nor would escape have been possible,
unless they had been delivered by miracle. When, however, Jacob strips
them of their empty title, he transfers this right of victory to
himself, as being divinely granted to him. For though he always held
their wickedness in abhorrence, and will show his detestation of it in
the next chapter; yet, because they had armed his whole household, they
fought as under his auspices. Gladly would he have preserved the
citizens of Shechem, a design which he was not able to accomplish; yet
he appropriates to himself the land left empty and deserted by their
destruction, because, for his sake, God had spared the murderers.

Chapter XLIX.

1 And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together,
that I may tell you [that] which shall befall you in the last days.
2 Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken
unto Israel your father.
3 Reuben, thou [art] my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my
strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:
4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to
thy father's bed; then defiledst thou [it]: he went up to my couch.
5 Simeon and Levi [are] brethren; instruments of cruelty [are in] their
6 O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine
honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in
their selfwill they digged down a wall.
7 Cursed [be] their anger, for [it was] fierce; and their wrath, for it
was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
8 Judah, thou [art he] whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand [shall
be] in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down
before thee.
9 Judah [is] a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he
stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse
him up?
10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between
his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him [shall] the gathering of the
people [be].
11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice
vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of
12 His eyes [shall be] red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
13 Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he [shall be] for an
haven of ships; and his border [shall be] unto Zidon.
14 Issachar [is] a strong ass couching down between two burdens:
15 And he saw that rest [was] good, and the land that [it was] pleasant;
and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.
16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth
the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.
18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.
19 Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.
20 Out of Asher his bread [shall be] fat, and he shall yield royal
21 Naphtali [is] a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.
22 Joseph [is] a fruitful bough, [even] a fruitful bough by a well;
[whose] branches run over the wall:
23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot [at him], and hated
24 But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made
strong by the hands of the mighty [God] of Jacob; (from thence [is] the
shepherd, the stone of Israel:)
25 [Even] by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the
Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings
of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:
26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my
progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall
be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was
separate from his brethren.
27 Benjamin shall ravin [as] a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the
prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.
28 All these [are] the twelve tribes of Israel: and this [is it] that
their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to
his blessing he blessed them.
29 And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my
people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that [is] in the field of
Ephron the Hittite,
30 In the cave that [is] in the field of Machpelah, which [is] before
Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of
Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace.
31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac
and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.
32 The purchase of the field and of the cave that [is] therein [was]
from the children of Heth.
33 And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up
his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto
his people.

  1. "And Jacob called." In the former chapter, the blessing on Ephraim
and Manasseh was related, because, before Jacob should treat of the
state of the whole nation about to spring from him, it was right that
these two grandsons should be inserted into the body of his sons. Now,
as if carried above the heavens, he announces, not in the character of a
man, but as from the mouth of God, what shall be the condition of them
all, for a long time to come. And it will be proper first to remark,
that as he had then thirteen sons, he sets before his view, in each of
their persons, the same number of nations or tribes: in which act the
admirable lustre of his faith is conspicuous. For since he had often
heard from the Lord, that his seed should be increased to a multitude of
people, this oracle is to him like a sublime mirror, in which he may
perceive things deeply hidden from human sense. Moreover, this is not a
simple confession of faith, by which Jacob testifies that he hopes for
whatever had been promised him by the Lord; but he rises superior to
men, at the interpreter and ambassador of God, to regulate the future
state of the Church. Now, since some interpreters perceived this
prophecy to be noble and magnificent, they have thought that it would
not be adorned with its proper dignity, unless they should extract from
it certain new mysteries. Thus it has happened, that in striving
earnestly to elicit profound allegories, they have departed from the
genuine sense of the words, and have corrupted, by their own inventions,
what is here delivered for the solid edification of the pious. But lest
we should depreciate the literal sense, as if it did not contain
speculations sufficiently profound, let us mark the design of the holy
Spirit. In the first place, the sons of Jacob are informed beforehand,
of their future fortune, that they may know themselves to be objects of
the special care of God; and that, although the whole world is governed
by his providence, they, notwithstanding, are preferred to other
nations, as members of his own household. It seems apparently a mean and
contemptible thing, that a region productive of vines, which should
yield abundance of choice wine, and one rich in pasturers, which should
supply milk, is promised to the tribe of Judah. But if any one will
consider that the Lord is hereby giving an illustrious proof of his own
election, in descending, like the father of a family, to the care of
food, and also showing, in minute things, that he is united by the
sacred bond of a covenant to the children of Abraham, he will look for
no deeper mystery. In the second place; the hope of the promised
inheritance is again renewed unto them. And, therefore, Jacob, as if he
would put them in possession of the land by his own hand, expounds
familiarly, and as in an affair actually present, what kind of
habitation should belong to each of them. Can the confirmation of a
matter so serious, appear contemptible to sane and prudent readers? It
is, however, the principal design of Jacob more correctly to point out
from whence a king should arise among them, who should bring them
complete felicity. And in this manner he explains what had been promised
obscurely, concerning the blessed seed. In these things there is so
great weight, that the simple treating of them, if only we were skillful
interpreters, ought justly to transport us with admiration. But
(omitting all things else) an advantage of no common kind consists in
this single point, that the mouth of impure and profane men, who freely
detract from the credibility of Moses, is shut, so that they no longer
dare to contend that he did not speak by a celestial impulse. Let us
imagine that Moses does not relate what Jacob had before prophesied, but
speaks in his own person; whence, then, could he divine what did not
happen till many ages afterwards? Such, for instance, is the prophecy
concerning the kingdom of David. And there is no doubt that God
commanded the land to be divided by lot, lest any suspicion should arise
that Joshua had divided it among the tribes, by compact, and as he had
been instructed by his master. After the Israelites had obtained
possession of the land, the division of it was not made by the will of
men. Whence was it that a dwelling near the sea-shore was given to the
tribe of Zebulun; a fruitful plain to the tribe of Asher; and to the
others, by lot, what is here recorded; except that the Lord would ratify
his oracles by the result, and would show openly, that nothing then
occurred which he had not, a long time before, declared should take
place? I now return to the words of Moses, in which holy Jacob is
introduced, relating what he had been taught by the Holy Spirit
concerning events still very remote. But some, with canine rage, demand,
Whence did Moses derive his knowledge of a conversation, held in an
obscure hut, two hundred years before his time? I ask in return, before
I give an answer, Whence had he his knowledge of the places in the land
of Canaan, which he assigns, like a skillful surveyor, to each tribe? If
this was a knowledge derived from heaven, (which must be granted,) why
will these impious babblers deny that the things which Jacob has
predicted, were divinely revealed to Moses? Besides, among many other
things which the holy fathers had handed down by tradition, this
prediction might then be generally known. Whence was it that the people,
when tyrannically oppressed, implored the assistance of God as their
deliverer? Whence was it, that at the simple hearing of a promise
formerly given, they raised their minds to a good hope, unless that some
remembrance of the divine adoption still flourished among them? If there
was a general acquaintance with the covenant of the Lord among the
people; what impudence will it be to deny that the heavenly servants of
God more accurately investigated whatever was important to be known
respecting the promised inheritance? For the Lord did not utter oracles
by the mouth of Jacob which, after his death, a sudden oblivion should
destroy; as if he had breathed, I know not what sounds, into the air.
But rather he delivered instructions common to many ages; that his
posterity might know from what source their redemption, as well as the
hereditary title of the land, flowed down to them. We know how tardily,
and even timidly, Moses undertook the province assigned him, when he was
called to deliver his own people: because he was aware that he should
have to deal with an intractable and perverse nation. It was, therefore,
necessary, that he should come prepared with certain credentials which
might give proof of his vocation. And, hence, he put forth these
predictions, as public documents from the sacred archives of God, that
no one might suppose him to have intruded rashly into his office.
  "Gather yourselves together." Jacob begins with inviting their
attention. For he gravely enters on his subject, and claims for himself
the authority of a prophet, in order to teach his sons that he is by no
means making a private testamentary disposition of his domestic affairs;
but that he is expressing in words, those oracles which are deposited
with him, until the event shall follow in due time. For he does not
command them simply to listen to his wishes, but gathers them into an
assembly by a solemn rite, that they may hear what shall occur to them
in the succession of time. Moreover, I do not doubt, that he places this
future period of which he speaks, in opposition to their exile in Egypt,
that, when their minds were in suspense, they might look forward to that
promised state. Now, from the above remarks, it may be easily inferred,
that, in this prophecy is comprised the whole period from the departure
out of Egypt to the reign of Christ: not that Jacob enumerates every
event, but that, in the summary of things on which he briefly touches,
he arranges a settled order and course, until Christ should appear.
  3. "Reuben, thou art my first-born." He begins with the first-born,
not for the sake of honour, to confirm him in his rank; but that he may
the more completely cover him with shame, and humble him by just
reproaches. For Reuben is here cast down from his primogeniture; because
he had polluted his father's bed by incestuous intercourse with his
mother-in-law. The meaning of his words is this: "Thou, indeed, by
nature the first-born, oughtest to have excelled, seeing thou art my
strength, and the beginning of my manly vigor; but since thou best
flowed away like water, there is no more any ground for arrogating
anything to thyself. For, from the day of thy incest, that dignity which
thou receivedst on thy birth-day, from thy mother's womb, is gone and
vanished away. The noun "'on", some translate seed, others grief; and
turn the passage thus: "Thou my strength, and the beginning of my grief
or seed." They who prefer the word grief, assign as a reason, that
children bring care and anxiety to their parents. But if this were the
true meaning, there would rather have been an antithesis between
strength and sorrow. Since, however, Jacob is reciting, in continuity,
the declaration of the dignity which belongs to the first-born, I doubt
not that he here mentions the beginning of his manhood. For as men, in a
certain sense, live again in their children, the first-born is properly
called the "beginning of strength." To the same point belongs what
immediately follows, that he had been the excellency of dignity and of
strength, until he had deservedly deprived himself of both. For Jacob
places before the eyes of his son Reuben his former honour, because it
was for his profit to be made thoroughly conscious whence he had fallen.
So Paul says, that he set before the Corinthians the sins by which they
were defiled, in order to make them ashamed. (1 Cor. 6: 5.) For whereas
we are disposed to flatter ourselves in our vices, scarcely any one of
us is brought back to a sane mind, after he has fallen, unless he is
touched with a sense of his vileness. Moreover, nothing is better
adapted to wound us, than when a comparison is made between those favors
which God bestows upon us, and the punishments we bring upon ourselves
by our own fault. After Adam had been stripped of all good things, God
reproaches him sharply, and not without ridicule, "Behold Adam is as one
of us." What end is this designed to answer, except that Adam,
reflecting with himself how far he is changed from that man, who had
lately been created according to the image of God, and had been endowed
with so many excellent gifts, might be confounded and fall prostrate,
deploring his present misery? We see, then, that reproofs are necessary
for us, in order that we may be touched to the quick by the anger of the
Lord. For so it happens, not only that we become displeased with the
sins of which we are now bearing the punishment, but also, that we take
greater care diligently to guard those gifts of God which dwell within
us, lest they perish through our negligence. They who refer the
"excellency of dignity" to the priesthood, and the "excellency of power"
to the kingly office, are, in my judgment, too subtle interpreters. I
take the more simple meaning of the passage to be; that if Reuben had
stood firmly in his own rank, the chief place of all excellency would
have belonged to him.
  4. "Unstable as water." He shows that the honour which had not a good
conscience for its keeper, was not firm but evanescent; and thus he
rejects Reuben from the primogeniture. He declares the cause, lest
Reuben should complain that he was punished when innocent: for it was
also of great consequence, in this affair, that he should be convinced
of his fault, lest his punishment should not be attended with profit. We
now see Jacob, having laid carnal affection aside, executing the office
of a prophet with vigor and magnanimity. For this judgment is not to be
ascribed to anger, as if the father desired to take private vengeance of
his son: but it proceeded from the Spirit of God; because Jacob kept
fully in mind the burden imposed upon him. The word "'alach" the close
of the sentence signifies to depart, or to be blown away like the
ascending smoke, which is dispersed. Therefore the sense is, that the
excellency of Reuben, from the time that he had defiled his father's
bed, had flowed away and become extinct. For to expound the expression
concerning the bed, to mean that it ceased to be Jacob's conjugal bed,
because Bilhah had been divorced, is too frigid.
  5. "Simeon and Levi are brethren." He condemns the massacre of the
city of Shechem by his two sons Simon and Levi, and denounces the
punishment of so great a crime. Whence we learn how hateful cruelty is
to God, seeing that the blood of man is precious in his sight. For it is
as if he would cite to his own tribunal those two men, and would demand
vengeance on them, when they thought they had already escaped. It may,
however, be asked, whether pardon had not been granted to them long ago;
and if God had already forgiven them, why does he recall them again to
punishment? I answer, it was both privately useful to themselves, and
was also necessary as an example, that this slaughter should not remain
unpunished, although they might have obtained previous forgiveness. For
we have seen before, when they were admonished by their father, how far
they were from that sorrow which is the commencement of true repentance;
and it may be believed that afterwards they became stupefied more and
more, with a kind of brutish torpor, in their wickedness; or at least,
that they had not been seriously affected with bitter grief for their
sin. It was also to be feared lest their posterity might become addicted
to the same brutality, unless divinely impressed with horror at the
deed. Therefore the Lord, partly for the purpose of humbling them,
partly for that of making them an example to all ages, inflicted on them
the punishment of perpetual ignominy. Moreover, by thus acting, he did
not retain the punishment while remitting the guilt, as the Papists
foolishly dream: but though truly and perfectly appeased, he
administered a correction suitable for future times. The Papists imagine
that sins are only half remitted by God; because he is not willing to
absolve sinners gratuitously. But Scripture speaks far otherwise. It
teaches us that God does not exact punishments which shall compensate
for offenses; but such as shall purge hearts from hypocrisy, and shall
invite the elect--the allurements of the world being gradually shaken
off--to repentance, shall stir them up to vigilant solicitude, and shall
keep them under restraint by the bridle of fear and reverence. Whence it
follows that nothing is more preposterous, than that the punishments
which we have deserved, should be redeemed by satisfactions, as if God,
after the manner of men, would have what was owing paid to him; nay,
rather there is the best possible agreement between the gratuitous
remission of punishments and those chastening of the rod, which rather
prevent future evils, than follow such as have been already committed.
  To return to Simon and Levi. How is it that God, by inflicting a
punishment which had been long deferred, should drag them back as guilty
fugitives to judgment; unless because impunity would have been hurtful
to them? And yet he fulfills the office of a physician rather than of a
judge, who refuses to spare, because he intends to heal; and who not
only heals two who are sick, but, by an antidote, anticipates the
diseases of others, in order that they may beware of cruelty. This also
is highly worthy to be remembered, that Moses, in publishing the infamy
of his own people, acts as the herald of God: and not only does he
proclaim a disgrace common to the whole nation, but brands with infamy,
the special tribe from which he sprung. Whence it plainly appears, that
he paid no respect to his own flesh and blood; nor was he to be induced,
by favour or hatred, to give a false colour to anything, or to decline
from historical fidelity: but, as a chosen minister and witness of the
Lord, he was mindful of his calling, which was that he should declare
the truth of God sincerely and confidently. A comparison is here made
not only between the sons of Jacob personally; but also between the
tribes which descended from them. This certainly was a specially
opportune occasion for Moses to defend the nobility of his own people.
But so far is he from heaping encomiums upon them, that he frankly
stamps the progenitor of his own tribe with an everlasting dishonor,
which should redound to his whole family. Those Lucianist dogs, who carp
at the doctrine of Moses, pretend that he was a vain man who wished to
acquire for himself the command over the rude common people. But had
this been his project, why did he not also make provision for his own
family? Those sons whom ambition would have persuaded him to endeavor to
place in the highest rank, he puts aside from the honour of the
priesthood, and consigns them to a lowly and common service. Who does
not see that these impious calumnies have been anticipated by a divine
counsel rather than by merely human prudence, and that the heirs of this
great and extraordinary man were deprived of honour, for this reason,
that no sinister suspicion might adhere to him? But to say nothing of
his children and grandchildren, we may perceive that, by censuring his
whole tribe in the person of Levi, he acted not as a man, but as an
angel speaking under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, and free from all
carnal affection. Moreover, in the former clause, he announces the
crime: afterwards, he subjoins the punishment. The crime is, that the
arms of violence are in their tabernacles; and therefore he declares,
both by his tongue and in his heart, that he holds their counsel in
abhorrence, because, in their desire of revenge, they cut off a city
with its inhabitants. Respecting the meaning of the words commentators
differ. For some take the word "makroth" to mean swords; as if Jacob had
said, that their swords had been wickedly polluted with innocent blood.
But they think more correctly, who translate the word habitations; as if
he had said, that unjust violence dwelt among them, because they had
been so sanguinary. I do not doubt that the word "chabod" is put for the
tongue, as in other places; and thus the sense is clear, that Jacob,
from his heart, so detests the crime perpetrated by his sons, that his
tongue shall not give any assent to it whatever. Which he does, for this
end, that they may begin to be dissatisfied with themselves, and that
all others may learn to abhor perfidy combined with cruelty. Fury,
beyond doubt, signifies a perverse and blind impulse of anger: and lust
is opposed to rational moderation; because they are governed by no law.
Interpreters also differ respecting the meaning of the word "shor". Some
translate it "bullock," and think that the Shechemites are allegorically
denoted by it, seeing they were sufficiently robust and powerful to
defend their lives, had not Simon and Levi enervated them by fraud and
perfidy. But a different exposition is far preferable, namely, that they
"overturned a wall." For Jacob magnifies the atrociousness of their
crime, from the fact, that they did not even spare buildings in their
  7. "Cursed be their anger." What I have said must be kept in mind;
namely, that we are divinely admonished by the mouth of the holy
prophet, to keep at a distance from all wicked counsels. Jacob
pronounces a woe upon their fury. Why is this, unless that others may
learn to put a restraint upon themselves, and to be on their guard
against such cruelty? However, (as I have already observed,) it will not
suffice to preserve our hands pure, unless we are far removed from all
association with crime. For though it may not always be in our power to
repress unjust violence; yet that concealment of it is culpable, which
approaches to the appearance of consent. Here even the ties of kindred,
and whatever else would bias a sound judgment, must be dismissed from
the mind: since we see a holy father, at the command of God, so severely
thundering against his own sons. He pronounces the anger of Simon and
Levi to be so much the more hateful, because, in its commencement, it
was violent, and even to the end, it was implacable.
  "I will divide them in Jacob." It may seem a strange method of
proceeding, that Jacob, while designating his sons patriarchs of the
Church, and calling them heirs of the divine covenant, should pronounce
a malediction upon them instead of a blessing. Nevertheless it was
necessary for him to begin with the chastisement, which should prepare
the way for the manifestation of God's grace, as will be made to appear
at the close of the chapter: but God mitigates the punishment, by giving
them an honorable name in the Church, and leaving them their right
unimpaired: yea, his incredible goodness unexpectedly shone forth, when
that which was the punishment of Levi, became changed into the reward of
the priesthood. The dispersion of the Levitical tribe had its origin in
the crime of their father, lest he should congratulate himself on
account of his perverse and lawless spirit of revenge. But God, who in
the beginning had produced light out of darkness, found another reason
why the Levites should be dispersed abroad among the people,--a reason
not only free from disgrace, but highly honorable,--namely, that no
corner of the land might be destitute of competent instructors. Lastly,
he constituted them overseers and governors, in his name, over every
part of the land, as if he would scatter everywhere the seed of eternal
salvation, or would send forth ministers of his grace. Whence we
conclude, how much better it was for Levi to be chastised at the time,
for his own good, than to be left to perish, in consequence of present
impunity in sin. And it is not to be deemed strange, that, when the land
was distributed, and cities were given to the Levites, far apart from
each other, this reason was suppressed, and one entirely different was
adduced; namely, that the Lord was their inheritance. For this, as I
have lately said, is one of the miracles of God, to brine light out of
darkness. Had Levi been sentenced to distant exile, he would have been
most worthy of the punishment: but now, God in a measure spares him, by
assigning him a wandering life in his paternal inheritance. Afterwards,
the mark of infamy being removed, God sends his posterity into different
parts, under the title of a distinguished embassy. In Simon there
remained a certain, though obscure trace of the curse: because a
distinct territory did not fall to his sons by lot; but they were mixed
with the tribe of Judah, as is stated in Joshua 19: 1. Afterwards they
went to Mount Seir, having expelled the Amalekites and taken possession
of their land, as it is written, 1 Chron. 4: 40-43. Here, also, we
perceive the manly fortitude of holy Jacob's breast, who, though a
decrepit old man and an exile, lying on his private and lowly couch,
nevertheless assigns provinces to his sons, as from the lofty throne of
a great king. He also does this in his own right, knowing that the
covenant of God was deposited with him, by which he had been called the
heir and lord of the land: and at the same time he claims for himself
authority as sustaining the character of a prophet of God. For it
greatly concerns us, when the word of God sounds in our ears, to
apprehend by faith the thing proclaimed, as if his ministers had been
commanded to carry into effect what they pronounce. Therefore it was
said to Jeremiah, "See I have this day set thee over the nations and
over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to
throw down, and to build, and to plant." (Jer. 1: 10.) And the prophets
are generally commanded to set their faces against the countries which
they threaten, as if they were furnished with a large army to make the
  8. "Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise." In the word
praise there is an allusion to the name of Judah; for so he had been
called by his mother, because his birth had given occasion for praising
God. The father adduces a new etymology, because his name shall be so
celebrated and illustrious among his brethren, that he should be honored
by them all equally with the first-born. The double portion, indeed,
which he recently assigned to his son Joseph, depended on the right of
primogeniture: but because the kingdom was transferred to the tribe of
Judah, Jacob properly pronounces that his name should be held worthy of
praise. For the honour of Joseph was temporary; but here a stable and
durable kingdom is treated of, which should be under the authority of
the sons of Judah. Hence we gather, that when God would institute a
perfect state of government among his people, the monarchical form was
chosen by him. And whereas the appointment of a king under the law, was
partly to be attributed to the will of man, and partly to the divine
decree; this combination of human with divine agency must be referred to
the commencement of the monarchy, which was inauspicious, because the
people had tumultuously desired a king to be given them, before the
proper time had arrived. Hence their unseemly haste was the cause why
the kingdom was not immediately set up in the tribe of Judah, but was
brought forth, as an abortive offspring, in the person of Saul. Yet at
length, by the favour and in the legitimate order of God, the
preeminence of the tribe of Judah was established in the person of
  "Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies." In these words he
shows that Judah should not be free from enemies; but although many
would give him trouble, and would endeavor to deprive him of his right,
Jacob promises him victory; not that the sons of David should always
prevail against their enemies, (for their ingratitude interfered with
the constant and equable course of the grace of God,) but in this
respect, at least, Judah had the superiority, that in his tribe stood
the royal throne which God approved, and which was founded on his word.
For though the kingdom of Israel was more flourishing in wealth and in
number of inhabitants, yet because it was spurious, it was not the
object of God's favour: nor indeed was it right, that, by its tinselled
splendor, it should eclipse the glory of the Divine election which was
engraven upon the tribe of Judah. In David, therefore, the force and
effect of this prophecy plainly appeared; then again in Solomon;
afterwards, although the kingdom was mutilated, yet was it wonderfully
preserved by the hand of God; otherwise, in a short space, it would have
perished a hundred times. Thus it came to pass, that the children of
Judah imposed their yoke upon their enemies. Whereas defection carried
away ten tribes, which would not bow their knees to the sons of David;
the legitimate government was in this way disturbed, and lawless
confusion introduced; yet nothing could violate the decree of God, by
which the right to govern remained with the tribe of Judah.
  9. "Judah is a lion's whelp." This similitude confirms the preceding
sentence, that Judah would be formidable to his enemies. Yet Jacob seems
to allude to that diminution which took place, when the greater part of
the people revolted to Jeroboam. For then the king of Judah began to be
like a sleeping lion, for he did not shake his mane to diffuse his
terror far and wide, but, as it were, laid him down in his den. Yet a
certain secret power of God lay hidden under that torpor, and they who
most desired his destruction, and who were most able to do him injury,
did not dare to disturb him. Therefore, after Jacob has transferred the
supreme authority over his brethren to Judah alone; he now adds, by way
of correction, that, though his power should happen to be diminished, he
would nevertheless remain terrible to his enemies, like a lion who lies
down in his lair.
  10. "The sceptre shall not depart." Though this passage is obscure, it
would not have been very difficult to elicit its genuine sense, if the
Jews, with their accustomed malignity, had not endeavored to envelop it
in clouds. It is certain that the Messiah, who was to spring from the
tribe of Judah, is here promised. But whereas they ought willingly to
run to embrace him, they purposely catch at every possible subterfuge,
by which they may lead themselves and others far astray in tortuous
by-paths. It is no wonder, then, if the spirit of bitterness and
obstinacy, and the lust of contention have so blinded them, that, in the
clearest light, they should have perpetually stumbled. Christians, also,
with a pious diligence to set forth the glory of Christ, have,
nevertheless, betrayed some excess of fervor. For while they lay too
much stress on certain words, they produce no other effect than that of
giving an occasion of ridicule to the Jews, whom it is necessary to
surround with firm and powerful barriers, from which they shall be
unable to escape. Admonished, therefore, by such examples, let us seek,
without contention, the true meaning of the passage. In the first place,
we must keep in mind the true design of the Holy Spirit, which,
hitherto, has not been sufficiently considered or expounded with
sufficient distinctness. After he has invested the tribe of Judah with
supreme authority, he immediately declares that God would show his care
for the people, by preserving the state of the kingdom, till the
promised felicity should attain its highest point. For the dignity of
Judah is so maintained as to show that its proposed end was the common
salvation of the whole people. The blessing promised to the seed of
Abraham (as we have before seen) could not be firm, unless it flowed
from one head. Jacob now testifies the same thing, namely, that a King
should come, under whom that promised happiness should be complete in
all its parts. Even the Jews will not deny, that while a lower blessing
rested on the tribe of Judah, the hope of a better and more excellent
condition was herein held forth. They also freely grant another point,
that the Messiah is the sole Author of full and solid happiness and
glory. We now add a third point, which we may also do, without any
opposition from them; namely, that the kingdom which began from David,
was a kind of prelude, and shadowy representation of that greater grace
which was delayed, and held in suspense, until the advent of the
Messiah. They have indeed no relish for a spiritual kingdom; and
therefore they rather imagine for themselves wealth and power, and
propose to themselves sweet repose and earthly pleasures, than
righteousness, and newness of life, with free forgiveness of sins. They
acknowledge, nevertheless, that the felicity which was to be expected
under the Messiah, was adumbrated by their ancient kingdom. I now return
to the words of Jacob.
  "Until Shiloh come", he says, the sceptre, or the dominion, "shall
remain in Judah." We must first see what the word "shiloh" signifies.
Because Jerome interprets it, "he who is to be sent," some think that
the place has been fraudulently corrupted, by the letter "he"
substituted for the letter "cheth"; which objection, though not firm, is
plausible. That which some of the Jews suppose, namely, that it denotes
the place (Shiloh) where the ark of the covenant had been long
deposited, because, a little before the commencement of David's reign,
it had been laid waste, is entirely destitute of reason. For Jacob does
not here predict the time when David was to be appointed king; but
declares that the kingdom should be established in his family, until God
should fulfill what he had promised concerning the special benediction
of the seed of Abraham. Besides the form of speech, "until Shiloh come,"
for "until Shiloh come to an end," would be harsh and constrained. Far
more correctly and consistently do other interpreters take this
expression to mean "his son," for among the Hebrews a son is called
"shil". They say also that "he" is put in the place of the relative
"waw"; and the greater part assent to this signification. But again, the
Jews dissent entirely from the meaning of the patriarch, by referring
this to David. For (as I have just hinted) the origin of the kingdom in
David is not here promised, but its absolute perfection in the Messiah.
And truly an absurdity so gross, does not require a lengthened
refutation. For what can this mean, that the kingdom should not come to
an end in the tribe of Judah, till it should have been erected?
Certainly the word "depart" means nothing else than to cease. Further,
Jacob points to a continued series, when he says the scribe shall not
depart from between his feet. For it behaves a king so to be placed upon
his throne that a lawgiver may sit between his feet. A kingdom is
therefore described to us, which after it has been constituted, will not
cease to exist till a more perfect state shall succeed; or, which comes
to the same point; Jacob honors the future kingdom of David with this
title, because it was to be the token and pledge of that happy glory
which had been before ordained for the race of Abraham. In short, the
kingdom which he transfers to the tribe of Judah, he declares shall be
no common kingdom, because from it, at length, shall proceed the fulness
of the promised benediction. But here the Jews haughtily object, that
the event convicts us of error. For it appears that the kingdom by no
means endured until the coming of Christ; but rather that the sceptre
was broken, from the time that the people were carried into captivity.
But if they give credit to the prophecies, I wish, before I solve their
objection, that they would tell me in what manner Jacob here assigns the
kingdom to his son Judah. For we know, that when it had scarcely become
his fixed possession, it was suddenly rent asunder, and nearly its whole
power was possessed by the tribe of Ephraim. Has God, according to these
men, here promised, by the mouth of Jacob, some evanescent kingdom? If
they reply, the sceptre was not then broken, though Rehoboam was
deprived of a great part of his people; they can by no means escape by
this cavil; because the authority of Judah is expressly extended over
all the tribes, by these words, "Thy mother's sons shall bow their knee
before thee." They bring, therefore, nothing against us, which we cannot
immediately, in turn, retort upon themselves.
  Yet I confess the question is not yet solved; but I wished to premise
this, in order that the Jews, laying aside their disposition to
calumniate, may learn calmly to examine the matter itself, with us.
Christians are commonly wont to connect perpetual government with the
tribe of Judah, in the following manner. When the people returned from
banishment, they say, that, in the place of the royal sceptre, was the
government which lasted to the time of the Maccabees. That afterwards, a
third mode of government succeeded, because the chief power of judging
rested with the Seventy, who, it appears by history, were chosen out of
the regal race. Now, so far was this authority of the royal race from
having fallen into decay, that Herod, having been cited before it, with
difficulty escaped capital punishment, because he contumaciously
withdrew from it. Our commentators, therefore, conclude that, although
the royal majesty did not shine brightly from David until Christ, yet
some preeminence remained in the tribe of Judah, and thus the oracle was
fulfilled. Although these things are true, still more skill must be used
in rightly discussing this passage. And, in the first place, it must be
kept in mind, that the tribe of Judah was already constituted chief
among the rest, as preeminent in dignity, though it had not yet obtained
the dominion. And, truly, Moses elsewhere testifies, that supremacy was
voluntarily conceded to it by the remaining tribes, from the time that
the people were redeemed out of Egypt. In the second place, we must
remember, that a more illustrious example of this dignity was set forth
in that kingdom which God had commenced in David. And although defection
followed soon after, so that but a small portion of authority remained
in the tribe of Judah; yet the right divinely conferred upon it, could
by no means be taken away. Therefore, at the time when the kingdom of
Israel was replenished with abundant opulence, and was swelling with
lofty pride, it was said, that the lamp of the Lord was lighted in
Jerusalem. Let us proceed further: when Ezekiel predicts the destruction
of the kingdom, (chap. 21: 26,) he clearly shows how the sceptre was to
be preserved by the Lord, until it should come into the hands of Christ:
"Remove the diadem, and take off the crown; this shall not be the same:
I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, until he come whose right it
is." It may seem at first sight that the prophecy of Jacob had failed
when the tribe of Judah was stripped of its royal ornament. But we
conclude hence, that God was not bound always to exhibit the visible
glory of the kingdom on high. Otherwise, those other promises which
predict the restoration of the throne, which was cast down and broken,
were false. Behold the days come in which I will "raise up the
tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof,
and I will raise up his ruins." (Amos 9: 11.) It would be absurd,
however, to cite more passages, seeing this doctrine occurs frequently
in the prophets. Whence we infer, that the kingdom was not so confirmed
as always to shine with equal brightness; but that, though, for a time,
it might lie fallen and defaced, it should afterwards recover its lost
splendor. The prophets, indeed, seem to make the return from the
Babylonian exile the termination of that ruin; but since they predict
the restoration of the kingdom no otherwise than they do that of the
temple and the priesthood, it is necessary that the whole period, from
that liberation to the advent of Christ, should be comprehended. The
crown, therefore, was cast down, not for one day only, or from one
single head, but for a long time, and in various methods, until God
placed it on Christ, his own lawful king. And truly Isaiah describes the
origin of Christ, as being very remote from all regal splendor: "There
shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow
out of his roots." (Isaiah 11: 1.) Why does he mention Jesse rather than
David, except because Messiah was about to proceed from the rustic hut
of a private man, rather than from a splendid palace? Why from a tree
cut down, having nothing left but the root and the trunk, except because
the majesty of the kingdom was to be almost trodden under foot till the
manifestation of Christ? If any one object, that the words of Jacob seem
to have a different signification; I answer, that whatever God has
promised at any time concerning the external condition of the Church,
was so to be restricted, that, in the mean time, he might execute his
judgments in punishing men, and might try the faith of his own people.
It was, indeed, no light trial, that the tribe of Judah, in its third
successor to the throne, should be deprived of the greater portion of
the kingdom. Even a still more severe trial followed, when the sons of
the king were put to death in the sight of their father, when he, with
his eyes thrust out, was dragged to Babylon, and the whole royal family
was at length given over to slavery and captivity. But this was the most
grievous trial of all; that when the people returned to their own land,
they could in no way perceive the accomplishment of their hope, but were
compelled to lie in sorrowful dejection. Nevertheless, even then, the
saints, contemplating, with the eyes of faith, the sceptre hidden under
the earth, did not fail, or become broken in spirit, so as to desist
from their course. I shall, perhaps, seem to grant too much to the Jews,
because I do not assign what they call a real dominion, in uninterrupted
succession, to the tribe of Judah. For our interpreters, to prove that
the Jews are still kept bound by a foolish expectation of the Messiah,
insist on this point, that the dominion of which Jacob had prophesied,
ceased from the time of Herod; as if, indeed, they had not been
tributaries five hundred years previously; as if, also, the dignity of
the royal race had not been extinct as long as the tyranny of Antiochus
prevailed; as if, lastly, the Asmonean race had not usurped to itself
both the rank and power of princes, until the Jews became subject to the
Romans. And that is not a sufficient solution which is proposed; namely,
that either the regal dominion, or some lower kind of government, are
disjunctively promised; and that from the time when the kingdom was
destroyed, the scribes remained in authority. For I, in order to mark
the distinction between a lawful government and tyranny, acknowledge
that counselors were joined with the king, who should administer public
affairs rightly and in order. Whereas some of the Jews explain, that the
right of government was given to the tribe of Judah, because it was
unlawful for it to be transferred elsewhere, but that it was not
necessary that the glory of the crown once given should be perpetuated,
I deem it right to subscribe in part to this opinion. I say, in part,
because the Jews gain nothing by this cavil, who, in order to support
their fiction of a Messiah yet to come, postpone that subversion of the
regal dignity which, in fact, long ago occurred. For we must keep in
memory what I have said before, that while Jacob wished to sustain the
minds of his descendants until the coming of the Messiah; lest they
should faint through the weariness of long delay, he set before them an
example in their temporal kingdom: as if he had said, that there was no
reason why the Israelites, when the kingdom of David fell, should allow
their hope to waver; seeing that no other change should follow, which
could answer to the blessing promised by God, until the Redeemer should
appear. That the nation was grievously harassed, and was under servile
oppression some years before the coming of Christ happened, through the
wonderful counsel of God, in order that they might be urged by continual
chastisements to wish for redemption. Meanwhile, it was necessary that
some collective body of the nation should remain, in which the promise
might receive its fulfillment. But now, when, through nearly fifteen
centuries, they have been scattered and banished from their country,
having no polity, by what pretext can they fancy, from the prophecy of
Jacob, that a Redeemer will come to them? Truly, as I would not
willingly glory over their calamity; so, unless they, being subdued by
it, open their eyes, I freely pronounce that they are worthy to perish a
thousand times without remedy. It was also a most suitable method for
retaining them in the faith, that the Lord would have the sons of Jacob
turn their eyes upon one particular tribe, that they might not seek
salvation elsewhere; and that no vague imagination might mislead them.
For which end, also, the election of this family is celebrated, when it
is frequently compared with, and preferred to Ephraim and the rest, in
the Psalms. To us, also, it is not less useful, for the confirmation of
our faith, to know that Christ had been not only promised, but that his
origin had been pointed out, as with a finger, two thousand years before
he appeared.
  "And unto him shall the gathering of the people be." Here truly he
declares that Christ should be a king, not over one people only, but
that under his authority various nations shall be gathered, that they
might coalesce together. I know, indeed, that the word rendered
"gathering" is differently expounded by different commentators; but they
who derive it from the root up, to make it signify the weakening of the
people, rash]y and absurdly misapply what is said of the saving dominion
of Christ, to the sanguinary pride with which they puffed up. If the
word obedience is preferred, (as it is by others,) the sense will remain
the same with that which I have followed. For this is the mode in which
the gathering together will be effected; namely, that they who before
were carried away to different objects of pursuit, will consent together
in obedience to one common Head. Now, although Jacob had previously
called the tribes about to spring from him by the name of peoples, for
the sake of amplification, yet this gathering is of still wider extent.
For, whereas he had included the whole body of the nation by their
families, when he spoke of the ordinary dominion of Judah, he now
extends the boundaries of a new king: as if he would say, "There shall
be kings of the tribe of Judah, who shall be preeminent among their
brethren, and to whom the sons of the same mother shall bow down: but at
length He shall follow in succession, who shall subject other peoples
unto himself." But this, we know, is fulfilled in Christ; to whom was
promised the inheritance of the world; under whose yoke the nations are
brought; and at whose will they, who before were scattered, are gathered
together. Moreover, a memorable testimony is here borne to the vocation
of the Gentiles, because they were to be introduced into the joint
participation of the covenant, in order that they might become one
people with the natural descendants of Abraham, under one Head.
  11. "Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt", &c. He now
speaks of the situation of the territory which fell by lot to the sons
of Judah; and intimates, that so great would be the abundance of vines
there, that they would everywhere present themselves as readily as
brambles, or unfruitful shrubs, in other places. For since asses are
wont to be bound to the hedges, he here reduces vines to this
contemptible use. The hyperbolical forms of speech which follow are to
be applied to the same purpose; namely, that Judah shall wash his
garments in wine, and his eyes be red there-with. He means that the
abundance of wine shall be so great, that it may be poured out to wash
with, like water, at no great expense; but that, by constant copious
drinking, the eyes would contract redness. But it seems by no means
proper, that a profuse intemperance or extravagance should be accounted
a blessing. I answer, although fertility and affluence are here
described, still the abuse of them is not sanctioned. If the Lord deals
very bountifully with us, yet he frequently prescribes the rule of using
his gifts with purity and frugality, lest they should stimulate the
incontinence of the flesh. But in this place Jacob, omitting to state
what is lawful, extols that abundance which would suffice for luxury,
and even for vicious and perverse excesses, unless the sons of Judah
should voluntarily use self-government. I abstain from those allegories
which to some appear plausible; because, as I said at the beginning of
the chapter, I do not choose to sport with such great mysteries of God.
To these lofty speculators the partition of the land which God
prescribed, for the purpose of accrediting his servant Moses, seems a
mean and abject thing. But unless our ingratitude has attained a
senseless stupor, we ought to be wholly transported with admiration at
the thought, that Moses, who had never seen the land of Canaan, should
treat of its separate parts as correctly as he could have done, of a few
acres cultivated by his own hand. Now, supposing he had heard a general
report of the existence of vines in the land; yet he could not have
assigned to Judah abundant vineyards, nor could he have assigned to him
rich pastures, by saying that his teeth should be white with drinking
milk, unless he had been guided by the Spirit.
  13. "Zebulun shall dwell at the havens of the sea." Although this
blessing contains nothing rare or precious, (as neither do some of those
which follow,) yet we ought to deem this fact as sufficiently worthy of
notice, that it was just as if God was stretching out his hand from
heaven, for the deliverance of the children of Israel, and for the
purpose of distributing to each his own dwelling-place. Before mention
is made of the lost itself, a maritime region is given to the tribe of
Zebulun, which it obtained by lot two hundred years afterwards. And we
know of how great importance that hereditary gift was, which, like an
earnest, rendered the adoption of the ancient people secure. Therefore,
by this prophecy, not only one tribe, but the whole people, ought to
have been encouraged to lay hold, with alacrity, of the offered blessing
which was certainly in store for them. But it is said that the portion
of Zebulun should not only be on the sea-shore, but should also have
havens; for Jacob joins its boundary with the country of Zion; in which
tract, we know, there were commodious and noble havens. For God, by this
prophecy, would not only excite the sons of Zebulun more strenuously to
prepare themselves to enter upon the land; but would also assure them,
when they obtained possession of the desired portion, that it was the
home which had been distinctly proposed and ordained for them by the
will of God.
  14. "Issachar." Here mention is partly made of the inheritance, and an
indication is partly given of the future condition of this tribe.
Although he is called a bony ass on account of his strength, which would
enable him to endure labors, especially such as were rustic, yet at the
same time his sloth is indicated: for it is added a little afterwards,
that he should be of servile disposition. Wherefore the meaning is, that
the sons of Issachar, though possessed of strength, were yet quiet
rather than courageous, and were as ready to bear the burden of
servitude as mules are to submit their backs to the packsaddle and the
load. The reason given is, that, being content with their fertile and
pleasant country, they do not refuse to pay tribute to their neighbors,
provided they may enjoy repose. And although this submissiveness is not
publicly mentioned either to their praise or their condemnation, it is
yet probable that their indolence is censured, because their want of
energy hindered them from remaining in possession of that liberty which
had been divinely granted unto them.
  16. "Dan shall judge his people." In the word judge there is an
allusion to his name: for since, among the Hebrews, "din"
signifies to judge, Rachel, when she returned thanks to God, gave this
name to the son born to her by her handmaid, as if God had been the
vindicator of her cause and right. Jacob now gives a new turn to the
meaning of the name; namely, that the sons of Dan shall have no mean
part in the government of the people. For the Jews foolishly restrict it
to Samson, because he alone presided over the whole people, whereas the
language rather applies to the perpetual condition of the tribe. Jacob
therefore means, that though Dan was born from a concubine, he shall
still be one of the judges of Israel: because not only shall his
offspring possess a share of the government and command, in the common
polity, so that this tribe may constitute one head; but it shall be
appointed the bearer of a standard to lead the fourth division of the
camp of Israel. In the second place, his subtle disposition is
described. For Jacob compares this people to serpents, who rise out of
their lurking-places, by stealth, against the unwary whom they wish to
injure. The sense then is, that he shall not be so courageous as
earnestly and boldly to engage in open conflict; but that he will fight
with cunning, and will make use of snares. Yet, in the meantime, he
shows that he will be superior to his enemies, whom he does not dare to
approach with collected forces, just as serpents who, by their secret
bite, cast down the horse and his rider. In this place also no judgment
is expressly passed, whether this subtlety of Dan is to be deemed worthy
of praise or of censure: but conjecture rather inclines us to place it
among his faults, or at least his disadvantages, that instead of
opposing himself in open conflict with his enemies, he will fight them
only with secret frauds.
  18. "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord." It may be asked, in the
first place, what occasion induced the holy man to break the connection
of his discourse, and suddenly to burst forth in this expression; for
whereas he had recently predicted the coming of the Messiah, the mention
of salvation would have been more appropriate in that place. I think,
indeed, that when he perceived, as from a lofty watchtower, the
condition of his offspring continually exposed to various changes, and
even to be tossed by storms which would almost overwhelm them, he was
moved with solicitude and fear; for he had not so put off all paternal
affection, as to be entirely without care for those who were of his own
blood. He, therefore, foreseeing many troubles, many dangers, many
assaults, and even many slaughters, which threatened his seed with as
many destructions, could not but condole with them, and, as a man, be
troubled at the sight. But in order that he might rise against every
kind of temptation with victorious constancy of mind, he commits himself
unto the Lord, who had promised that he would be the guardian of his
people. Unless this circumstance be observed, I do not see why Jacob
exclaims here, rather than at the beginning or the end of his discourse,
that he waited for the salvation of the Lord. But when this sad
confusion of things presented itself to him, which was not only
sufficiently violent to shake his faith, but was more than sufficiently
burdensome entirely to overwhelm his mind, his best remedy was to oppose
to it this shield. I doubt not also, that he would advise his sons to
rise with him to the exercise of the same confidence. Moreover, because
he could not be the author of his own salvation, it was necessary for
him to repose upon the promise of God. In the same manner, also, must
we, at this day, hope for the salvation of the Church: for although it
seems to be tossed on a turbulent sea, and almost sunk in the waves, and
though still greater storms are to be feared in future; yet amidst
manifold destructions, salvation is to be hoped for, in that deliverance
which the Lord has promised. It is even possible that Jacob, foreseeing
by the Spirit, how great would be the ingratitude, perfidy, and
wickedness of his posterity, by which the grace of God might be
smothered, was contending against these temptations. But although he
expected salvation not for himself alone, but for all his posterity,
this, however, deserves to be specially noted, that he exhibits the
life-giving covenant of God to many generations, so as to prove his own
confidence that, after his death, God would be faithful to his promise.
Whence also it follows, that, with his last breath, and as if in the
midst of death, he laid hold on eternal life. But if he, amidst obscure
shadows, relying on a redemption seen afar off, boldly went forth to
meet death; what ought we to do, on whom the clear day has shined; or
what excuse remains for us, if our minds fail amidst similar agitations?
  19. "Gad, a troop." Jacob also makes allusion to the name of Gad. He
had been so called, because Jacob had obtained a numerous offspring by
his mother Leah. His fattier now admonishes him, that though his name
implied a multitude, he should yet have to do with a great number of
enemies, by whom, for a time, he would be oppressed: and he predicts
this event, not that his posterity might confide in their own strength,
and become proud; but that they might prepare themselves to endure the
suffering by which the Lord intended, and now decreed to humble them.
Yet, as he here exhorts them to patient endurance, so he presently
raises and animates them by the superadded consolation, that, at length,
they should emerge from oppression, and should triumph over those
enemies by whom they had been vanquished and routed; but this only at
the last. Moreover, this prophecy may be applied to the whole Church,
which is assailed not for one day only, but is perpetually crushed by
fresh attacks, until at length God shall exalt it to honour.
  20. "Out of Asher." The inheritance of Asher is but just alluded to,
which he declares shall be fruitful in the best and finest wheat, so
that it shall need no foreign supply of food, having abundance at home.
By royal dainties, he means such as are exquisite. Should any one
object, that it is no great thing to be fed with nutritious and pleasant
bread; I answer; we must consider the end designed; namely, that they
might hereby know that they were fed by the paternal care of God.
  21. "Naphtali." Some think that in the tribe of Naphtali fleetness is
commended; I rather approve another meaning, namely, that it will guard
and defend itself by eloquence and suavity of words, rather than by
force of arms. It is, however, no despicable virtue to soothe ferocious
minds, and to appease excited anger, by bland and gentle discourse; or
if any offense has been stirred up, to allay it by a similar artifice.
He therefore assigns this praise to the sons of Naphtali, that they
shall rather study to fortify themselves by humanity, by sweet words,
and by the arts of peace, then by the defense of arms. He compares them
to a hind let loose, which having been taken in hunting, is not put to
death, but is rather cherished with delicacies.
  22. "Joseph is a fruitful bough." Others translate it, "a son of
honour," and both are suitable; but I rather incline to the former
sense, because it seems to me that it refers to the name Joseph, by
which addition or increase is signified; although I have no objection to
the similitude taken from a tree, vehicle, being planted near a
fountain, draws from the watered earth the moisture and sap by which it
grows the faster. The sum of the figure is, that he is born to grow like
a tree situated near a fountain, so that, by its beauty and lofty
stature, it may surmount the obstacles around it. For I do not interpret
the words which follow to mean that there will be an assemblage of
virgins upon the walls, whom the sight of the tree shall have attracted;
but, by a continued metaphor, I suppose the tender and smaller branches
to be called daughters. And they are said "to run over the wall" when
they spread themselves far and wide. Besides, Jacob's discourse does not
relate simply to the whole tribe, nor is it a mere prophecy of future
times; but the personal history of Joseph is blended with that of his
descendants. Thus some things are peculiar to himself, and others belong
to the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. So when Joseph is said to
have been "grieved," this is wont to be referred especially to himself.
And whereas Jacob has compared him to a tree; so he calls both his
brethren and Potiphar, with his wife, "archers." Afterwards, however, he
changes the figure by making Joseph himself like a strenuous archer,
whose bow abides in strength, and whose arms are not relaxed, nor have
lost, in any degree, their vigor; by which expressions he predicts the
invincible fortitude of Joseph, because he has yielded to no blows
however hard and severe. At the same time we are taught that he stood,
not by the power of his own arm, but as being strengthened by the hand
of God, whom he distinguishes by the peculiar title of "the mighty God
of Jacob," because he designed his power to be chiefly conspicuous, and
to shine most brightly in the Church. Meanwhile, he declares that the
help by which Joseph was assisted, arose from hence, that God had chosen
that family for himself For the holy fathers were extremely solicitous
that the gratuitous covenant of God should be remembered by themselves
and by their children, whenever any benefit was granted unto them. And
truly it is a mark of shameful negligence, not to inquire from what
fountain we drink water. In the mean time he tacitly censures the
impious and ungodly fury of his ten sons; because, by attempting the
murder of their brother, they, like the giants, had carried on war
against God. He also admonishes them for the future, that they should
rather choose to be protected by the guardianship of God, than to make
him their enemy, seeing that he is alike willing to give help to all.
And hence arises a consideration consolatory to all the pious, when they
hear that the power of God resides in the midst of the Church, if they
do but glory in him alone; as the Psalm teaches, "Some trust in
chariots, and some in horses; but we will invoke the name of the Lord
our God." (Psal. 20: 7.) The sons of Jacob, therefore, must take care
lest they, by confiding in their own strength, precipitate themselves
into ruin; but must rather bear themselves nobly and triumphantly in the
  What follows admits of various interpretations. Some translate it,
"From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel;" as if Jacob would
say, that Joseph had been the nourisher and rock, or stay of his house.
Others read, "the shepherd of the stone," in the genitive case, which I
approve, except that they mistake the sense, by taking "stone" to mean
family. I refer it to God, who assigned the office of shepherd to his
servant Joseph, in the manner in which any one uses the service of a
hireling to feed his flock. For whence did it arise that he nourished
his own people, except that he was the dispenser of the Divine
beneficence? Moreover, under this type, the image of Christ is depicted
to us, who, before he should come forth as the conqueror of death and
the author of life, was set as a mark of contradiction, (Heb. 12: 3,)
against whom all cast their darts; as now also, after his example, the
Church also must be transfixed with many arrows, that she may be kept by
the wonderful help of God. Moreover, lest the brethren should
maliciously envy Joseph, Jacob sets his victory in an amiable point of
view to them, by saying that he had been liberated in order that he
might become their nourisher or shepherd.
  25. "Even by the God of thy father." Again, he more fully affirms that
Joseph had been delivered from death, and exalted to such great dignity,
not by his own industry, but by the favour of God: and there is not the
least doubt that he commends to all the pious, the mere goodness of God,
lest they should arrogate anything to themselves, whether they may have
escaped from dangers, or whether they may have risen to any rank of
honour. "By the God of thy father." In designating God by this title, he
again traces whatever good Joseph has received, to the covenant, and to
the fountain of gratuitous adoption; as if he had said, "Whereas thou
hast proved the paternal care of God in helping thee, I desire that thou
wouldst ascribe this to the covenant which God has made with me."
Meanwhile, (as we have said before,) he separates from all fictitious
idols the God whom he transmits to his descendants to worship.
  After he has declared, that Joseph should be blessed in every way,
both as it respects his own life, and the number and preservation of his
posterity; he affirms that the effect of this benediction is near and
almost present, by saying, that he blessed Joseph more efficaciously
than he himself had been blessed by his fathers. For although, from the
beginning, God had been true to his promises, yet he frequently
postponed the effect of them, as if he had been feeding Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob with nothing but words. For, to what extent were the
patriarchs multiplied in Egypt? Where was that immense seed which should
equal the sands of the seashore and the stars of heaven? Therefore, not
without reason, Jacob declares that the full time had arrived in which
the result of his benediction, which had lain concealed, should emerge
as from the deep. Now, this comparison ought to inspire us with much
greater alacrity at the present time; for the abundant riches of the
grace of God which have flowed to us in Christ, exceeds a hundredfold,
any blessings which Joseph received and felt.
  What is added respecting the "utmost bounds of the everlasting hills,"
some wish to refer to distance of place, some to perpetuity of time.
Both senses suit very well; either that the felicity of Joseph should
diffuse itself far and wide to the farthest mountains of the world; or
that it should endure as long as the everlasting hills, which are the
firmest portions of the earth, shall stand. The more certain and genuine
sense, however, is to be gathered from the other passage, where Moses
repeats this benediction; namely, that the fertility of the land would
extend to the tops of the mountains; and these mountains are called
perpetual, because they are most celebrated. He also declares that this
blessing should be upon his head, lest Joseph might think that his good
wishes were scattered to the winds; for by this word he intends to show,
if I may so speak, that the blessing was substantial. At length he calls
Joseph "nazir" among his brethren, either because he was their crown, on
account of the common glory which redounds from him to them all, or
because, on account of the dignity by which he excels, he was separated
from them all. It may be understood in both senses. Yet we must know
that this excellency was temporal, because Joseph, together with the
others, was required to take his proper place, and to submit himself to
the sceptre of Judah.
  27. "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf." Some of the Jews think the
Benjamites are here condemned; because, when they had suffered lusts to
prevail, like lawless robbers, among them, they were at length cut down
and almost destroyed by a terrible slaughter, for having defiled the
Levite's wife. Others regard it as an honorable encomium, by which Saul,
or Mordecai was adorned, who were both of the tribe of Benjamin. The
interpreters of our own age most inaptly apply it to the apostle Paul,
who was changed from a wolf into a preacher of the Gospel. Nothing seems
to me more probable than that the disposition and habits of the whole
tribe is here delineated; namely, that they would live by plunder. In
the morning they would seize and devour the prey, in the evening they
would divide the spoil; by which words he describes their diligence in
  28. "All these are the twelve tribes of Israel." Moses would teach us
by these words, that his predictions did not apply only to the sons of
Jacob, but extended to their whole race. We have, indeed, shown already,
with sufficient clearness, that the expressions relate not to their
persons only; but this verse was to be added, in order that the readers
might more clearly perceive the celestial majesty of the Spirit. Jacob
beholds his twelve sons. Let us grant that, at that time, the number of
his offspring, down to his great grandchildren, had increased a
hundredfold. He does not, however, merely declare what is to be the
condition of six hundred or a thousand men, but subjects regions and
nations to his sentence; nor does he put himself rashly forward, since
it is found afterwards, by the event, that God had certainly made known
to him, what he had himself decreed to execute. Moreover, seeing that
Jacob beheld, with the eyes of faith, things which were not only very
remote, but altogether hidden from human sense; woe be unto our
depravity, if we shut our eyes against the very accomplishment of the
prediction in which the truth conspicuously appears.
But it may seem little consonant to reason, that Jacob is said to have
blessed his posterity. For, in deposing Reuben from the primogeniture,
he pronounced nothing joyous or prosperous respecting him; he also
declared his abhorrence of Simon and Levi. It cannot be alleged that
there is an antiphrasis in the word of benediction, as if it were used
in a sense contrary to what is usual; because it plainly appears to be
applied by Moses in a good, and not an evil sense. I therefore reconcile
these things with each other thus; that the temporal punishments with
which Jacob mildly and paternally corrected his sons, would not subvert
the covenant of grace on which the benediction was founded; but rather,
by obliterating their stains, would restore them to the original degree
of honour from which they had fallen, so that, at least, they should be
patriarchs among the people of God. And the Lord daily proves, in his
own people, that the punishments he lays upon them, although they
occasion shame and disgrace, are so far from opposing their happiness,
that they rather promote it. Unless they were purified in this manner,
it were to be feared lest they should become more and more hardened in
their vices, and lest the hidden virus should produce corruption, which
at length would penetrate to the vitals. We see how freely the flesh
indulges itself, even when God rouses us by the tokens of his anger.
What then do we suppose would take place if he should always connive at
transgression? But when we, after having been reproved for our sins,
repent, this result not only absorbs the curse which was felt at the
beginning, but also proves that the Lord blesses us more by punishing
us, than he would have done by sparing us. Hence it follows, that
diseases, poverty, famine, nakedness, and even death itself, so far as
they promote our salvation, may deservedly be reckoned blessings, as if
their very nature were changed; just as the letting of blood may be not
less conducive to health than food. When it is added at the close,
"every one according to his blessing", Moses again affirms, that Jacob
not only implored a blessing on his sons, from a paternal desire for
their welfare, but that he pronounced what God had put into his mouth;
because at length the event proved that the prophecies were efficacious.
  29. "And he charged them." We have seen before, that Jacob especially
commanded his son Joseph to take care that his body should be buried in
the land of Canaan. Moses now repeats that the same command was given to
all his sons, in order that they might go to that country with one
consent; and might mutually assist each other in performing this office.
We have stated elsewhere why he made such a point of conscience of his
sepulture; which we must always remember, lest the example of the holy
man should be drawn injudiciously into a precedent for superstition.
Truly he did not wish to be carried into the land of Canaan, as if he
would be the nearer heaven for being buried there: but that, being dead,
he might claim possession of a land which he had held during his life,
only by a precarious tenure. Not that any advantage would hence accrue
to him privately, seeing he had already fulfilled his course; but
because it was profitable that the memory of the promise should be
renewed, by this symbol, among his surviving sons, in order that they
might aspire to it. Meanwhile, we gather that his mind did not cleave to
the earth; because, unless he had been an heir of heaven, he would never
have hoped that God, for the sake of one who was dead, would prove so
bountiful towards his children. Now, to give the greater weight to his
command, Jacob declares that this thing had not come first into his own
mind, but that he had been thus taught by his forefathers. "Abraham," he
says, "bought that sepulchre for himself and his family: hitherto, we
have sacredly kept the law delivered to us by him. You must therefore
take care not to violate it, in order that after my death also, some
token of the favour of God may continue with us."
  33. "He gathered up his feet." The expression is not superfluous:
because Moses wished thereby to describe the placid death of the holy
man: as if he had said, that the aged saint gave directions respecting
the disposal of his body, as easily as healthy and vigorous men are wont
to compose themselves to sleep. And truly a wonderful vigor and presence
of mind was necessary for him, when, while death was in his countenance,
he thus courageously fulfilled the prophetic office enjoined upon him.
And it is not to be doubted that such efficacy of the Holy Spirit
manifested itself in him, as served to produce, in his sons, confidence
in, and reverence for his prophecies. At the same time, however, it is
proper to observe, that it is the effect of a good conscience, to be
able to depart out of the world without terror. For since death is by
nature formidable, wonderful torments agitate the wicked, when they
perceive that they are summoned to the tribunal of God. Moreover, in
order that a good conscience may lead us peacefully and quietly to the
grave, it is necessary to rely upon the resurrection of Christ; for we
then go willingly to God, when we have confidence respecting a better
life. We shall not deem it grievous to leave this failing tabernacle,
when we reflect on the everlasting abode which is prepared for us.

Chapter L.

1 And Joseph fell upon his father's face, and wept upon him, and kissed
2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father:
and the physicians embalmed Israel.
3 And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days
of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him
threescore and ten days.
4 And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the
house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak,
I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,
5 My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have
digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now
therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come
6 And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made
thee swear.
7 And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the
servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the
land of Egypt,
8 And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father's house:
only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in
the land of Goshen.
9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a
very great company.
10 And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which [is] beyond
Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation:
and he made a mourning for his father seven days.
11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the
mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This [is] a grievous mourning
to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abelmizraim, which
[is] beyond Jordan.
12 And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them:
13 For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in
the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field
for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.
14 And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that
went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.
15 And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said,
Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the
evil which we did unto him.
16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command
before he died, saying,
17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass
of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we
pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy
father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.
18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they
said, Behold, we [be] thy servants.
19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for [am] I in the place of God?
20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; [but] God meant it unto
good, to bring to pass, as [it is] this day, to save much people alive.
21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.
And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
22 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph
lived an hundred and ten years.
23 And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third [generation]: the
children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon
Joseph's knees.
24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit
you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to
Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will
surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
26 So Joseph died, [being] an hundred and ten years old: and they
embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

  1. "And Joseph fell upon his father's face." In this chapter, what
happened after the death of Jacob, is briefly related. Moses, however,
states that Jacob's death was honored with a double mourning--natural
(so to speak) and ceremonial. That Joseph falls upon his father's face
and sheds tears, flows from true and pure affection; that the Egyptians
mourn for him seventy days, since it is done for the sake of honour, and
in compliance with custom, is more from ostentation and vain pomp, than
from true grief: and yet the dead are generally mourned over in this
manner, that the last debt due to them may be discharged. Whence also
the proverb has originated, that the mourning of the heir is laughter
under a mask. And although sometimes minds are penetrated with real
grief; yet something is added to it, by the affectation of making a show
of pious sorrow, so that they indulge largely in tears in the presence
of others, who would weep more sparingly if there were no witnesses of
their grief Hence those friends who meet together, under the pretext of
administering consolation, often pursue a course so different, that they
call forth more abundant weeping. And although the ceremony of mourning
over the dead arose from a good principle; namely, that the living
should meditate on the curse entailed by sin upon the human race, yet it
has always been tarnished by many evils; because it has been neither
directed to its true end, nor regulated by due moderation. With respect
to the genuine grief which is not unnaturally elicited, but which breaks
forth from the depth of our hearts, it is not, in itself, to be
censured, if it be kept within due bounds. For Joseph is not here
reproved because he manifests his grief by weeping; but his filial piety
is rather commended. We have, however, need of the rein, and of
self-government, lest, through intemperate grief, we are hurried, by a
blind impulse, to murmur against God: for excessive grief always
precipitates us into rebellion. Moreover, the mitigation of sorrow is
chiefly to be sought for, in the hope of a future life, according to the
doctrine of Paul.
  2. "And Joseph commanded his servants." Although formerly more labour
was expended on funerals, and that even without superstition, than has
been deemed right subsequently to the proof given of the resurrection
exhibited by Christ: yet we know that among the Egyptians there was
greater expense and pomp than among the Jews. Even the ancient
historians record this among the most memorable customs of that nation.
Indeed it is not to be doubted (as we have said elsewhere) that the
sacred rite of burial descended from the holy fathers, to be a kind of
mirror of the future resurrection: but as hypocrites are always more
diligent in the performance of ceremonies, than they are, who possess
the solid substance of things; it happens that they who have declined
from the true faith, assume a far more ostentatious appearance than the
faithful, to whom pertain the truth and the right use of the symbol. If
we compare the Jews with ourselves, these shadowy ceremonies, in which
God required them to be occupied, would, at this time, appear
intolerable; though compared with those of other nations, they were
moderate and easily to be borne. But the heathen scarcely knew why they
incurred so muck labour and expense. Hence we infer how empty and
trivial a matter it is, to attend only to external signs, when the pure
doctrine which exhibits their true origin and their legitimate end, does
not flourish. It is an act of piety to bury the dead. To embalm corpses
with aromatic spices, was, in former times, no fault; inasmuch as it was
done as a public symbol of future incorruption. For it is not possible
but that the sight of a dead man should grievously affect us; as if one
common end, without distinction, awaited both us and the beasts that
perish. At this day the resurrection of Christ is a sufficient support
for us against yielding to this temptation. But the ancients, on whom
the full light of day had not yet shone, were aided by figures: they,
however, whose minds were not raised to the hope of a better life, did
nothing else than trifle, and foolishly imitate the holy fathers.
Finally, where faith has not so breathed its odour, as to make men know
that something remains for them after death, all embalming will be
vapid. Yea, if death is to them the eternal destruction of the body, it
would be an impious profanation of a sacred and useful ceremony, to
attempt to place what had perished under such costly custody. It is
probable that Joseph, in conforming himself to the Egyptians, whose
superfluous care was not free from absurdity; acted rather from fear
than from judgment, or from approval of their method. Perhaps he
improperly imitated the Egyptians, lest the condition of his father
might be worse than that of other men. But it would have been better,
had he confined himself to the frugal practice of his fathers.
Nevertheless though he might be excusable, the same practice is not now
lawful for us. For unless we wish to subvert the glory of Christ, we
must cultivate greater sobriety.
  3. "And forty days were fulfilled for him." We have shown already that
Moses is speaking of a ceremonial mourning; and therefore he does not
prescribe it as a law, or produce it as an example which it is right for
us to follow. For, by the laws, certain days were appointed, in order
that time might be given for the moderating of grief in some degree; yet
something also was conceded to ambition. Another rule, however, for
restraining grief is given to us by the Lord. And Joseph stooped, more
than he ought, to the perverted manners of the Egyptians; for the world
affects to believe that whatever is customary is lawful; so that what
generally prevails, carries along everything it meets, like a violent
inundation. The seventy days which Moses sets apart to solemn mourning,
Herodotus, in his second book, assigns to the embalming. But Diodorus
writes that the seasoning of the body was completed in thirty days. Both
authors diligently describe the method of embalming. And though I will
not deny that, in the course of time, the skill and industry in
practicing this art increased, yet it appears to me probable that this
method of proceeding was handed down from the fathers.
  4. "Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh." A brief narration is here
inserted of the permission obtained for Joseph, that, with the goodwill
and leave of the king, he might convey his father's remains to the
sepulchre of "the double cave." Now, though he himself enjoyed no common
decree of favour, he yet makes use of the courtiers as his intercessors.
Why did he act thus, unless on the ground that the affair was in itself
odious to the people? For nothing (as we have said before) was less
tolerable to the Egyptians, than that their land, of the sanctity of
which they made their especial boast, should be despised. Therefore
Joseph, in order to transfer the offense from himself to another, pleads
necessity: as if he would say, that the burying of his father was not
left to his own choice, because Jacob had laid him under obligation as
to the mode of doing it, by the imposition of an oath. Wherefore, we see
that he was oppressed by servile fear, so that he did not dare frankly
and boldly to profess his own faith; since he is compelled to act a
part, in order to transfer to the deceased whatever odium might attend
the transaction. Now, whereas a more simple and upright confession of
faith is required of the sons of God, let none of us seek refuge under
such pretexts: but rather let us learn to ask of the Lord the spirit of
fortitude and constancy which shall direct us to bear our testimony to
true religion. Yet if men allow us the free profession of religion, let
us give thanks for it. Now, seeing that Joseph did not dare to move his
foot, except by permission of the king, we infer hence, that he was
bound by his splendid fortune, as by golden fetters. And truly, such is
the condition of all who are advanced to honour and favour in royal
courts; so that there is nothing better for men of sane mind, than to be
content with a private condition. Joseph also mitigates the offense
which he feared he was giving, by another circumstance, when he says,
that the desire to be buried in the land of Canaan was not one which had
recently entered into his father's mind, because he had dug his grave
there long before; whence it follows that he had not been induced to do
so by any disgust taken against the land of Egypt.
  6. "And Pharaoh said." We have seen that Joseph adopts a middle
course. For he was not willing utterly to fail in his duty; yet, by
catching at a pretext founded on the command of his father, he did not
conduct himself with sufficient firmness. It is possible that Pharaoh
was inclined, by the modesty of his manner, more easily to assent to his
requests. Yet this cowardice is not, on this account, so sanctioned that
the sons of God are at liberty to indulge themselves in it: for if they
intrepidly follow where duty calls, the Lord will give the issue which
is desired, beyond all expectation. For, although, humanly speaking,
Joseph's bland submission succeeded prosperously, it is nevertheless
certain that the proud mind of the king was influenced by God to concede
thus benignantly what had been desired. It is also to be observed, what
great respect for an oath prevailed among blind unbelievers. For, though
Pharaoh himself had not sworn, he still deemed it unlawful for him to
violate, by his own authority, the pledge given by another. But at this
day, reverence for God has become so far extinct, that men commonly
regard it as a mere trifle to deceive, on one side or another, under the
name of God. But such unbridled license, which even Pharaoh himself
denounces, shall not escape the judgment of God with impunity.
  7. "And Joseph went up." Moses gives a full account of the burial.
What he relates concerning the renewed mourning of Joseph and his
brethren, as well as of the Egyptians, ought by no means to be
established as a rule among ourselves. For we know, that since our flesh
has no self government, men commonly exceed bounds both in sorrowing and
in rejoicing. The tumultuous glamour, which the inhabitants of the place
admired, cannot be excused. And although Joseph had a right end in view,
when he fixed the mourning to last through seven successive days, yet
this excess was not free from blame. Nevertheless, it was not without
reason that the Lord caused this funeral to be thus honorably
celebrated: for it was of great consequence that a kind of sublime
trophy should be raised, which might transmit to posterity the memory of
Jacob's faith. If he had been buried privately, and in a common manner,
his fame would soon have been extinguished; but now, unless men
willfully blind themselves, they have continually before their eyes a
noble example, which may cherish the hope of the promised inheritance:
they perceive, as it were, the standard of that deliverance erected,
Which shall take place in the fulness of time. Wherefore, we are not
here to consider the honour of the deceased so much as the benefit of
the living. Even the Egyptians, not knowing what they do, bear a torch
before the Israelites, to teach them to keep the course of their divine
calling: the Canaanites do the same, when they distinguish the place by
a new name; for hence it came to pass that the knowledge of the covenant
of the Lord flourished afresh.
  14. "And Joseph returned." Although Joseph and the rest had left so
many pledges in Egypt, that it would be necessary for them to return; it
is yet probable that they were rather drawn back thither by the oracle
of God. For God never permitted them to choose an abode at their own
will; but as he had before led Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in their
journeying, so he held their sons shut up in the land of Goshen, as
within barriers. And there is no doubt that the holy fathers left that
oracle which we have in the fifteenth chapter and the thirteenth verse,
to their sons, to be kept in faithful custody as a precious treasure.
They return, therefore, into Egypt, not only because they were compelled
by present necessity, but because it was not lawful for them to shake
off with the hand, the yoke which God had put upon their necks. But if
the Lord does not hold all men bound by voluntary obedience to himself,
he nevertheless holds their minds by his secret rein, that they may not
withdraw themselves from his government; nor can we form any other
conjecture than that they were restrained by his fear, so that even when
admonished of the tyrannical oppression which was coming upon them, they
did not attempt to make their escape. We know that their disposition was
not so mild as to prevent them from rebelling against lighter burdens.
Wherefore, on this point, a special sense of religious obligation
subdued them, so that they prepared themselves quietly and silently to
endure the hardest servitude.
  15. "And when, Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead."
Moses here relates, that the sons of Jacob, after the death of their
father, were apprehensive lest Joseph should take vengeance for the
injury they had done him. And whence this fear, but because they form
their judgment of him according to their own disposition? That they had
found him so placable they do not attribute to true piety towards God,
nor do they account it a special gift of the Spirit: but rather, they
imagine that, out of respect to his father alone, he had hitherto been
so far restrained, as barely to postpone his revenge. But, by such
perverse judgment, they do a great injury to one who, by the liberality
of his treatment, had borne them witness that his mind was free from all
hatred and malevolence. Part of the injurious surmise reflected even
upon God, whose special grace had shone forth in the moderation of
Joseph. Hence, however, we gather, that guilty consciences are so
disturbed by blind and unreasonable fears, that they stumble in broad
day-light. Joseph had absolved his brethren from the crime they had
committed against him; but they are so agitated by guilty compunctions,
that they voluntarily become their own tormentors. And they have not
themselves to thank, that they did not bring down upon themselves the
very punishment which had been remitted; because the mind of Joseph
might well have been wounded by their distrust. For, what could they
mean by still malignantly suspecting him to whose compassion they had
again and again owed their lives? Yet I do not doubt, that long ago they
had repented of their wickedness, but, perhaps, because they had not yet
been sufficiently purified, the Lord suffered them to be tortured with
anxiety and trouble: first, to make them a proof to others, that an evil
conscience is its own tormentor, and, then, to humble them under a
renewed sense of their own guilt; for, when they regard themselves as
obnoxious to their brother's judgment, they cannot forget, unless they
are worse than senseless, the celestial tribunal of God. What Solomon
says, we see daily fulfilled, that "the wicked flee when no man
pursueth;" (Prov. 28: 1;) but, in this way, God compels the fugitives to
give up their account. They would desire, in their supine torpor, to
deceive both God and men; and they bring upon their minds, as far as
they are able, the callousness of obstinacy: in the mean time, whether
they will or no, they are made to tremble at the sound of a falling
leaf, lest their carnal security should obliterate their sense of the
judgment of God. (Lev. 26: 36.) Nothing is more desirable than a
tranquil mind. While God deprives the wicked of this singular benefit,
which is desired by all, he invites us to cultivate integrity. But
especially, seeing that the patriarchs, who were already affected with
penitence for their wickedness, are yet thus severely awakened, a long
time afterwards, let none of us yield to self-indulgence; but let each
diligently examine himself, lest hypocrisy should inwardly cherish the
secret stings of the wrath of God; and may that happy peace, which can
find no place in a double heart, shine within our thoroughly purified
breasts. For this due reward of their neglect remains for all those who
do not draw nigh to God sincerely and with all their heart, that they
are compelled to stand before the judgment-seat of mortal man.
Wherefore, there is no other method which can free us from disquietude,
but that of returning into favour with God. Whosoever shall despise this
remedy, shall be afraid not only of man, but also of a shadow, or a
breath of wind.
  16. "And they sent a messenger." Because they are ashamed themselves
to speak, they engage messengers of peace, in whom Joseph might have
greater confidence. But here also we perceive that they who have an
accusing conscience are destitute of counsel and of reason. For if Jacob
had been solicitous on this point, why did he not effect reconciliation
between the son who was so obedient unto himself, and his brethren?
Besides, for what reason should they attempt to do that through
mediators, which they could do so much better in their own persons? The
Lord, therefore, suffers them to act like children; that we, being
instructed by their example, may look for no advantage from the use of
frivolous inventions. But it may be asked, where the sons of Jacob found
men to whom they could venture to commit such a message; for it was no
light thing to make known their execrable crime to strangers? And it
would have been folly to subject themselves to this infamy among the
Egyptians. The most probable conjecture is, that some domestic witnesses
were chosen from the number of their own servants; for though Moses
makes no mention of such, when he relates that Jacob departed into
Egypt; yet that some were brought with him, may easily be gathered from
certain considerations.
  17. "Forgive, I pray thee now." They do not dissemble the fact that
they had grievously sinned; and they are so far from extenuating their
fault, that they freely heap up words in charging themselves with guilt.
They do not, therefore, ask that pardon should be granted them as if the
offense were light: but they place in opposition to the atrocity of
their crime, first, the authority of their father, and then the sacred
name of God. Their confession would have been worthy of commendation,
had they proceeded directly, and without tortuous contrivances, to
appease their brother. Now, since they have drawn from the fountain of
piety the instruction that it is right for sin to be remitted to the
servants of God; we may receive it as a common exhortation, that if we
have been injured by the members of the Church, we must not be too rigid
and immovable in pardoning the offense. This humanity indeed is
generally enjoined upon us towards all men: but when the bond of
religion is superadded, we are harder than iron, if we are not inclined
to the exercise of compassion. And we must observe, that they expressly
mention the God of Jacob: because the peculiar faith and worship by
which they were distinguished from the rest of the nations, ought to
unite them with each other in a closer bond: as if God, who had adopted
that family, stood forth in the midst of them as engaged to produce
  "And Joseph wept when they spake unto him." It cannot be ascertained
with certainty from the words of Moses, whether the brethren of Joseph
were present, and were speaking, at the time he wept. Some interpreters
imagine that a part was here acted designedly; so that when the mind of
Joseph had been sounded by others, the brethren, soon afterwards, came
in, during the discourse. I rather incline to a different opinion;
namely, that, when he knew, from the messengers, that their minds were
tormented, and they were troubling themselves in vain, he was moved with
sympathy towards them. Then, having sent for them, he set them free from
all care and fear; and their speech, when they themselves were
deprecating his anger, drew forth his tears. Moreover, by thus
affectionately weeping over the sorrow and anxiety of his brethren, he
affords us a remarkable example of compassion. But if we have an arduous
conflict with the impetuosity of an angry temper, or the obstinacy of a
disposition to hatred, we must pray to the Lord for a spirit of
meekness, the force of which manifests itself not less effectually, at
this day, in the members of Christ, than formerly in Joseph.
  19. "Am I in the place of God?" Some think that, in these words, he
was rejecting the honour paid him: as if he would say, that it was
unjustly offered to him, because it was due to God alone. But this
interpretation is destitute of probability, since he often permitted
himself to be addressed in this manner, and knew that the minds of his
brethren were utterly averse to transfer the worship of God to mortal
man. And I equally disapprove another meaning given to the passage,
which makes Joseph refuse to exact punishment, because he is not God:
for he does not restrain himself from retaliating the injury, in the
hope that God will prove his avenger. Others adduce a third
signification; namely, that the whole affair was conducted by the
counsel of God, and not by his own: which though I do not entirely
reject, because it approaches the truth, yet I do not embrace the
interpretation as true. For the word "tachat" sometimes signifies
instead of, sometimes it means subjection. Therefore if the note of
interrogation were not in the way, it might well be rendered, "Because I
am under God;" and then the sense would be, "Fear not, for I am under
God;" so that Joseph would teach them, that because he is subject to the
authority of God, it is not his business to lead the way, but to follow.
But, whereas "he", the note of interrogation, is prefixed to the word,
it cannot be otherwise expounded than to mean that it would be wrong for
him, a mortal man, to presume to thwart the counsel of God. But as to
the sum of the matter, there is no ambiguity. For seeing that Joseph
considers the design of divine providence, he restrains his feelings as
with a bridle, lest they should carry him to excess. He was indeed of a
mild and humane disposition; but nothing is better or more suitable to
assuage his anger, than to submit himself to be governed by God. When,
therefore, the desire of revenge urges us, let all our feelings be
subjected to the same authority. Moreover, since he desires his brethren
to be tranquil and secure, from the consideration, that he, ascribing
due honour to God, willingly submits to obey the Divine command; let us
learn, hence, that it is most to our advantage to deal with men of
moderation, who set God before them as their leader, and who not only
submit to his will, but also cheerfully obey him. For if any one is
impotently carried away by the lust of the flesh, we must fear a
thousand deaths from him, unless God should forcibly break his fury. Now
as it is the one remedy for assuaging our anger, to acknowledge what we
ourselves are, and what right God has over us; so, on the other hand,
when this thought has taken full possession of our minds, there is no
ardor, however furious, which it will not suffice to mitigate.
  20. "Ye thought evil against me." Joseph well considers (as we have
said) the providence of God; so that he imposes it on himself as a
compulsory law, not only to grant pardon, but also to exercise
beneficence. And although we have treated at large on this subjects in
the forty-fifth chapter, yet it will be useful also to repeat something
on it now. In the first place, we must notice this difference in his
language: for whereas, in the former passage, Joseph, desiring to soothe
the grief, and to alleviate the fear of his brethren, would cover their
wickedness by every means which ingenuity could suggest; he now corrects
them a little more openly and freely; perhaps because he is offended
with their disingenousness. Yet he holds to the same principle as
before. Seeing that, by the secret counsel of God, he was led into
Egypt, for the purpose of preserving the life of his brethren, he must
devote himself to this object, lest he should resist God. He says, in
fact, by his action, "Since God has deposited your life with me, I
should be engaged in war against him, if I were not to be the faithful
dispenser of the grace which he had committed to my hands." Meanwhile,
he skillfully distinguishes between the wicked counsels of men, and the
admirable justice of God, by so ascribing the government of all things
to God, as to preserve the divine administration free from contracting
any stain from the vices of men. The selling of Joseph was a crime
detestable for its cruelty and perfidy; yet he was not sold except by
the decree of heaven. For neither did God merely remain at rest, and by
conniving for a time, let loose the reins of human malice, in order that
afterwards he might make use of this occasion; but, at his own will, he
appointed the order of acting which he intended to be fixed and certain.
Thus we may say with truth and propriety, that Joseph was sold by the
wicked consent of his brethren, and by the secret providence of God. Yet
it was not a work common to both, in such a sense that God sanctioned
anything connected with or relating to their wicked cupidity: because
while they are contriving the destruction of their brother, God is
effecting their deliverance from on high. Whence also we conclude, that
there are various methods of governing the world. This truly must be
generally agreed, that nothing is done without his will; because he both
governs the counsels of men, and sways their wills and turns their
efforts at his pleasure, and regulates all events: but if men undertake
anything right and just, he so actuates and moves them inwardly by his
Spirit, that whatever is good in them, may justly be said to be received
from him: but if Satan and ungodly men rage, he acts by their hands in
such an inexpressible manner, that the wickedness of the deed belongs to
them, and the blame of it is imputed to them. For they are not induced
to sin, as the faithful are to act aright, by the impulse of the Spirit,
but they are the authors of their own evil, and follow Satan as their
leader. Thus we see that the justice of God shines brightly in the midst
of the darkness of our iniquity. For as God is never without a just
cause for his actions, so men are held in the chains of guilt by their
own perverse will. When we hear that God frustrates the wicked
expectations, and the injurious desires of men, we derive hence no
common consolation. Let the impious busy themselves as they please, let
them rage, let them mingle heaven and earth; yet they shall gain nothing
by their ardor; and not only shall their impetuosity prove ineffectual,
but shall be turned to an issue the reverse of that which they intended,
so that they shall promote our salvation, though they do it reluctantly.
So that whatever poison Satan produces, God turns it into medicine for
his elect. And although in this place God is said to have "meant it unto
good," because contrary to expectation, he had educed a joyful issue out
of beginnings fraught with death: yet, with perfect rectitude and
justice, he turns the food of reprobates into poison, their light into
darkness, their table into a snare, and, in short, their life into
death. If human minds cannot reach these depths, let them rather
suppliantly adore the mysteries they do not comprehend, than, as vessels
of clay, proudly exalt themselves against their Maker.
  "To save much people alive." Joseph renders his office subservient to
the design of God's providence; and this sobriety is always to be
cultivated, that every one may behold, by faith, God from on high
holding the helm of the government of the world, and may keep himself
within the bounds of his vocation; and even, being admonished by the
secret judgments of God, may descend into himself, and exhort himself to
the discharge of his duty: and if the reason of this does not
immediately appear, we must still take care that we do not fly in
confused and erratic circuits, as fanatical men are wont to do. What
Joseph says respecting his being divinely chosen "to save much people
alive," some extend to the Egyptians. Without condemning such an
extension, I would rather restrict the application of the words to the
family of Jacob; for Joseph amplifies the goodness of God by this
circumstance, that the seed of the Church would be rescued from
destruction by his labour. And truly, from these few men, whose seed
would otherwise have been extinct before their descendants had been
multiplied, that vast multitude sprang into being, which God soon
afterwards raised up.
  21. "I will nourish you." It was a token of a solid and not a feigned
reconciliation, not only to abstain from malice and injury, but also to
"overcome evil with good," as Paul teaches, (Rom. 12: 21:) and truly, he
who fails in his duty, when he possesses the power of giving help, and
when the occasion demands his assistance, shows, by this very course,
that he is not forgetful of injury. This requires to be the more
diligently observed, because, commonly, the greater part weakly conclude
that they forgive offenses if they do not retaliate them; as if indeed
we were not taking revenge when we withdraw our hands from giving help.
You would assist your brother if you thought him worthy: he implores
your aid in necessity; you desert him because he has done you some
unkindness; what hinders you from helping him but hatred? Therefore, we
shall then only prove our minds to be free from malevolence, when we
follow with kindness those enemies by whom we have been ill treated.
Joseph is said to have spoken "to the heart of his brethren," because,
by addressing them with suavity and kindness, he removed all their
scruples; as we have before seen, that Shechem spoke to the heart of
Dinah, when he attempted to console her with allurements, in order that,
forgetting the dishonor he had done her, she might consent to marry him.
  22. "And Joseph dwelt in Egypt." It is not without reason that Moses
relates how long Joseph lived, because the length of the time shows the
more clearly his unfailing constancy: for although he is raised to great
honour and power among she Egyptians, he still is closely united with
his father's house. Hence it is easy to conjecture, that he gradually
took his leave of the treasures of the court, because he thought there
was nothing better for him to do than to hold them in contempt, lest
earthly dignity should separate him from the kingdom of God. He had
before spurned all the allurements which might have occupied his mind in
Egypt: he now counts it necessary to proceed further, that, laying aside
his honour, he may descend to an ignoble condition, and wean his own
sons from the hope of succeeding to his worldly rank. We know how
anxiously others labour, both that they themselves may not be reduced in
circumstances, and that they may leave their fortune entire to their
posterity: but Joseph, during sixty years, employed all his efforts to
bring himself and his children into a state of submission, lest his
earthly greatness should alienate them from the little flock of the
Lord. In short, he imitated the serpents, who cast off their exuviae,
that, being stripped of their old age, they may gather new strength. He
sees the children of his own grandchildren; why does not his solicitude
to provide for them increase, as his children increase? Yet he has so
little regard for worldly rank or opulence, that he would rather see
them devoted to a pastoral life, and be despised by the Egyptians, if
only they might be reckoned in the family of Israel. Besides, in a
numerous offspring during his own life, the Lord afforded him some taste
of his benediction, from which he might conceive the hope of future
deliverance: for, among so many temptations, it was necessary for him to
be encouraged and sustained, lest he should sink under them.
  24. "And Joseph said unto his brethren." It is uncertain whether
Joseph died the first or the last of the brethren, or whether a part of
them survived him. Here indeed Moses includes, under the name of
brethren, not only those who were really so, but other relations. I
think, however, that certain of the chiefs of each family were called at
his command, from whom the whole of the people might receive
information: and although it is probable that the other patriarchs also
gave the same command respecting themselves, since the bones of them all
were, in like manner, conveyed into the land of Canaan; yet special
mention is made of Joseph alone, for two reasons. First, since the eyes
of them all were fixed upon him, on account of his high authority, it
was his duty to lead their way, and cautiously to beware lest the
splendor of his dignity should cast a stumbling block before any of
them. Secondly, it was of great consequence, as an example, that it
should be known to all the people, that he who held the second place in
the kingdom of Egypt, regardless of so great an honour, was contented
with his own coalition, which was only that of the heir of a bare
  "I die." This expression has the force of a command to his brethren to
be of good courage after his death, because the truth of God is
immortal; for he does not wish them to depend upon his life or that of
another man, so as to cause them to prescribe a limit to the power of
God; but he would have them patiently to rest till the suitable time
should arrive. But whence had he this great certainty, that he should be
a witness and a surety of future redemption, except from his having been
so taught by his father? For we do not read that God had appeared unto
him, or that an oracle had been brought to him by an angel from heaven;
but because he was certainly persuaded that Jacob was a divinely
appointed teacher and prophet, who should transmit to his sons the
covenant of salvation deposited with him; Joseph relies upon his
testimony not less securely than if some vision had been presented to
him, or he had seen angels descending to him from heaven: for unless the
hearing of the word is sufficient for our faith, we deserve not that
God, whom we then defraud of his honour, should condescend to deal with
us: not that faith relies on human authority, but because it hears God
speaking through the mouth of men, and by their external voice is drawn
upwards; for what God pronounces through men, he seals on our hearts by
his Spirit. Thus faith is built on no other foundation than God himself;
and yet the preaching of men is not wanting in its claim of authority
and reverence. This restraint is put upon the rash curiosity of those
men, who, eagerly desiring visions, despise the ordinary ministry of the
Church; as if it were absurd that God, who formerly showed himself to
the fathers out of heaven, should send forth his voice out of the earth.
But if they would reflect how gloriously he once descended to us in the
person of his only-begotten Son, they would not so importunately desire
that heaven should daily be opened unto them. But, not to insist upon
these things; when the brethren saw that Joseph,--who in this respect
was inferior to his fathers, as having been partaker of no oracle,--had
been imbued by them with the doctrine of piety, so that he contended
with a faith similar to theirs; they would at once be most ungrateful
and malignant, if they rejected the participation of his grace.
  25. "God will surely visit you." By these words he intimates that they
would be buried as in oblivion, so long as they remained in Egypt: and
truly that exile was as if God had turned his back on them for a season.
Nevertheless, Joseph does not cease to fix the eyes of his mind on God;
as it is written in the Prophet, "I will wait upon the Lord that hideth
his face from the house of Jacob." (Is. 8: 17.) This passage also
clearly teaches what was the design of this anxious choice of his
sepulchre, namely, that it might be a seal of redemption: for after he
has asserted that God was faithful, and would, in his own time, grant
what he had promised, he immediately adjures his brethren to carry away
his bones. These were useful relics, the sight of which plainly
signified that, by the death of men, the eternal covenant in which
Joseph commands his posterity safely to rest, had by no means become
extinct; for he deems it sufficient to adduce the oath of God, to remove
all their doubts respecting their deliverance.

End of - Calvin, Genesis, Volume 2.