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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This and the following three chapters recount the successive rebellions of the Israelites after their departure from Sinai; culminating in that by which they brought upon themselves the sentence of personal exclusion from the land of promise.
1And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.
See the marginal rendering. They murmured against the privations of the march.
The fire of the Lord - Probably lightning; compare Psalm 78:21.
In the uttermost parts - Rather, in the end. The fire did not reach far into the camp. It was quickly quenched at the intercession of Moses.
2And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched.
3And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.
Taberah - i. e. "burning:" not the name of a station, and accordingly not found in the list given in Numbers 33, but the name of the spot where the fire broke out. This incident might seem (compare Numbers 11:34) to have occurred at the station called, from another still more terrible event which shortly followed, Kibroth-hattaavah.
4And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?
Occurrences at Kibroth-hattavah.
The mixt multitude - The word in the original resembles our "riff-raff," and denotes a mob of people scraped together. It refers here to the multitude of strangers (see Exodus 12:38) who had followed the Israelites from Egypt.
5We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:
The natural dainties of Egypt are set forth in this passage with the fullness and relish which bespeak personal experience.
6But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
There is nothing at all ... - literally, "Nought at all have we except that our eyes are unto this manna;" i. e. "Nought else have we to expect beside this manna." On the manna see Exodus 16:15 note; on bdellium see Genesis 2:12 note.
7And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium.
8And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.
9And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.
10Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased.
The weeping was general; every family wept (compare Zechariah 12:12), and in a manner public and unconcealed.
11And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?
The complaint and remonstrance of Moses may be compared with that in 1 Kings 19:4 ff; Jonah 4:1-3, and contrasted with the language of Abraham (Genesis 18:23 ff) The meekness of Moses (compare Numbers 12:3) sank under vexation into despair. His language shows us how imperfect and prone to degeneracy are the best saints on earth.
12Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?
13Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.
14I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.
15And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.
16And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.
Seventy men of the elders of Israel - Seventy elders had also gone up with Moses to the Lord in the mount Exodus 24:1, Exodus 24:9. Seventy is accordingly the number of colleagues assigned to Moses to share his burden with him. To it, the Jews trace the origin of the Sanhedrim. Subsequent notices Numbers 16:25; Joshua 7:6; Joshua 8:10, Joshua 8:33; Joshua 9:11; Joshua 23:2; Joshua 24:1, Joshua 24:31 so connect the elders with the government of Israel as to point to the fact that the appointment now made was not a merely temporary one, though it would seem to have soon fallen into desuetude. We find no traces of it in the days of the Judges and the Kings.
Elders of the people, and officers over them - In English idiom, "elders and officers of the people." Both elders and officers appear in Egypt (Exodus 3:16; Exodus 5:6 ff): the former had headed the nation in its efforts after freedom; the latter were the subordinate, though unwilling, agents of Egyptian tyranny. The two classes no doubt were working together; and from those who belonged to either, perhaps from those who were both eiders and officers, the council of Seventy was to be selected.
17And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.
I will take of the spirit which is upon thee - Render rather separate from the spirit, etc.; i. e. they shall have their portion in the same divine gift which thou hast.
18And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.
19Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;
20But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the LORD which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?
21And Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month.
22Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?
23And the LORD said unto Moses, Is the LORD'S hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.
24And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle.
25And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
They prophesied - i. e. under the extraordinary impulse of the Holy Spirit they uttered forth the praises of God, or declared His will. Compare the marginal references.
And did not cease - Rather, and added not, i. e. they prophesied at this time only and not afterward. The sign was granted on the occasion of their appointment to accredit them in their office; it was not continued, because their proper function was to be that of governing not prophesying.
26But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.
Of them that were written - i. e. enrolled among the Seventy. The expression points to a regular appointment duly recorded and permanent.
27And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.
28And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.
29And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!
Enviest thou for my sake? - (Compare Mark 9:38 ff) The other members of the Seventy had been with Moses (compare Numbers 6:16, Numbers 6:24-25) when the gift of prophecy was bestowed on them. They received "of the spirit that was upon him," and exercised their office visibly through and for him. Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp seemed to Joshua to be acting independently, and so establishing a separate center of authority.
30And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.
31And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.
The southeast wind, which blew from the neighboring Elanitic gulf of the Red Sea, brought the quails Exodus 16:13.
Two cubits high - Better, "two cubits above the face of the ground:" i. e. the quails, wearied with their long flight, flew about breast high, and were easily secured by the people, who spread them all abroad for themselves Numbers 11:32, in order to salt and dry them. The quail habitually flies with the wind, and low.
32And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.
Ten homers - About 55 bushels. Compare Leviticus 27:16.
33And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.
Ere it was chewed - Better, ere it was consumed. See Numbers 11:19-20. The surfeit in which the people indulged, as described in Numbers 11:32, disposed them to sickness. God's wrath, visiting the gluttonous through their gluttony, aggravated natural consequences into a supernatural visitation.
34And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted.
(Kibroth-hattaavah has been identified by Palmer with the extensive remains, graves, etc., at Erweis El Ebeirig, and Hazeroth "enclosures" with Ain Hadherah.)
35And the people journeyed from Kibrothhattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth.