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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 14

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.

All the congregation lifted up their voice - not literally the whole, because there were some exceptions.

Verses 2-4

And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!

Would God that we had died. Such insolence to their generous leaders, and such base ingratitude to God show the deep degradation of the Israelites, and the absolute necessity of the decree that debarred that generation from entering the promised land. They were punished by them wishes being granted to die in that wilderness. A leader to re-conduct them to Egypt is spoken of (Nehemiah 9:17) as actually nominated. The sinfulness and insane folly of their conduct are almost incredible. Their conduct, however, is paralleled by too many among ourselves, who shrink from the smallest difficulties, and rather remain slaves to sin than resolutely try to surmount the obstacles that lie in their way to the Canaan above. This rebellion is computed to have occurred on the ninth day of Ab-a day memorable in Jewish history for a series of national calamities; the day of the same month on which Nebuchadnezzar, 900 years after, destroyed the city and temple of Jerusalem; on which, at a period long subsequent, Titus, the Roman commander, overthrew the capital of Judea, with its sanctuary, accomplishing the prediction of Micah (3: 12); and on which, 50 years later still, in punishment of the insurrection of Bar-Chochebas, the city was again besieged and taken by Hadrian, amid a massacre of 600,000 Jews. An elegy, composed by a Jewish poet of the middle ages, and chanted by the Jewish communities on this mournful day-the anniversary of so many disasters to their nation-is given by Professor Munk, Paris, in his 'Essay on the Poetry of the Jews in the Middle Ages.'

Verse 5

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

Moses and Aaron fell on their faces - as humble and earnest suppliants, either to the people, entreating them to desist from so perverse a design, or rather to God, as the usual and only refuge from the violence of that tumultuous and stiff-necked rabble, and a hopeful means of softening and impressing their hearts.

Verse 6

And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:

Joshua ... and Caleb. The two honest spies testified their grief and horror, in the strongest manner, at the mutiny against Moses and the blasphemy against God; while at the same time they endeavoured, by a truthful statement, to persuade the people of the ease with which they might obtain posession of so desirable a country, provided they not, by their rebellion and ingratitude, provoke God to abandon them.

Verse 7

And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 8

If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

A land which floweth with milk and honey - a general expression, descriptive of a rich and fertile country; but the two articles specified were among the principal products of the Holy Land.

Verse 9

Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.

Their defense is departed, [ Caar (H5493) tsilaam (H6738)] - their shadow is turned, is departed. The departing of the shadow was regarded as an indication of some evil. The Sultan of Turkey and the Shah of Persia are called 'the shadow of God,' 'the refuge of the world.' So that the meaning of the phrase, "their defense is departed" from them, is, that the favour of God was now lost to those whose iniquities were full (Genesis 15:16), and transferred to the Israelites.

Verse 10

But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.

The glory of the Lord appeared. It was seasonably manifested on this great emergency, to rescue His ambassadors from their perilous situation.

Verses 11-12

And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?

The Lord said ... I will smite - not a final decree, but a threatening suspended, as appeared from the issue, on the intercession of Moses, and the repentance of Israel.

Verses 13-16

And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;) No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,

Let the power of my Lord be great - be magnified.

Verses 18-20

The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 21

But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.

All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. This promise, in its full acceptation, remains to be verified by the eventual and universal prevalence of Christianity in the world. But the terms were used restrictively, in respect of the occasion, to the report which would spread over all the land of the "terrible things in righteousness" which God would do in the infliction of the doom described, to which that rebellious race were now consigned.

Verse 22

Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;

All those men which ... have tempted me ... There is no hint given in this narrative to warrant the assertion of Dr. Colenso, that the Levites were exempted from the general doom of the rebellious Israelites, though it is evident, from what is said elsewhere, that though Caleb and Joshua were the only persons belonging to the number of the spies who were spared, others also of their contemporaries survived the protracted stay in the wilderness (cf. Joshua 14:1).

Ten times - very frequently.

Verse 23

Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 24

But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.

My servant Caleb. Joshua was also excepted, but he is not named, because he was no longer in the ranks of the people, being a constant attendant on Moses.

Had another spirit. Under the influence of God's Spirit, was a man of bold, generous, heroic course, above worldly anxieties and fears. 'Our Lord, in the parable of the marriage of the king's son, said, "Many are called, but few chosen." These words do but state a truth which had long before been finding its fulfillment in the kingdom of God, and which, alas! is always accomplishing there. They were fulfilled in the history of that entire generation which went out of Egypt; these were "called" to a kingdom, yet were not in the end "chosen" to it, since with most of them God was not well pleased, and they died in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-10; Hebrews 3:7-19; Jude 1:5). They were fulfilled on a smaller scale in those twelve to whom it was given the first to see the promised land; two only drew strength and encouragement from that sight, and they only were "chosen" to inherit it' (Trench 'On Par.,' p. 237).

Verse 25

(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.

Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley - i:e., on the other side of the Idumean mountain at whose base they were then encamped. Those nomad tribes had at that time occupied it with a determination to oppose the further progress of the Hebrew people. Hence, the command to seek a safe and timely retreat into the desert, to escape the pursuit of those resolute enemies, to whom, with their wives and children, they would fall a helpless prey, because they had forfeited the presence and protection of God. The 25th verse, forming an important part of the narrative, should be freed from the parenthetical form which our English translators have given it, and the verb should be rendered in the present tense, 'dwell' [ yowsheeb (H3427) baa`eemeq (H6010); Septuagint, katoikousin en tee koiladi, sojourn in the plain]. The import of the statement is, that the enemy were lying in wait for them at the foot of the mountain on the other side (see the note at Numbers 14:40-45).

Verses 26-27

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 28

Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:

Say unto them, As truly as I live - (cf. Psalms 106:26, where 'lifting the lead,' the ancient gesture of swearing, is used as synonymous with the expression in this passage: cf. Deuteronomy 1:34; Deuteronomy 2:14.)

Verse 29

Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 30

Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

Save Caleb ... and Joshua. These are specially mentioned as honourable exceptions to the rest of the scouts, and also as the future leaders of the people. But it appears that some of the old generation did not join in the mutinous complaints, including in that number the great name of the high priest (Joshua 14:1).

Verse 31

But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.

They (i:e., your little ones) shall know the land which ye have despised. This refers to the refusal of the people, misguided by the false report of the ten spies, to invade the land of Canaan. They preferred the testimony of these hasty explorers to that of God Himself (cf. Ps. 77:22,32 ).

Verses 32-33

But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 34

After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.

After the number of the days in which ye searched the land ... forty days, each day for a year. There was thus a correspondence between the time of their sin and that of their punishment. But this circumstance does not afford ground for the theory (Birk's 'Elements of Sac. Prophecy,' p. 338; Faber, 'Provincial Letters,' vol. 1:,

p. 124) that the term day stands in the prophetical books for the period year, nor that a typical day represents a real year (cf. Ezekiel 4:4; Daniel 9:24).

Shall ye bear your iniquities. To bear one's sin or iniquity is equivalent to the suffering of the punishment due to sin (cf. Numbers 18:22; Numbers 18:32; Exodus 28:43; Leviticus 19:8).

My breach of promise - i:e., that in consequence of your violation of the covenant between you and me, by breaking the terms of it, it shall be null and void on my part, as I shall withhold the blessings I promised in that covenant to confer on you on condition of your obedience. [ Wiyda`tem (H3045) 'et (H854) tªnuw'aatiy (H8569), and ye shall know my withdrawal, my alienation, my holding back.] 'The translation in the present King James Version is harsh, and merely conjectural, not warranted by the Hebrew original. Some of our older English translators had a more inoffensive and a juster rendering than our last version here happens to have. Coverdale's Bible of 1535 renders, "ye may know what it is, when I withdraw my hand." Matthewe's Bible of 1537 has, "ye shall fele my vengeance." The Great Bible of 1539, "ye shall know my displeasure. The Geneva translators of 1560 first ventured to say," ye shall fele my breach of promise;" but then they added a marginal note to soften it-namely, "whether my promise is true or no." Dr. Parker's Bible of 1568 altered it into, "ye shall know my breach of promise," leaving no note at all in the margin; and the last translation, following Parker's, reads the text as before, only throwing in another softer version into the margin-namely, "altering of my purpose"' (Waterlands' 'Scripture Vindicated'). The Hebrew word occurs only in one other passage, namely, Job 33:10, where it is rendered by our translators, "occasion against" ('disallowances against me') (Carey's 'Job'). [The Septuagint has: gnoosesthe ton thumon tees orgees mou. Jerome, in the Vulgate, has ultionem meam. The Septuagint has in the passage of Job referred to, mempson, querelam, complaint.]

Verse 35

I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 36-38

And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land,

The men ... died by the plague before the Lord. Ten of the spies were struck dead on the spot, either by the pestilence or some other judgment-the great and appalling mortality occasioned by which clearly betokened the hand of the Lord (cf. Psalms 90:1-17, which was composed on the occurrence of those sad events.) The fatal decree that doomed the whole existing generation of Israelites that had come out of Egypt to perish was a severe but a necessary measure; and though it was, in the first instance, a punishment for their unbelief and rebellion, it proved ultimately a great national blessing. They had exhibited frequent and unmistakeable proofs that they were not possessed of a spirit for occupying the promised land as the servants of the true God, confiding in His vigilant providence, and devoted to His service. It was necessary that another generation should arise, inured to hardihood, uncorrupted by the influence of Egyptian manners and religion, and impressed by the marvelous displays of the divine presence and power, with a realizing sense of the Being of God, and of His exclusive claims to their homage. These ends were all attained by the race that were reared under the educational discipline of the wilderness.

Verse 39

And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.

The people mourned greatly, [ wayit'abluw (H56) haa`aam (H5971) mª'od (H3966)] - a strong expression, denoting both internal and external sorrow for sin and calamity (cf. Ezra 10:2; Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 10:2).

Verse 40

And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.

They rose up early in the morning. Notwithstanding the tidings that Moses communicated, and which diffused a general feeling of melancholy and grief throughout the camp, the impression was of very brief continuance. They rushed from one extreme of rashness and perversity to another, and the obstinacy of their rebellious spirit was evinced by their active preparations to ascend the hill, notwithstanding the divine warning they had received not to undertake that enterprise.

For we have sinned - i:e., sensible of our sin, we now repent of it, and are eager to do as Caleb and Joshua exhorted us; or, as some render it, though we have sinned, we trust God will yet give us the land of promise.

Verses 41-43

And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 44

But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.

The ark of the covenant of the Lord ... departed not out of the camp. The shrines of the pagan deities were, among idolatrous people, carried in the van of their armies. In like manner, the ark of God, though it had no image in it, was carried on the shoulders of the priests during the exodus (Joshua 3:14), and also in their early battles. The occasion referred to, therefore, was exceptional. But the practice was discontinued after the settlement in Canaan (1 Samuel 4:7). The entreaties of their prudent and pious leaders, who represented to them that their enemies, scaling the other side of the valley, would post themselves on the top of the hill before them, were disregarded. How strangely perverse the conduct of the Israelites, who, shortly before, were afraid that, though their Almighty King was with them, they could not get possession of the land; and yet now they act still more foolishly in supposing that, though God were not with them, they could expel the inhabitants by their unaided efforts! The consequences were such as might have been anticipated. The Amalekites and Canaanites, who had been lying in ambuscade expecting their movement, rushed down upon them from the heights, and became the instruments of punishing their guilty rebellion.

Verse 45

Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.

The Amalekites ... and the Canaanites - (see the note at Deuteronomy 1:44.)

Even unto Hormah. The name was afterward given to that place in memory of the immense slaughter of the Israelites on this occasion. Its name formerly was (Judges 1:17) Zephath [ Tsªpat (H6857), watchtower] considered by Dr. Robinson ('Biblical Researches,' vol. 2:, p. 583) to be the pass es-Safeh, or Sufah, on the northwest of Ain-el-Weibeh, up the mountain chain which extends along the southern extremity of Palestine. But this defile, by all accounts, is so difficult of ascent as well as descent (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' p. 78; Martineau's 'Eastern Life,' p. 61) as to be impracticable for the advance of a numerous host. Besides, it is so very improbable that such a position, whether at the top or the bottom of the mountain, should be chosen for the erection of a fort, that it has been rejected by most travelers who have carefully explored it.

Another and more likely site has been found in Wady Ruheileh-the chief entrance from the southwest to the southernmost region of Palestine-at a place called Sebata. The pass by which they endeavoured to penetrate the mountain barrier is called el-Haudeh, two hours and a half from Khalusa (Chesil), near the southeastern extremity of Mount Halal, (Tuch, in 'Jour. Sac. Lit.,' July, 1848, pp. 93, 94; Kurtz, vol. 3:, pp. 227-336; Wilson's 'Lands of the Bible,' vol. 1:, p. 342; ' Negeb,' pp. 12, 198-206, 243, etc.) There is no discrepancy between this passage, where the enemies of Israel are described as rushing down from the hill, and Numbers 14:25, where they are said to "dwell in the valley" or plains.

'We have but to glance at a good map of Palestine in order to perceive that the northern portion of the territory under consideration (now inhabited by the Arab tribes Saidiyeh, Dhullam, and Jehalin) is raised many hundred feet above the level of the sea, and consists, in fact, of a succession of vast terraces, which, like the steps of a gigantic staircase, gradually ascend from the Arabah to an extensive plateau or high table-land. We can therefore easily understand how the sacred writer might well speak of it as plain, in contradistinction to the "hill country of Judah," which it adjoins on the northwest; while to its Israelite assailants, who had to toil up its southern acclivity, it would appear, as it was indeed, a mountain of no inconsiderable elevation' ('Negeb,' p. 10: cf. Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' vol. 2:, p. 467; Williams' 'Holy City,' p. 488; Stewart's 'Tent and Khan,' p. 215).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 14". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/numbers-14.html. 1871-8.
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