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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 14

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-45

Despondency, Stubbornness and Judgment

Numbers 14:1-45

1And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. 2And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would 1God that we had died 3in the land of Egypt! or would aGod we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore 2hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? 4And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. 5Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

6And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that 3searched the land, rent their clothes: 7And they spake unto all the 4company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to 8csearch it, is an exceeding good land. 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. 9Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their 5defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not. 10But all the congregation 6bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the Lord appeared in the 7tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.

11And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people 8provoke me? and how long will it 9be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have 10shewed among them? 12I will smite them with the pestilence, and 11disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

13And Moses said unto the Lord, 12Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou 14broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;) And they 13will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: 14 for they have heard that thou Lord art among this people, that thou Lord art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by daytime in a pillar of a cloud, and in a 15pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the 16nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness. 17And now, I beseech thee, let the power 18of my 15 Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is long-suffering, 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. 19Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, 20from Egypt even 16until now. And the Lord said, I have pardoned according 21to thy word: But as truly as I live, 17all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. 1822Because 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; 23Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that 19provoked me see it: 24But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land wherein he went; and his seed shall possess it. 2025(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.

26, 27And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. 28Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in 21mine ears, 29so will I do to you: Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness, and all that were 22numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, 30Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I 23sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. 31But 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. 32But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness. 24 33And your children 25shall wander in the wilderness forty years. and bear your whoredoms, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness. 34After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye 35bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know 26my 27breach of promise. 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.

36And the men which Moses sent to 28search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land. 37Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord. 38But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, 29 which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still. 39And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.

40And 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 30which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned. 41And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper. 42Go not up, for the Lord is not among you: that ye be not smitten before your enemies. 43For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you. 44But 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. 45Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.


[Numbers 14:13-14. The וְ–וְ conjoin paratactically several affirmations, according to the simple Heb. idiom, where we would use subordinate clauses, or parenthesis, or both—and, and the like, or several of these together. See Exodus 2:11-13. In such cases there is no rule but that of a fine interpreting sense. Keil in the present case translates: “Not only the Egyptians have heard—they have also told.”

Numbers 14:21. וְיִמָּלֵא וגו'. In Hebrew the passive may retain the accusative of the remoter object. This is the case with all verbs that in the active take two accusatives; e.g. וְהָרְאָה אֶת־הַכֹּהֵן Leviticus 13:49, “and it shall be shown (to) the priest,” which is equivalent to “the priest shall be shown (made to see) it.” Similarly, “fill the earth (with) His glory” (accust. after verbs of fullness see Fuerst Lex. מָלָא), may in Hebrew be rendered passively “his glory is the fullness (of) the earth.” Comp. Isaiah 6:3. מְלֹא כָּל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ “fullness of all the earth his glory;” מְלֹא being substantive, see Naegelsbach on Isaiah 6:3.

Numbers 14:23; Numbers 14:28. The conjunction אִם if denies when used in oaths: thus Numbers 14:23. “if they see the land,” i.e., they shall not see. On the contrary אִם לא affirms, Numbers 14:28, “surely I will do to you.”

Numbers 14:24. וַיְמַלֵּא אַחֲרָי: comp. Numbers 32:11-12. A pregnant construction, by which a preposition of motion is joined to a verb imparting to it a sense of motion that it otherwise has not; Ewald, § 282 c. “It is a constructio prœgnans for מִלֵּא לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֵי “fulfilled to walk behind me, i.e., followed me fully,” Keil. Comp. עָנָה with מִן Psalms 22:22, and חָשָׁק with מִן, Isaiah 38:17, where see in Naegelsb. Comm. Comp. also Hebrews 5:7, κἀὶ εἰσακουσθεὶς�.

Numbers 14:27. עַד־מָתַי לָעֵדָה הָרָעָה; “an aposiopesis, ‘How long this evil congregation’ (sc. ‘shall I forgive it,’) the simplest way being, as Rosenmueller suggests to supply אֶשָּׂא from Numbers 14:18, ” Keil. The Eng. version supplies “shall I bear with.” Maurer says: “nothing is wanting. We have the subject in רָעָה, which is not an adjective belonging to עֵדָה, but a substantive as in Hosea 10:15. Therefore the sense is: ‘how long to this (which force lies in the article) congregation will be this evil, with which they murmur against me.’ Unless I greatly err, what follows of itself supplies this rendering,” viz. Numbers 14:27 b.

Numbers 14:43. “כְּי־עַל־כֵּן, literally for therefore; but the cause is put for the effect, as we may say: therefore for this reason he is a prince, which has then the sense of assigning a cause or reason. Comp. Genesis 18:5; Genesis 19:8; Numbers 10:31.” Naegelsbach’s Gram., § 110, 2. Ewald, § 353 a.—Tr.].


1. The insurrection of the congregation, Numbers 14:1-10. The grief of despondency is followed by an embittered feeling against Moses and Aaron. They desire to choose a commander against Moses and Aaron. They desire to choose a commander, who shall lead them back to Egypt. Moses and Aaron cast themselves upon their faces before God; for it seems to be all over with their power now: their only refuge is in prayer. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, stand out heroically against the congregation, and try the power of eloquence. In their eyes despondency is a rebellion against God. They are food for us, that is, we will “eat them like bread,” say the young heroes. Their shadow is departed from them. Their existence is an abnormal one, for God no longer protects them; they are ripe for judgment. The people, however, instead of allowing themselves to be encouraged, are minded to stone them. Then the glory of the Lord appears at the Tent of Meeting to all the children of Israel. Keil says: in a flash of light suddenly lightening up near the Tabernacle. We prefer to say, that it was in a mysterious occurrence, of which we have no further knowledge. The Glory of the Lord appeared once in the wilderness (Exodus 16:10); once in the Tabernacle at the time of its dedication (Exodus 40:34); then at the kindling of the first offering (Leviticus 9:23); afterwards opposite the company of Korah (Numbers 16:19), and again finally in front of the murmuring congregation, who would hold Moses and Aaron answerable for the destruction of the company of Korah (Numbers 17:7). A distinction between the different modes of its appearance is found in the fact that, when the people are in a devout temper, the glory of the Lord appears to them in the court of the Tabernacle or above it; but when they are in a condition of insurrection, it appears in a sign more or less disconnected from the Tabernacle. The latest appearance of the glory of the Lord forms a single exception to this rule. Here the seditious congregation is cut off from the Tabernacle. It is not declared in the present passage how Moses and Aaron raised themselves again from their prone position. At all events Moses can now meet the people with words of thunder. The rule may be laid down, that the glory of the Lord appears when the people of God are in the best condition, and then also when they appear to be in the worst case.

2. The Threats of Jehovah, Numbers 14:11-19. He will crush out this despicable people, who scorn Him, and with Moses begin again a new history of the people. The expression of His displeasure is much stronger than at the erection of the golden calf (Numbers 32:10). Quo usque is the expression here. The offense is denoted נָאַץ; it is enhanced by the incredulous disregard of all the signs which Jehovah has done among them. The intercession of Moses is likewise much more earnest than upon the other occasion; though upon the whole the same motives are appealed to (Numbers 14:13-19). He appeals to the consistency of the divine grace, to the honor of Jehovah. “For the sake of this His honor God at a later period also did not suffer Israel to perish in Egypt; comp. Isaiah 48:9; Isaiah 48:11; Isaiah 5, 42; Isaiah 36:22 et seq.” (Keil). Moses had not forgotten either the sermon of Jehovah upon Mount Sinai concerning the grace of Jehovah (Numbers 14:18). Let us bear in mind that it is the stern lawgiver himself who again and again appeals for grace and forgiveness.

6. The Pardon, Numbers 14:20. Forgiveness is granted in divine dialectic [distribution of notions according to their kind.—T.R.]. The people, as a people, shall not be exterminated, but rather shall all the earth through them be filled with the glory of the Lord. The oath of Jehovah here is of the highest significance, of unexampled importance. For all the men [?]. A remarkable phrase, which gives us to understand, that the very judgment upon this generation in the wilderness will contribute its share to spread the glory of the Lord through all the earth. And just that result has come about.

6. The Limitations of the Forgiveness: the Sentence of Judgment(Numbers 14:22-25). All those men who have seen Jehovah’s miracles of preservation, from Egypt up to this point, and have yet remained incredulous and disobedient, shall not see the land of Canaan; that is, they shall perish in the wilderness. They have tempted me now ten times, that is, have provoked me to retract the promise. The rabbins accepted literally this round, symbolical number, indicative of a complete historical course of events, assigning the different occasions as follows: (1) The murmurs at the Red Sea; (2) at Marah; (3) in the desert of Sin (Exodus 16:2); (4) at Rephidim; (5) at Horeb (Exodus 32:0); (6) Taberah; (7) Kibroth-Hattaavah; (8) at Kadesh now; (9 and 10), for these numbers “the twofold rebellion of a number against the commands of God on the bestowal of the manna (Exodus 16:20; Exodus 16:27) is counted.” Evidently we have here in Kadesh to do with two revolts preceding the faction of Korah, also Miriam? and the first temptation was the uprising against Moses and Aaron while yet in Egypt (Exodus 5:0). But it is not necessary to take the round number exactly. Jehovah does not except those either who have only inwardly rebelled; He makes two classes, according to the merely inward revolt, and according to the outwardly accomplished insurrection (Numbers 14:23). When to these men He opposes Caleb, He means him only as the foremost of the exceptions. Of the tribe of Levi there is no question; at most only individuals are inwardly involved. Farther on Joshua is also made an exception. And the minors and those born in the intervening time form the beginning of the new generation. Caleb “had another spirit,” and was resolute in following Jehovah. It was moreover to his special credit, that he had reported with such fortitude concerning the most terrible portion of the land, the region of Anak at Hebron (see Joshua 14:7 et seq.). And this very region therefore is to become his inheritance. We cannot regard the adjunct clause: And the Amalekites and Canaanites dwelling in the valley, as giving the motive for the following: “To-morrow turn you. Jehovah cannot intend to confirm the people in their fears. Nor can it be said, either, that these two races were settled chiefly in the Wady Murreh. Thus Caleb’s dominion was to extend from this region of the Amalekites down to the lowlands where the Canaanites dwelt. Moreover, the command: “To-morrow turn you,” does not require an immediate departure towards the Red Sea. But any way, they must no longer think of attacking Palestine from this side, but take the direction backwards into the desert toward the Red Sea. Immediately afterwards they came through their insolence to such a wretched plight, that they were only able to fulfil this command after nearly forty years had passed by.

9. The Intensifying of the Judgment(Numbers 14:26-38). This heightened reiteration is only to be explained by the prolonged murmuring disposition of the congregation, just as the same thing is spoken of in chap. 17 after the destruction of the company of Korah. The oath is repeated. Your bodies shall fall down in the wilderness; see 1 Corinthians 12:5. The precise age of the murmurers is given, from twenty years upwards. Joshua’s name is now joined to Caleb’s. Promise for the children, that they had regarded as doomed to perish, Numbers 14:31. The children will live, but must sustain themselves as nomads with their herds a long time in the desert, to expiate the whoredom, i.e. the spiritual apostacy of their fathers. Twice does this mighty conception of their fall appear in our passage; and it is carried afterward through the entire Scriptures (as opposed to the bridal form of the relation between Jehovah and His people), to be completed in the Babylonian whore, the Apocalyptic image of judgment. The time for the expiation was forty years; a round number, in which the commencement and the end of the migration were included, and between which and the forty days of the expedition of the spies a parallel is drawn. For every day of cowardice and baseness in matters concerning the kingdom of God, a whole year is required for atonement. It is brought out with emphasis, that this blow fell first of all upon the cowardly spies; yet that does not mean, that they were suddenly smitten by it. The more wondrous was the preservation of the two faithful ones, Joshua and Caleb; hence they are a second time expressly made prominent.

10. The Sorrow of the People, and the Change from Despair to Presumption(Numbers 14:39-45). This is a picture true to the life, of false, or at least self-willed, repentance. From the passionate sorrow of the people issues the passionate warlike excursion, undertaken in opposition to the express decision of Jehovah, in spite of the warnings of Moses, without his leadership, and without the Ark of the Covenant; and so it is not the army of God under His standard. The position for assault is also against them, since the Amalekites and Canaanites rush down upon them from the mountains. They are beaten and scattered as far as Hormah. The town was situated “in the Negeb (Numbers 33:40); it was then a royal city (Joshua 12:14), and eventually appears as belonging now to Judah (Joshua 15:30), now to Simeon (Joshua 19:4; Joshua 1:0 Cbron. Numbers 4:30). It first received the name, here used proleptically, in the beginning of the period of the Judges. Up to that time it was called Zephat (Judges 1:17),” Knobel, whom see for further particulars. The assembling of the scattered fugitives to the Tabernacle and to those that had remained at Kadesh, and the expiation of the forty years becomes thus a settled matter.

[Now the Amalekite and the Canaanite dwell in the valley, Numbers 14:25. Dr. Lange’s construction of this clause seems much more forced than the view he rejects, which is moreover the one generally accepted. It forms no appropriate description of Caleb’s final inheritance. Whatever the clause means, it is natural to take it as giving the motive for the command: to-morrow turn ye, etc.; comp. Deuteronomy 1:40. It might do to understand it as the announcement of a sentence, viz. “the Canaanite for the present shall remain in occupancy, and ye must retire into the desert.” But the word בָּעֵמֶק, “in the valley,” seems fatal to such a construction. The word itself never occurs generically for a whole country, but always for some locality that is a valley. Moreover, the article “the valley” points to a definite valley known to those addressed. Thus the common view understands the valley to be meant that was at hand near Kadesh, and that would be the natural avenue for the proposed invasion. There the Canaanites had taken position to repel the invaders. The word יושֵב, rendered “dwell,” is used to describe the position of an attacking party in ambush, Joshua 8:9. Since the Israelites would not encounter the enemy, they must retire to the desert. And got them up to the top of the mountain, Numbers 14:40. This verse in its local reference connects closely with Numbers 14:25, and confirms the view just given. “The mountain” here and “the valley” there acquire their definiteness from the same circumstance, viz., their being at hand and forming the two commanding features of the environs of Kadesh. The account makes them antithetical. Because the Canaanites were in the valley, the Israelites took to the mountain; perhaps in the spirit of the Syrian that said: “Jehovah is a God of mountains and not a God of valleys,” 2 Kings 20:28. This reference will at least serve to illustrate the antithetical use of these words.

“The Israelites, then, must have made for the hills of the Amorites, those in the north-east of Wady Hanein, in which the forces of their enemies were no doubt concentrated. Had they succeeded in forcing their way into this locality, both roads to Palestine would have been open to them: either the western route by Ruheibeh and Khalasah, or that through the heart of the mountains by the Dheigatel-Amerin and Wady Marreh.” E. H. Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, chap. xxv. The same author identifies Hormah with Sebaita, which is distant from Ain Gadis (the supposed site of Kadesh) only about twenty miles. “The names Dheigat el Amerin (Ravine of the Amorites) and Ras Amir (the former a valley cutting the range of hills to the north of Sebaita, and the latter a chain of low mountains fifteen miles to the south-west of El Meshrifeh) seem to point to the identification of this neighborhood with the hill country of the Amorites, and the scene of the battle, after the return of the spies.” “The name Sebaita is etymologically identical with the Zephath of the Bible. Zephath signifies a watch-tower; and it is a noteworthy fact that the fortress of El Meshrifeh, discovered by us in the same neighborhood, exactly corresponds to this, both in its position and in the meaning of the name.” Referring to Judges 1:17 that mentions Zephath and says: “the name of the city was called Hormah,” the same author suggests that there may have been a watch-tower Zephath that commanded the approach to the plain in which the city lay, and that the city may have taken its name from the tower, “as the City of the Watch-Tower.” This city was then afterwards called Hormah. Ibid. chap. xix.

The narrative has reached the point where for the next thirty-eight (?) or thirty-seven or less years there is a blank with respect to the order of events and the local residence or movements of the Israelites. In Numbers 33:16-36 there are enumerated twenty stations between Sinai and Kadesh, or twenty-two including Sinai and Kadesh. But in Deuteronomy 1:2 it is said: “There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-Barnea.” The choice of the route by Mount Seir shows that the way was not the directest one. But these twenty-one stations or encampments are proof that the way was devious beyond the possibility of our tracing it. The last definite encampment was mentioned Numbers 12:16, viz., Hazeroth, which was the second of the twenty-one after Sinai mentioned in Numbers 33:16-36. There were then eighteen between that and Kadesh, which is the same as “the mountain of the Amorites, Deuteronomy 1:19-20. Only two of these are recognized beyond debate, viz., Ezion-Gaber, which was at the head of the Elanitic Gulf, and Mt. Hor. On the others, see below at chap. 33. Some of them may have been places of sojourn during the forty days that the spies were absent, ending at Kadesh, where the spies found the host at their return. For nothing requires us to suppose that the host reached Kadesh before they resorted to the plan of sending the spies. The probability is that they would do so earlier. As far as the encampments named in Numbers 33:16-36 have been conjecturally identified, they agree as well with the view that they followed consecutively in the order named till the host reached Kadesh for the first time, and that the station Kadesh of Numbers 33:36 is the same as that of our chap. 14 as with any other view. This view has the merit of taking the list of stations in 33 simply for what it pretends to be, viz., a catalogue, that gives the stations consecutively; that refers to localities by one and the same name, being the name elsewhere used in this book for the same place; that is meant to harmonize with the account of the book in which it is found; that gives the order of stations as accurately where we cannot otherwise verify it as it does in cases where we can (e.g., Kadesh, Mt. Hor,—Oboth, Iji-abarim, comp. Numbers 20:1; Numbers 20:22; Numbers 22:10-11 and Numbers 33:37; Numbers 33:44). The view that takes Rithmah (Numbers 33:18) to be another name for Kadesh (Kurtz, II., § 30, 1; Keil), or Bene-jaa-kan to be another name for Kadesh (Dr. Lange below on Numbers 21:10-20) imputes to the catalogue of chap. 33 an arbitrariness in the use of names that would make it worthless for that purpose for which it was evidently recorded in this book of Numbers.

It is represented by some, who take the view just referred to, that the stations mentioned after Rithmah (Numbers 33:18) to Kadesh (Numbers 14:36) occurred in wanderings that brought the host back to Kadesh a second time (Bib. Comm. on xxxiii.; Smith’s Bib. Dict. “Wanderings”). But it is as easy to conceive of their occurrence in the period between the departure from Hazeroth and the first arrival at Kadesh. This will appear from a careful observation of what our book details concerning that journey. The common error is to overlook the evidences that the journey from Sinai to Kadesh was made slowly.

Intimation that the journey would be made in no haste is given in the institutions for the discipline and tactics of the encampment and the order of march. Such regulations would not have been adopted for a period of only eighty or ninety days; and had the conquest of Canaan begun on the first arrival at Kadesh after about eighty days, these regulations could no more have been adhered to than they afterwards were when Joshua began the conquest.

Then the details of the march as far as Hazeroth reveal great deliberateness. “Three days’ journey” (Numbers 10:33) was required from Sinai to Kibroth-Hattaavah, which is but one day’s journey for ordinary travellers (E. H. Palmer, ibid, chap. xxv.). This may be taken as an example of the short stages that such a host could make. Therefore the eleven days’ journey mentioned Deuteronomy 1:2 cannot mean that the distance from Sinai to Kadesh could be made in that time by such a host as the millions of Israel, as is supposed by some (Kurtz, III., p. 245). E. H. Palmer (ibid. chap. xxx.) gives a table showing how the stations mentioned in Numbers 33:0, as far as identified, would make just eleven days’ journey for the modern traveller from Sinai to Kadesh. Besides this, the delay of seven days at Hazeroth on Miriam’s acccount (Numbers 12:14), and the forty days’ scouting of the spies show how little this journey was made with haste.

Moreover a comparison of Numbers 10:11 with Numbers 13:20 shows that the march from Sinai began on the 20th day of the second month (or the middle of May), and that the host was at Kadesh at “the time of the first ripe grapes” (or say about Aug. 1st). The shortest period indicated by that (or in other words, taking this as belonging to one year), is about seventy days, or at most eighty days. In itself this is a very short time for such a host to make the journey to Kadesh. Still it would have been doing little more than was accomplished from Ramesis to Sinai. But, as has been shown, our narrative intimates the very reverse of such speed. We actually have the account of eighty days of this journey, viz.:

From Sinai to Kibroth H. Numbers 10:33

3 days.

At Kibroth Hattaavah Numbers 11:20

30 days.

At Hazeroth Numbers 11:35; Numbers 12:14

7 days.

In Paran Numbers 12:16; Numbers 14:34

40 days.


80 days.

If, then, we suppose that the journey from Sinai to Kadesh was made in the period from about May 15th to August 1st of the same year, no margin is left for the occurrence of many things that are referred to in the accounts of this journey, and for much more that must obviously have occurred and been passed over without notice in Numb. and Deut.

Besides Hazeroth is but two days’ journey from Sinai for the common traveller, while the whole distance to Kadesh was eleven days. Yet before the host left Hazeroth they had spent forty days at least, and probably much more. Assuming, then, that Hazeroth has been properly identified (see at Numbers 11:35), there remain only forty days for the rest of the route to Kadesh up to the moment of the return of the spies. This would require us to suppose that the spies had been sent from Hazeroth, and that, too, nine (9) days before the departure of the host, in order to give them forty days in Canaan. It would also require us to suppose that the host marched at a rate of speed out of all proportion to the progress made in any part of the journey from Egypt to Canaan, where the data enable us to measure it exactly.

Therefore we must infer that the journey from Sinai to Kadesh lasted at least from May of the second year of the Exodus to July or August of the third year, i.e., fourteen or fifteen months. See Dr. Lange’s comment below on Numbers 20:1 sqq. where he reaches a like result by a different process. It may even have lasted longer—a possibility that is consistent with the foregoing considerations, and that it may be an advantage to hold in reserve to meet requirements of the history of the wanderings at present overlooked. But for the present we find a long enough period in the fourteen or fifteen months to admit of eighteen encampments between Hazeroth and Kadesh. There is good reason, therefore, for taking Numbers 33:16-36 in its plainest and prima facie sense, as giving the stations in their order till the first arrival at Kadesh. Moreover these considerations support the view maintained in the present commentary that there was only one visit to Kadesh, and that a lasting one. And this is done without the arbitrariness in interpreting names and rendering verbs to which Dr. Lange resorts, e.g., in commenting on Numbers 21:10-20.

We may therefore regard Deuteronomy 1:46 : “So ye abode in Kadesh many days,” as descriptive of the whole period of thirty-seven years or less till the story is resumed, beginning again at Kadesh. Then To-morrow turn ye, etc., Numbers 14:25, is a command to abandon the invasion of Canaan on the south, and turn in that direction that was afterwards successful. This command began to be executed by what is narrated Numbers 20:14 sqq. To-morrow presents no obstacle to this view. For the Heb. מָחָר, that is so rendered, has not the limited meaning that “to-morrow” has in English. See Genesis 30:33; Exodus 13:14, where it is translated “in time to come,” and obviously means the remote future. This long sojourn at Kadesh was spent in a nomadic life (Numbers 14:33, your children shall be shepherds), and of course involved a dispersion and moving about over a considerable area, which may have embraced the most or all of the desert of Paran, or what is now called Et-Tih. This, according to Wilton and E. H. Palmer, comprised the desert of Zin, which (used, as it seems, interchangeably with the “wilderness of Kadesh”) comprised the region from the head of the Elanitic Gulf, or Akabah, to the head of Wady Garaiyeh (see Desert of the Exodus, chap. 25). The period of say fifteen months from Hazeroth to Kadesh had made the Israelites familiar with much of this region. They appear to have moved hither and thither in it, so that it is possible that their presence there amounted to a virtual occupancy of the land even before the arrival at Kadesh. If that were so, it would explain how such long distances could intervene between the encampment at Ezion-Geber and Kadesh, and then again Kadesh and Mt. Hor (Numbers 33:36-37) which appear to be the only instances of the sort. In both instances the headquarters of the host were moved quickly and unopposed through a region already occupied by the host, while those dispersed to pasture the herds would gather from various points to the rendezvous; first when the invasion of Canaan was to have begun from Kadesh (Numbers 13:26), again the new generation after thirty-seven years, or less (20). This new generation was re-assembled from the dispersion of their nomadic life to Kadesh, where the Tabernacle and headquarters of the nation may have continued to abide after the events of chap. 14. Of this new departure Numbers 20:14 sqq. gives the account; and we must take as parallel to it the passage Numbers 33:37 : “And they removed from Kadesh and pitched in Mount Hor, in the edge of the land of Edom,” and the passage Deuteronomy 2:1 : “Then we turned and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea, as the Lord spake unto me: and we compassed Mount Seir many days.” When this movement actually began, the flocks and herds were likely still scattered over a wide region, and were brought up to Mt. Hor as the great rendezvous.

The message of Moses to Edom, Numbers 20:14-21, indicates a purpose to follow a route to East Jordan that would not have brought the host to the Red Sea; and this seems to conflict with the view taken above of “Turn ye—by the way of the Red Sea,” Numbers 14:25. But Deuteronomy 2:1 intimates that Moses had a divine command for taking the route that compassed Mt. Seir, and that he did not take it merely in consequence of the refusal of Edom. The message to Edom may have been in compliance with the desires of the congregation, or from some other motive, without any expectation on Moses’ part that Edom would grant the request. Deuteronomy 1:22 represents that the sending of the spies occurred from a similar motive.

This extended note anticipates some of the accounts of our book. But Kadesh is the key to all the geographical problems of the wanderings after the departure from Sinai, and a species of triangulation seems necessary at this point in order to adjust its position. Without this a most disturbing element remains to confuse the consideration of the events that remain to be recounted.—Tr.].


on chaps. 13, 14

The spies and their report about Canaan. The difference between the objective half and the subjective half of their report. They ought not to have disguised the difficulties of the conquest of Canaan; neither ought they to have ignored Jehovah’s promise and the power of faith. The heroic Caleb. Caleb and Joshua. How far may one have completed the other? The judgment of God on this pusillanimous generation. On this occasion despondency is followed by presumption; then again presumption is followed by despondency. Presumption and despondency are opposed to one another, and yet they are twin children of unbelief and disobedience. They revolve about each other as a wheel, and are not to be separated from one another. The fate of the forty (thirty-eight) years in the desert has still a mercy. The defeat and the settlement in the desert. How it reflects the former usefulness of Moses. Israel born in the desert a stranger to Israel born in Egypt.


[1]omit God.


[3]spied out.


[5]Heb. shadow.

[6]said to stone.

[7]Tent of Meeting.


[9]not trust in me.



[12]Yet the Egyptians have heard that thou broughtest.

[13]have told.

[14]omit for.


[16]Or, hitherto.

[17]and all.

[18]omit Because.


[20]Also the Amalekite and the Canaanite dwelling in the land.

[21]Heb. If they.


[23]Heb. lifted up my hand.

[24]Or, feed.

[25]shall be shepherds.

[26]my alienation.

[27]Or, altering of my purpose.

[28]spy out.

[29]remained alive of the men, etc.

[30]of which the Lord spake.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 14". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/numbers-14.html. 1857-84.
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