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Bible Commentaries

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

- Numbers

by Johann Peter Lange


translated and enlarged by
Rev. A. GOSMAN, D.D.



This volume embraces the last two books of the Pentateuch.

The Commentary on Numbers was prepared by Dr. Lange, and appeared, together with Exodus and Leviticus, in 1874. The translation, after many delays beyond my control, was finally entrusted to the Rev. Dr. Lowrie and the Rev. Dr. Gosman. The Rev. Dr. Lowrie is responsible for the Introduction (original), and for Numbers 1:1 to Numbers 20:13 and Numbers 33:0. His additions are, as usual, included in brackets, and marked Tr. They bear chiefly on the geography and topography of the regions traversed by the Israelites from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Hor and the plains of Moab, with reference to the most recent explorations of the Sinaitic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Gosman prepared the remaining chapters of Numbers, and his additions are marked by his initials.

The Commentary on Deuteronomy is the work of the late Pastor F. W. J. Schroeder, who studied with me in Berlin and succeeded the celebrated Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Krummacher in the First Reformed Church of Elberfeld.1 It was published separately in 1866. The English edition was at once taken in hand by the Rev. Dr. Gosman and stereotyped, but it had to wait for the completion of Numbers.

In the mean time the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy has been subjected to new trial. Hence Dr. Gosman was requested to add a special Appendix with reference to the views of Bishop Colenso, Dr. Kuenen, Prof. Wellhausen, and Professor W. Robertson Smith. This was the more necessary since the Deuteronomic controversy as connected with the doctrine of inspiration has assumed a serious ecclesiastical aspect in the Free Church of Scotland, which has hitherto been singularly free of any departure from traditional orthodoxy, but is now almost equally divided on the soundness and admissibility of the views of one of her public teachers. It may be doubted whether Presbyteries, Synods and General Assemblies are the proper judicatories for the adjustment of purely critical questions on which the first biblical scholars of the age are at issue among themselves, and have not yet reached final conclusions; but on the other hand, a free Church which supports its theological schools without aid from the state, has a perfect right to control the teaching in the same; moreover the interest of the Scotch people in such questions marks a great progress beyond the prevailing indifference and passivity of the laity in other countries and churches. There can be no doubt that the ultimate result of these controversies will be a clearer insight into the human growth of the Bible as a literary production, and this, instead of weakening our faith in the divine Scriptures, will only strengthen it in the end; just as the fullest investigation of the laws of nature will lead to a more profound adoration of nature’s God.
With this volume the English reproduction of Dr. Lange’s Bibelwerk is completed. But the American Editor and Publisher have concluded to add an original volume on the Apocryphal Books, which have almost passed out of sight, and yet are quite important historically as the connecting link between the Old and New Testaments. This volume is now passing through the printer’s hands.


Union Theological Seminary, New York, Oct. 1, 1879.




§ 1. the position and characteristic mark of numbers

[See the vol. on Exod. and Lev. for Dr. Lange’s view of the position and characteristic mark of Numb. in what he calls “The Trilogy of the Law,” viz., Philippians 4:5, Philippians 4:7, and also the vol. on Gen., p. 92. He designates Exodus as the prophetic book of the Theocracy, Leviticus as the priestly book, and Numbers as the kingly book. “Numbers therefore stands with the impress of the kingly revelation of Jehovah.” “The fundamental thought of the book of Numbers is the march of the typical army of God at the sound of the silver trumpets, the signals for waging the wars of Jehovah, until the firm founding of God’s state, and the celebration of the festivals of victory and blessing of Jehovah in the land of promise. Around this centre are grouped the separate parts of the book.”

§ 2. the origin and composition of numbers

On the Origin and Composition of Numbers, see the vol. on Genesis, pp. 94–100. What is said in that volume on the Pentateuch in general has its particular application to Numbers. In the same vol., pp. 104–115, what is said with special reference to Genesis reflects also the debate in relation to the genuineness and authenticity of the other books of the Pentateuch. That Introduction reflects the controversial situation in 1864, or fifteen years ago. The controversy has continued meantime, not materially changed in its prominent features, but modified in some of its particulars on the side of those that oppose the traditional and orthodox view of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. The controversy has made progress at least in interest, especially in England and America. As the latest exponents of the destructive school of criticism on English ground, the reader may be referred to the article “Bible” in the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and to the translations of two works of Dr. A. Kuenen, Prof. of Theol. in the University of Leyden, viz., his “Religion of Israel” and his “Prophets and Prophecy in Israel.”

Perhaps there has also been progress in the matter of the controversy. The last-named author, and his English sponsor, J. Muir, Esq., D. C. L. of Edinburg, seem to think so. The recent “advance in the application of just methods of inquiry” has, they think, thrown its light on the history of that religion that claims a divine and supernatural origin. The application of these new laws of investigation “has issued in important and satisfactory results.” This seems to say that the result referred to is an assured and final position, in which the critics are satisfied to rest. It could only be a pleasure to concur in this view. For then the greatest difficulty of the controversy would disappear for the adherents of the orthodox view. Heretofore, while the latter view has presented one distinct and consistent position to its adversaries, these have continually changed position and front. Thus the defence and attack have had to be constantly renewed. “The Documentary Hypothesis” was succeeded by “The Fragmentary Hypothesis,” and that again by “The Supplementary Hypothesis,” while Ewald, like a free-lance, came on with his explanation (see Smith’s Bib. Dict. article Pentateuch) in which he was so confident, that it could only be an affront to him to call it an hypothesis at all.

The newer position also claims to be more than a hypothesis. It is the clear result, the satisfying conclusion of an inductive process. It is the postulate of what is found to be the situation after an unprejudiced collection and calculation of all the phenomena of the case. It is a view that fully explains the documents presented to our investigation. As the astronomer has but to turn his telescope to a certain quarter of the heavens to see a planet never seen before, but whose existence he has conjectured and then verified, and then calculated to its present position, so the critic has calculated this explanation. This then ought to be the final stand.
Summed up it is as follows: The Pentateuch and later historical books of the Bible, previous to the captivity, are the production of the eighth and seventh centuries B. C. What they recount was not meant to represent the actual past, but to represent and impress the religious convictions of the writers. These were the prophets. “They have given to Israel its history.” This material so originated, received a second treatment from the priestly class, who interwove and added matter of their own, thus making more history in their own sense, and in the interest of the temple and its service. There is a residuum of history or fact. But it is of course small, and the amount of it is not to be determined with assurance. Kuenen, indeed, holds that upon certain hermeneutical principles he can accurately, and to a great extent certainly, discriminate the wheat from the chaff. But grant him his principles, and he can do anything. And so indeed can any one else.

To the common understanding this appears to charge the prophetic authors of the religion of Israel with deplorable morality. But not so, say the critics. This difficulty is cleared up by reflecting on the character of their times, and the unreasonable expectations we have about writing history. The prophets were grand and good characters, and they gave to their race, and through them to the world, the great blessing of ethical monotheism.

Thus it appears that we must divest ourselves of two unreasonable assumptions when investigating the origin and composition of the Pentateuch and other books of Scripture. First, we must dismiss the idea that the honest author can, or even can pretend to recount the actual facts of the past. Even an eye-witness of such facts can only give his own conception of them. But let there be a longer or shorter interval of time between the narrator and the events; “let it be assumed that he has to enlighten his readers, not concerning facts which are indifferent, but on a subject which inspires himself with the most lively interest; let it be conceived that he writes, not as an individual, but as a representative of the order or class to which he belongs; let it be supposed, finally, that, in composing his narrative, he has a definite aim in view, which he would not, for anything the world could give, wish to miss; let these conditions be granted, and will it be imagined that his representation can possibly be a faithful impress of the reality?” Second, we must dismiss the assumption of a critical public opinion in the time and among the people that witnessed the production of these books. “In our days, the individuality of the historical writer is held in check, as it were, by public opinion. This demands from him truth, nothing but the truth, and shows itself severe in the maintenance of this requirement, and in the punishment of every sin against it. In antiquity, in Israel as well as elsewhere, the case was different. The historian could then move much more freely. Attention was directed more to the spirit in which he wrote, and to the tendency of his narrative, than to the truth of the entire representation, and to accuracy in the details. The object was, to express it in one word, the training of the reader in this or that religious or political direction. In the estimation of the writer, the account of what had occurred was subordinate to that end, and was, therefore, without the least hesitation made to subserve it.”

This represents the view-point and latest deliverance of the critical school. Again it encourages the hope that we have in it the final result of their efforts. For what can they want more? They have a result that does not leave a vestige of religion. Among those that hold such views there is not a crumb of good left for earnest minds to contend about. There is room left only for the egotistic strife as to who is right in regard to opinions that have no longer a living interest. The triumph of such views would be the extinction of all but an antiquarian interest in the questions involved. The religion of the Bible would then have no more power on earth than the religion of the Druids.
The controversy has life only because the traditional and orthodox belief in the supernatural origin of these books still lives. It will continue as long as the divine truths involved in the orthodox belief continue to reprove men for sin against Him whom these books reveal, and call on men to repent and be reconciled to Him, and while men resist the claim. Thus, spite of the encouragement indulged above, it is evident, that, in the newer view developed since Dr. Lange wrote the Introduction to Genesis, we have at best only the last result of the present opponents. When their position has proved untenable, then will others arise that will attempt another position.

The obvious objection to the view given above is the same that has been successfully objected to views that preceded it, viz., that it creates a difficulty greater than the one it claims to have solved. Granted that it has explained the origin of the literature we have; what then accounts for the entire absence of another school of literature that such a condition of things must have produced? For if there were true prophets, there were also false prophets. The authors of this view think proper, indeed, to use terms less invidious, and adopt instead the terms “canonical prophets, and the so-called ‘false-prophets,’ or the other prophets.” They honor both classes, ascribing good faith to both. They make them differ essentially only in this, that “the Israelite could either make his religion subordinate to his national feeling, his patriotism, or let that religion rule over the latter. Now the first way was followed by the ‘false prophets,’ in the second we find the canonical prophets.” Let it be so. The difference is well stated; but it is evident the difference is estimated very differently by an orthodox thinker from what it is by the authors of the view we are considering. The latter mean to say, that the so-called false prophets were not as bad as they are made to appear by the ex parte and only evidence that has come down to us, viz., their opponents the canonical prophets. But then the mystery appears: how is it that we have nothing from “the so-called false prophets?” Why have we only a literature of the canonical prophets? “The other prophets” were evidently the popular prophets of their day. They were the more numerous. As they had a ready hearing, so what they wrote would have a wider circulation. If they were so respectable after all, then they could not have been the least inferior to the canonical prophets in literary ability, and their zeal would not suffer them to be behind in employing their pens to propagate their convictions. They too must have “made history” in their own interest. And what those popular prophets would write had a thousand chances of being handed down to one chance of the canonical prophets. The objection now urged is so obvious as not to need amplification. The fact of there being no such literature is a demonstration that there could have been no such literary activity as that ascribed to the 8th and 7th centuries B. C.

Moreover, how is it possible to conceive that any men, with honest or dishonest intent, could make history in the way and under the circumstances represented by this view? Of course we can conceive of men speaking and writing thus. If we were slow to believe it, these writers of the critical school would dispel all doubt by their own performances. But this is not a question merely of how men may write, but also of the public acceptance of what they wrote. How could men gain credit by such writing, or commend their opinions in this way? The facts they manipulated could only serve their purpose if they were commonly accepted by the public to which they addressed their writings. Otherwise these facts could point no moral. Granted that what they wrote reproduced a mere skeleton of reality; they would not be allowed, without challenge, to dress up the skeleton with invented details to suit their purpose. This might be done by popular prophets chiming in with the patriotism and fashion of the day. It might be, also, if there were only one class of men to write the records. Much history has been falsified this way. But it could never be successfully done by unpopular prophets, who had not only the mass of the nation against them, but also another and larger class of popular prophets, whom this view assumes to have been deservedly respectable for their patriotic aims and for their ability to teach the people The very condition of things assumed by the view would imply that there was such “a public opinion as would hold the individuality of the historical writer in check, and demand of him the truth and nothing but the truth.” Or if we must assume a public indifferent to facts and only interested in the didactic aims they were made to subserve, then we should find not only the traces of a prophetic and of a priestly manipulation of these and kindred facts, but also traces of similar productions, not merely of the false prophets, but also of purely political and other authors.
Other objections might be urged to the view in question. But it is enough to refer to the admirable note of Dr. T. Lewis on the same subject in the vol. on Genesis, p. 99. What he says is applicable to the present case, and is likely to be applicable to all other efforts to explain the origin and composition of the books of the Bible, except that which ascribes to them a divine and supernatural origin.

§ 3. antiquity of the book of numbers

A brief statement of proofs of the antiquity of the book of Numbers will be in place here. This is more profitable labor than the attempt to answer the objections that are made to the claim of antiquity. For, as has been shown, any writing of this sort soon needs to be written over again. The positive proofs, however, are of lasting value. Moreover, if they are convincing, the mind will rest in them, and not be troubled at the suggestion of difficulties that are hard or even impossible to explain. Such difficulties attend all records of the past. Advantages attend the exhibition and appreciation of the proofs relating to a single book that are missed in the defence of the Pentateuch as a whole. For this reason the following are offered here.

The testimony of the other Scriptures. The other four books of the Pentateuch are of course not appealed to. But all the other Old Testament Scriptures may be appealed to, and they afford convincing proof of the pre-existence of Numbers. This evidence, in such books as are known to have been written long after the events recorded in Numbers, proves that Numbers must have existed as a book long anterior to the origin of the latter books. Attention is asked to the following citations from other Scripture (excluding the Pentateuch) that reflect the matters recorded in Numbers.

Joshua presupposes Numbers in almost every chapter. But take the following:

Joshua 1:7 comp. Numbers 27:23.

Joshua 1:12 sqq. comp. Numbers 32:20-28.

Joshua 2:10 comp. Numbers 21:24; Numbers 21:34-35.

Joshua 4:12 comp. Numbers 32:2; Numbers 32:27-28.

Joshua 5:4 comp. Numbers 14:29; Numbers 26:64-65.

Joshua 9:14 comp. Numbers 27:21.

Joshua 17:3 sqq. comp. Numbers 26:33; Numbers 27:1.

Joshua 17:3 sqq. comp. Numbers 36:2.

Judges. Compare the oft-recurring expression “they did evil in the sight of the Lord,” Judges 3:7; Judges 3:12, etc., with Numbers 32:13.

Judges 1:20 comp. Numbers 14:24.

Judges 2:3 comp. Numbers 33:55.

Judges 11:12-27 comp. Numbers 20:14-21.

Judges 20:18 comp. Numbers 2:3.

1 Samuel 10:25 comp. Numbers 17:7 (22).

1 Samuel 15:6 comp. Numbers 10:29; Numbers 10:32.

1 Samuel 15:29 comp. Numbers 22:19.

1 Samuel 18:17 comp. Numbers 32:20; Numbers 32:27; Numbers 32:29.

1 Samuel 18:13; 1 Samuel 18:16 comp. Numbers 27:17.

Notice the frequent mention of inquiring of the Lord by the High Priest 1 Samuel 14:19; 1 Samuel 18:9; 1 Samuel 30:7, etc., and comp. Numbers 27:21.

1 Kings 21:3 comp. Numbers 36:7

2 Kings 18:4 comp. Numbers 21:5-10.

Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 47:1; Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:7; Psalms 80:19; Psalms 119:135; Psalms 121:7 comp. Numbers 6:22-26.

Psalms 55:15 comp. Numbers 16:30-33.

Psalms 60:12 comp. Numbers 24:18.

Psalms 68:1-2; Psalms 132:8 comp. Numbers 10:35-36.

Proverbs 1:12 comp. Numbers 10:35-36.

Hosea 9:10 comp. Numbers 25:3.

Micah 6:5 comp. Numbers 22-24.

Amos 2:11-12 comp. Numbers 6:2-3.

Amos 2:9 comp. Numbers 20:24; Numbers 13:28; Numbers 13:32-33.

Isaiah 48:21 comp. Numbers 20:11.

Jeremiah 48:45-46 comp. Numbers 21:27-28.

Ezekiel 34:5-6 comp. Numbers 27:17.

Obadiah 1:4; Obadiah 1:19 comp. Numbers 24:18; Numbers 24:21.

Tuch (Die Genesis, p. xc.) is quoted as saying (in opposition to De Wette and Von Bohlen, who deny that there are any references to the Pentateuch in the earlier prophets) that there are found about eight hundred indications of the pre-existence of the Pentateuch in the prophets of that period. This assertion has great probability. If true of the earlier prophets it is equally true of the books commonly supposed to precede them. Of these indications Numbers has its due share. Thus the citations given above will not be understood as representing in the least degree the proportion of such traces of the pre-existence of Numbers. They are only proofs that such traces exist, and serve as illustrations of their nature. The greater the familiarity with the Scriptures, the more does this relationship of its parts appear in many indications that can only be appreciated by familiarity. Of this sort are the archaisms which appeal only to one acquainted with Hebrew (see art. Pentateuch in Smith’s Bib. Dict., and J. Macdonald, Introd. vol. i. pp. 300–314, who also refers to Haevernick’s General Introd., translation pp. 155–171, and to Edwards’ The Authenticity and Genuineness of the Pentateuch, § 5; and to the Biblioth. Sacra., 2. 387–398). Other indications of this sort are peculiar phrases and turns of expression, that are explained by the pre-existence of Numbers, just as similar usages in the English tongue now are explained by the existence of the authorized English version of the Bible, or the existence of a classic like Shakspeare. Some of this sort of indications are embraced in the foregoing list. It is especially such traits that indicate a long pre-existence of the book that is evidently their original source. For it requires a long time for such forms of expression to merge into the common language of the people.

Take only the references given above and we have recovered a considerable part of the substance of the book of Numbers.

Numbers 2:3. Judah first in war.

Numbers 6:2-3. Institution of Nazarites.

Numbers 6:22-26. The Aaronic blessing.

Numbers 10:29; Numbers 10:32. The kindness of Jethro and Hobab, the Kenites of Midian.

Numbers 10:35-36. Moses’ words for the march and the halt.

Numbers 13:28; Numbers 13:32-33. The Anakim.

Numbers 14:24. Caleb to possess Hebron of the Anakim.

Numbers 16:30-33. Destruction of Korah.

Numbers 17:7. Moses laying up the rods before the Lord.

Numbers 20:11. Water brought from the rock.

Numbers 20:14-21. Request to pass through Edom.

Numbers 21:5-10. The Brazen Serpent.

Numbers 21:17. The song of the well.

Numbers 21:27-28. The song relating to Heshbon.

Numbers 21:24; Numbers 21:34-35. The fate of Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites and of Bashan.

Numbers 22-24. The history of Balaam.
Num. 23:55. A snatch of Balaam’s prophecy.

Numbers 24:18. A snatch of Balaam’s prophecy.

Numbers 25:3. Israel and Baal-Peor.

Numbers 26:33.

Numbers 27:1; Numbers 36:7. Inheritance of the daughters of Zelophehad.

Numbers 26:64-65. The new generation after the perishing of those that came out of Egypt.

Numbers 27:17. Moses’ prayer for a captain.

Numbers 27:21. Inquiring of the Lord, through the High Priest, by Urim and Thummim.

Numbers 27:23. Moses commanded to ordain Joshua captain.

Numbers 32:20-28. Settlement of tribes east of Jordan, and their covenant to aid in the conquest of West Jordan.

Num. 34:55. Remnants of Canaanites to be thorns in Israel’s side.

Numbers 36:7. The inheritance of fathers not to be given up.

This collection would not help in any degree to reconstruct the book were it missing; nor could any amount of such hints of some existing record found in the other books of Scripture. But the existence of such a book as Numbers explains the passages where these hints are found, while the coincident thoughts and expressions meet as concentrated rays of light upon this book as their focus. Consider the amount and variety of the matter reflected in these citations. We have transactions with historic nations such as Edom, Moab, Bashan. We have the origin of relations among the twelve tribes of Israel, like the settlement of East Jordan by the two and a half tribes. We have the origin of social institutions such as the laws of inheritance. We have the account of sins of Israel and their punishment that we find appealed to ages after as warnings. We have miracles, such as water from the rock, and healing by the Brazen Serpent. We have snatches of ancient songs and prophecy. We have the origin of religious usages such as the appeal to Urim and Thummim, and the institution of the Nazirites. We have the origin of the Aaronic blessing of which so many traces appear in all the later Hebrew literature. When we have so much, and a little industry may collect much more, we have convincing proof that the book which so explains them all must have existed previous to all this literature in a form as complete as we now have it. It is easier to think that it may have suffered some curtailment than that later hands have added to it, and that the mutilation of this or some similar record explains why we have no documentary proof of many other things in the later books of Scripture relating to the same period of which Numbers treats.
It must be borne in mind, that the present question has nothing to do with the credibility of the things recorded in Numbers, but merely with the existence of such a written record. The observance of this necessary distinction greatly simplifies the investigation. It is mostly by confounding with this the credibility of what is recorded, that the investigation is embarrassed, and many are led helplessly astray in making the investigation. When this distinction is observed, the foregoing proof becomes irresistible, that Numbers existed previously to all this literature that reflects its existence. It is this sort of proof that is justly relied on in establishing the antiquity and apostolic authorship of the New Testament Scriptures.
It is to be noticed that the foregoing only proves the relative age of Numbers. It is older than this other literature. But if all this other literature should appear to have originated in the 8th and 7th centuries B. C., then not much is gained. Numbers was then only written before the 8th century B. C. It may have been in the 9th century B. C. But it may be confidently urged that the foregoing proof involves a more satisfactory conclusion. The foregoing citations, with little exception, give matter peculiar to Numbers. Nothing else claims to be the original record of them. Unless the subsequent literature, shown to be such by its reflection of this book, were the work of one man, or of a few men working in collusion (a most unreasonable if not impossible assumption), these various books could never betray such common familiarity with Numbers. Such familiarity, common to such different productions, can only be explained by the book which all reflect. It must have been so much older and thus so generally known, that no one could be ignorant of it that would write such books as follow, nor write such books without allusions to matter contained in Numbers.
Numbers must have been in fact, just what it has been traditionally alleged to be, viz., a sacred book of the Israelites of a date much older than the books that were written long after the matters it records. It must have been such a book to David, since it is reflected in his Psalms—five of the Psalms cited above being ascribed to him. But this refers Numbers to a period so long previous to the time when literature at all flourished in Israel, that it is easier to ascribe its authorship to the age of Moses himself than to any other generation preceding Samuel.

Of course, if the literature subsequent to Numbers is proved to be as old as the traditional belief has maintained, then this throws the age of Numbers back to the period to which tradition has always assigned it. And we may, in this estimate, disregard Joshua, which, being so near the same period, might be taken as reflecting the same events independently of any written record. We cannot of course in this place touch on the subject of the genuineness of the later books of Scripture.

The internal proofs of the antiquity of Numbers. These are so numerous and so manifest that one can have no other idea than that he is reading the account of an eye-witness of the matters recorded, until criticism points out alleged anachronisms and other discrepancies. These are so few and inconsiderable that they can have little weight. It can only enhance the force of the argument in favor of the antiquity of Numbers to review these objections (see below § 7).

First, the book assumes to be the account of a contemporary and eye-witness of the events. Parts of it are expressly claimed to be the production of Moses himself (Numbers 33:2). This point is too manifest to need amplification.

The details of the account down to minutiæ correspond with the assumption. It describes what befell a numerous people during a period of migratory life. It does this not only with fidelity to the situation, but there is an entire absence of any reference that betrays any acquaintance with any other condition of the people except the sojourn in Egypt that preceded it. For example all references to solidly built houses and walls relate to other people, or to a prospective condition of the nation. The Tabernacle was a monument that lasted till the days of David, and as such it alone affords satisfactory proof of the genuineness and authenticity of the Pentateuch, that is worthy of being made a distinct treatise. It was reproduced in the temple of Solomon, which was only an enlarged copy of the Tabernacle (see article Temple in Smith’s Bib. Dict.) the peculiar construction of which can only be accounted for by the pre-existence of the Tabernacle and such a history as we have of the Tabernacle in the Pentateuch. The peculiar contribution to this evidence as it relates to Numbers, is seen in chapters 3, 4 that give account of the Levites being charged with the care of the Tabernacle, and its transportation on the journey. Some of the most remarkable of the arrangements there described are reflected in 1 Chronicles 15:0. The orders for bearing the ark described in the latter place are satisfactorily explained by the account in Numbers. It is impossible that the account in Numbers could have been invented at a later date to suit the representation in 1 Chron. Moreover, if the regulations of which Numbers gives account, were the ground for those described in 1 Chronicles 15:0, then they must have been handed down by a written record. For in no other form could details so copious and so minute be handed down.

And this leads to the remark, that the detailed accounts of various things in Numbers give evidence of being from an eye-witness and participator in the transactions. The first five chapters abound in this evidence: the numbering of the people, the arrangement of the encampment, the offerings of the princes at the dedication of the Tabernacle, the order of march. No other reference is ever made in later times to most of these matters. No motive can be conceived for a writer of later times mentioning them, much less for inventing them. They were matters of present interest and could only be recorded, not only while fresh in the memory, but also while of actual importance.
Various institutions of later ages among the Israelites can only be accounted for by records in Numbers. The silver trumpets (10), the laws of inheritance (27); the Little Passover (9), the Sabbath-breaker (15). No later writer could be supposed to invent such accounts of the origin of these institutions; and if they are true, none but a contemporary can be supposed to have recorded them.

The accuracy of the account in respect to geographical data gives most convincing proof of Numbers having been written on the spot. Modern explorers of the Sinai peninsula have often verified this accuracy, and in the effort to identify the localities and course of the wanderings of Israel in the desert, no progress has been made except where explorers have assumed that this account is correct. In illustration of this see the commentary on 14 and Numbers 33:10. Another illustration, combining also historical accuracy, is seen in Numbers 13:22, where see the commentary. If this geographical accuracy be admitted, then it involves the inference that the account must have been written on the spot. In this age of travellers, a common experience teaches that it is very difficult to observe such accuracy in one’s accounts of his journeys without one has made his record on the spot.

And this leads to the remark, viz., that “many portions of the narrative have all the appearance of a journal of daily transactions, or at least a summary of such. This is discernible in the precise specification of time and place given in connection with the more important incidents, particularly in the list of encampments in Numbers 33:1-49, and with regard to which it is stated (Numbers 33:2) ‘Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys;’ and, indeed, the document bears all the marks of its having been written at the time thus intimated. This will be sufficiently apparent from the following observations: First, even the contradiction alleged to exist between the statement in Numbers 33:30-31, according to which the Israelites journeyed from Moseroth to Bene Jaakan, and Deuteronomy 10:6, which makes the march to have been in the reverse order from Bene Jaakan to Moseroth, however it may be explained, is certainly rather unfavorable to the assumption that the narrative is the work of a later writer, and one of course freely inventing the circumstances of the case. For such a writer would not, by any possibility, have admitted so glaring a discrepancy. Further the historical notices of Numbers 33:4; Numbers 33:9; Numbers 33:14; Numbers 33:38 could only have proceeded from a contemporary writer, for they are natural only in such a case, bespeaking an eye-witness, being in fact lively reminiscences summoned up in association with the names of localities.” J. Macdonald, i. p. 277, “Upon their gods also the Lord executed judgments,” Numbers 33:4, mentions a fact not otherwise recorded, though such a judgment was announced (Exodus 12:12). And this record seems to be appealed to by Isaiah 19:1. “Behold the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt; and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence.”

Typical and Doctrinal proof. A peculiar proof of the genuineness and authenticity of Numbers, that will appeal to Christian experience, may be presented in connection with the typical matters contained in it. Numbers is distinguished from the other books in this respect by the large proportion of remarkable historical types it furnishes. The events it narrates have a deep spiritual significance. Some of them are singled out by the Lord Jesus and His Apostles, and their typical import is interpreted, e. g., the Brazen Serpent, Numbers 21:7-9, comp. John 3:14-15; the Provocation in the wilderness and consequent exclusion from Canaan, Numbers 24:20-23, comp. Psalms 95:7-11; Hebrews 3:7-11. Others have been referred to in the same way from the earliest times of the Christian church, as most fitting types of the truths of salvation. The whole book, with its mustering of armed hosts and their march and battles, victories and defeats, is typical of the church militant. The cities of refuge are typical of how provision is made by which sinners may escape the natural penalty of transgression. The rebellions of the people and the dealings of God with them are typical of murmurings and backslidings in the Christian church. The terms on which Moses proposed to pass through the territory of Edom and of Moab are typical of the principles that ought to govern the Christian in making his journey through the world to the promised rest of heaven. See under Numbers 1:0. Doct. and Eth., § 1.

This spiritual correspondence is not observed in any ordinary series of historical events. No single people or time can furnish a series of consecutive events that present such adaptations. These are more remarkable than the symbolism of the ceremonial ordinances, which may be regarded as arbitrary inventions, that might easily be adapted to signify certain things. Here indeed “history is made” for a didactic purpose, and with as much ease as the dramatist arranges his fictitious plot. But it is not made, as modern critics allege, by a class of men long after, who fabricated an account in the interest of their order. For the most evident adaptations of this history are to spiritual realities of the Christian church and Christian life, that is, to conditions of which the writer of the account could have no conception. They are not adaptations on broad, general human principles, such as make Homer and Virgil eternal poems. They are specifically and peculiarly adapted to Christian experience, and are appealed to in illustration of it as no profane epic or history or romance can be. They present types of God’s methods with men whom He would save, and of men’s experience under such dealing; and the correspondences in Christian experience are so exact, because the actors are the same, and the business is the same. Indeed the nearest likeness to this account of Numbers is an allegory like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. We can understand the human composition of that work. But were the Pilgrim’s Progress to appear divested of its specific Christian names and terms, as the production of an age preceding the Christian era, it could only be regarded as a work inspired by the divine Author of the Christian dispensation and intended to be typical of the experience of believers under that dispensation. And reflection on the typical import of the events narrated in Numbers must lead to a similar conclusion. Such a conclusion, however, involves also the belief in the antiquity of the record The events recorded must be true. They must have been recorded in connection with their occurrence.

A similar argument might be presented by representing the unity that exists between the great theological truths involved or expressly stated in Numbers and the Christian system of doctrine. Numbers contributes its own peculiar share of “the first principles of the oracles of God,” like those that Paul builds on in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which find their proper and consistent development in the clearer light of the New Testament revelation. But this is too large a subject for the present Introduction. It is, moreover, best considered with reference to the whole Pentateuch, and not with reference to one book, and in that way has received excellent treatment from various authors (see J. Macdonald on the Pentateuch, vol. ii.).

Moses was the author of Numbers. All that is important is, that we understand the book to owe its origin as it is to Moses, and that his name and authority vouched for its authenticity. To what extent he actually penned it, or dictated its language, we cannot tell. The forms of authorship differ very much according to time and place. The Assyrian kings are justly regarded as the authors of many records traced on stone and on terra cotta cylinders, though we are sure they did not themselves make those marks that constitute the record, and very likely left it to others also to dictate the language. Yet with all these differences as to the form of authorship, the quality of authorship is the same, just as it is with a banker’s paper whether he pens it himself or lets it be done by a responsible clerk. Even for the authorship of Numbers 33:0 nothing more can be insisted on, nor can it be important to be assured of more. At the same time there is great justice in the three propositions under which the (Speaker’s) Bible Commentary sums up the proofs of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, viz., 1. “Moses could have written the Pentateuch. 2. The concurrent testimony of all subsequent times proves that he did write the Pentateuch. 3. The internal evidence points to him, and to him only, as the writer of the Pentateuch.” Vol. I., p. 2. See also the limitations of the notion of authorship in the same place. It is however most natural to suppose that many parts of these records were penned or dictated by Moses himself, e. g., his last instructions and especially his great song given in Deuteronomy. Any other supposition consistent with his authorship is unreasonable.

1. Moses could have written Numbers. This is a very simple proposition as regards this book, and presents none of the difficulties that appear in reference to Genesis. It is little more than the question, could the book have been written as early as Moses’ time? which question has already been sufficiently considered.

2. The concurrent testimony of subsequent times points to Moses as the author. There is little to adduce that expressly refers to Moses as the author of any matter that is peculiar to Numbers; perhaps nothing but the book of Joshua can be cited, which, however, abounds in such reference, of which take the following examples: Joshua 13:14; Joshua 13:33; Joshua 14:3-4; Joshua 18:7; Joshua 21:2. Comp. Numbers 34, 35. Many other similar references in other books to matter that is common to other books of the Pentateuch beside Numbers may be left unnoticed. Still they prove his authorship of such matter; and as this occurs without any discrimination against Numbers, it is as much proof of his authorship of the matter as it is given in Numbers as of its authorship elsewhere.

3. The internal evidence points to Moses as the author of Numbers. What is remarked on the Pentateuch as a whole has a particular application to this one book. “In the absence of all intimations of a contrary nature, the preceding considerations alone go far to settle the authorship. Much more must this be the case when fully confirmed by express testimony in the work itself, regarding its author, and the time and place of its composition. It is not an anonymous production, the origin of which must be determined by considerations such as those already adduced. It expressly claims to be the work of Moses.”—In Numbers 33:2 it is said: ‘And Moses wrote their goings out (Heb. their stations) according to their journeys by the commandment of the Lord.’ All such passages have this in common, that they acknowledge the necessity of the various matters of which they treat, legislative and historical, being committed to writing, and not left to the uncertainties of oral tradition; while it is at the same time perfectly evident that there is nothing in the matters thus recorded by Moses to distinguish them from others, for the insertion of which in the history there is no such express command.” J. Macdonald on the Pentateuch, Vol. I., pp. 347, 349.—Tr.]

§ 4. the title of the book

[The ancient Hebrew designation of the book, according to its initial words, does not pretend to throw any light upon its character, while the Greek title, Ἀριθμοί, like the Latin, Numeri, describes the book only according to the censuses which occur in it. The designation which Origen gives it is analogous: recensiones (Euseb. VI. 25). The Masoretic text has the caption במדבר because the book contains the history of the people in the wilderness.—Tr.]. Bunsen entitles it The Muster-roll. But the thought which gives unity to this book is very concrete and definite. Both to the book of prophetic legislation, or Exodus, and to Leviticus, the book of sacerdotal or cultus legislation, there is annexed the book of the kingly calling of Israel under its king Jehovah, the book which treats of the host of God, of the discipline of the army, of its typical march from Sinai to Canaan, from the mount of God to the elementary conquest of the world under the standard of the Ark of the Covenant, and under the guidance of Jehovah, and because this march is typical, it is darkened and checked in many ways by the power of sin. Another designation: “The wandering toward Canaan,” is partly too indefinite, partly too narrow, because the wandering as a whole had already begun with the Exodus from Egypt. The critical school in their treatment of this book imagine that they have met all the requirements when they speak, as De Wette does, of “the heterogeneous elements of the book.” Bleek gives prominence at least to the fact that the “Book of Numbers contains, like Exodus, more historical narrative, by far, than Leviticus.” Knobel links together the Books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, because “they treat of the quartering of this congregation of God, or of its settlement in the holy land.” Consequently the book of Numbers is but a third part of the description of this effort! The analysis of the book into its pretended elements seems to be the main point with these critics, and hence they never come to reflect upon the unity which characterizes these books.

[In relation to the progress of the journey of the Israelites up to the point where Numbers begins, and also their further progress, see the vol. on Exod. and Lev., pp. 20–26. For the Literature on the book see ibid. pp. 49, 50.—Tr.]

§ 5. division of the book

Keil dissects it in the following manner: the first part, which extends from Numbers 1:1 to Numbers 10:10, gives in four groups the preparations for the departure from Sinai. In the second part, Numbers 10:11 to Numbers 21:0 the history of the march in the three stages of its progress from Sinai to the heights of Pisgah near Jordan, is described. In the third part, Numbers 22:0 to Numbers 36:0 the events in the steppe of Moab on the east side of the plain of Jordan, with the laws delivered there, are placed together in five groups. The subdivisions see pp. 188, 189. [Eng. trans., Vol. III., Philippians 2:3.—Tr.].

According to Bunsen the book proper reaches to the close of Numbers 26:0. Then follow: (1) an appendix, law of heiresses, Numbers 27:0; (2) a supplement concerning offerings and vows, Numbers 28-30; (3) various appendices, concerning the conquest of the Midianites; the division of the trans-Jordanic country; the catalogue of encampments; boundaries of the promised land; cities of refuge; law concerning the marriage of heiresses, Numbers 31-36. Consequently the third part of the record is a medley of appendices and supplements!

We distinguish the following parts: 1. At Sinai. The equipment of the kingly host of Jehovah, Numbers 1:1 to Numbers 10:10. Toward Kadesh. The departure and march until the defeat of the army. The revelation of the spiritual insufficiency of the typical army of God, Numbers 10:11 to Numbers 14:45. Numbers 14:3. At Kadesh (Deuteronomy 1:19; Numbers 20:1; Numbers 27:14). The settlement after the defeat. The obscure 40 (38) years, Numbers 15:1 to Numbers 20:13. Numbers 20:4. A Section. From Kadesh onward. The departure until the settlement in the plain of Moab, Numbers 20:14 to Numbers 22:1. Numbers 22:5. A section. Israel’s final preparation during his halt in the plain of Moab (in the steppe of Moab). For the separate subdivisions see the inscriptions of the sections and the table of contents.

§ 6. the army of god

The Army of God. Its muster presupposes a primary division of the people into the twelve tribes. These at the starting-point are regarded as the branches of the trunk (מִשְׁפָּחוֹת); they however ramify into the fathers’ houses (בֵּית־אֲבֹת) or single patriarchates; which again subdivide into families; and finally into the individual names of the warriors from twenty years old and upward. A distinguished man is set as captain over each tribe. Their names are as follows:

1. Of Judah. Nahshon the son of Amminadab (sorcerer? serpent standard?—Atheling).
2. For Issachar, Nethaneel, the son of Zuar (gift of God—littleness, or the little one).
3. For Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon (whose father is God—man of sorrows? Dream?).
4. Of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur (“whose rock is God”—son of the stream of fire).
5. Of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai (God’s peace [Godfried],—Rock of the Almighty).
6. For Gad, Eliasaph the son of Reuel (whom God has added, God’s Joseph—Invocation of God).
7. For Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud (whom God hears—“From the people of Judah?” impossible! it signifies rather: my people are the objects of praise).
8. For Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur, (Gamliel: God’s recompense, God’s rule—his rock is his deliverer).
9. For Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni (the father of the judge or the father-judge—the woodman as a powerful warrior).
10. For Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai (brother of help? Brotherly help—from the people of the Almighty).
11. For Asher, Pagiel the son of Ocran (God’s destiny—the afflicted one = Benoni?).
12. For Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan (brother of uproar? Brother of festivity—abounding in springs).
The words: “They were the called of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands (the circuits) of Israel,” really constitute strict titles. From the first two qualifications,—as called of the congregation and heads of the tribal branches, resulted the third, their princely position. From the rank of the heads of a thousand, Moses elevated them to the generalship of the tribes, a promotion which was already indicated as regular, by their birth.

The Result of the Muster.—The number of fighting men according to the tribes, as compared with the later numbering toward the end of their march, (Numbers 26:0):








































§ 7. difficulties presented in numbers

(a). The difference between the two musters

The decrease in the total during a period in which a marked increase might justly have been looked for, corresponds with the history of Israel in the wilderness, and the many great catastrophes that were decreed against the people. With regard to the decrease and increase of the individual tribes (see Keil, p. 192), the judgments might fall in very different proportions upon the different tribes, for it has generally been supposed, that the tribe of Simeon rendered itself particularly culpable according to Numbers 25:6; Numbers 25:14, by its apostasy to the idolatry of Baal Peor. In this tribe the inclination to admixture with foreign elements that could come about as the other extreme to their fanatical particularism, Genesis 34:0, and a tendency to dispersion that developed latterly into emigration (Comm. Gen., p. 564) may have contributed in considerable degree to the diminution of the tribe. Since the more definite laws concerning the tribal relations were first enacted at a later date, in the plains of Moab, single tribes up to that time could very well have diminished or increased by persons changing their tribal relations, to say nothing of the fact that the difference of fruitfulness in propagation among the different tribal-branches baffles all calculation. The passage Numbers 26:9-10, seems to indicate that the tribe of Reuben was very much reduced by the fate of the company of Korah. A surprising phenomenon is also presented by the paucity of members in the tribe of Levi; for while in the first census it comprised only 22,000 males, counted from a month old and upward, in the second, it comprised only 23,000 (see Keil, p. 193). To explain this we must consider that this tribe sustained two heavy strokes, even if the execution of the judgment Exodus 32:0, had occurred wholly without detriment to the Levites. It is mentioned expressly that the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, died childless (Numbers 3:4), and the stress put upon the fact that the children of Korah were not destroyed with their father (Numbers 26:11), points directly to the implied antithesis, that after all many Levites did perish in the conspiracy of Korah. Certainly their claim to a universal priesthood reappears later with noble and sinless form in the inspiration of the Korahite singers. We must also add Keil’s suggestion, that the rest of the tribes did not increase in the same ratio.

(b.) The proportion of the first-born to the number of males in the Tribes

The proportion of the number of first-born in the different tribes, as stated in Numbers 3:40 sq., to the number of Levites, on the one hand, and on the other to the total of the tribes, is a particularly obscure matter. Moses numbered the first-born, in whose stead the Levites were to Serve vicariously, and found the sum (all from a month old and upward) to be 22,273. Since the number of the Levites was 22,000, there appeared an excess of 273 first-born; of these each head had to be redeemed from Levitical duty by 5 shekels, so that the sum-total of 1365 shekels was to be paid as redemption money to Aaron and his sons. In my opinion we must assume that the redemption money was apportioned among all the first-born, for how otherwise could the 273, whose duty it would be to pay it, be designated? But now arises the question: Out of the number of 603,550 persons on whom devolved military duty, how could there be only 22,273 first-born? “If 603,550 men presuppose a census of more than one million males, then in case the 22,273 were the sum of all the first-born sons among the whole people, there would be only one first-born to forty or forty-five males.” Keil gives a summary of the profuse discussions of this subject p. 194, particularly as between Hengstenberg and Colenso, p. 195. Keil solves the difficulty with the remark, that the law concerning the sanctification of the first-born, Exodus 13:2, could have no retroactive force. “If this be admitted, then among 22,273 first-born who were exchanged for the Levites (Numbers 3:45 sq.) there are included only those first-born sons who were born in the interval from the day of the Exodus from Egypt until the muster of the twelve tribes, which was ordered and completed thirteen months later.” According to this supposition, there would be about 19,000 first-born for the one year; but in this it does not appear to be taken into account that the half of the first-born during the year might be females. Since the Levitical redemption of the first-born was an affair by itself, according to Leviticus, so here, agreeably to the idea of the book of Numbers, we limit the payment here spoken of to theocratic military duty. From this point of view the narrative here takes cognizance of only the muster of the Levites; they were the bearers of the headquarters and of the banner. Since the warriors who were actually mustered could not be made to do double military duty, therefore only those are here spoken of who were born Levites, i. e., first-born in the twelve tribes, and between the ages of one month to twenty years. If we assume 200,000 males for the generation between one month and twenty years, and reckon nine members of the family for each first-born, then the sum-total sinks at once below the actual number of the 22,273 mustered. In this connection we must keep this fact conspicuously in view, that the Levites were not counted from the age of twenty years, but from one month upward, and that it was therefore entirely in keeping to count the first-born in the same way.

(c.) The relation of the number 603,550 in Exodus 38:26 to the same in Numbers 1:0

What is the relation of the number 603,550 in Exodus 38:26, as the numbering of the taxable males, under obligation to contribute a half shekel for the erection of the Tabernacle, to the similar number of those liable to military duty in Numbers Numbers 1:0? “Four weeks after the rearing of the Tabernacle (comp. Numbers 1:1, with Exodus 40:17), Moses, in obedience to the divine command, caused the sum of the entire congregation to be taken according to the families and the fathers’ houses of the twelve tribes, and all the males from twenty years old and upwards to be registered for military service under Jehovah (Numbers 1:1-3). The numbering of the people for the purpose of raising the redemption money from each male poll, from twenty years old upwards (comp. Exodus 30:11 sq. with Exodus 38:26), had already taken place nine months earlier, and resulted in 603,550 polls, the identical number which is here named as the total of all who were mustered of the twelve tribes.” Keil explains the striking similarity of both numberings, between which, however, the changes of a year lay, as “simply” due to the fact that the earlier numbering was taken as the basis of the later one, and that the second was only a special application of the former. Our text evidently requires an instantaneous numbering. Hence we might assume that the former census was more exactly determined by the later and more definite one. The supposition that the entire muster had continued for one year, and was first summed up here, would be still nearer the truth.

(d.) The possibility of supporting life in the wilderness of Sinai

Knobel has raised the following objections to the historical truth or authenticity of the above numerical statement for the Mosaic period. “Such a mass of human beings could not have lived for any length of time on the Sinaitic peninsula, since recent travellers estimate the present population at only four, or, at the highest, seven thousand souls, and express the opinion that the land could never have been fit for the support of a population of over 50,000 souls.” In answer to this objection, Keil appeals first of all to the marvellous sustentation of the people by manna. Then, moreover, to the former abundance of vegetation in the Peninsula, as Ritter has testified in his Erdkunde XIV., p. 926 sq., and as the same is authenticated by historical monuments, mines, villages, masonry, garden, field and fountain-works, and in later times by cloisters and hermitages. The inscriptions scattered everywhere, especially those at Sinai and at Serbal, furnish additional evidence. He also adduces a statement of Osk. Fraas on the climatic change in the Sinaitic Peninsula within historic times. [Aus dem Orient. Geolog. Beobachtungen am Nil auf der S. H. I. und in Syrien, Stuttg., 1867, p. 27 sqq. Palmer considers the question: “Was the country more fertile in the time of the Exodus than it is now? While admitting the miraculous manner in which the twelve tribes were supported, we shall disarm many objectors if we can show with reason that there were resources in the country of which they might have availed themselves at certain seasons and at certain places, since this would account for the silence of the Bible upon many points which would otherwise seem inexplicable—I mean in cases where no special miraculous provision is recorded.

That rain actually fell during the passage of the Israelites through the country we learn from Psalms 68:7-9 : ‘O God, when Thou wentest forth before the people, when Thou didst march through the wilderness; Selah. The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God; even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel. Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby Thou didst confirm Thine inheritance, when it was weary.’ And such passages as ‘the clouds poured out water,’ Psalms 77:17, where the allusion is evidently to Sinai, also tend to confirm the supposition that the Peninsula was better supplied with water at the time of the Exodus.

There are still many groves of acacia and other trees in the Peninsula, and these, like the gardens, form a sort of a barricade against the force of the torrents. Now when one of them is destroyed, and a storm comes, whatever vegetation depended on or was protected by the forest is soon swept away, and barrenness and devastation mark the course of the stream down to the sea. It is a well-known fact that rain falls more gently and regularly where there is vegetation. Now the Bible tells us that there existed a large population in and near Sinai at the time of the Exodus, and the traces of them which still remain indicate that they, like the old monks, did husband to the utmost the resources of the country.
Again, there are abundant vestiges of large colonies of Egyptian miners, whose slag heaps and smelting furnaces are yet to be seen in many parts of the Peninsula. These must have destroyed many miles of forest in order to procure the fuel necessary for carrying on their operations; nay, more, the children of Israel could not have passed through without consuming vast quantities of fuel too. But, if forest after forest disappeared in this way, if population dwindled down to a few non-agricultural tribes, and cultivation were neglected, then the rain that falls so seldom would no longer stay to fertilize the land, but in an unimpeded torrent would find its way down to the sea; a burning summer sun would soon complete the work, and a few ages would make the Peninsula of Sinai what we see it now. I do not think it necessary to reason away the signal miracles by which the Jewish hosts were fed, but I do believe that whatsoever God thought fit, that He did for His chosen people, and that God’s servant, Nature, did the rest.” Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, pp. 34, 35, Harper’s Edition.

The Rev. F. W. Holland testifies: “There are evident traces that there has been, owing to various reasons, a very considerable decrease in the amount of vegetation in the Peninsula; although even now the country is not so barren as it has generally been described. The observations of travellers on this point have been chiefly confined to a few of the main valleys and principal mountains; but it is not till one has wandered off the beaten tracks, and explored the slopes of the lower mountains and the less frequented wadys, that one can really arrive at a just estimate of the supply of water, and capabilities of the country for affording pasturage. Long before the children of Israel marched through the wilderness, the mines were worked by the Egyptians, and the destruction of the trees was probably going on. It is hardly likely that the Israelites themselves would have passed a year in an enemy’s country, knowing that they were to march onward, without adding largely to this destruction. Their need of fuel must have been great, and they would not hesitate to cut down the trees, and lay waste the gardens; and thus before they journeyed onward from Mount Sinai they may have caused a complete change in the face of the surrounding country.

It is a well-known fact that the rainfall of a country depends in a great measure upon the abundance of its trees. The destruction of the trees in Sinai has no doubt greatly diminished the rainfall, which has also been gradually lessened by the advance of the desert and the decrease of cultivation on the north and northwest, whereby a large rain-making area has gradually been removed. In consequence, too, of the mountainous character of the Peninsula of Sinai, the destruction of the trees would have a much more serious effect than would be the case in most countries. Formerly, when the mountain sides were terraced, when garden walls extended across the wadys, and the roots of trees retained the moisture and broke the force of the water, the terrible floods that now occur, and sweep every thing before them, were impossible.” Rev. F. W. Holland, Explorations of the Peninsula of Sinai, in The Recovery of Jerusalem, pp. 424, 425.—Tr.].

The second objection is of much less importance: “had the Israelites in the Mosaic age, been a people of several millions, particularly in view of their then bravery, they would have conquered the little land more easily and in quicker time.” This argument is based upon the notion that war and victory depend entirely upon numbers.
Under No. 3 the most inconsiderable objections are only touched upon. (Keil, 190, 191). The consideration that the Israelites out of the forty years’ sojourn, had Kadesh as the centre of their settlement for full thirty-eight years, is of particular weight for us. This settlement is indicated by the summary narrative, Deuteronomy 1:46. “So ye abode in Kadesh many days according unto the days that ye abode there.” Luther translates it, “Thus ye remained a long time in Kadesh,” and similarly Bunsen. In this way כַּיָמִים אֲשֶׁר, etc., is simply left out. Zunz renders it: “As the time that you remained.” De Wette similarly: “The time that you remained.” But this is pure tautology! As soon as we deal earnestly with the verb יָשַב, and surrender the fabulous notion of a twofold settlement in Kadesh during the thirty-eight years, the sense of the expression becomes entirely clear. According to Numbers 13:4 (Numbers 12:16), the Israelites came from Hazeroth and encamped in the wilderness of Paran; thence Moses sent out the spies, according to Numbers 13:3; but they are also said to have gone out from the wilderness of Zin (which must not be confounded with the wilderness of Sin and just as little Paran with Feiran) according to Numbers 13:21. The same place of encampment is called Kadesh-Barnea, in Deuteronomy 1:19. From this point the self-willed army broke forth in the direction of southern Canaan, and was driven back as far as Hormah, which without doubt lay in the region of the wilderness of Paran, whose northerly side was called the wilderness of Zin, and whose southerly and more secure side is surely Kadesh-Barnea. The passage Numbers 20:1 refers to that attack upon Southern Palestine. The sons of Israel had come as far as the wilderness of Zin, but the people then settled down permanently at Kadesh. Then from this point also, after more than thirty-eight years, the march back to the Red Sea took place according to Numbers 20:14; Numbers 20:22; Numbers 21:1, which must be rendered as a pluperfect because it is a reminiscence.

Thus, too, is explained the glorification of Mount Paran in the blessing of Moses, and why it attains therein a like dignity with Mount Sinai, Deuteronomy 33:2. In the passage Habakkuk 3:3 Mount Paran may even representatively include Sinai. Manifestly it is thoroughly untenable to refer, as Kurtz does, an apostasy to idolatry of many years’ duration to this period of the sojourn of Israel in Paran, the very time in which the Korahites developed, with fanaticism even, the doctrine of the universal priesthood of the people. The prophetic rebukes (Amos 5:25, et al.) find their interpretation to some extent here, and somewhat also in the partial apostasy in the Steppe of Moab. Moreover Paran can hardly be meant by “the great and terrible wilderness,” Deuteronomy 1:19, as the Bible Dictionary for Christian people assumes. Paran had even a terebinth-grove and a wady, and is still a region rich in springs. Vid. Winer, Art. Kadesh, with reference to Robinson, particularly to Rowland’s researches, 1842 [Williams’ Holy City Extract from letter of Rev. J. Rowland, Vol. I., p. 466 sqq.—Tr.]. Since roads radiate from Paran in all directions into the remoter regions, the people could make their residence in Kadesh the centre of the great nomadic region, whereby they could eke out their support. That the Israelites in the beginning had occasion to complain of the scarcity of water (Numbers 20:2), does not conflict with the subsequent discovery of springs. But in the end the people in the plains of Moab appear again to be impoverished, in spite of their means of relief, those miraculous ones too, which above all things, supported also the spirit of faith. The avenging expedition against the Midianites was certainly as little a march for mere pillage, as was the exodus of the Jews with the materials which the Egyptians flung to them; still it was rich in booty, and so far, the new and grand outfit at the close of the journey forms a parallel to the rich outfit at its beginning. Concerning Rowland’s discovery of Kadesh, see Ritter, Erdkunde 14 Theil., 3 Buch, Westasien, p. 1088 (the entire discussion, p. 1077 sqq.). Knobel’s Remarks, vid. p. 2 sqq.

(e.) The Journey of the Israelites from Sinai to the Steppe of Moab

See General Introduction. [Comm. Exodus and Leviticus, p. 21 sq.—Tr.].

(f.) The Unity of the Book of Numbers

Knobel produces a pretty desperate result for the supplemental hypothesis: “Except Numbers 4:17-20 all these fragments are component parts of the fundamental document.” Thus almost an entire book throughout is Elohistic! The Jehovistic character of this excepted portion is readily explained from its internal relations as indicating Jehovah’s care for the priestly tribe. Nevertheless there is lacking a proper estimate of the formal unity of the book (see p. 1). Further on he speaks indeed of many Jehovistic supplements (p. 101), and here we are even assured that the Elohist makes the people to go through the northern part of Edom, while the Jehovist speaks of their compassing the Land of Edom. This unity is more strenuously questioned in Bleek’s Introduction (p. 287 sqq., 3d ed., 1870). The section concerning the pillar of cloud and of fire, Numbers 9:15-23, is said to occupy a very unsuitable position; as if the description of the theocratic oriflamme, the banner of the army, were out of position in the very place where the subject matter is the equipment of the army! Its position in Exodus 40:34-38, he regards as more fitting. There is no trace of any perception of a difference between the two points of view! The relation of Numbers 1:1 to Numbers 9:1, Bleek calls an unchronological statement. According to the first passage, the muster was completed on the first day of the second month in the second year after the Exodus. Of course the time cannot advance from this date to the first month in the second year of the Exodus as given in chapter 9. Hence the date in this passage is to be explained only as in pluperfect time, occasioned by the organic construction of the book, according to which the mention of the Little-passover could be made first in this place. On the twentieth of the second month of the second year the decampment itself began, therefore, twenty days after the completed muster. Now when it says in Numbers 20:1, “they came into the desert of Zin in the first month,” this indefinite statement cannot, go back of the second month of the second year, when the muster was completed, nor yet jump over to the first month of the fortieth year, as e. g., in Daechsel’s Bibelwerk, p. 468, because by that time the Israelites had been for a long while familiar with the abundance of water there was in Paran. It is the first month of the settlement in Paran, and therefore the first month in the third year of the Exodus, and the actual motive which prompts the narrator to revert so emphatically to the past, lies in the impending death of the great trio, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. The account of the death of Miriam is first given; then the fall by which Moses incurred his death before the entrance into Canaan; and finally, with a leap over the entire period of the settlement in Kadesh, the death of Aaron. Bleek perceives correctly that the first month of the third year of the Exodus from Egypt is meant by the first month of the arrival in Zin. It is also correct to say that the time when Aaron died, according to Numbers 33:38, falls in the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Exodus from Egypt, and therefore thirty-seven or thirty-eight years later than the above-mentioned arrival in Kadesh. But if we conclude therefrom that a period of nearly thirty-eight years is embraced here in a few verses, we shall overlook the fact that the account in Numbers 20:1 sqq., for material reasons, refers to a previous time, while the occurrences at Kadesh began already with the fifteenth chapter. Therefore the idea of a great hiatus has no foundation. But, besides, Bleek discovers a difference between Numbers 8:23-26; Numbers 8:4, in regard to the time spent in service by the Levites. This entire difference is resolved, if we distinguish between the Levitical official age of twenty-five years in general, and the Levitical official age of thirty years for the charge and the transportation of the sanctuary. There is no contradiction between the two statements that the Levites who did service in the transportation of the sanctuary were, like the priests, first qualified for the charge at the age of thirty, while the Levites ordinarily became bound to service, in a more general sense, already at the age of twenty-five (see Keil, p. 225). It is said that the contents of Numbers 3:0 do not agree with the two preceding and with the following chapter; but this amounts simply to the difference between more general and more definite ordinances, as appears in the subsequent discussion.


[1]See obituary notice in Preface to the vol. on Ezekiel.

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