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Saturday, June 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2514. B.C. 1490.

The punishment of the murmurers stopped by the prayer of Moses, Numbers 11:1-3 . The fresh murmuring of the people, Numbers 11:4-6 . The description of manna, Numbers 11:7-9 . The murmuring of Moses, Numbers 11:10-15 . God’s answer, Numbers 11:16-23 . The appointment of the seventy elders, Numbers 11:24-30 . Quails sent with a plague, Numbers 11:31-35 .

Verse 1

Numbers 11:1. The people complained Hebrew, as it were, complained; that is, they began to mutter some complaints, and for a while, it seems, kept their discontent from coming to Moses’s ear. The chief cause of their murmuring is represented ( Num 11:5 ) to be their growing weary of the manna, upon which they had now lived for a year. But, besides this, it is probable that their last three days’ journey in that vast howling wilderness, the remembrance of their long abode in it, and the fear of many more tedious journeys, and much delay before they should arrive at the land of milk and honey, which they longed for, had greatly contributed to their dissatisfaction. It displeased the Lord Though their discontent did not at first break forth into open murmurings against Moses, yet God saw the mutinous and rebellious disposition of their minds, and testified his displeasure on account of it. The fire of the Lord A fire sent from God in an extraordinary manner, perhaps from the pillar of cloud and fire, or lightning from heaven, which is called the fire of God, 2 Kings 1:12; Job 1:16. Le Clerc thinks it might be one of those fiery blasting winds which are incident to those countries, See Ezekiel 17:10; Ezekiel 19:12. It was, however, sent in a supernatural and miraculous way. The uttermost part of the camp Either because the sin began there among the mixed multitude, or in mercy to the people, whom he would rather awaken to repentance than destroy; and therefore he sent it into the skirts, and not the midst of the camp.

Verse 2

Numbers 11:2. The people cried unto Moses This calamity threw them into such consternation, that they immediately applied to Moses to deprecate the divine displeasure.

Verse 3

Numbers 11:3. He called the place Taberah That is, burning, because of this fire; and it was called Kibroth-hattaavah on another account. It is no unusual thing in Scripture for persons and places to have two or more names. Both these names were imposed as monuments of the people’s sin, and of God’s just displeasure. This passage is well improved by St. Paul, (1 Corinthians 10:10-12,) to caution us against discontent and murmuring.

Verse 4

Numbers 11:4. The children of Israel also wept again That is, they again complained and murmured, that God had so lately visited them with such awful marks of his displeasure; though their special relation and obligation to God should have restrained them from any such carriage. Bishop Kidder justly observes, that “their sin was much aggravated on the following accounts: 1st, They declared their distrust of God’s power and providence, of which they had had so great experience. 2d, They despised God and his former mercies. 3d, They covetously desired flesh, when they had much cattle of their own, Exodus 12:32; Exodus 12:38, and Numbers 32:4.”

Verses 5-6

Numbers 11:5-6. The fish which we did eat freely Either without price, for fish was very plentiful, and fishing there free, or at a very small price. Our soul Either our life, as the term signifies, Genesis 9:5, or our body, which is often intended by the word soul. Dried-away Is withered, and pines away, which possibly might be true, through their envy, discontent, and inordinate appetite. The expression seems to be of the same purport with that of the psalmist, <19A204>Psalms 102:4, My heart is withered like grass.

Verses 7-8

Numbers 11:7-8. As coriander-seed Not for colour, for that is black, but for shape and figure. Bdellium Is either the gum of a tree, of a white and bright colour, or rather a gem or precious stone, as the Hebrew doctors take it; and particularly a pearl, wherewith the manna manifestly agrees both in its colour, which is white, (Exodus 16:14,) and in its figure, which is round. Fresh oil Or, of the most excellent oil; or, of cakes made with the best oil, the word cakes being easily supplied out of the foregoing member of the verse; or, which is not much different, like wafers made with honey, as it is said, Exodus 16:31. The nature and use of manna are here thus particularly described, to show the greatness of their sin in despising such excellent food.

Verses 10-14

Numbers 11:10-14. Every man in the door of his tent To denote they were not ashamed of their sin. Have I not found favour Why didst thou not hear my prayer when I desired thou wouldst excuse me, and commit the care of this unruly people to some other person? Have I begotten them?

Are they my children, that I should be obliged to provide food and all things for their necessity and desire? To bear The burden of providing for and satisfying them. Alone Others were only assistant to him in smaller matters; but the harder and greater affairs, such as this unquestionably was, were brought to Moses and determined by him alone.

Verse 15

Numbers 11:15. If thou deal thus with me, kill me He begs that God would be pleased either to ease him of the burdensome charge, or take him out of the world, and rid him of a life so troublesome and insupportable. See my wretchedness Hebrew, my evil, my torment, arising from the difficulty of my office, and work of ruling this people, and from the dread of their utter extirpation, and the dishonour which will thence accrue to thee and religion; as if not only I, but thou also wast a deceiver. He speaks like an affectionate father of a people who makes their sufferings his own. And, indeed, what could make a ruler of such paternal tenderness more distressed than to see the people he was appointed to govern so untoward, not only toward himself, but God? and to see them, by their perverseness, drawing down upon themselves such dire calamities, and the enemies of God rejoicing in their ruin?

Verse 16

Numbers 11:16. To be elders Whom thou by experience discernest to be elders, not only in years and name, but also in wisdom and authority with the people. And according to this constitution, the sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews, which in after ages sat at Jerusalem, and was the highest court of judgment among them, consisted of seventy men.

Verse 17

Numbers 11:17. I will come down By my powerful presence and operation. I will put it on them That is, I will give the same spirit to them which I have given to thee. The spirit is here put for the gifts of the Spirit, and particularly for the spirit of prophecy, whereby they were enabled, as Moses had been and still was, to discern hidden and future things, and resolve doubtful and difficult cases, which made them fit for government. It is observable that God would not, and therefore men should not, call any persons to any office for which they were not sufficiently qualified.

Verse 18

Numbers 11:18. Sanctify yourselves Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel, in the way of his judgments. Prepare yourselves by true repentance, that you may either obtain some mitigation of the plague, or, while your bodies are destroyed by the flesh you desire and eat, your souls may be saved from the wrath of God. Sanctifying is often used for preparing, as Jeremiah 6:4; Jeremiah 12:3. In the ears of the Lord Not secretly in your closets, but openly and impudently in the doors of your tents, calling heaven and earth to witness.

Verse 20

Numbers 11:20. Until it come out at your nostrils That is, till your impatient appetites be glutted; and by another instance of divine power, you be convinced to your shame how irreligiously, distrustfully, and ungratefully you have acted toward God amidst all his merciful providences toward you. The expression presents a very strong, though disagreeable idea of satiety and surfeit, when the overloaded stomach disburdens itself at the mouth and nostrils. Ye have despised the Lord You have lightly esteemed his bounty and manifold blessings; you have slighted and distrusted his promises and providence after so long and large experience of it. The Lord who is among you Who is present and resident with you, to observe all your carriage, and to punish your offences. This is added as a great aggravation of the crime, to sin in the presence of the judge. Why came we forth out of Egypt? Why did God do us such an injury? Why did we so foolishly obey him in coming forth?

Verse 21

Numbers 11:21. Six hundred thousand footmen Fit for war, besides women and children. That Moses speaks this as distrusting God’s word, is evident; and that Moses was not remarkably punished for this as he was afterward for the same sin, (Numbers 20:0.,) may be imputed to the different circumstances of this and that sin; this was the first offence of the kind, and therefore more easily passed by; that was after warning, and against more light and experience. This seems to have been spoken secretly; that openly, before the people; and therefore it was fit to be openly and severely punished, to prevent the contagion of that example.

Verse 23

Numbers 11:23. Is the Lord’s hand waxed short? Is the divine power diminished? Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 59:1. What has not God done to convince mankind that his power is always unlimited? And yet man is still ready to fall into the weakness of thinking that there are circumstances in which the power of God cannot afford relief or deliverance, but must, as it were, remain inactive.

Verse 24

Numbers 11:24. Moses went out Either from the sanctuary, into which he had entered to receive God’s answers from the mercy-seat, or he went out from his tent to the people. And gathered the seventy men They are called seventy from the stated number, though two of them were lacking, as the apostles are called the twelve, (Matthew 26:20,) when one of that number was absent. Round the tabernacle Partly that the awe of God might be imprinted upon their hearts, that they might more seriously undertake, and more faithfully manage their high employment; but principally, because that was the place where God manifested himself, and therefore there he would bestow his Spirit upon them.

Verse 25

Numbers 11:25. Rested on them Not only moved them for a time, but took up his settled abode with them, because the use and end of this gift were perpetual. They prophesied Discoursed of the word and works of God in a marvellous manner, as the prophets did. So this word is used, 1 Samuel 10:5-6; Joel 2:28; 1 Corinthians 14:3. Yet were they not hereby constituted teachers, but civil magistrates, who, together with the spirit of government, received also the spirit of prophecy, as a sign and seal, both to themselves and to the people, that God had called them to that employment. They did not cease Either for that day, continuing in that exercise all that day, and, it may be, all the night too, as it is said of Saul, 1 Samuel 19:24; or, afterward also. For this was a continued gift, conferred upon them to enable them the better to discharge their magistracy; which was more expedient for them than for the rulers of other people, because the Jews were under a theocracy, or the government of God, and even their civil controversies were decided out of that word of God which the prophets expounded.

Verse 26

Numbers 11:26. In the camp Not going to the tabernacle, as the rest did, either not having seasonable notice to repair thither, or, being detained in the camp by sickness, or some urgent occasion, not without God’s special providence, that so the miracle might be more evident. They were of them that were written In a book or paper by Moses, who, by God’s direction, nominated the fittest persons.

Verses 27-28

Numbers 11:27-28. There ran a young man and told Moses Fearing lest his authority should be diminished by their prophesying, and thereby taking power to themselves without his consent. Joshua, the servant of Moses Who ministered to him as his constant attendant. One of his young men Hebrew, מבחריו , mibechuraiv, one of his chosen ones; which may be emphatically added to signify that even great and good men may mistake about the works of God. My lord Moses, forbid them It would seem that he thought their prophesying or teaching in the camp tended to make those gifts common, and to disparage Moses in the eyes of the people; or, perhaps, he thought it tended to breed a schism, by calling the people away from the tabernacle, the appointed place of public worship, where the rest of the seventy elders were regularly assembled. Thus the disciples forbade one who cast out devils in Christ’s name, because he followed not with them, Luke 9:49-50.

Verse 29

Numbers 11:29. Enviest thou for my sake? Art thou grieved because the gifts and graces of God’s Spirit are imparted to others besides me? Or rather, Art thou jealous for my sake? Art thou afraid that their exercising these prophetic gifts will be a diminution of my honour? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets That they were all so inspired by his Spirit as to be enabled to speak to his praise, and to the edification of others! He saith prophets, not rulers, for that, he knew, could not be. Thus we see, though Joshua was Moses’s particular friend and confidant, and though he said this out of respect for Moses, whose honour he was very unwilling to see lessened by the call of those elders, yet Moses reproves him, as Christ did the disciples on the occasion just mentioned, and, in him, all who are of such a spirit. “We must take care,” says Henry, “that we do not secretly grieve at the gifts, graces, or usefulness of others, and that we be not forward to condemn and silence those that differ from us, as if they did not follow Christ, because they do not follow him with us. Shall we reject those whom Christ has owned? or restrain any from doing good because they are not in every thing of our mind? Moses was of another spirit; so far from silencing these two, and quenching the spirit in them, he wishes that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that he would put his Spirit upon them. Not that he would have had any to set up for prophets who were not duly qualified; or that he expected the spirit of prophecy to be made thus common; but he thus expresseth the love and esteem he had for all the Lord’s people, the complacency he took in the gifts of others, and how far he was from being displeased at Eldad and Medad’s prophesying from under his eye. Such an excellent spirit as this blessed Paul was of; rejoicing that Christ was preached, though it were by those who therein intended to add affliction to his bonds, Philippians 1:16. We ought to be pleased that God is served and glorified, and good done, though to the lessening of our credit and the credit of our way.”

Verse 30

Numbers 11:30. Moses gat him into the camp Among the people; he and the elders of Israel To exercise the gifts and authority they had now received.

Verse 31

Numbers 11:31. There went forth a wind from the Lord An extraordinary and miraculous wind, both for its vehemency and for its effects. And brought quails So the Hebrew word, שׂלוים , salvim, is interpreted by Josephus, and all the ancient versions; nor does there appear to be any sufficient authority for translating it locusts; notwithstanding what Ludolphus, in his History of Ethiopia, 50:1, c. 13; and after him Bishop Patrick, and the late bishop of Clogher, have said on the subject. This is the second time that God gave them these quails. He sent them the former year, and much about the same season, Exodus 16:13; but neither in the same quantity nor with the same design as now. From the sea Principally from the Arabian gulf, or Red sea, and both sides of it, where, according to ancient heathen writers, they were then in great numbers, and no doubt were wonderfully increased by God’s special providence for this very occasion. This sea lies south of that part of Arabia where the Israelites were now encamped. It was therefore a south wind that brought these quails, and is said to have come forth from the Lord, because it was ordered and directed by his special power and providence. Two cubits high Not as if the quails did cover all the ground two cubits high for a day’s journey on each side of the camp, for then there had been no place left where they could spread them all abroad round about the camp; but the meaning is, that the quails came and fell down round about the camp for a whole day’s journey on each side of it, and that in all that space they lay here and there in great heaps, which were often two cubits high.

Verse 32

Numbers 11:32. All that night and all next day Some at the one time, and some at the other, and some, through greediness or diffidence, at both times. Ten homers That is, ten ass-loads: which, if it seem incredible, consider, 1st, That the gatherers here were not all the people, which could not be without great inconvenience, but some on the behalf of all, while the rest were exercised about other necessary things. Therefore, the meaning is not, that every Israelite had so much for his share, but that every collector gathered so much for the family or others by whom he was appointed. 2d, That the people did not gather for their present use only, but for a good while to come; and being distrustful of God’s goodness, it is not strange if they gathered much more than they needed. 3d, That the word rendered homers, may signify heaps, as it doth Exodus 8:14; Judges 15:16;

Habakkuk 3:15; and ten is often put for many, and so the sense is, that every one gathered several heaps. If yet the number seem incredible, it must be further known, 4th, That heathen and other authors affirm, in those eastern and southern countries, quails are innumerable, so that in one part of Italy, within the compass of five miles, there were taken about a hundred thousand of them every day for a month together. And Athenæus relates, that in Egypt, a country prodigiously populous, they were in such plenty, that all those vast numbers of people could not consume them, but were forced to salt and keep them for future use. They spread them That so they might dry, salt, and preserve them for future use, according to what they had seen in Egypt.

Verse 33

Numbers 11:33. The Lord smote the people with a very great plague With a pestilence, say some, with a consumption, say others. But it seems more probable that it was by some untimely death, which was the effect of their own gluttony and intemperance. This seems to agree best with the threatening, Numbers 11:20. God was pleased, in a great measure, to overlook their first murmuring, about a year before, when he sent them the manna, because they were then under great necessity, being really pinched with hunger; whereas now that they were fed with bread from heaven, they cried for meat, not from need, but mere wantonness, and that after much experience of God’s care and kindness, after he had pardoned their former sins, and after he had made known his laws to them in a most solemn and terrible manner. Besides, the longer God exercises forbearance, the more is the offender’s guilt aggravated, if he remain impenitent. Reader, remember, “the goodness of God leads thee to repentance,” and take heed that thou do not, “after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasure up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath!”

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 11". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/numbers-11.html. 1857.
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