Numbers 14:2-3. Against Moses and Aaron — As the instruments and causes of their present calamity. That we had died in the wilderness — It was not long till they had their desire, and did die in the wilderness. Wherefore hath the Lord brought us, &c. — From instruments they rise higher, and not only vent their passion against his servants, but strike at God himself, as the cause and author of their journey most impiously accusing him as if he had dealt deceitfully with them. By this we see the rapid and prodigious growth and progress of sin when it is not resisted. A prey — To the Canaanites, whose land we were made to believe we should possess.
Numbers 14:4. A captain — Instead of Moses, one who will be more faithful to our interest than he. Nehemiah tells us they actually appointed them a captain. Into Egypt — Stupendous madness, insolence, and ingratitude! Had not God both delivered them from Egypt by a train of unparalleled wonders, and followed them ever since with continued miracles of mercy? But whence should they have protection against the hazards, and provisions against all the wants of the wilderness? Could they expect either God’s cloud to cover and guide them, or manna from heaven to feed them? Who could conduct them over the Red sea? Or, if they went another way, who should defend them against those nations whose borders they were to pass? What entertainment could they expect from the Egyptians, whom they had deserted and brought to so much ruin?
Numbers 14:5. Fell on their faces — As humble and earnest supplicants to God, the only refuge to which Moses resorted in all such straits, and who alone was able to govern this stiff-necked people. Before all the assembly — That they might awake to apprehend their sin and danger, when they saw Moses at his prayers, whom God never failed to defend, even with the destruction of his enemies.
Numbers 14:6. Rent their clothes — To testify their hearty grief for the people’s blasphemy against God and sedition against Moses, and that dreadful judgment which they easily foresaw this must bring upon the congregation.
Numbers 14:8-9. If the Lord delight in us — If by our rebellion and ingratitude we do not provoke God to leave and forsake us. They are bread for us — We shall destroy them as easily as we eat our bread. Their defence — Their conduct and courage, and especially God, who was pleased to afford them his protection, till their iniquities were full, is utterly departed from them, and hath given them up as a prey to us. The Lord is with us — By his special grace and almighty power, to save us from them and all our enemies. Only rebel not against the Lord — Nothing can ruin sinners but their own rebellion. If God leave them, it is because they drive him from them, and they die, because they will die.
Numbers 14:10. The glory of the Lord appeared — Now, in the extremity of danger, to rescue his faithful servants, and to stop the rage of the people.
In the tabernacle — Upon or above the tabernacle, where the cloud usually resided, in which the glory of God appeared now in a more illustrious manner. When they reflected upon God, his glory appeared not, to silence their blasphemies: but when they threatened Caleb and Joshua, they touched the apple of his eye, and his glory appeared immediately. They who faithfully expose themselves for God are sure of his special protection.
Numbers 14:12. I will smite them — This was not an absolute determination, but a commination, like that of Nineveh’s destruction, with a condition implied, except there be speedy repentance, or powerful intercession.
Numbers 14:16-17. Not able — His power was quite spent in bringing them out of Egypt, and could not finish the work he had begun and had sworn to do. Let the power of my Lord be great — That is, appear to be great; discover its greatness; namely, the power of his grace and mercy, or the greatness of his mercy, in pardoning this and their other sins: for to this the following words manifestly restrain it, where the pardon of their sins is the only instance of this power, both described in God’s titles, Numbers 14:18; and prayed for by Moses, Numbers 14:19; and granted by God in answer to him, Numbers 14:20.
Nor is it strange that the pardon of sin, especially such great sins, is spoken of as an act of power in God, because undoubtedly it is an act of omnipotent and infinite goodness.
Numbers 14:18. By no means clearing the guilty — These words may seem to be improperly mentioned, as being a powerful argument to move God to destroy this wicked people, and not to pardon them. But Moses uses these and the preceding words together, because he would not sever what God had put together; and to show that at the same time that he desired pardon for the penitent, he did not expect God to reverse his own laws, and clear them who, notwithstanding all they had heard and known, would not come unto God for mercy, put their trust in him, and obey his commands. It is true the word guilty is not in the original, but, as is observed in the note on Exodus 34:7, it is necessarily supplied to make the sense complete. And the interpretation of the words there given is perfectly consistent with the context, and with Moses’s intention here, which was not to beg that the people might be so pardoned as not to be chastised; for Moses certainly judged it proper that they should be chastised, and that severely; but that they might not be quite destroyed, or extirpated, as the Lord had threatened, Numbers 14:12, and as Moses feared would be accomplished.
Numbers 14:20-22. I have pardoned — So far as not utterly to destroy them. With the glory of the Lord — With the report of the glorious and righteous acts of God in punishing this rebellious people. My glory — That is, my glorious appearances in the cloud, and in the tabernacle. Ten times — That is, many times. A certain number for an uncertain.
Numbers 14:24. Caleb — Joshua is not named, because he was not now among the people, but a constant attendant upon Moses; nor was he to be reckoned as of them, any more than Moses and Aaron were, because he was to be their chief commander. He had another spirit — Was a man of another temper, faithful and courageous, not actuated by that evil spirit of cowardice, unbelief, disobedience, which ruled in his brethren; but by the Spirit of God. Hath followed me fully — Universally and constantly, through difficulties and dangers which made his partners halt. Whereinto he went — In general, Canaan, and particularly Hebron, and the adjacent parts, Joshua 14:9.
Numbers 14:25. In the valley — Beyond the mountain, at the foot whereof they now were, Numbers 14:40. And this clause is added, either, 1st, As an aggravation of Israel’s misery and punishment, that being now ready to enter and take possession of the land, they are forced to go back into the wilderness: or, 2d, As an argument to oblige them more willingly to obey the following command of returning into the wilderness, because their enemies were very near them, and severed from them only by that Idumean mountain, and if they did not speedily depart, their enemies would fall upon them, and so the evil which before they causelessly feared would come upon them; they, their wives, and their children, would become a prey to the Amalekites and Canaanites, because God would not assist nor defend them. By the way of the Red sea — That leadeth to the Red sea, and to Egypt, the place whither you desire to return.
Numbers 14:28-30. As ye have spoken — When you wickedly wished you might die in the wilderness. To make you dwell — That is, your nation; for God did not swear to do so to these particular persons.
Numbers 14:32. Your carcasses — See with what contempt they are spoken of, now they had by their sin made themselves vile! The mighty men of valour were but carcasses, now the Spirit of the Lord was departed from them! It was very probably upon this occasion that Moses wrote the ninetieth Psalm.
Numbers 14:33. Shall wander in the wilderness — Hebrew, יהיו רעים, Jehju rognim, shall feed, shall seek their food from place to place, after the manner of the Arabian shepherds, that were forced to remove their tents from one place to another, that they might find pasture for their flocks. Forty years — Reckoning from the time of their first coming out of Egypt into the wilderness, where they had already wandered a year and a half. And bear your whoredoms — The punishment of your whoredoms, that is, of your idolatries, of your apostacy from, and perfidiousness against the Lord, who was your husband, having espoused you to himself by covenant. Idolatry and apostacy from God’s worship are continually represented under the idea of whoredom in the Scripture. And it appears from Amos 5:25-26, that the Israelites were every now and then falling off to this sin during the whole period of these forty years in the wilderness.
Numbers 14:34. Each day for a year — So there should have been forty years to come, but God was pleased mercifully to accept of the time past as a part of that time. Ye shall know my breach of promise — That as you have first broken the covenant between you and me, by breaking the conditions of it, so I will make it void on my part, by denying you the blessings promised in that covenant. Thus you shall see that the breach of promise wherewith you charged me, lies at your door, and was forced from me by your perfidiousness.
Numbers 14:37-38. By the plague — Either by the pestilence, or by some other sudden and extraordinary judgment, sent from the cloud in which God dwelt, and from whence he spake to Moses, and wherein his glory at this time appeared before all the people, (Numbers 14:10,) who therefore were all, and these spies among the rest, before the Lord. But Joshua and Caleb lived still — Death never misses his mark, nor takes any by oversight who were designed for life, though in the midst of those that are to die.
Numbers 14:39-40. And the people mourned greatly — But it was now too late. There was now no place for repentance. Such mourning as this there is in hell; but the tears will not quench the flames. Gat them up — Designed or prepared themselves to go up.
Numbers 14:45. The Canaanites — Largely so called, but strictly the Amorites. Hormah — A place so called afterward, (Numbers 21:3,) from the slaughter or destruction of the Israelites at this time.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 14". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany