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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-3


THE PLACE OF BURNING (Numbers 11:1-3).

Numbers 11:1

And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord. There is no "when" in the original. It is literally, "And the people were as complainers evil in the ears of the Lord." This may be paraphrased as in the A.V.; or it may be rendered as in the Septuagint, ἧν ὁ λαὸς γογγύζων πονηρὰ ἔυαντι κυρίου (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:10), where πονηρά means the wicked things they uttered in their discontent; or the "evil" may mean the hardships they complained of. The Targums understand it in the same way as the Septuagint, and this seems to agree best with the context. As to the time and place of this complaining, the narrative seems to limit it within the three days' march from the wilderness of Sinai; but it is not possible to fix it more precisely. It is sufficient that the very first incident in the great journey thought worthy of record was this sin and its punishment, and the natural conclusion is that it came to pass very shortly after the departure. As to the reason of the complaining, although it is not stated, and although there does not seem to have been any special cause of distress, we can hardly be mistaken about it. The fatigue and anxiety of the march, after a year's comparative idleness, the frightful nature of the country into which they were marching, and the unknown terrors of the way which lay before them, these were quite enough to shake their nerves and upset their minds. Such things could only be borne and faced in a spirit of faith and trustful dependence upon God and their appointed leaders, and that spirit they knew nothing of. Slavery, even when its outward pressure is past and gone like a bad dream, leaves behind it above all things an incurable suspicion of, and a rooted disbelief in, others, which shows itself outwardly by blank ingratitude and persistent complaint of bad treatment. This is the well-known mental attitude of liberated slaves even towards their benefactors and liberators; and in the case of Israel this temper extended to the King of Israel himself, whom they held responsible for all the privations and terrors of an apparently needless journey through a hideous waste. The Targum of Palestine says here, "There were wicked men of the people who, being discontent, devised and imagined evil before the Lord." The complaining, however, seems to have been general throughout the host, as the Psalmist more truly acknowledges (Psalms 78:17-22). And the fire of the Lord burnt among them. The "fire of the Lord" may mean one of three things.

1. Lightning, as apparently in Job 1:16; for lightning to the unscientific is the fiery bolt, even as thunder is the angry voice, of God (cf. 1 Samuel 12:18, 1 Samuel 12:19).

2. A miraculous outburst of flame from the Presence in the tabernacle, such as slew Nadab and Abihu (Le Job 10:2), and afterwards the 250 men who offered incense (Job 16:1-22 :35).

3. A miraculous descent of fire from heaven, as apparently in 2 Kings 1:10-12 (cf. Revelation 13:13). Of these the second seems to be excluded by the fact that the conflagration was in the outskirts of the camp furthest removed from the tabernacle. If we suppose the fire to have been natural, we may further suppose that it set alight to the dry bushes and shrubs which abound in parts of the desert, and which blaze with great fury when the flame is driven by the wind. It is, however, at least as likely that a wholly supernatural visitation of God is here intended. What is most important to notice is this, that the punishment in this case followed hard and sore upon the sin, whereas before they came to Sinai the Lord had passed over similar murmurings without any chastisement (Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2). The reason of this difference was twofold. In the first place, they had now had abundant opportunity to become acquainted with the power and goodness of the Lord, and had solemnly entered into covenant with him, and he had taken up his abode among them; wherefore their responsibilities grew with their privileges, their dangers kept pace with their advantages. In the second place, they had while at Sinai committed an act of national apostasy (Exodus 32:1-35), the punishment of which, although suspended (2 Kings 1:14), was only suspended (verse 34), and was always capable of being revived; Israel was plainly warned that he was under sentence, and that any disobedience would awake the terrors of the Lord against him. And consumed … in the uttermost parts of the camp. Probably setting fire to the outer line of tents, or some pitched outside the line, and consuming the people that were in them. The Targum of Palestine affirms that it "destroyed some of the wicked in the outskirts of the house of Dan, with whom was a graven image;" but this attempt to shift the responsibility, and to alter the character of the sin, is clearly worthless, and only suggested by occurrences wholly unconnected with the present (see Judges 18:1-31).

Numbers 11:2

And the people cried unto Moses. Fear brought them to their senses, and they knew that their only hope was in their mediator, who had already saved them by his intercession from a worse destruction (Exodus 32:30-34). The fire was quenched. Rather, "went out." As its beginning was supernatural, or at least was so ordered as to appear so, its end also was due to the Divine intervention, not to human efforts.

Numbers 11:3

and he called the name of the place Taberah. Or Taberah (תַּבְעֵרָה). This name does not occur in the list of stations in Numbers 33:1-56, which mentions nothing between Sinai and Kibroth-Hattaavah. It would seem probable, however, that the conflagration occurred while Israel was encamped, or else there could hardly have been a burning "in the end of the camp." We may therefore suppose either that Tabeerah was some spot in the immediate neighbourhood of Sinai whither the people gathered for their first long march; or that it was one of the halting-places on the "three days' journey" not mentioned in the list, because that journey was considered as all one; or that it was the same place afterwards called Kibroth-Hatta-avah. There is nothing in the narrative to decide a question which is in itself unimportant. It is necessary to remember that where the ancient and local names derived from marked natural features were not available, such names as Tabeerah given to the halting-places of so vast a host must have had a very loose significance.


Numbers 11:1-3


In this short passage we have, in a microcosm, the whole sad history of the Church. For the history of the Church, as it is glorious on the side of God and his faithfulness, so it is sad indeed on the side of man and his unfaithfulness. Here we may see trial followed at once by failure, temptation by sin; failure and sin followed by fiery wrath. Yet wrath is never without mercy, for the fire is quenched by the voice of the mediator. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT THE VERY FIRST INCIDENT RECORDED BETWEEN SINAI AND CANAAN WAS SIN. There was no gradual descent; it broke out all at once. So it was in the beginning—immediately after the creation, the fall; and so it was in the second beginning of the race (Genesis 9:21). Even so it is still: the first actual fact which meets us in the history of a soul on its way to heaven is some sin or failure on its part. It is the one thing which more than any other determines the character of practical religion, as distinguished from theoretical (James 3:2; 1 John 1:8).

II. THAT THE ROOT OF THIS EVIL PLANT WAS TO BE FOUND IN THE NATURE OF THE PEOPLE, MADE CROOKED BY GENERATIONS OF SERVITUDE, AND NOT RADICALLY ALTERED BY THE DISCIPLINE OF A YEAR. Even so human nature, terribly corrupt as it is, is the nature of the elect too: it is indeed sanctified and improved by the operations of grace, but not superseded; it remains human nature still, and as such is sure to assert itself. Therefore "regeneration," which signifies the renewal of this nature, is indeed bestowed in time (John 3:5; Titus 3:5), but is also reserved for eternity (Matthew 19:28), in testimony that it is only partial here. One of the saddest, the most obvious, and yet most unlooked-for and perplexing of facts about regenerate humanity is the persistence within it of evil, whether proper to the age, the race, the family, or the individual (Romans 7:18-25).

III. THAT THE FRUIT OF THIS EVIL PLANT WAS THUS SUDDENLY RIPENED BY THE OUTWARD HARDSHIPS AND TRIALS OF THE MARCH. Encamped at comparative ease about Sinai, the tendency to sin lay dormant, the root seemed dead: a few days, a few hours perhaps, of scorching heat and unaccustomed toil, and the poison fruit was already matured, the whole camp was in rebellion against God. Even so there are evil dispositions latent in many (if not in all) of us which need but a little stress of circumstance to bring them into active play, to ripen them into open sin, and that with startling quickness, unless restrained by grace. The sudden falls of good men are only sudden because we do not see the strength of evil in them which is waiting its opportunity. Hence the absolute necessity of trial and conflict to test the worth of our religion (Matthew 10:22; 2 Timothy 2:12; James 1:12; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 2:11,&c.; Revelation 7:14).

IV. THAT THE FORM WHICH THEIR REBELLION TOOK WAS THAT OF COMPLAINING—there being indeed nothing that they could do under the circumstances. Even so the fruit of sinful feelings and desires is quite as often discontent as anything more active, because the more active forms of sin are so often out of our reach. An evil heart is the source of all sins, and the evil heart almost always shows itself in a state of inward discontent which finds vent in outward complaints. Hence the "unthankful" are next door to the "unholy" (2 Timothy 3:2), and all one with the "evil" (Luke 6:35). A discontented heart is a hot-bed of every kind of sin.

V. THAT THE ANGER OF THE LORD WAS MORE HOT AGAINST THEM AND THEIR PUNISHMENT MORE SEVERE, THAN BEFORE THEY CAME TO SINAI. For they had received the law, and entered into the covenant, and had the worship and presence of God in the midst of them. Even so the more light and grace we have, the more awful will it be to sin against that light, in despite of that grace. So the sin of the Jew was worse than that of the heathen; of the Christian than of the Jew; of the Christian in an enlightened age than of the Christian in a dark age. What must be the wrath of God against the sins of an age and people such as this! (Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48; John 9:41; Romans 2:12; Hebrews 2:2, Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 10:26-31).

VI. THAT THE PEOPLE IN THEIR FEAR CRIED TO MOSES. They dared not cry to God, by reason of their unworthiness, but they knew that if Moses prayed for them he would be heard, because he was their mediator (Galatians 3:19, Galatians 3:20). Even so we, in our sin and our distress, are neither able nor worthy to pray to God save through the mediation of Jesus Christ. All prayer must be addressed, consciously or unconsciously, through him. Even the prayer of the heathen, who knows no mediator, will be heard because the Son of man receives his prayer and offers his own intercession with it. How presumptuous is it in Christian people to join in prayers which are not offered in the name, or through the mediation, of the one Mediator! (John 14:14; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:24, and el. Revelation 8:3). And note, that the Lord's Prayer may be objected to this doctrine of mediation. But it is to be noted—

(1) that it was modeled on the synagogue prayers before the atonement;

(2) that as a Christian prayer, it is the prayer of Christ in us, in which we share by virtue of our sonship in him (John 20:17; 1 John 3:1).

VII. THAT THE PEOPLE CRIED TO MOSES ONLY. They did not resort to Aaron or to Miriam, because they were relations of Moses, or to Joshua, because he was an eminent servant of Moses, and had great influence with him; for Moses only was their mediator. Even so Christian people must not "cry" to any but the one Mediator, if the fire of God's anger against sin is to be quenched. It is one thing to ask the prayers of a fellow-suppliant; it is another and very different thing to address oneself to God under the protection, and through the mediation, of some favourite of Heaven (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; cf. Acts 8:22-24).

VIII. THAT WHEN MOSES PRAYED, THE FIRE WENT OUT. No doubt in answer to the prayer. Even so the intercession of Christ quenches the flames of the Divine anger against sin. Not that the anger and the mercy of God are rival powers striving against one another: in eternity they act in perfect harmony; nevertheless, in the sphere of time and space they display themselves separately, and in apparent antagonism. It pleased God that his anger against sin and rebellion should be visibly kindled by the complaints of the people; that his mercy should be moved by the prayer of Moses. Thus was signified the eternal purpose of God to show mercy and forgiveness to all men through the atonement of Christ (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 9:24; 1 John 2:1 : cf. Luke 23:34).

And consider again—

1. That the very next place after Sinai was Taberah—a burning. Even so it is but one short journey without a break for sinful man from the revelation of the moral law to the fires of hell. The law is holy and good; but sinful man cannot keep it, nor can God suffer it to be broken. Wherefore by the law came death; after the law, condemnation; behind the commandment, fiery wrath against the transgressors thereof. Thus also the moral law of Christ without his atonement (as some would have it) would only be worse condemnation—a Taberah without a Moses (Romans 3:20; Romans 5:20 a.; Romans 7:7-13; Romans 8:1-4).

2. That Israel would have got no further than Taberah had they not had a mediator. Even so burnings had been our everlasting portion, except Christ had delivered us.


Numbers 11:1, Numbers 11:2


I. A CHAIN OF MORAL SEQUENCES, containing the following links:—

1. The people s sin. The complaints probably various, as may be illustrated from other narratives.

2. Their sin noticed. "The Lord heard it," as he hears every idle word, and reads every sinful thought (see outline on Numbers 12:2).

3. This notice awakens God's anger. By the necessity of his nature, "God is angry with the wicked every day."

4. His anger flamed forth in visible judgments. "The fire of the Lord burned among them," for "our God is a consuming fire," either to purge us from our sins, or to destroy us in our sins.

5. These judgments are fatal, "and consumed them" (Psalms 76:7). For another chain of sequences cf. James 1:14, James 1:15.


1. God's mercy tempers judgment. The fire only destroys "those in the utmost part of the camp" (Psalms 102:8-10).

2. The judgments inflicted humble the people, and lead them to appeal to Moses. Such judgments are blessings. Servants of God sought for by sinners, or even despisers, in the day of trouble (cf. Isaiah 70:14).

3. Moses, when appealed to, himself appeals to God. We disclaim all power as saviours, but look and point to the one Saviour (Psalms 60:11; Acts 3:12).

4. God appealed to in acceptable intercession, turns from the fierceness of his wrath (Psalms 99:6). And the High Priest of sinners, by a more costly mediation and a prevailing intercession, still interposes for sinners who "come unto God by him" (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).—P.


Numbers 11:1-9


We have here a very painful self-revelation. Through prophets and apostles, and especially through his Son, God has said many humiliating things of the children of men, but nothing more humiliating than by their own actions they have written down against themselves. Note—

I. A SPIRIT UNAFFECTED BY CHASTISEMENT. The people run away from pain, but do not cease from lust. They forget the blow of Jehovah almost before the wound is healed. Nor let us wonder at their stupidity, for this fire of God was only a more rapid and more manifest form of that fire of Divine chastisement which comes in some form to us all. We treat all pain as the Israelites did. As they cried to Moses, so we cry to our fellow-men, and make no mention of our sin against God. We never stop to think of the fire of God as having his anger in it, or a check upon us in our selfish career (Psalms 78:1-72; Isaiah 1:2-6; Isaiah 9:13; Jeremiah 7:23-28).

II. A SPIRIT UNCHANGED BY BENEFITS. So far as any word or action here shows, they might have utterly forgotten everything God had done for them. They do recollect the manna, but only to grumble at it and despise it. God had indeed abounded toward them in grace and power, wisdom and prudence, yet not one of all his doings is remembered to his glory. What then of our state of mind in regard of the wonderful manifestations of God in Christ Jesus? We, even more than the Israelites, are the objects of God's gracious interposition. It seemed of no use to remind them of God the Deliverer and Provider. And so now, although Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, although he has conquered sin and death for all mankind, yet mankind is far more concerned about matters a long way less important. The truth was, the Israelites had not yet been delivered, in the highest sense of the word. The body was free but the spirit was in bondage. Egypt had still a strong hold upon their hearts. Their experience there must have been a strange mixture of oppression and pampering. Compelled to make bricks without straw, and yet they had flesh to eat.

III. A SPIRIT THAT SOON FORGOT PAST GRIEVANCES. It was not so long ago that they had been sighing and crying by reason of their bondage (Exodus 2:23). Then their lives were bitter, and all the flesh they got could not sweeten them. These past grievances were immeasurably greater than anything they had to complain of now. Then there was really no comfort in life at all—oppression and injustice gave wormwood flavour to everything; now they are but minus some old comforts. They have plenty to eat, and that of special miraculous food, by which God said to them at every meal, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." It was well for them even in the wilderness troubles that they were not as Egypt; for though Egypt might have flesh to eat, it was surely eaten amid many groans and sighs. The ten plagues and the destruction of Pharaoh and his army were a very serious set-off against the most savoury of creature comforts.

IV. A SPIRIT UTTERLY INSENSIBLE TO THE GLORIOUS VOCATION WHEREWITH GOD HAD CALLED THEM (Ephesians 4:1). What a difference is here revealed between Moses and the people! As Moses talks with Hobab, and lifts his prayer to God, all is expectancy, ardour, and exultation. No complaints of the manna, no hankerings after Egypt, come from that noble soul. But as for the people, Paul exactly describes them in Philippians 3:18. Their end was destruction, their God was their belly, their glory was in their shame, they minded earthly things. Even though the ark rested on the many thousands of Israel, they are blind to the glory and profit coming from the presence of it. They will go anywhere if only they can get the lost delicacies of Egypt. Such a table as Milton represents the tempter spreading out before Jesus would just have been to their taste (‘Paradise Regained,' 2:337-365). Their cry is not that of natural hunger, but the passionate screaming of a pampered child. Plain living and high thinking, the Nazarite vow and the Nazarite aspiration, manna for the body and true bread of heaven for the spirit—with these things they had no sympathy.

Practical truths:—

1. Let every pain that comes to us have its proper effect in the way of discipline. Thus that which otherwise will be loss is turned to substantial gain.

2. In the midst of the greatest privileges we may be near to the most subtle temptations. Where God is nearest, there Satan also may be most active.

3. We need a great work of God to bring us to a due appreciation of the spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It takes a great deal to make us see that godliness is profitable, having the promise of the life that now is.

"Trouble is grudgingly and hardly brook'd,
While life's sublimest joys are overlook'd."

4. Let the estimate of our wants and the provision for them be left to God. For us to live is Christ, and the highest occupation of life to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness; then all other needed things will be added unto us. Never fear but God will give food convenient for us. N.B. John 6:1-71. gives a most instructive New Testament parallel to this passage.—Y.

Verses 4-35


KIBROTH HATTAAVAH (Numbers 11:4-35).

Numbers 11:4

The mixed multitude. Hebrew, ha-saphsuph, the gathered; the rift-raft, or rabble, which had followed the fortunes of Israel out of Egypt, where they had probably been strangers and slaves themselves. What the nature and the number and the fate of this rabble were is a matter of mere conjecture and of some perplexity. There does not seem any room for them in the regulations laid down for Israel, nor are they mentioned in any other place except at Exodus 12:38. In Le Exodus 24:10 we read of the son of an Israelitish woman by an Egyptian father, and this might lead us to conjecture that a great part of the "mixed multitude" was the offspring of such left-handed alliances. These half-breeds, according to the general rule in such cases, would follow their mothers; they would be regarded with contempt by the Jews of pure blood, and would accompany the march as hangers-on of the various tribes with which they were connected. As to their fate, it may be probably concluded, from the reason of things and from the absence of any further notice of them, that they found their way back to the slavery and the indulgences of Egypt; they were bound by no such strong restraints and animated by no such national feelings as the true people of the Lord. And the children of Israel also wept again. This expression, again (Hebrew, שׁוּב, used adverbially), would seem to point to some former weeping, and this is generally found in the "murmuring" of which they had been guilty in the desert of Sin (Exodus 16:2, Exodus 16:3). This, however, is unsatisfactory for several reasons: first, because that occurrence was too remote, having been more than a year ago; second, because there is no mention of any "weeping" at that time; third, because the matter of complaint on the two occasions was really quite different: then they murmured faithlessly at the blank starvation which apparently stared them in the face; now they weep greedily at the absence of remembered luxuries. It is therefore much more likely that the expression has regard to the "complaining" which had just taken place at Tabeerah. It was indeed wonderful that the punishment then inflicted did not check the sin; wonderful that it burst out again in an aggravated form almost immediately. But such was the obstinacy of this people, that Divine vengeance, which only perhaps affected a few, and only lasted for a brief space, was not sufficient to silence their wicked clamour. Who shall give us flesh to eat? בָּשָׂר—Septuagint, κρέα—means flesh-meat generally. They had flocks and herds it is true, but they were no doubt carefully preserved, and the increase of them would little more than suffice for sacrifice; no one would dream of slaughtering them for ordinary eating.

Numbers 11:5

We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, i.e; gratis. No doubt this was an exaggeration on the part of the murmurers, but it is attested by classical writers that fish swarmed in the Nile waters, and cost next to nothing. Cucumbers. קִשֻׁאִים. Cucumbers of peculiar softness and flavour are spoken of by Egyptian travelers as fructus in Egypto omnium vulgatissimus. Melons. hsilgnE:egaugnaLאַבַטִּחִים}. Water-melons, still called battieh, grow in Egypt, as in all hot, moist lands, like weeds, and are as much the luxury of the poorest as of the richest. Leeks. חָצִיר. This word usually means grass (as in Psalms 104:14), and may do so hare, for the modem Egyptians eat a kind of field-clover freely. The Septuagint, however, translates it by τὰ πράσα, leeks or chives, which agrees better with the context. Pliny (Nat. Hist. 19:33) speaks of it as "laudatissimus porrus in Egypto." Onions. בְּצָלִים. Garlic. שׁוּמְים. These are mentioned in the well-known passage of Herodotus (2.125) as forming the staple food of the workmen at the pyramids; these still form a large part of the diet of the labouring classes in Egypt, as in other Mediterranean countries. If we look at these different articles of food together, so naturally and inartificially mentioned in this verse, we find a strong argument for the genuineness of the narrative. They are exactly the luxuries which an Egyptian labourer of that day would have cried out for, if deprived of them; they are not the luxuries which a Jew of Palestine would covet, or would even think of. The very words here used for the cucumber, the melon, and the garlic were probably Egyptian, for they may still be recognized in the common names of those vegetables in Egypt.

Numbers 11:6

Our soul is dried away. This exaggerated statement expressed their craving for the juicy and savoury food of which they had been thinking, and which was obviously unattainable in the wilderness. There is a physical craving in man for variety of diet, and especially for such condiments and flavours as he has been used to all his life, which makes the lack of them a real hardship. It is not necessary to condemn the Israelites for feeling very keenly the loss of their accustomed food, which is notoriously the one thing which the poorest classes are least able to bear; it is only necessary to condemn them for making this one loss of more account than all their gain. There is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. Rather, "we have nothing (אֵין כֹּל) except that our eye (falls) upon this manna." These graphic words speak of the longing looks which turned in every direction after the accustomed dainties, only to fall with disgust upon the inevitable manna. It was very ungrateful of them to speak disparagingly of the manna, which was good and wholesome food, and sufficient to keep them in health and strength; but it is useless to deny that manna only for people who had been accustomed to a rich and varied diet must have been exceedingly trying both to the palate and the stomach (cf. Numbers 21:5).

Numbers 11:7

The manna was as coriander seed. On the name and the nature of the manna see Exodus 16:31. It is commonly supposed that the brief description here inserted was intended to show the unreasonableness of the popular complaints. There is no trace whatever of any such purpose. So far as the description conveys fresh information, it was simply suggested by the occurrence of the word "manna," according to the artless style of the narrative. If any moral purpose must be assigned to this digression, it would rather be to suggest that the people had some real temptation to complain. It is often forgotten that, although the manna was supernatural, at least as to the amount and regularity of its supply, yet as an article of food it contained no supernatural elements. If we had to live upon nothing but cakes flavored with honey or with olive oil, it is certain that we should soon find them pall upon our appetite. To the eye of the Psalmist the manna appeared as angels' food (Psalms 78:25); but then the Psalmist had not lived on manna every day for a year. We have to remember, in this as in many other cases, that the Israelites would not be "our ensamples" (τύποι ἡμῶν, 1 Corinthians 10:6) if they had not succumbed to real temptations. As the colour of bdellium. See on Genesis 2:12. As no one knows anything at all about bdellium, this adds nothing to our knowledge of the manna. The Septuagint has here εἷδος κρυστάλλου, "the appearance of ice," or perhaps "of hoar-frost." As it translates bdellium in Genesis 2:12 by ἄνθραξ (carbuncle), it is probable that the comparison to ice here is due to some tradition about the manna. Taking this passage in connection with Exo 16:1-36 :81, we may reasonably conjecture that it was of an opalescent white, the same colour probably which is mentioned in connection with manna in Revelation 2:17.

Numbers 11:8

And the people … ground it in mills. This information as to the preparation of the manna is new. It may be supposed that at first the people ate it in its natural state, but that afterwards they found out how to prepare it in different ways for the sake of variety. Small handmills and mortars for the preparation of grain they would have brought with them from their Egyptian homes. As the taste of fresh oil. In Exodus 16:31 it is said to have tasted like wafers made with honey. Nothing is more impossible adequately to describe than a fresh taste. It is sufficient to note that the two things suggested by the taste of the manna, honey and oil, present the greatest possible contrast to the heavy or savoury food which they remembered in Egypt.

Numbers 11:9

And when the dew fell,… the manna fell upon it. We know from Exodus 16:14 that when the dew evaporated in the morning it left a deposit of manna upon the ground; we learn here that the manna fell upon the dew during the night. Now the dew is deposited in the cool of the night beneath a clear sky, when radiation of heat goes on uninterruptedly from the earth's surface; it is clear, therefore, that the manna was let fall in some way beyond human experience from the upper air. What possible physical connection there could be between the dew and the manna we cannot tell. To the untaught mind, however, the dew seemed to come more directly than any other gift of nature from the clear sky which underlay the throne of God; and thus the Jew was led to look upon the manna too as coming to him day by day direct front the storehouse of heaven (cf. Psalms 78:23, Psalms 78:24; Psalms 105:40).

Numbers 11:10

Throughout their families. Every family weeping by itself. Such was the contagion of evil, that every family was infected. Compare Zechariah 12:12 for a description of a weeping similar in character, although very different in its cause. Every man in the door of his tent. So that his wailing might be heard by all. So public and obtrusive a demonstration of grief must of course have been pre-arranged. They doubtless acted thus under the impression that if they made themselves sufficiently troublesome and disagreeable they would get all they wanted; in this, as in much else, they behaved exactly like ill-trained children. Moses also was displeased. The word "also" clearly compares and unites his displeasure with that of God. The murmuring indeed of the people was directed against God, and against Moses as his minister. The invisible King and his visible viceroy could not be separated in the regard of the people, and their concerted exhibition of misery was intended primarily for the eye of the latter. It was, therefore, no wonder that such conduct roused the wrath of Moses, who had no right to be angry, as well as the wrath of God, who had every right to be. angry. Moses sinned because he failed to restrain his temper within the exact limits of what befits the creature, and to distinguish carefully between a righteous indignation for Cod and an angry impatience with men. But he sinned under very sore provocation.

Numbers 11:11

Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? These passionate complaints were clearly wrong, because exaggerated. God had not thrown upon Moses the responsibility of getting the people safely into Canaan, or of providing flesh for them; and apart from these exaggerations, it was a selfish and cowardly thing thus to dwell upon his own grievance, and to leave out of sight the grave dishonour done to God, and the awful danger incurred by the people. It was the more blameworthy in Moses because upon a former occasion he had taken upon him, with almost perilous boldness, to remonstrate with God, and to protest against the vengeance he threatened to inflict (Exodus 32:11-13). In a word, Moses forgot himself and his duty as mediator, and in his indignation at the sin of the people committed the same sin himself. It is a strong note of genuineness that so grave (and yet so natural) a fault should be recorded with such obvious simplicity. Compare the eases of Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-21) and of Jonah (Jonah 4:1-11).

Numbers 11:12

Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father. Probably he meant to say that this was the part and the duty of God himself as the Creator and Father of Israel. Compare the reading, which is perhaps the correct one, in Acts 13:18 : Τεσσαρακονταετῆ χρόνον ἐτροφοόρησεν αὐτοὺς ἑν τῇ ἐρήμῳ.

Numbers 11:14

1 am not able to bear all this people alone. This complaint, while reasonable in itself, shows how unreasonable the rest of his words were. However many he might have had to share his responsibilities, be could not have provided flesh for the people, nor enabled them to live one day in the wilderness; this had never been laid upon him.

Numbers 11:15

Kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, or "quite." Hebrew, תָרֹג, inf. abs. And let me not see my wretchedness. Let me not live to see the total failure of my hopes and efforts.

Numbers 11:16

And the Lord said unto Moses. The Divine dignity and goodness of this answer, if not an absolutely conclusive testimony, are at least a very strong one, to the genuineness of this record. Of what god, except the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was it ever witnessed, or could it have been ever imagined, that he should answer the passionate injustice of his servant with such forbearance and kindness? The one thing in Moses' prayer which was reasonable he allowed at once; the rest he passed over without answer or reproof, as though it had never been uttered. Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel. That the number seventy has a symbolic significance in Scripture will hardly be denied (cf. Exodus 1:5; Daniel 9:2, Daniel 9:24; Luke 10:1), although it is probably futile to affix any precise meaning to it. Perhaps the leading idea of seventy is fullness, as that of twelve is symmetry (see on Exodus 15:27). The later Jews believed that there were seventy nations in the world. There is no reason, except a reckless desire to confound the sacred narrative, to identify this appointment with that narrated in Exodus 18:21, sq. and Deuteronomy 1:9, sq. The circumstances and the purposes appear quite distinct: those were appointed to assist Moses in purely secular matters, to share his burden as a judge; these to assist him in religious matters, to support him as a mediator; those used the ordinary gifts of wisdom, discretion, and personal authority; these the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. It is more reasonable to suppose that these seventy were the same men that went up into Mount Sinai with Moses, and saw the God of Israel, and ate of the consecrated meal of the covenant, about a year before. Unless there was some decisive reason against it, an elder who had been chosen for that high religious privilege could hardly fail to be chosen on this occasion also; an interview with God himself, so mysteriously and awfully significant, must surely have left an ineffaceable stamp of sanctity on any soul at all worthy of it. It would be natural to suppose that while the present selection was made de novo, the individuals selected were personally the same. Compare note on Deuteronomy 1:5, and for "the elders of Israel" see on Exodus 3:16. Whom thou knowest to be elders of the people, and officers over them. On the officers (Hebrew, shoterim), an ancient order in the national organization of Israel, continued from the days of bondage, see Exodus 5:6. The Targ. Pal. paraphrases the word shoterim by "who were set over them in Mizraim." The Septuagint has hero πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ γρυμματεῖς αὐτῶν, words so familiar to the reader of the Greek Gospels. The later Jews traced back their Sanhedrim, or grand council of seventy, to this appointment, and found their eiders and scribes in this verse. There was, however, no further historical connection between the two bodies than this—that when the monarchy failed and prophecy died out, the ecclesiastical leaders of the Jews modeled their institutions upon, and adapted their titles to, this Divinely-ordered original.

Numbers 11:17

I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them. The Holy Spirit is one and indivisible. But in the language of Scripture "the Spirit" often stands for the charismata, or gifts of the Spirit, and in this sense is freely spoken of as belonging to this or that man. So the "spirit of Elijah" (2 Kings 2:9, 2 Kings 2:15), which was transferred to Elisha, as it were, by bequest. It was not, therefore, the personal indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost in Moses which God caused him to share with the seventy elders, for that can in no ease be a matter of transfer or of arrangement, but simply those charismata or extraordinary gifts of the Spirit which Moses had hitherto enjoyed alone as the prophet of Israel. It is strange that in the face of the clear teaching of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, and in view of such cases as those of Saul (1 Samuel 10:10; 1Sa 19:1-24 :93) and David (1 Samuel 16:13), any difficulty should have been felt about this passage. They shall bear the burden of the people with thee. It does not appear how they were to do this, nor is there any record of their work. Their gifts, however, were spiritual, and we may probably assume that their usefulness lay in producing and maintaining a proper religious tone among the people. The real difficulty which stood in the way of Moses was not one of outward organization or of government, for that had been amply provided for; it lay in the bad tone which prevailed among the people, and threatened to destroy at any moment the very foundations of their national hope and safety. We may see in these seventy not indeed a Sanhedrim to exercise authority and discipline, but the first commencement of that prophetic order which afterwards played so large a part in the religious history of Israel and of the early Christian Church—an order designed kern the first to supplement by the freedom and originality of their ministry the more formal and unvarying offices of the priesthood. If this was the nature of their usefulness, it is not surprising that they are never mentioned again; and it is observable that a similar obscurity hangs over the activity of the prophets of the New Testament, who yet formed a most important part of the gospel regime (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:29-32; Ephesians 2:20).

Numbers 11:18

Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow. By certain ablutions, and by avoidance of legal pollution (see Exodus 19:10, Exodus 19:14, Exodus 19:15). The people were to prepare themselves as for some revelation of God's holiness and majesty. In truth it was for a revelation of his wrath, and of the bitter consequences of sin. There is about the words, as interpreted by the result, a depth of very terrible meaning; it was as though a traitor, unknowing of his doom, were bidden to a grand ceremonial on the morrow, which ceremonial should be his own execution. For it was well with us in Egypt. These false and wicked words, in which the base ingratitude of the people reached its highest pitch, are repeated to them in the message of God with a quiet sternness which gave no sign to their callous ears of the wrath they had aroused.

Numbers 11:20

But even a whole month. There is some little difficulty about these words, because the Israelites do not seem to have made a long stay at Kibroth-Hattaavah, and the miraculous supply does not seem to have followed them. The words are words of stern irony and displeasure, and need not be literally pressed: it was enough that animal food was given them in quantity sufficient to have gorged the whole nation for a month, if they had eared to go on eating it (see below on Numbers 11:33).

Numbers 11:21

And Moses said. Moses had not recovered from the impatient and despairing temper into which the ill-behaviour of the people had betrayed him. He could not really have doubted the Divine power to do this, after what he had seen in the desert of Sin (Exodus 16:13), but he spoke petulantly, and indeed insolently, out of the misery which was yet in his heart.

Numbers 11:22

Shall the flocks and herds be slain? Which they had brought out of Egypt with them (see on Exodus 12:32), and which no doubt were carefully husbanded, partly in order to supply them with milk and other produce, partly in order to maintain the sacrifices of the law. All the fish of the sea. A wild expression from which nothing can be fairly argued as to the present position of the camp.

Numbers 11:23

Is the Lord's hand waxed short? So that it cannot reach far enough to fulfill his purposes. This simple and expressive figure of speech is adopted by Isaiah (Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 59:1).

Numbers 11:24

Moses went out, i.e; out of the tabernacle. It is not stated that he went into the tabernacle to bring his complaint before the Lord, but the narrative obviously implies that he did (see on Numbers 7:89).

Numbers 11:25

The Lord came down in a cloud, i.e; in the cloud which was the symbol of his perpetual presence with. them. At other times this cloud dwelt (שָׁכַן) above the tabernacle, soaring steadily above it in the clear air; but on certain occasions, for greater impressiveness, the cloud came down and filled the tabernacle, or at any rate the entrance of it, while Moses stood without (cf. Numbers 12:5 and Exodus 33:9; Exodus 40:35). Took of the spirit which was upon him. Not certainly in anger, or by way of diminishing the fullness of the spirit which was in Moses, but in order that the seventy might participate, and be known to participate, in a gift originally and specially given to Moses. The whole intention of the ceremonial was to declare in the most unmistakable way that the gifts of the seventy were to be exercised only in union with and in subordination to the mediator of Israel. The Targums are substantially correct in their paraphrase: "The Lord made enlargement of the spirit that was upon him, and imparted to the seventy men, the eiders." Theodoret very happily observes on this passage, "Just as a man who kindles a thousand flames from one does not lessen the first in communicating light to the others, so God did not diminish the grace imparted to Moses by the fact that he communicated of it to the seventy." They prophesied. The phenomenon here mentioned for the first time was no doubt an ecstatic utterance, not exactly beyond the control, but certainly beyond the origination, of those who prophesied. It must not be confounded with that state of calm, spiritual exaltation in which such men as Isaac and Jacob spake concerning things to come (Hebrews 11:20; cf. Genesis 27:29; Genesis 49:28). The Hebrew יִתְנַבְּאוּ means literally "were caused to pour forth," and the fundamental idea is that those affected became for the time being vents for the audible utterance of thoughts and expressions which were not theirs, but the Holy Ghost's. Compare the thought in Job 32:18-20, and the case of Saul and his messengers, as above. As to the matter of these prophesyings, we may probably conclude that they were of the same nature as the ecstatic utterances of the tongues on the day of Pentecost and afterwards; not "prophecy" in the ordinary sense, but inspired glorification of God, and declaration of his wonderful works (Acts 2:4, Acts 2:11). And did not cease. Rather, "did not add," or "repeat." וְלֹא יָסְפוּ. Septuagint, καὶ οὐκ ἔτι προσέθεντο. The ecstatic utterance did not continue or reappear. The New Testament history no doubt supplies us with the explanation of this. The supernatural sign thus accorded was of little use in itself, and was of much danger, because it attracted to its exhibition an attention which was rather due to more inward and spiritual things. As a sign it was sufficient that it should be once unmistakably manifested before all the people. (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:22; 1 Corinthians 13:8). The permanent charisma of the Holy Spirit which the seventy received and retained from this time forth was no doubt the ἀντιλήψις or κυβερνήσις of 1 Corinthians 12:28; the gift of "help" or "governance," not in temporal matters, but in the religious education and direction of the people.

Numbers 11:26

There remained two of the men in the camp. No reason is here given why they did not accompany the rest to the tabernacle; but as they did not thereby forfeit the gift designed for them, it is certain that some necessity or duty detained them. They were of them that were written. This incidental notice shows how usual the practice of writing was, at any rate with Moses, who was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22). And they prophesied in the camp. As a sign that they too had received the charisma from the Lord. Seeing that it was the work of the Holy Spirit, there was of course nothing really more wonderful in their case than in the ease of the others, but no doubt it seemed so. That men in the camp, and away from the visible center and scene of Divine manifestations, should be accessible to the heavenly afflatus was a vast astonishment to an ignorant people. We may compare the surprise felt by the Jewish Christians when the sign of tongues was shown among the Gentiles (Acts 10:45, Acts 10:46).

Numbers 11:27

And there ran a young man. Literally, "the young man,"—הַנַּעַר; ὁ νεανἱσκος, Septuagint,—by which some understand the young men of the camp collectively, but this is doubtful in grammar and unsatisfactory in sense. If this book was compiled from previous records, of which there are many apparent traces, we may suppose that the name of this young man was there given, but here for some reason omitted.

Numbers 11:28

Joshua the son of Nun. See on Exodus 17:9. As before, he is called Joshua by anticipation. One of his young men. This implies that there were others who to some extent shared his duties towards Moses; but that Joshua stood in a peculiar relation to his master is evident from Exodus 24:13 and Exodus 32:17, as well as from this passage itself. My lord Moses, forbid them. Probably he did not know that they had been enrolled, and he was naturally jealous for the honour of Moses—a jealousy which was not at all unnecessary, as the events of the next chapter proved. The prophesying of Eldad and Medad in the camp might well seem like the setting up of an independent authority, not in harmony with that of Moses.

Numbers 11:29

Enviest thou for my sake? In this answer speaks for once "the meekest of men." It was his sad fate that his position as representative of God obliged him to see repressed with terrible visitations any rebellion against his sole and absolute authority. But he was devoid of personal ambition at all times, and at this time weary and disgusted with the responsibility of ruling such a people. How much more for the glory of God, and for his own peace, would it be if not only these, but all the people, shared the gifts of the Spirit! Mark 9:38, Mark 9:39 presents a partial, but still a striking, parallel.

Numbers 11:30

Moses gat him into the camp. Although the tabernacle stood in the midst of the camp, yet it was practically separated from the tents of the other tribes by an open space and by the encampments of the Levites. There is, therefore, no ground for inferring from this and similar expressions that the record really belongs to a time when the tabernacle was pitched outside the camp.

Numbers 11:31

A wind from the Lord. A wind Divinely sent for this purpose. In Psalms 78:26 it is said to have been a wind from the east and south, i.e; a wind blowing up the Red Sea and across the Gulf of Akabah. And brought quails from the sea. On the "quails" (Hebrew, salvim—probably the common quail) see Exodus 16:13. The Septuagint has in both places ἡ ὀρτυγομήτρα, "the quail-mother," the sense of which is uncertain. These birds, which migrate in spring in vast numbers, came from the sea, but it does not follow that the camp was near the sea. They may have been following up the Gulf of Akabah, and been swept far inland by the violence of the gale. Let them fall by the camp. Rather, "threw them down on the camp." יִּטַשׁ עַל הַמַּחֲגֶה. Septuagint, ἐπέβαλεν ἐπὶ τὴν παρεμβολήν. Either the sudden cessation of the gale, or a violent eddying of the wind, threw the exhausted birds in myriads upon the camp (cf. Psalms 78:21, Psalms 78:28). Two cubits high upon the face of the earth. The word "high" is not in the original, but it probably gives the true meaning. The Septuagint, ὡσεὶ δίπηχυ ἀπο τῆς γῆς, is somewhat uncertain. The Targums assert that the quails "flew upon the face of the ground, at a height of two cubits;" and this is followed by the Vulgate ("volabant in acre duobus cubitis altiludine super terram") and by many commentators. This idea, however, although suggested by the actual habits of the bird, and adopted in order to avoid the obvious difficulty of the statement, is inconsistent with the expressions used here and in Psalms 78:1-72. If the birds were "thrown" upon the camp, or "rained" upon it like sand, they could not have been flying steadily forward a few feet above the ground. It is certainly impossible to take the statement literally, for such a mass of birds would have been perfectly unmanageable; but if we suppose that they were drifted by the wind into heaps, which in places reached the height of two cubits, that will satisfy the exigencies of the text: anything like a uniform depth would be the last thing to be expected under the circumstances.

Numbers 11:32

And the people stood up … next day. A statement which shows us how greedy the people were, and how inordinately eager to supply themselves with an abundance of animal food. They were so afraid of losing any of the birds that they stayed up all night in order to collect them; probably they only ceased gathering and began to cat when the available supply was spent. Ten homers. It is difficult to calculate the capacity of the homer, especially as it may have varied from age to age. If it contained ten ephahs, as seems to be implied in Ezekiel 45:11, and if the estimate of the Rabbinists (which is less than that of Josephus) be correct that the ephah held nearly four and a half gallons of liquid measure, then half a million of men must have collected more quails apiece than would have filled a 450 gallon tub. No doubt the total number was something enormous, and far above anything that could have been supplied by natural agencies. The gift of quails, like that of manna, was one of the gifts of nature proper to that region Divinely multiplied and extended, so as to show forth in the most striking way the boundless power and beneficence of God. They spread them all abroad. In order to dry them in the sun, as the Egyptians used to do with fish (Herod; 2:77), and as the South Americans do with beef. Flesh thus cured does not need salt, which the Israelites would not have in sufficient quantities.

Numbers 11:33

And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed. If this were taken in the most literal sense, it would mean that no one of the people had time to swallow a single morsel of the coveted food ere he was stricken down by the Divine visitation. We can scarcely imagine, however, that such was the ease in every single instance. It would indeed appear as if they had with one consent postponed the enjoyment of eating the quails until they had gathered as huge a quantity for future use as possible; as if in defiance and contempt of the Divine warning that their greed would turn to satiety and loathing (see Numbers 11:19 and Numbers 11:32). If this were so, then the feast to which they so eagerly looked forward would begin throughout the camps on the second night, and the visitation of God might well have had the sudden and simultaneous character attributed to it here and in Psalms 78:30, Psalms 78:31. At any rate the statement of the text positively excludes the idea that they went on eating quails for a whole month, according to the promise (or threat) of Psalms 78:20. There was flesh enough to have secured the literal fulfillment of that promise by gorging them for a whole month; but it is evident that the Divine wrath anticipated any such tardy revenges, and smote its victims in the very moment of their keenest gratification. The Lord smote the people with a very great plague. Both ancients and moderns state that the flesh of quails is unwholesome (cf. Pliny, 10:23), but this appears to have no very valid foundation. Unquestionably quails eaten for a month by people unused to a flesh diet would produce many and fatal sicknesses; but there is no room for any such natural results here. Whatever form the plague may have taken, it was as clearly supernatural in its suddenness and intensity as the supply of quails itself. We do not know anything as to who were smitten, or how many; the Psalmist tells us that they were "the fattest" and "the chosen in Israel, and we may naturally suppose that those who had been foremost in the lusting and the murmuring were foremost in the ruin which followed.

Numbers 11:34

Kibroth-Hattaavah. The graves of greediness. Septuagint, Μνήματα τῆς ἐπιθυμίας. This name, like Tabeerah, was given to the place by the Israelites themselves in connection with their own history; the name, therefore, like the sad memory it enshrined, lived only in the sacred record. It is utterly uncertain where it lay, except that it was apparently the terminus of a three days' journey from Sinai, and in the desert of Paran. How long they stayed at Kibroth-Hattaavah is also quite uncertain. If the plague followed hard upon the coming of the quails, a few days would suffice for all the events recorded in this chapter, and we may well believe that the people would be only too glad to receive the signal of departure as soon as they had buried their unhappy brethren.

Numbers 11:35

And abode at Hazeroth. Or, "were in Hazeroth." Septuagint, ἐγένετο ὁ λαὸς Ἀσηρώθ. Hazeroth, from חָצַר, to shut in, means "enclosures;" so named perhaps from some ancient stone enclosures erected by wandering tribes for their herds and flocks. It has been identified with Ain el Hadhera, a fountain eighteen hours northeast of Sinai, but on no satisfactory grounds beyond a partial resemblance of name. Assuming that the march lay in a northerly direction through the desert of Paran, the Israelites would naturally follow the road which leads across the southern mountain barrier of et-Tih, and on by the Wady es-Zulakeh into the desert plateau. On this road there is a large fountain, with pasturage, at a place called el Ain, and another somewhat further at Bit ed-Themmed. One or other of these was probably the site of Hazeroth (cf. Stanley, ‘Sinai,' page 84). It is, however, entirely a matter of conjecture, and of little real interest. The progress of Israel which is of unfading importance to us is a moral and religious, and not a geographical, progress.


Numbers 11:4-35


We have in this section a Divine commentary, in dark and terrible characters, on the commandment, "Thou shalt not covet." And we know that the record was given to us "to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted" (1 Corinthians 10:6). We have also, intermingled with the dark record of sin and wrath, a beautiful picture of the long-suffering of God with the errors and impatience of his servant, and of the unfettered energy of his free Spirit. In all these things they were τύποι ἡμῶν, our examples. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT ALL THIS SIN AND MISERY BEGAN WITH "LUST," i.e; UNHALLOWED AND UNRESTRAINED DESIRE, which is indeed the inner source of all iniquity, because it is the will of the creature setting itself upon that which the Creator has forbidden or denied; hence it is the simplest and readiest way in which the creature can rebel against the Creator, for it is always possible, and indeed easy, to lust, and there is no one who is not tempted to it. Thus Eve lusted for the forbidden fruit, and brought death into the world. Even so St. James says, "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and is enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin." And our Saviour, that all evil proceeds out of the heart, which is the seat of the emotions and desires. If, therefore, our desires were held in subjection to the will and word of God, there would be no sin in us; but as long as concupiscence is in us, it will assuredly draw us into evil (cf. Romans 7:7, Romans 7:8, Romans 7:11; Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 2:16).

II. THAT THE FIRST EXPRESSION (AT ANY RATE) OF THIS UNHALLOWED DESIRE CAME FROM THE MIXED MULTITUDE—the aliens, or half-breeds, who had come with them, not from faith in God, but from inferior motives. Even so the low moral tone and the frequent enormities chargeable upon Christians are due in the first instance to those who are only nominally Christian, who have been attracted into the fellowship either by accident of birth or by worldly and unspiritual motives. It is the fate of every great and successful movement to carry away with it many who have (inwardly) no sympathy with it and no part in it. So it was with Israel, so with the Church of Christ, so with any religious revival. Here is the great danger of an established and fashionable Christianity; it numbers a multitude of nominal adherents, whose motives and desires are wholly unchastened, and who are always ready to set the worst example, and to encourage the most pernicious practices. Compare the "false brethren," 2 Corinthians 11:26.


(1) it fell in with their own secret feelings,

(2) it was recommended by considerations of friendship and relationship,

(3) the voice of prudence is scarcely ever a match for the promptings of desire.

Even so it is the most striking feature of sin in feeling or in act that it becomes an epidemic which only a very sound and vigorous spiritual state can resist. Compare the case of Judas and the other apostles (Matthew 26:8, Matthew 26:9; John 12:4, John 12:5); compare St. Peter and the Judaisers (Galatians if. 12, 13); compare the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 5:2, 1 Corinthians 5:6, 1 Corinthians 5:11); and the sins which each generation of Christians has committed or does commit in common—such as lying, dueling, swindling. There is no sin against which more fearful warnings and examples lie than that of covetousness; yet there is none of which Christians are more generally guilty under stress of bad example and the low moral tone and degraded traditions of society, of trade, of business, &c. The warnings of the New Testament, though always fresh in the hearing and clear in the remembrance of Christian people, are absolutely ineffective as against the common promptings of evil desire.

IV. THAT WHAT THEY EVILLY DESIRED WAS NOT EVIL IN ITSELF. There was no harm in eating flesh, nor were any of the cheap luxuries they coveted objectionable in themselves. Even so we ever excuse ourselves for wanting, because what we want is not forbidden, but only denied. There is no harm (absolutely) in being rich, therefore we take no shame at covetousness. There is no harm (absolutely) in the pleasures of the flesh, therefore we are ready to excuse any indulgence in them. Christian morality is a law of liberty, unbound by formal rules, therefore we boldly strain that liberty to our immediate advantage, and fancy that the absence of prohibition is tantamount to actual allowance on the part of God.





(1) Inasmuch as the food they had given them was nutritious, wholesome, and abundant for the short journey which lay before them.

(2) Inasmuch as the savoury and luscious things they wept for were peculiarly Egyptian, and went hand in hand (as they do still) with cruel oppression and degradation: it was the food of slavery.

(3) Inasmuch as such things were clearly not to be expected in a wilderness such as God was leading them through.

Even so sinful greed among Christians is known by the same three tokens.

(1) It is a craving for superfluities. What God has given us (however little compared with our desires) is enough; for it will suffice, if welt used, to bring us to our home in health and strength (Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6-8.; Hebrews 13:5). More than we have must be more than enough, for God is pledged to give us that (Matthew 6:33, Matthew 6:34; Luke 12:32; Romans 8:32).

(2) It is a craving for things essentially connected with the bondage of sin and worldliness, from which we are escaped. Such luxuries as wealth, rank, or fashion can afford are (without being in themselves evil) so closely connected with evil that every earnest Christian must dread rather than covet them (Matthew 6:19, Matthew 6:21, Matthew 6:31, Matthew 6:32 a; Luke 6:24; Luke 16:19, Luke 16:25; James 5:1).

(3) It is an open contempt of God's appointment, who hath not given us any inheritance here, and hath told us to expect tribulation, and to love poverty and reproach, because it is good for us (Luke 6:20, Luke 6:22; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:24; 2Co 4:18; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 13:14; James 2:5).

VI. THAT THE UNRESTRAINED WEEPING OF THE PEOPLE FOR THE DAINTIES THEY COULD NOT HAVE WAS EXCEEDING HATEFUL IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. It did indeed make no account of all his mercies, but rather reproached him for bringing them out of Egypt and setting them free. It was as good as saying they wished he had never troubled himself about them. Even so the greed of Christians is an open reproach against him that loved them and gave himself for them, as though he had done nothing to earn their trust and gratitude, and had rather treated them unkindly. He who passionately desires earthly gains, or bitterly laments earthly losses, flings contempt upon the gifts of Heaven and reproach upon his God and Saviour. Wherefore it speaks of "the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth" (Psalms 10:3; cf. Luke 12:15; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; James 4:3, James 4:4).

VII. THAT THE LORD, IN ORDER TO PUNISH THE PEOPLE, GAVE THEM AN ABUNDANCE OF WHAT THEY ASKED FOR. Even so God punishes our greed by letting us have as much as we want of the coveted thing. The covetous person is punished by ample wealth, the slothful by abundance of ease, the proud by success and flattery, the vain by large admiration, the sensual by unstinted gratification. Thus the man punishes himself, the Lord providing h{m with the means of destruction. Whether we like it or not, this is the law of Providence; and to us it is the justice of God. Compare the case of Pharaoh (Romans 9:17, Romans 9:18); of the rich fool (Luke 12:16); of Herod (Acts 12:22).

VIII. THAT THE PEOPLE IN THEIR GREED LABOURED DAY AND NIGHT TO ACCUMULATE PRODIGIOUS QUANTITIES OF FOOD WHICH THEY NEVER ATE. Even so do vain men labour and toil to lay up treasures upon earth, never resting as long as anything remains to be got—treasures which after all they shall never enjoy, and shall perhaps eternally regret (Matthew 19:24; Luke 12:21; Luke 16:25; James 5:2; Revelation 3:17).

IX. THAT THE PEOPLE, APART FROM ANY SUPERNATURAL INTERVENTION, WOULD HAVE SICKENED OF THE QUANTITY OF ANIMAL FOOD THEY THOUGHT TO EAT, AND FOUND IT "LOATHSOME." Even so self-indulgence soon reaches its natural limits, even when left to itself, and provokes a natural reaction of disgust. If this world were all, moderation, self-restraint, and contentment with a little would still make a happier life than luxury and dissipation. The "roses and raptures of vice" which are sung by many poets, ancient and modern, do not only fade very quickly, but leave a very evil smell behind them.

X. THAT THE JUSTICE Or GOD LEFT NOT THE ISRAELITES TO THE SLOW REVENGE OF NATURAL SATIETY; hardly had they tasted the flesh ere the plague began among them. Even so greed has its natural reaction of misery, even in the life of this world, but it has its Divine punishment in the soul. "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul," says the Psalmist (Psalms 106:15), revealing the spiritual truth which lay hid in this history. There is a balance Divinely held between the bodily life and that of the soul, so that if the first is full and fat and well-liking, the second is empty and lean and ill-favoured. No man can cater greedily for his body without impoverishing his soul; no man Can gratify eagerly his carnal appetites without incurring spiritual disease (Luke 6:24-26).

XI. THAT ONE OF THE EARLIEST STATIONS ON THE WAY TO CANAAN WAS "THE GRAVES OF GREED," AND THAT THE NEXT WAS "ENCLOSURES." Even so in the heavenward journey of the Church we soon come (alas, how soon I) to the graves of greed, to the dishonourable sepulchers of such as perished through love of money or of pleasure. Behold the graves of Ananias, of Sapphira, of those who "slept" at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:30), of "that woman Jezebel" (Revelation 2:20), of Demas. And after this we come to "enclosures "—long series of outward restrictions and regulations, some apostolic and some later, which mark a stage in the Church's journey, and testify to her efforts to maintain her moral purity (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9, 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 11:34 b; 1 Timothy 5:9). And what is true of the Church is true of many an individual member. As memory retraces the onward path, how soon come the "graves of greed," the sad memorials of passions sinfully indulged and sharply revenged! and after that the "enclosures "—the restraints and restrictions by which liberty was perforce abridged in order that sin and folly might be fenced out.

Consider, again, with respect to the manna—

I. THAT THE PEOPLE WERE REALLY TEMPTED TO WEARY OF THE SAMENESS AND INSIPIDITY OF THE MANNA, their staple food. To a palate accustomed to the pungent condiments and varied delicacies of Egypt, it was a great trial to have nothing but manna for a year; no doubt it failed to satisfy the appetite, and cloyed upon the taste, in spite of its wholesome and nutritious qualities. Even so it is a real trial to one who has known the excitements of sin and the dissipations of the world to satisfy himself with the spiritual joys and interests of religion, and we ought to recognize the fact that it is a real trial. In many Who have been recovered from a life of indulgence the craving for excitement is at times almost intolerable. Nature itself, even when not depraved by long habit, longs for excitement and change, and wearies of the calm monotony of faith, hope, and charity. Even the "sweetness" of the bread of life, which is at first as "honey" and as "fresh oil" to the starved and sickly soul, palls upon it after a while, and the old longings reassert themselves. How many tire of "angels' food" who took to it eagerly enough at first I (cf. 1Ti 5:11-13, 1 Timothy 5:15; Revelation 2:4).

II. THAT THE MANNA WAS IN FORM AS "CORIANDER SEED," WHICH WE KNOW; IN COLOUR AS "BDELLIUM," WHICH WE DO NOT KNOW. Even so there is about the true bread of heaven a mixture of the known and the unknown, of that which can be expressed, and of that which passes human understanding. The coriander seed is of common use, but the bdellium is of paradise (Genesis 2:12). And so may we all know the beauty of Christ in part, but in part we shall never know until we see him as he is (cf. Revelation 2:17, "hidden manna;" Revelation 3:12, "my new name;" Revelation 19:12).

III. THAT THE PEOPLE HABITUALLY PREPARED THE MANNA FOR EATING IN VARIOUS WAYS, as experience and their own preference guided them. Even so the manna of souls, although it does not need, yet it does not reject, the use of human means and art in order to present it acceptably to the spiritual needs of men. God has nowhere said that all men, of whatsoever habit of mind, must receive the word and sacrament of Christ in the simplest and barest form, or not at all; it is only needful that Christ, however received, be the sole and substantial sustenance of the soul (John 6:50, John 6:58; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Galatians 1:9; Philippians 1:18).

Consider, again, with respect to Moses and the seventy—

I. THAT THE SIN OF THE PEOPLE LED TO A DIFFERENT SIN IN MOSES. He would never have murmured at hardships, or have lusted; but he lost his temper, and spake unadvisedly with his lips. Even so sin constantly leads to sin, even where it has no direct influence, and other people's faults are often not less dangerous temptations to us because we abhor them. Thus a frivolous wife may make a soured husband; an unprincipled father a hard and stern child; a worldly clergyman a sarcastic and incredulous congregation (cf. Matthew 24:12; Luke 18:11; Romans 2:22 b).

II. THAT THE TEMPTATION UNDER WHICH MOSES FELL WAS A PECULIARLY INSIDIOUS ONE. His passionate anger with the people and disgust with his position as their leader might seem only a noble indignation against wrong. Even so many are tempted to feel nothing but scorn at "baptized heathenism," and impatience with the moral failures of the age, without due consideration either of the wise and loving purposes of God or of their own duties (Psalms 37:8; Jonah 4:9; Ephesians 4:26, Ephesians 4:27; James 1:19, James 1:20).

III. THAT IN HIS SORROW AND RESENTMENT BY REASON OF THE WICKED HE WAS GUILTY OF GRAVE INJUSTICE AND INSOLENCE AGAINST GOD. Even so we, if we are carried away by indignation against un-Christlike Christians, are in danger of sinning against God, who has borne with them, and bears with them still, and who has made us responsible not for their perfection, but only for our own, and has not given to any a greater burden than he is able to bear (Luke 9:55, Luk 9:56; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Timothy 2:21, 2Ti 2:25, 2 Timothy 2:26; 2 Peter 3:15).

IV. THAT MOSES ALSO ERRED BY FORMING FAR TOO HIGH AN ESTIMATE OF HIS OWN OFFICIAL IMPORTANCE AND RESPONSIBILITY, as though he had been the real father of his people, whereas "one was their Father, which was in heaven." Even so it is very easy and natural for us, if we are in earnest, to exaggerate the importance of our work, and to mistake the nature of our responsibility in the Church. It is only God who by his one Spirit does all good work in the Church, and he will take care that it is done to his own mind; we are but instruments, who have no responsibility, save that of being "meet for the Master's use" (1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

V. THAT GOD WAS EXCEEDING MERCIFUL TO THE SIN OF MOSES, because it was of human infirmity, and because it was the petulant outbreak of a mind and heart overcharged with grief and failure. Even so did our Lord bear with his apostles, and will bear with all the errors and outbreaks of an honest heart (Psalms 103:13, Psalms 103:14; Luke 22:31-34, Luke 22:61; John 20:27).

VI. THAT GOD ALLOWED THE ONE COMPLAINT OF MOSES WHICH WAS REASONABLE, AND FOUNDED THE PROPHETIC ORDER TO ASSIST IN THE RELIGIOUS DIRECTION OF THE PEOPLE. Even so out of complaints and difficulties have arisen many permanent gifts of the Spirit to the Church, for in this as in other ways man's extremity is God's opportunity. Thus out of tile murmuring of the Grecians arose the diaconate (Acts 6:1, Acts 6:6); out of the troubles at Corinth the better regulation of the Agape and the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).

VII. THAT IT WAS THE SPIRIT WHICH RESTED UPON MOSES WHICH WAS COMMUNICATED TO THE SEVENTY, inasmuch as their prophetic office was to be held and exercised in unity with, and subordination to, the mediator of Israel. Even so it is the Spirit of Jesus which-is the spirit of prophecy—the Spirit of Christ and from Christ which must rest upon every Christian teacher. The anointing which qualifies to speak Divine mysteries must be from him who was anointed the one Mediator and the only Prophet (John 1:16, John 1:33; John 16:13, John 16:14, &c.).

VIII. THAT THE ANOINTING OF THE SPIRIT SHOWED ITSELF IN THE SEVENTY BY ECSTATIC UTTERANCE—A THING NEVER RECORDED OF MOSES HIMSELF. Even so the first evidence of the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ upon the disciples was that they spake with tongues, which our Lord had never done; for all such manifestations are for a sign, and are no evidence of any superior greatness or holiness in the person so endowed. How often are mere "gifts" mistaken for intrinsic worth, and "the disciple" really esteemed "above his master," because he is not" as his master"! (John 14:12 b; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

IX. THAT THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT WAS INDEPENDENT OF OUTWARD ACCIDENTS, THOUGH NOT OF OUTWARD ORDER. The designation of the seventy was left to Moses, and Eldad and Medad were among the number selected; they were prevented from attending at the tabernacle, but they received the same gift as the others. Even so the gifts of the Spirit are not independent of ecclesiastical order, nor are they bestowed at random; but they are not restrained by anything unavoidable or accidental. It is the purpose of God which is operative, not the ceremonial, however authoritative. The Spirit of God is a free Spirit, even where he elects to act through certain channels (cf. Acts 1:26; Acts 13:2; 1 Corinthians 12:11; 2 Corinthians 3:17).

X. THAT THE JEALOUSY OF JOSHUA FOR HIS MASTER WAS RIGHT IN PRINCIPLE, ALTHOUGH WRONG IN THE PARTICULAR APPLICATION. It was impossible for him always to distinguish between a right and a wrong jealousy for the authority and supremacy of Moses. Even so jealousy for the sole pre-eminence of Christ is deeply rooted in all true Christian hearts, but it constantly shows itself in the most mistaken forms. The most opposite bigotries derive their strength from this principle in ignorant or prejudiced minds, and indeed the very best and wisest may often err in this matter. Good people do, as a fact, constantly denounce this or that as an interference with the prerogatives of Christ: when it is in truth only a carrying out of his work in his name. Since, however, the principle is right, we must bear with the wrong application of it; we must not be angry even with intolerance if it spring from genuine loyalty to the one Lord and only Mediator, Christ.

XI. THAT MOSES DESIRED NOTHING SO LITTLE AS A MONOPOLY OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS. If he ever had been personally ambitious, a larger knowledge of his people and experience of his work had quite delivered him from it. Even so every true Christian teacher and leader, howsoever he may feel bound to magnify his office, will greatly long for the time when "all will he taught of God," and when all distinctions will be for ever abolished, save such as depend on persona] nearness to God. How hateful is the idea that the flock should be kept in darkness in order that the shepherds may have a monopoly of influence I How happy were the pastor's charge if all were "spiritual" 1 (Jeremiah 31:34; John 6:45; 1Co 14:5; 1 Corinthians 4:8 b; 1 Peter 5:3; 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27).


Numbers 11:16, Numbers 11:17, Numbers 11:24, Numbers 11:25


The murmuring of the people so soon after setting out on the march from Horeb reminded Moses again, very painfully, what a heavy burden had been laid upon him in the leadership of so great a multitude of people newly escaped from slavery. He complained to the Lord. His complaint was graciously heard. He was directed to gather around him a company of seventy elders, who might aid him with their counsel, and share his burden.

I. Regarding THE STATUS AND FUNCTIONS OF THIS COMPANY OF SEVENTY there have been many debates. Some have identified them with the Sanhedrim or Council of Seventy whom we meet with so often in the Gospels and the Acts. Passing by these questions, let us note the facts recorded in the text itself. What was wanted was not the appointment of ordinary rulers or judges. Every tribe had already a prince, a body of elders and officers, and rulers of tens and fifties and hundreds and thousands, who judged between man and man. What was wanted was a council to aid Moses with their advice and assistance in the administration of the national affairs. (Compare the Governors and Council in a British dependency.)


1. No one was appointed who was not in public office already. "Gather unto me seventy men, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them;" i.e; they were not to be raw, inexperienced, untried men. Only those were eligible who had given proof of ability and faithfulness in the public service, either as elders or as officers (i.e; writers or scriveners—this is the literal meaning of the Hebrew shoterim. The reference is to professional scribes, the assessors of non-professional magistrates, such as the Hebrew elders were). This rule was a good one. No man should be raised at one bound to high office, either in Church or State.

2. They were nominated by Moses. In this respect the procedure was exceptional. There was far less of centralization in the government of Israel than a modern and Western reader of the Bible is apt to think. To be sure, there were no representative bodies such as we are familiar with. Nevertheless, the government was truly popular. Even in Egypt the people were ruled, in the first instance, by their own elders—the beads of families and tribes; and this primitive system was continued in a more perfect form in Palestine. But although local government could be best administered by local magistrates, it was otherwise with the supreme and central government with which Moses was charged. A council such as he required could only be had by freely calling forth men of outstanding ability and approved wisdom.

3. They were invested with office in the face of the congregation, and before the Lord. In the face of the congregation, to remind them that they were to act for the public good, and not in pursuance of any private interest. Before the Lord, to remind them that "there is no power but of God;" their authority is from God, and is to be used as they shall answer to him.

4. They were endowed from above with new gifts to qualify them for their new office. When Moses gathered them before the tabernacle, "the Lord came down in a cloud, and spoke unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders." This has been interpreted to mean that there was abstracted from Moses some part of the spirit by which he had hitherto been sustained. But that is certainly a perverse misinterpretation. Twenty lamps may be lighted from one lamp without diminishing its brightness (cf. 2 Kings 2:9). God sendeth no man to warfare at his own charges. When he calls any man to public service, whether in Church or State, the man so called may, without doubting, ask and expect the wisdom, strength, courage which the service requires (James 1:5-8).

III. The most picturesque feature in the narrative is that which remains yet to be noticed—THE STRIKING SIGN BY WHICH NOTIFICATION WAS GIVEN THAT THE SEVENTY ELDERS HAD TRULY BEEN CALLED BY GOD AND WOULD BE COUNTENANCED BY HIM. "When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, and added no more" (such is the rendering now preferred by all the best translators). "They prophesied," that is, they spoke as men who were for the time lifted above themselves—as men under the influence of an irresistible power external to themselves. We may presume that what they did say would be of such a kind as to make it plain that the power acting upon them was Divine and heavenly. This prophesying was intended to signalize the inward gifts with which the newly-appointed elders were now being endowed. This is plain from the parallel case related in 1 Samuel 10:1-27. The Lord in appointing Saul be king over Israel promised "to be with him; to give him another heart," so that he should "be turned into another man." With the kingly office he was to get from the Lord the kingly mind. In token of this, the Spirit came upon him, and he prophesied (cf. Acts 2:3, Acts 2:4; Acts 10:44-47). The impulse was only a transient one. "They prophesied, and added no more." The miracle, having served its purpose, ceased; but the spiritual endowment of which it was the token remained. This prophesying, if you consider it well, will be seen to be more than a token. Besides notifying the Lord s approval of the elders, and assuring them of help, it suggested much instruction regarding the principles which should regulate their administration. The tongues of fire and the rapturous speaking with tongues on the day of Pentecost, we know what that miracle meant. It admonished the disciples that the warfare of Christ's kingdom is to be accomplished not with the sword, but with the tongue; not with violence and bloodshed, but by the earnest and living manifestation of the truth. It was a lesson of the same kind which the Lord suggested by the miracle wrought on the seventy elders in front of the tabernacle. They were admonished that in their administration of affairs they ought to make use rather of wise and persuasive speech than of brute force. And is not this a lesson for us also? The time is not come yet—perhaps will never come in the present state—for rulers to lay aside the sword altogether. Violent men, if they will not listen to reason, must be restrained with violence. Nevertheless, even for civil rulers, the employment of force is the less honourable function of their office. Better to restrain and guide and govern men with wise, firm, persuasive words than with the sword.—B.

Numbers 11:26-30


This narrative brings up a subject which is at once of great practical importance and of great delicacy, on which men have been apt to run to extremes on the one side or the other. It will be our wisdom, therefore, to begin by weighing carefully the facts as they are set forth in the sacred narrative.

I. THE FACTS are, shortly, these:—Moses having complained that the leadership of the nation was a burden greater than he could bear, the Lord gave direction that a Council of Seventy should be associated with him in it. This was done. From among the acting elders and officers of the congregation Moses called out seventy and they were solemnly set apart to the new office, before the Lord and the congregation. This consecration-service did not pass without a palpable token of the Divine approval, a palpable token that appropriate gifts would be forthcoming to the new rulers as they had been to Moses. When the Seventy were being set apart, the Spirit fell upon them, and they prophesied. While this was going on at the tent of meeting, a young man came running with the tidings that two men were prophesying in the camp. On inquiry it turned out that these were two of the seventy whom Moses had nominated for the council. For some reason or other they had not come forward with the rest to the tent of meeting. Notwithstanding of this, the Spirit had come on them in the camp exactly as he had come on their brethren, and they were prophesying. Clearly there was in this a breach of due order. Eldad and Medad ought to have presented themselves along with the rest. They were chargeable with an irregularity. Accordingly, Joshua, who is already the trusted "minister of Moses," suggests that they should be silenced. "My lord Moses, forbid them." But Moses is of another mind. Is it certain that Eldad and Medad are prophesying? If so, the hand of the Lord, we may presume, is in the matter. Spiritual gifts are not such cheap and common things that we can afford to throw them away. Possibly enough these prophets in the camp have failed to make due acknowledgment of me as the Divinely-appointed leader of the congregation. But let no man look with an evil eye on them for my sake. Would that the Spirit were put on all the people! I should rejoice to see my light outshone in such a general brightness!

II. WHAT HAVE THESE FACTS TO SAY TO US? What lesson do they teach?

1. At first sight it might seem as if they taught us to make light of office, solemn ordination to office, official service, and to attach importance only to the possession and exercise of gifts. But that certainly is not intended. The new council was not to consist of men simply obeying an internal call. No one was admissible without prior experience in office, and without election by Moses. And it was by Divine command that the sixty-eight were solemnly set apart before the Lord and the congregation. I need not prove that in the State it is the will of God that there should be magistrates, laws, and strict enforcement of the laws. In the Church there is: no doubt, a difference; for the Church has no coercive power. Its weapons are the truth and the tongue of fire, not the sword. Nevertheless, order is quite as necessary in the Church as in the State. "In all churches of the saints God is the author of peace, not of confusion," and all things are to be "done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:33-40).

2. The narrative admonishes us that office and order and official service, necessary as they may be, are not everything. They are not everything, even in the State, much less are they everything in the Church. The salvation and edification of souls will not go forward unless there is a continual ministration of the Spirit in gifts and in grace. That is a general lesson the facts teach. More particularly they admonish us that we need not be surprised if it should occasionally happen that men who are walking irregularly give evidence of having been richly endowed with spiritual gifts. I will not discuss the question, How such a thing can be; how the God of order can, without contradicting himself, bestow his valuable gifts on men who do not quite conform to the good order of his house. For the fact is plain. Whether we can account for it or no, the fact is indubitable. Has not Christ raised up men like Pascal within the Romish communion? Yet every Protestant believes that the Church of Rome has grievously erred both in respect to Church order, and in the weightiest points of faith and holiness. Do not suppose that these and similar facts are to be accounted for by alleging that Christendom has for a long while fallen away into anarchy. For facts of the same kind found place in connection with the personal ministry of Christ himself. The Twelve were Christ's apostles, and it was the duty of all disciples to follow with them. Did, therefore, Christ withhold his gifts from all save those in the apostles' company? On the contrary, there was found an individual now and then who, though he followed not with the apostles, nevertheless both spoke in Christ's name, and spoke to such good purpose that devils were cast forth.

3. What, then, is the conclusion to which we are led? "Quench not the Spirit: despise not prophesying." I do not say that it was the duty of Moses, or is our duty in similar circumstances, to go forth to Eldad and Medad, and identify ourselves with them in their work. That will depend on circumstances. Sometimes one cannot take part with the irregular prophets without concurring in what would for us be sin. Christ's command was not, Go and join yourselves to the man who is casting out devils in my name, irregularly. But it was, Forbid him not. Is a man really prophesying? Is he casting out devils? Is he setting forth the truth and doing-good? Then do not forbid him. Bring him, if you can, to a fuller knowledge of the truth, and to more regular courses, but do not look on him with jealous eyes, or try to put him down. If Christ is preached, whether it be in pretence or in truth, I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:14-28).—B.

Numbers 11:4-15; 31-35


This eleventh of Numbers is a chapter of complainings. First, at Taberah, vague murmurings are heard throughout the camp. Then at Kibroth-hattaavah, a stage further on, the vague murmurings take shape in bitter complaint because of the fare to which the congregation was now confined. Manna I nothing but manna! While the people were harping on this grievance Moses also lifted up his voice in complaint. "Why has the Lord dealt so hardly with him as to lay on him the burden of so great a company? Better kill him out of hand, and not let him see his wretchedness!" Consider this scene at Kibroth-hattaavah. It is not pleasant to look at, especially when one becomes aware that it is a glass in which are to be seen passages in one's own history which one would gladly forget. Scenes not pleasant may nevertheless be profitable.


1. Where the sin began. It was among "the mixed multitude." A great crowd of foreigners who had been neighbours to the Israelites in Egypt, came forth with them at the Exodus, moved some by one motive and some by another (Exodus 12:38). It is instructive to observe that these were the first to break out into rebellious murmurs; equally instructive to observe that the evil generated amongst them spread from them into the body of the people. Every community has its mixed multitude, its pariahs, its residuum. To the existence of this class men have been too willing to shut their eyes. I know no better sign of the present age than its wide-spread desire to take note of these masses, and if possible bring them to God. Were there no higher motive, self-preservation might well plead with men to labour in this work. When destitution and filth are suffered to generate typhus among the poor, the deadly infection will make its way into the palaces of the rich. So when sin is suffered to become rampant in one class the other classes will not long escape the contagion.

2. The matter of complaint was little to the credit of the complainers. So long as the congregation lay en-camped in Horeb, the fare would be occasionally diversified with herbs and the like. In the wilderness of Paran there is only the manna. Certainly no just ground of complaint. The daily miracle ought rather to have moved to daily thanksgiving. But even of manna the people wearied. They craved greater variety.

3. How the complaint is answered (verses 18-21, 31-33). The people demand flesh, and flesh is given them beyond their utmost thought. They get their desire, but not God's blessing with it. So it becomes to them a curse in the end. Such a plague followed the "shower of flesh" that the place has ever since borne the ghastly name of Kibroth-hattaavah, the graves of lust. It is an admonition to us not to give way to impatience on account of real or imagined hardships in our lot; above all, not to let our impatience hurry us into rebellious demands for a change. Many a time such demands are granted to the confusion of those who made them. Before leaving this story of the people's sin at Kibroth-hattaavah, let me caution you against supposing that it is a mere parable, a late fiction, not the history of a real transaction. It is at present the fashion in some quarters to get rid of the miracles of the Exodus and of the forty years in the wilderness, by denying the historical truth of the Pentateuch, and interpreting it as at best an allegory or parable. But the Spirit of God has been careful to leave on the narrative indubitable marks of historical verity to confound such interpretations. For example, in this narrative

(1) observe the terms in which the people utter their complaint. "We remember the fish … cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic." Egypt all over I These are precisely the articles of food which were distinctively Egyptian. No one writing in Judah or Ephraim would ever have thought of putting such a bill of fare into the mouths of the complainers.

(2) Observe the nature of the miracle by which the people were fed. A shower of quails. This is as characteristic of the Sinaitic peninsula as the bill of fare was of Egypt. It was spring when the congregation arrived at Kibroth-hattaavah; at this season the quails "are annually in the habit of crossing the desert in countless myriads, flying very low, and often in the morning so utterly exhausted by their night's flight that they are slaughtered by the thousand" (Tristram). This chapter is history, not fable.

II. Moses, TOO, WAS A COMPLAINER AT KIBROTH-HATTAAVAH (read verses 11-15). His words are sufficiently bitter and impatient There is in them no little sin; yet they are not resented as the people's were. Moses is not taken at his word and smitten with a plague. On the contrary, the Lord comforts him with cheering words, and grants him a council of elders to alleviate the burden. This is the more worthy of notice, because it is by no means singular (see 1 Kings 19:4). Do you ask, What can be the reason of this? Why deal so gently with the complaints of Moses and Elijah, when the complaints of the congregation are so sharply punished? The difference can be explained. Observe where and to whom Moses expressed the grief and weariness of his heart. It was not to the Egyptians from whom they had come out; nor was it to the congregation of Israel. It was in the ear of God himself; he complains not of the Lord, but to the Lord—two very different sorts of complaint. A dutiful son may remonstrate with his father when the two are alone, but he will not cry out against his father to strangers. When the child of God has a complaint to make, it is to God he carries it. And complaints carried to God, even although there should be much impatience and unbelief at the root of them, will be listened to very graciously. The Lord, so great is his condescending love, would rather that we should pour out the griefs—even the unreasonable griefs—of our hearts, than that we should let them rankle in our bosoms.—B.


Numbers 11:10


Discontent springs from distrust. Distrust is a root-sin from which different kindred evils spring, such as discontent, dissatisfaction, disgust, disobedience, and other disagreeable states of mind. But "those that know thy name," &c. (Psalms 9:10; Lamentations 3:24). From these strange cairns in the wilderness, £ "the graves of lust," we hear a voice (1 Corinthians 10:6).



I. 1. Its disgraceful origin: "the mixed multitude," "hangers-on," "rift-raft." The chosen people of God listened and sympathized with them rather than with Moses and God. Apply to worldlings grumbling about weather, homes, situations, incomes, &c. (Proverbs 1:10; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 6:14).

2. The gross ingratitude of it. They were dissatisfied with the manna, which was wholesome, abundant, and adapted to various uses (Numbers 11:7-9), as though Hindoos should quarrel with their rice or the English with their wheat (1 Timothy 6:8). They recollect certain casual sensual advantages of past bondage, but forget its cruelties and degradation (Numbers 11:4-6). Why not remember the whips and fetters and infanticide? They think of suppers more than sufferings, of full stomachs rather than of famished souls. Let Christians beware of hankering after the indulgences of their old life (Proverbs 23:3; 1 John 2:15). And they complain of temporary deprivations, though hastening to a home of permanent and abundant good. They were passing through "that great and terrible wilderness" (Paran) because it was the direct route to the promised land (Deuteronomy 1:19; cf. 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 2:11).

3. The aggravations of it. For they had seen God's power already (Exodus 16:13; Psalms 78:19, Psalms 78:20). And have not we? (cf. Psalms 22:4, Psalms 22:5, Psalms 22:9, Psalms 22:10). And they overlooked recent chastisement (Numbers 11:1). God forbid that Isaiah 26:11 should be true of us, lest Proverbs 29:1-27, I should be also.

II. The disastrous results of their sin.

1. They angered Jehovah. Discontent in the guests of his bounty dishonours their generous host, as though Reuben bad complained because Joseph gave more to Benjamin (Genesis 43:34).

2. They grieved Moses, and even infected him with their own desponding spirit (Proverbs 29:11-15; see sketch below). Note how sin may become epidemic, spreading from the mixed multitude to the Israelites, and thence to Moses, like a disease introduced by foreign sailors spreading to our homes and palaces. Beware of carrying infection (Illustration, Asaph, Psalms 73:11-15).

3. They got what they desired, but are ruined thereby. Moses' prayer for help is answered in mercy (Proverbs 29:16, Proverbs 29:17); theirs for flesh, in judgment (Proverbs 29:18-20). They probably added gluttony to lust, and perished in the sight of plenty and at the moment of gratification (cf. Job 20:22, Job 20:23; Psalms 78:30, Psalms 78:31).


1. Prayers of discontent may bring answers of destruction. E.g; Rachel demanding children, and the Israelites a king. Greater wealth but worse health (Ecclesiastes 6:1, Ecclesiastes 6:2); worldly prosperity, but leanness of soul (Psa 106:15; 1 Timothy 6:9; James 4:4).

2. The blessedness of a contented trust (Philippians 4:11-13; Hebrews 13:5).—P.

Numbers 11:11-15


Moses is infected by the people s sin of discontent, though in the milder form of despondency. The signs and effects of it are as follows:—

I. MOSES FORGETS THAT THE BURDENS OF RESPONSIBILITY AND THE AFFLICTIONS THEY BRING WITH THEM, INSTEAD OF BEING A SIGN THAT HE HAS "NOT FOUND FAVOUR" IN GOD'S SIGHT, ARE A PROOF OF THE HONOUR PUT UPON HIM. Illustration: a diplomatist or a general (e.g; Sir Garnet Wolseley) selected out of all the Queen's servants for some arduous enterprise. Christian wife honoured by God with the responsibilities and burdens of motherhood.

II. HE FORGETS THAT OUR DUTIES ARE NOT LIMITED BY OUR NATURAL RELATIONSHIPS (Numbers 11:12). We are all "members of one another" (Romans 14:7; Philippians 2:4). All are in danger of a selfish disregard of those afar oft (savage Caffres, idolatrous Hindoos), or even of those at our doors, not our own kindred, respecting whose spiritual welfare we may be selfishly indifferent or despondent.

III. HE SPEAKS AS THOUGH THE BURDEN WAS THROWN ENTIRELY ON HIMSELF. The questions in Numbers 11:12, Numbers 11:13 are very unworthy of him. The cold fog of despondency chills him and obscures the light of God's presence which was promised to him (Exodus 33:14).

IV. HIS DESPONDENCY LEADS TO UNWORTHY REFLECTIONS ON GOD AND EXAGGERATED STATEMENTS ABOUT HIMSELF (Numbers 11:13, Numbers 11:14). A smaller burden would have been too great for him "alone;" a heavier not too great with God (cf. John 15:5; Philip. John 4:13).

V. IT PROMPTS HIM TO A SINFUL PRAYER (Numbers 11:15). Imagine that the prayer had been answered, and Moses had died on the spot; what a humiliating end! (cf. 1 Kings 19:4).

Let us learn the lesson Psalms 56:3, and thus climb to the level of a still higher experience: "I will trust, and not be afraid" (Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:3).—P.

Numbers 11:17


The endowment of the elders for official duties was—

1. A Divine gift imparted by God himself (1 Corinthians 12:4-6; James 1:17).

2. Yet mediate, through Moses, who was the first to enjoy it, but was thankful to share it with men in sympathy with himself (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21, 1Co 3:22; 1 Corinthians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 4:7).

3. A means of relief to Moses and of blessing to the people. The communication did not impoverish Moses, but enriched him. He was like a lamp from which seventy other lamps were lit. The communication of the gift. like mercy, was twice blessed—to him that gives and him that takes. It relieved Moses and enriched the elders, yet not for their own advantage, but as a means of discharging their new and solemn trust. All "gifts," however received, are to be looked on as talents and trusts. The law of the stewardship is found in Romans 12:3-8; 1Pe 4:10, 1 Peter 4:11.


1. The value of every spiritual gift. Men should not envy the possessor of it, but thank God for him, since the gift is communicable. If there had been no inspired Moses, there would have been no inspired elders. An Elisha is the heir of an Elijah (2 Kings 2:9, 2 Kings 2:10); a Timothy is the son of a Paul (2 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:6).

2. The privilege of being the medium of communicating a spiritual gift (Romans 1:11; Philippians 1:6).

3. The importance of "coveting the best gifts" which God can bestow, without human intervention, through his beloved Son.—P.

Numbers 11:26-29


The brevity of the narrative prevents us forming an adverse judgment of the conduct of Eldad and Medad, for we do net know their motive for remaining in the camp. It may have been ignorance of the call, or shrinking through timidity from a duty which, nevertheless, God would not allow them to escape. But the narrative is not too brief to enable us to see in Moses' words a fine illustration of largeness of heart. Note—

I. JOSHUA'S APPEAL. His love of order may have been offended. He feared lest the unity of the camp under the leadership of Moses should be disturbed. He was anxious for the honour of his master, and desired that political and ecclesiastical discipline should be not only really, but ostensibly, in his hands. The call of the seventy elders with prophetic powers was a new departure in the history of the theocracy, and now the prophesying of Eldad and Medad, apart, threatened still further apparently to derogate from the honours of Moses. Thus now narrow minds or small hearts may be fearful of that which is novel, and envious of those who take a course independent of established authorities and Church traditions, even though they "seem to have the Spirit of God." They may forbid, or at least "despise, prophesyings" which are not according to rule.

II. MOSES' REPLY. The only question with Moses is one not of place or method, but of reality. Are the prophesyings and the spirit "of God"? Largeness of heart cannot exempt us from this duty (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1-3). Moses could not recognize the falsehoods uttered in the tabernacle of Korah, though he rejoiced in the prophesyings of Eldad. Spurious charity is traitorous to truth; true charity can only rejoice "in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). The lesson taught us is illustrated by various incidents in the New Testament. A large-hearted Christian will not be offended—

1. If those who are clearly working in the name of Christ, and with the seal of his approval, do not follow with him (Mark 9:38-40).

2. If their success seems to imperil the prosperity of his party or denomination (John 3:26, &c.).

3. He will rejoice in the work, though unofficial and obscure men have originated it (Acts 11:19-24).

4. He will not "envy," but delight, in the proclamation of the gospel, even if the motives of the preachers are marred by "envy and strife" (Philippians 1:15-18). Large-heartedness will "covet earnestly the best gifts" for others, whatever the consequences may be to ourselves.—P.


Numbers 11:4


I. How CAME IT THERE? It left Egypt with them (Exodus 12:38). It had been accumulating, one knows not how long, and in how many ways. Egypt had not been a very comfortable place even for the Egyptians just before the exodus. Ten plagues in swift succession and increasing severity would make many outside Israel to desire another abode. The tyranny of Pharaoh may have been grievous to many of his own people. Many would join departing Israel uninvited; many also may have been asked by well-wishers and acquaintances, "Come with us, and we will do you good" (Numbers 10:29). So now there is a mixed multitude in the Church of Christ. It cannot be kept out. The supreme relation among men is no doubt that of union in Christ, spiritual brotherhood, fellowship ever becoming more intimate and precious; but the relations that arise out of nature, all domestic and social bonds in short, must also exert their influence during the earthly course of the Church. Who can tell what effect natural feelings have had in modifying, sometimes even in obscuring, the full force of Divine truth? How hard it was to keep the first generation of Hebrew Christians from mixing the bondage of Judaism with the liberty which is in Christ! Nor must we forget that in every individual Christian there is something of the spirit of the mixed multitude, the old man not yet dead, and struggling to keep his hold, even while the new man is growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Whatever precaution and strictness the Church may observe, it cannot keep the spirit of the world out.

II. THE DANGER FROM ITS PRESENCE. The mixed multitude began to lust, therein acting according to its nature. There was no covenant with it, no promise to it, no assurance of Canaan. It had no lot in the tabernacle, and what share it got of the manna was to be regarded as one in later days regarded the Saviour's boon to her: "The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Hence it was free to think without let or hindrance on the much-loved delicacies of Egypt. Just so there is a mixed multitude in and about the Church of Christ, which, with the spirit of the world dominant in its heart, soon makes the ways of the world to appear in its life. From many temptations you can escape by running away from the scene of them; but what must you do if temptations beset you in the very paths of religion themselves? This is the peculiar danger from the mixed multitude. When Jesus foils the third temptation in the wilderness, Satan departs from him for a season; but what shall he do when Peter, the chosen, daily companion, in the impulse of his carnal heart, would turn him from the cross? We know what Jesus did, but none the less was he exposed to the spirit of the ,nixed multitude then. Or what shall Paul do, intrepid enough against avowed enemies, when his friends at Caesarea assail him in a way to break his heart (Acts 21:12, Acts 21:13). There is a subtle, unconscious, unintended way in which the prophecy may be carried out that a man's foes shall be they of his own household. The mixed multitude may have been dangerous most of all in this, that it did not mean to be dangerous at all.

III. How TO GUARD AGAINST THE DANGER. There is but one way, and that to live more and more in pursuit of heavenly objects. The mixed multitude will not alter in the objects of its love; when any of its number cease to do so, it is because they have passed over to join the true Israel. The change then must be in us—more of ardour and aspiration. Note Paul's counsel to Timothy: "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow (διώκε) righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22). The fleeing is not a mere fleeing; it is a pursuing; a fleeing because it is a pursuing. Many temptations will pant in vain after the ardour and simplicity in Christ Jesus of such a man as Paul (2Co 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Ephesians 4:17-24; Philippians 1:21-23; Philippians 3:7-14). And even the subtlest temptations of the mixed multitude are turned gently aside, as by Jesus himself, when his mother and brethren desired to speak with him (Matthew 12:46-50). We must not only say, but feel it, that the Father's business is the main thing. From the very depths of our hearts must rise the cry, almost a groaning that cannot be uttered, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Thy will, not the wishes of corrupted human affections, however strong and entangling the affections may be (1 Corinthians 5:9, 1 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).—Y.

Numbers 11:10-15


Jehovah and his servant Moses are very differently affected by this universal complaint of the Israelites. "The anger of the Lord was kindled greatly ;" how it was expressed, we see later on. At present we have to consider the displeasure of Moses. God was made angry by the unbelief and ingratitude of the people, but Moses is chiefly concerned because of the great straits into which he himself is being brought. Hence his expostulation.

I. IT CONTAINS A CLEAR RECOGNITION OF DUTY. Duty may be perfectly clear, even when there is much perplexity as to how it is to be performed. Moses had no manner of doubt that God had put him in his present position. Intolerable was the burden and keen the pain, but they had not come through any ambition of his own, and this in itself made a great deal of difference. If Moses had led the Israelites into the wilderness for his own purposes, he could not have spoken in the way he did. From the intolerable burden there were two ways of escape, flight and death—death did suggest itself, but flight never. Moses even in his very complaining is nobler than Jonah running away. As we see him thus suffering this great pressure for the sins of the people, we cannot help thinking of Jesus in the garden, praying that, it possible, the cup might pass from him. So Paul tells us that, in addition to things from without, the care (μέριμνα) of all the Churches came upon him (2 Corinthians 11:28). It may be our duty, in the name of God, and at his clear command, to attempt what the world, following out its own order of thinking, calls impossible.

II. IT INDICATES A TOO FAVOURABLE ESTIMATE OF HUMAN NATURE, AS HAVING BEEN ENTERTAINED BY MOSES. He must have thought better of his followers and fellow-countrymen than they deserved. Not that he who had seen so much of them could possibly be blind to their faults; but we may well suppose that he expected too great a change from the influences of the sojourn near Sinai. He gave them credit, probably, for something of his own feeling, full of expectation and of joy in the abiding favour and protection of God. And now, when the reality appears in all its hideousness, there is a corresponding reaction. Unregenerate human nature must always be regarded with very moderate expectations. At its best it is a reed easily broken. How much higher than Moses is Jesus! He knew what was in man. And what light he gave to his apostles on this subject, e.g; to Paul, who saw and declared so distinctly the weakness of law to do anything save expose and condemn. It is not possible for us to make too much allowance for the corruption and degradation of human nature through sin. Only thus shall we appreciate the change to be effected before men are what God would have them to be.

III. THE REACTION FROM THIS TOO FAVOURABLE ESTIMATE SHOWS ITSELF IN THE DESPAIRING LANGUAGE OF MOSES. He goes from one extreme to the other. Having thought too well of Israel he now speaks of them below the truth. They are but sucking children. The many thousands of Israel have been thrown like helpless infants on his bands. We see presently that seventy men out of this very multitude are found fit to assist him, but in his confusion and despair he cannot stop to think of anything but death. He saw only the cloud and not the silver lining. Life henceforth meant nothing but wretchedness, and God's greatest boon would be to take it away. He wanted to be in that refuge which Job sought after his calamities, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest (Job 3:1-26, the whole chapter). It is worth while again contrasting Moses under the law with the apostles ,ruder the gospel. When Moses feels the heavily-pressing burden, he loses his presence of mind and begins to talk of death. When the apostles have the murmurers coming to them, they at once in a calm and orderly way prepare to get assistance (Acts 6:1-6).—Y.

Numbers 11:16, Numbers 11:17


1. He does not openly and directly reprove the reckless language of his servant. Both Moses and the people had sinned, but with such a difference that while God visits the people with immediate and condign punishment he stretches forth his hand to Moses, even as Jesus did to Peter sinking in the sea. God treated Moses here very much as he treated the complaining Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-21). Moses was just the sort of man who might be trusted to rebuke himself, and bitterly repent all the unjust and unbelieving thoughts, which, upon this sudden temptation, had come into his mind.

2. The first word of God tends to bring Moses to a calmer mind. It sets before him something practical and not very difficult. Left to himself, he knows not how to begin dealing with this anarchy, especially with his own mind in such a distressed state. But it was a task quite within his reach, to pick out from a limited and probably well-known circle, seventy elders, official and experienced men. As he went through this work, he would be brought to feel, and not without a sense of shame, that he had been overtaken by panic. He has talked about sucking children; he now hears that there are at least seventy elders upon whose experience and influence he can lean. We soon find out, if we only listen to God, that temporal troubles are never so bad as they seem.

3. The way in which this help was made as effectual as possible. As God had given a certain spirit to Moses, so he would give it also to these seventy assistant elders. This was a reminder that he had not afflicted his servant and frowned upon him, as he so recklessly said (Numbers 11:11). We often murmur and complain against Providence for neglecting us, when the real neglect is with ourselves in making a bad use of gifts bestowed. God never tells his people to do things beyond natural strength, without first assuring a sufficiency of power for the thing commanded. "I can do all things, through Christ who inwardly strengthens me," said Paul There is further encouragement in God's promise here, as being an illustration of how the spirit is given without measure. There was not a certain limited manifestation to Moses, so that if others shared the spirit with him, he must have less. Neither his power nor his honour were one whir diminished. The question always is, What is the need of men in the sight of God? Then, according to that need, and never coming short of it, are the communications of his Holy Spirit. Moses, instead of being poorer, was really richer, for the spirit was working in a mind to which a precious experience had been added.

4. In the sight of these directions we are reminded how Moses spoke out of a comparative inexperience of the burden. Moses said there was nothing left for him but to die. The history tells us that so far from dying, he had yet in him nearly forty years of honourable mediatorship between God and men. His proper word was, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord" (Psalms 118:17). It is marvelous to think what some men have gone through in the way of difficulties, losses, and trials. Even the natural man has greater strength in the hour of trouble than at first he is conscious of—a great deal of trouble, when it is once fairly over, comes in the course of time to look a very small thing—and if we have God's strength, then we shall not merely endure tribulation, but glory in it. Front these words of Moses and the practical gentle reply of God, learn one great lesson—how easy it is to exaggerate our difficulties and underrate our resources.—Y.

Numbers 11:18-20; 31-35


I. GOD'S TREATMENT OF SELF-WILL. This is always to be well considered where instances of it are found in the Scriptures, because one of the great ends of God's dealings with us is to establish his holy, wise, and righteous will in place of our low, jealous, ignorant self-will. The way of parents dealing with children is to curb and restrain them at once; but children grow to be men, and what then? We cannot deal effectually with one another, for self-will is in all of us, and so far as temporal circumstances are concerned, it not unfrequently gets much of its own way. When we come to the discipline of the whole man, God only can effectually deal with self-will. He might curb him in at once, but such would not be discipline fit for a man. It might break the spirit, but it would do nothing to enlighten and change; we see here that God's treatment is to let people walk awhile in their own way. Self-will breaks out in complaints against the manna: self-will then shall have its desire, and what satisfaction it can get from the flesh for which it craves. Its mouth waters at the thought of the fish of Egypt; it shall have quails, which we may presume were an even greater delicacy. So when, in later years, Israel, in envy of surrounding nations, clamoured for a king, forgetting that the King of kings was theirs, God gave them their wish. The bulk of men will only learn by experience. The prodigal son must know the end of riotous living for himself. It is better to take God's word at the beginning and not sow to the flesh; but men shall have the opportunity if they choose. So God causes his wind to blow and the quails come, an exceeding great multitude (Psalms 68:23-29).

II. GOD'S TEST OF SELF-CONTROL. He gives the quails, not for one day's luxury, but to be the food of a month. As nothing is said to the contrary, we must presume the manna was still continued. Indeed we can easily see the reason for its continuance. God in giving the quails, adds an express and solemn warning. They are to be taken with all their consequences. Sweet at first, they shall turn to objects of bitter loathing. They were given, not in complacency, but in anger, hence they had in them the efficacy of a test. Surely the whole of Israel was not rebellious and murmuring. There must have been men of the Nazarite spirit even then, and the question for them is: "Shall we go out after our wont and gather the manna (Exodus 16:1-36), or shall we, like the rest, gratify our appetites with these delicious quails?" Who can doubt that God was watching his own faithful ones, the Israelites indeed in whom there was no guile? There are doubtless many things in the world, the chief use of which is to test the disposition of man to obey God (Genesis 2:16, Genesis 2:17). These quails were given, but there was no obligation to eat them. Every Israelite was free to refuse. A timely repentance, and another wind would have blown away the quails as rapidly as they came. There was a lesson if the people would learn it, from the submissive birds to the rebellious human beings.

III. GOD'S PENALTY FOR SELF-INDULGENCE. There is a seeming contradiction between Numbers 35:19, Numbers 35:20, and Numbers 35:33, but it is only seeming. God hastened his judgment and thereby really showed his mercy. As David chose the brief pestilence, and to fall into the hand of the Lord (2 Samuel 24:1-25.), so here God comes with an immediate and sweeping visitation. Besides, it is possible the people neglected the command to sanctify themselves, and thus further provoked the anger already stirred up; when people get lust into their hearts all sense of law is apt to vanish. It was well the people should see clearly the close connection between disobedience and retribution. Thus did God show, even in these quails, the spirit of a good and perfect gift, Nothing in creation is a blessing in itself; God must make it so, and he can easily in his anger turn it to a curse. God, in making the effect of eating the quails so conspicuous and sudden, still further illustrated by contrast the glory of the manna, for this manna was a beautiful type of the true bread that cometh from heaven. The people had never gathered the manna with such greed and application as they had gathered the quails. When a man breaks the law he is at once guilty, and the punishment, if it be deferred, is so as a matter of expediency, not of right. The lapse of time only makes the connection between sin and punishment less obvious, not at all less certain (Psalms 106:15; Galatians 6:7-9).—Y.

Numbers 11:21-23



1. As to God's purpose. He had spoken in holy anger, promising flesh, but threatening retribution along with it. The threat is quite as emphatic ,s the promise, but somehow Moses does not heed. At Sinai, when the people made the golden calf, he was so oppressed with the sense of their great sin, and so solicitous for their pardon, as to beg if the pardon were not granted that he might himself be blotted out of God's book. Where was this anxiety now? His great concern is, not how God may be propitiated and the people spared, but how the people may be propitiated and he himself spared. Contrast Moses here with Christ at all times. Think of the Son's never-failing remembrance of the Father's glory. The Son saw and appreciated all things the Father showed him; hence the confidence with which we look to Christ for a revelation of all God's purposes concerning us, so far as it is right for us to know them. Jesus could ever go out and declare in fitting words and with proper emphasis all the will of God, for he had a perfect appreciation of that will himself. But how was Moses to go out and speak properly to the people when he himself had only half-heard, as it were, what God had said to him? Doubtless he repeated the message of God in the very same words; but one fears that while he made it quite clear to the people they should have flesh, he made it not quite so clear that God was sending it in anger. Let us ever get to the spirit of God's messages to us; never content till their fullness of meaning has passed into our heart, so that something like the fullness of service may pass out of it again.

2. As to God's power. History repeats itself. Unbelief, natural ignorance of God, slowness of heart to take in what he has spoken,—these repeat themselves in their manner of receiving God's promises. Moses talks here as the disciples did at the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:15). And yet, after all his wonderful experiences, there should not have been the slightest difficulty in receiving what God had said. Of all possible convictions, this should have rested on solid ground—that what God had promised he assuredly had power to perform. Is not this one of the great differences between God and men? Men promise and forget, or fall short; God is always better than his promises, for they have to be spoken in defective human words, while they are fulfilled in complete Divine actions.

II. THE CAUSE OF THIS IMPERFECT APPRECIATION. Can we not detect, and especially in the light of his subsequent language, something like doubt, something like leaning upon creature supports instead of God, in the invitation which he gave to Hobab? If this be so, we wonder little at his language of bitter complaint and despair (Numbers 11:11-15); and we wonder less that he so soon showed himself out of sympathy with the Divine purposes. The eye of faith had become dim; self-preservation, escape from an intolerable burden, occupied his thoughts. Was it astonishing that, unbelief having found a temporary lodgment in the heart of the leader, the followers should have failed to take in all the purport of God's message? Learn from this how carefully spirituality of mind needs to be guarded. We must not be seduced into leaning upon men instead of trusting in God. Men may solace and encourage us as companions; they are never to take the place of Providence. So neither are we to be terrified and paralyzed by sudden and stupendous revelations of human wickedness. In the midst of them all we hear the one voice speaking, "Be still, and know that I am God."—Y.

Numbers 11:26-29


God fulfils his promise, and gives to these seventy men a spirit which doubtless brings them into more active sympathy with Moses, and takes away the carnal and selfish views which had prevailed in their minds. The difference between their present and former state was probably much like that between the state of the apostles after and before the day of Pentecost. They had a perspicacity, a power, a courage, a zeal, which did not belong to them before. As they prophesied, may we not suppose that Moses beard from them expressions quite new to his ears as coming from Israelite lips? And to make the occasion more memorable and significant, two of the seventy, who for some unexplained reason remained in the camp, nevertheless prophesied, as did those in the tabernacle. The intelligence was very quickly brought to Moses. Some of the Israelites would be greatly shocked by such an irregular proceeding, though perhaps they had seen nothing very censurable in the general cry of the people for flesh. Punctiliousness in ceremony and etiquette is often joined with laxity in things of moment (Matthew 23:23). The reception of the news is followed by—

I. THE FOOLISH ADVICE Or JOSHUA. Foolish, although given by a devoted friend. Joshua would probably have died for Moses, but he could not, therefore, give him good counsel. Attachment itself has not unfrequently a blinding effect on the judgment. A stranger might advise more wisely. It is the right of friendship to offer advice, but it is often the height of friendship, the very bloom and delicacy of it, to refrain. We find similar instances (Matthew 16:21-23; Acts 21:12, Acts 21:13). Foolish, because evidently given without consideration. The circumstances were quite novel to Joshua. The grounds on which he dashed out his advice were mere matters of hearsay. There was enough to have made him cautious. Eldad and Medad were among the chosen ones; those present had been gifted with the spirit; what more likely then upon consideration, what more worthy of reverent acceptance, than that the absentees should have been similarly visited? Advice, when it is given with full knowledge of circumstances and full consideration of thefts, may be indeed precious, the very salvation and security of a perplexed mind. Otherwise, the greater the ignorance the greater the mischief. Advice should mostly come in response to a request for it. Foolish, because it concerned the status of Moses rather than the glory of God. Much of the advice of friendship is vitiated, through shutting out all save personal considerations. One friend advises another as a counsel does his client, not that justice may be done, but that his client may gain his end. Joshua was considering how the reputation and influence of "his lord Moses" would be affected. Foolish because it was given to a man who was in no doubt. Moses was rejoicing in escape from a heavy burden, and the visitation upon Eldad and Medad was the very thing still further to comfort him. The folly of the advice is crowned, as we observe that it recommended an impossibility. "Forbid them." Forbid what? That they should prophesy! As well forbid the branches not to sway with a strong wind as forbid men to prophesy when the Spirit comes upon them. Even Balaam could not help uttering the Lord's prophecies and blessing Israel from the very mouth that would fain, in its greed of filthy lucre, have uttered a curse.


1. As to the substance of the rejection. Possibly if Moses had been a different kind of man, he might have said to himself, "There is something in what Joshua says." But he was not one of the aut Caesar ant nullus order. Joshua, in his impetuous word, was concerned for his master's honour; the master himself was concerned about his grievous burden. Not even Joshua understood the bitter experiences through which Moses had lately passed. "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets!" Our measure before God does not depend on our standing among men. Moses would not have been one whit less esteemed in heaven if every other Israelite had been as spiritually-minded as himself. Joshua had been speaking to a man who, like Christian, had been toiling on with a weary weight on his back. He has just got rid of it, and "Forbid them" really meant, "Take the burden up again."

2. As to the spirit of the rejection. Moses shows here the meekness and gentleness with which he is so emphatically credited in the next chapter. Advice, when it cannot be taken, even when it is most foolish and meddlesome, should be pushed gently away; and if the spirit in which it has been given is evidently kind and generous, let the refusal be mingled with gratefulness. Joshua loved Moses, and Moses loved Joshua. "Enviest thou for my sake?" Thus Moses recognizes the devotion and bona fides of his friend.—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/numbers-11.html. 1897.
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