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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 11

 

 

Verses 1-3

Numbers 11:1-3. (JE). The Chastisement of the People at Taberah.—The occasion was discontent at some hardship, the nature of which is not explained. The agency by which the discontent was punished was probably lightning (cf. Exodus 9:23, Job 1:16, 2 Kings 1:10). The place is unknown.

Numbers 11:1. Render, "And the people were as mourners at misfortune."

Numbers 11:3. Taberah: i.e. "Burning," from the Heb. root ba'ar, "to burn."


Verses 4-35

Numbers 11:4-35 (JE). The People's Lust for Flesh and Moses' Complaint of his Excessive Burden.—This section is a combination of two narratives (from J and E), relating (1) a demand of the people for flesh (instead of manna), which was satisfied by a flight of quails; (2) a complaint of Moses that the responsibility of leadership was too great for him, which was met by the appointment of 70 elders to assist him. But the separation of the two stories cannot be effected with perfect confidence, and some verses may originally have stood in a different context.

Numbers 11:4-10. The Discontent with the Manna, and the Desire for Flesh.—The complaint about the lack of flesh is inconsistent with the possession by Israel of the flocks and herds implied in Numbers 32:1, Exodus 12:32; Exodus 12:38; Exodus 17:3. The use of fish, onions, and leeks as food in Egypt is mentioned by Herodotus (ii. 92, 125). The description of the manna (Numbers 11:7-9) is probably based on that of a natural product, the yellowish, sweet-tasting gum that exudes from a variety of tamarisk. This natural manna, however, flows only in small quantities, quite inadequate to serve as food for a multitude of people, so that tradition has magnified both its amount and its sustaining qualities. The account given in Exodus 16:14-36* presents even more marvellous details than the present passage; cf. also Nehemiah 9:15, Psalms 78:24; Psalms 105:40.

Numbers 11:4. the mixed multitude.—Of the various foreigners (Egyptians and Arabs) with whom the Israelites had become associated in Egypt, some had accompanied them on their departure thence: cf. Exodus 12:38.

Numbers 11:6. our soul: i.e. our appetite.

Numbers 11:7. bdellium: a resinous substance of a yellow colour (Genesis 2:11).

Numbers 11:8. beat it in mortars: This was one of the earliest modes of preparing corn, before the more satisfactory method of grinding it between two stones was devised. Both the mortar and the pestle were of wood (cf. Hesiod, Works and Days, 423). Robinson Crusoe on his island had to have recourse to this shift.—fresh oil: the word is of uncertain meaning; Vulg. panis oleatus.

Numbers 11:11 f. Moses' Remonstrance to Yahweh that his Burden Exeeeds his Capacity.—This complaint has no obvious connexion with the subject of the people's murmurs, but relates to the responsibility of leading Israel into Canaan (cf. Exodus 33:12 f.); and clearly requires for its proper sequel not the satisfaction of the demand for flesh, but the relief afforded to Moses himself by the appointment of a body of colleagues. There is thus introduced here quite a distinct story from the foregoing.

Numbers 11:13. This verse is a continuation of Numbers 11:4-10, though some words (like "Moses said unto Yahweh") have been lost between them.

Numbers 11:14-17. A resumption of Moses' expostulation in Numbers 11:11 f., and a promise from Yahweh to relieve his burden by giving him 70 colleagues to share it. The spirit resting upon Moses is regarded as a quasi-physical fluid, capable of being divided and imparted to others.

Numbers 11:14. kill me: cf. Elijah's despondency (1 Kings 19:4).

Numbers 11:18-24 a. A return is made to the people's demand for flesh (Numbers 11:4-10, Numbers 11:13), which Yahweh promises to gratify, even to satiety.

Numbers 11:18. sanctify yourselves: i.e. practise the abstinence and perform the lustrations necessary before witnessing a manifestation of Divine power (cf. Exodus 19:10 f., Joshua 3:5).

Numbers 11:20. come out, etc.: presumably by vomiting.

Numbers 11:24 b - Numbers 11:30. This section continues Numbers 11:14-17. Yahweh performs the promise which is there expressed, and the influence of the spirit, hitherto confined to Moses, affects with prophetic frenzy (cf. 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20 f.) not only the 70 elders gathered at the Tabernacle, but two others not included amongst them, an incident which renders Moses' servant Joshua jealous for his master's sake, but elicits a noble reply from Moses himself (cf. Acts 10:34-48).

Numbers 11:25. the cloud: the conception is probably derived from the early association of Yahweh with the sky, where the storm-cloud formed His chariot (Psalms 18:9-12).

Numbers 11:25. they did so no more: i.e. the prophetic frenzy was only of temporary duration.

Numbers 11:26. written: i.e. registered as elders (Nehemiah 12:22).

Numbers 11:28. one men: better (mg.), "from his youth."

Numbers 11:31-35. Here there is again a return to the people's demand for flesh (Numbers 11:18-24 a), which is satisfied by immense flights of quails. Quails migrate in great numbers from Africa to Europe in the spring, and return in the autumn, and are captured for the market. As they occur in the Sinaitic peninsula, it is thus probable enough that at certain times they afforded food for the Israelites in the wilderness; and the incident is regarded even by the writer (who explains that the wind was the immediate agency employed) as an example of special providence rather than as a miracle. Another mention of the relief of the people's needs by flights of quails is found in Exodus 16:13; and references to such incidents occur in Psalms 78:26-31; Psalms 106:13-15.

Numbers 11:31. the sea: the gulf of Akabah.—two cubits, etc. The quails flew at the height of a yard above the ground, and were probably netted.

Numbers 11:32. ten homers: about 110 bushels.—spread them: i.e. for drying in the sun, with a view to curing them for keeping.

Numbers 11:33. while . . . teeth: i.e. while the supply lasted.—ere it was chewed: better, "ere it (the supply) was cut off (or failed)."

Numbers 11:34. Kibroth-hattaavah: this site is unknown.

Numbers 11:35. Hazeroth: identified by some with Ain el Hadra, a place two days' journey N.E. of Sinai.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 11:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/numbers-11.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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