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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Numbers 14

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XIV.

The children of Israel meditate a return into Egypt; God pronounces that all from twenty years old and upwards shall die in the wilderness: the children of Israel repent; and fighting against the Amalekites, contrary to the will of God, are discomfited.

Before Christ 1490.


Verse 4

Numbers 14:4. They said one to another, Let us make a captain We learn from Nehemiah 9:17 that they actually appointed a captain in the height of this their mutiny, insolence, and ingratitude, not only against Moses and Aaron, but against the Lord himself, who, in so wonderful a manner, had delivered them from Egypt, and continually demonstrated such miracles of mercy towards them. Bishop Warburton remarks, that this unwillingness to leave Egypt, and impatience to return thither, are convincing proofs of their fondness of its customs and superstitions. "When I consider this," says he, "I seem more inclined than the generality to excuse the false accounts of the pagan writers concerning the Exodus, or departure of the Israelites, who concur to represent the Jews as expelled or forcibly driven out of Egypt; for so indeed they were; their mistake was only about their driver; the pagans supposed him to be the King of Egypt; when, indeed, it was the God of Israel himself, by the ministry of Moses."

REFLECTIONS.—Discontent now spreads through the camp; every face is overcast; despair sinks the courage of the host, and unmanly tears bespeak their coward-terrors. The bitterest sorrows that the heart knows, are often those which we make ourselves without cause or reason. They clamour loud against Moses and Aaron, and wish they had died in Egypt or the wilderness, rather than been reduced to their present imaginary distresses; and as the devil's power is then confirmed, when he can suggest hard thoughts of God, they charge that gracious Jehovah, who had fed and preserved them so long and so richly, with the most horrid design of deceiving and destroying them. At last they come to the desperate resolution of returning to Egypt, and resolve to choose a captain in order to head their mutiny, and lead them back to that land of bondage. The purpose was folly, the attempt madness. How were they to return when God had left them without provision or guide? And what could they hope in Egypt, but a repetition of misery to which death itself were preferable? Note; (1.) The headstrong and unmortified passions of sinners hurry them on to their ruin. (2.) They who are discontented under God's providences, and resolve to mend themselves, will ever make bad worse. (3.) How much need have we to fear, lest, after suffering many toils; we start like Israel at new difficulties, turn back and walk no more with Jesus! Dreadful state of apostacy!


Verse 5

Numbers 14:5. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly Either to beseech the people to desist from their rebellion, as Joseph's brethren fell upon their faces before him in order to make their peace with him, Genesis 33:6 or rather they did this to deprecate the divine displeasure, as in ch. Numbers 16:45, Numbers 20:6.


Verse 7

Numbers 14:7. The land which we passed through to search it, &c.— This account of the land of Canaan, given by Joshua and Caleb, is plainly in opposition to that given in the former chapter, Numbers 14:32. They first declare it to be an exceeding good land, a land flowing with milk and honey; they then assert, that if the Lord delight in them, (Numbers 14:8.) if they do not forfeit his favour and protection, he will assuredly enable them to drive out the Canaanites, and give them a quiet possession of the land: they therefore wisely counselled them not to rebel against the Lord, (Numbers 14:9.) who was their sole protection and defence; nor, secure in that protection, to fear the people of the land,—because they are bread for us, continued they, that is, an easy prey, and sure to be consumed by us. The same phrase occurs, ch. Numbers 24:8 and in Psalms 14:4 and in like manner the Greeks use this expression of eating up their enemies, for destroying them; see Homer, Iliad 4: Numbers 14:35 and Mr. Pope's note on Numbers 14:35 of his translation. The reason that they urge why the Canaanites should be thus easily destroyed by them, is a very fine one; their defence, say they, is departed from them; and Jehovah, our defence, is with us. The original is more expressive: their shade is departed from them; for as a shade covers from the heat of the sun, so the favour of God is a screen from every danger. This image, as Dr. Beaumont observes, is frequently used in the Scripture; see Psalms 91:1; Psalms 121:5. Isaiah 30:2; Isaiah 49:2; Isaiah 51:16 and was particularly expressive in those warm countries.


Verse 10

Numbers 14:10. But all the congregation, &c.— This would be rendered more emphatically, but all the congregation bade stone them with stones, when the glory of the Lord appeared upon the tabernacle, &c. for by the awful and timely appearance of the glory of the Lord they were prevented from executing their rash purpose.

REFLECTIONS.—Vain is every attempt to stay those who are bent on their own ruin. (1.) Moses and Aaron fall upon their faces. None know the deep concern which ministers feel when they see immortal souls rush headlong to their destruction. Caleb and Joshua second their prayers with every forcible argument, with indignation at their baseness, and grief for their rebellion. They rend their clothes, entreat them to consider, declare the falsity of the report and the unreasonableness of their fears. 1. The land is a good land, exceeding good. 2. The people were nothing like so formidable as was apprehended; their defence was gone, as forsaken of God, and they might eat them up as bread. 3. God was their helper; if their enemies were ten times as numerous or strong, they need not fear, when strengthened by the arms of Omnipotence; nothing was to be feared but their own rebellious spirits, which would stay the current of his mercies to them. Note; (1.) The moment God leaves a sinner, he is an easy prey to every invader: (2.) With God's presence and favour, we never need fear. (3.) The soul which is lost, will have none to blame but his own rebellious self.

2. Deaf to every remonstrance, instead of taking their advice, the rulers of the congregation bid the people stone these faithful witnesses. Truth is most exasperating to those who hate to be reformed; and they who resolve to be faithful must often put their lives in their hands.

3. God appears to confound such a daring deed of wickedness, and to rescue his servants. They who dare to be zealous for God, may safely trust him to save them from the madness of the people.


Verse 12

Numbers 14:12. I will smite them with the pestilence See Exodus 9:15; Exodus 9:35 where a similar transaction is expressed in a similar manner. It appears from Numbers 14:15 that Moses understood this denunciation of the pestilence as importing a general destruction of the people.


Verse 14

Numbers 14:14. And they will tell it, &c.— Houbigant, remarking justly the embarrassment of this verse, by a slight alteration of the text reads it thus: and in truth, all the inhabitants of this land have heard that though, &c. which is agreeable to the LXX. for ואמרו, vemru, they will tell, he reads ואולם, veulem, in truth; the reader will observe, that it and for are not in the Hebrew.

Thou Lord art seen face to face Houbigant has it, ut in oculis eorum appares, that thou appearest in their sight. The literal version of the Hebrew is, that thou hast been seen eye to eye; i.e. that thy presence has been brightly revealed to them; not obscurely, or at a distance.


Verse 17

Numbers 14:17. Let the power of my Lord be great That this power of the Lord refers to what follows, is evident to every reader. I cannot, therefore, help greatly approving the following version of Houbigant: Wherefore, I beseech thee, let that magnificence of my Lord appear, which thou didst discover when saying, &c. The Samaritan renders it, now let the virtue of the Lord be magnified. The word כח coach, which we render power, may very properly signify glory or honor; see Exodus 9:16 and then the Hebrew will literally be, and now, I pray, let the glory of my Lord be magnified; see Calasio on the word כוח.


Verse 18

Numbers 14:18. The Lord is long suffering, &c.— See Exodus 34:6-7. Moses urges the general benignity and mercy of God; and, upon the strength of this, intercedes for the people, though confessedly deserving that punishment which God had decreed for the guilty. His argument turns upon the consideration of the divine goodness: "Thou hast been merciful and long suffering hitherto towards this people, rebellious and ungrateful as they are; but, though they are unworthy, thy goodness is still the same: Wilt not thou, therefore, spare them this once; and add this one instance of thy patience to the many thousands that thou hast already given?" And, indeed, when all other grounds of expecting pardon fail the children of men, the boundless extent of the divine goodness is still a foundation of hope to the chiefest of sinners. Are they but humbled into a penitent disposition, they have no reason to sink into despair; for the mercy of God endureth forever.

REFLECTIONS.—Justly displeased at so rebellious a people, God rises out of his place for judgment. (1.) He speaks to Moses, whom they had despised; for, however men reproach them those who honor him, he will honor. 1. God upbraids their unbelief. This was the root of bitterness whence all the evil sprung. Note; Unbelief is among the greater sins, and the cause of all others; and their perseverance in it was still more provoking after all the interpositions they had experienced. It is exceedingly sinful in the people of God, after experience of his mercies to distrust his faithfulness, and he will requite it at their hands. 2. God threatens to consume and disinherit them, and offers, in their stead, to raise up children of the promise from Moses's loins. In judgment, God will not forget his promises; but it is just to deprive those of the blessings, who undervalue and despise them.

(2.) Moses, as usual, turns advocate for the people. He was a true patriot, and preferred Israel's good to his private concerns. His prayer is abrupt and urgent, as from one who expected immediate wrath to break forth. 1. He pleads the honor of God: the eyes of the neighbouring nations were upon them, particularly Egypt and Canaan, who, if they were destroyed, would take occasion to reproach God's power and faithfulness. Note; (1.) God's honor is near the heart of every Israelite. (2.) The eyes of the world are intent upon the people of God, and glad to find any occasion to blaspheme. 2. He urges God's proclamation in Horeb. His power to save, and grace to pardon, to the utmost, have now an opportunity to be displayed; and never could be so wonderfully shewn his patience and long suffering as on the present occasion. It is good to approach God with his own word of promise, and we may well hope then that our prayers will succeed. 3. He prays importunately for pardon, according to the past experience of his mercies. O! what a God have we to do with, who after the deepest and repeated provocations may yet be applied to; and, desperate as our case may seem, there is yet hope in his mercy!


Verses 20-22

Numbers 14:20-22. I have pardoned, &c.— That is, "At thy intercession I have spared their lives, and will not immediately destroy them; but, in testimony of my severe displeasure, this murmuring generation shall be excluded from the promised land." The next verse is so rendered as to seem to have no connection with the subject in hand. After the Lord had granted to the prayer of Moses the lives of the people, he goes on to declare, and affirms it by the most solemn oath, that none of these people shall inherit the land; but from our version of the 21st verse it appears, that the oath which the Lord swears is declarative only of his glory filling the earth. It should be rendered thus: and verily, as I live, all that land shall be filled with the glory of JEHOVAH, as surely as all these men, who have seen my glory and my miracles which I did in Egypt, and in the wilderness, &c. Numbers 14:23 shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, even all who have provoked me shall not see it: from which version the whole passage is clear; the Lord swearing by his self-existence, and by his determined purpose to fill the land of Canaan with his glory, that these rebellious Israelites should not inherit it; thus denouncing the severest punishment upon them, while giving to Moses the strongest confirmation possible that he would fulfil his promise, and bring the people into the land of Canaan. That this passage has been so much mistaken, arises chiefly from rendering the word ארצ aretz, by the general term earth in the 21st verse, and by land in the 23rd. Tempted me these ten times, Numbers 14:22 signifies only very often.


Verse 24

Numbers 14:24. But my servant Caleb And Joshua, who, though omitted here, is mentioned Numbers 14:30 and chap. Numbers 32:12. Calmet observes from Origen, that it is most probable that the priests and Levites were not in the number of the murmurers; for they were not of those who were numbered from twenty years old and upwards, Numbers 14:29 any more than the women and children: and it is probable, that some others also were excepted, though not recorded. Though, therefore, it is said in the 1James , 2 nd verses of this chapter, that they all murmured, the expression must be interpreted according to that rule of St. Jerome, Omnia, non ad totum referenda esse, sed ad partem maximam; that the term all, in the sacred Scripture, frequently refers not to the whole, but to the greatest part. The phrase in the original, followed me fully, אחרי ומלא umille acherai, signifies, literally, fulfilled after me, i.e. says Parkhurst, fully followed me. To complete the sense, ללכת lalechet, to walk or go, seems to be understood. Noldius observes, n. 90, that a like ellipsis occurs, 1 Samuel 18:27. למלךֶ ימלאום vimelaum lemelech, and they fulfilled them to the King, that is, to give them to the King. The contrary to what is said of Caleb, Dr. Beaumont remarks, is said of Solomon, 1 Kings 11:6. He fulfilled not after the Lord: so Numbers 32:11 it is said of God's people.


Verse 25

Numbers 14:25. Now the Amalekites Instead of this awkward parenthesis, which strangely embarrasses the sense, the passage should be rendered as Houbigant and almost all the ancient versions render it, But now, because the Amalekites and Canaanites dwell in the valley, turn you to-morrow, and get you, &c. To-morrow here signifies hereafter, or at your next encampment; the same word is rendered in time to come, Exodus 13:14. The Lord now orders the people not to attempt to face those enemies who lay in wait on the other side of the mountain, and whom they had before shewn themselves afraid to face; and, as their defence was now removed, he advises them, as their wisest measure, to return into that wilderness where they were destined to wander forty years, Numbers 14:23.


Verse 26

Numbers 14:26. And the Lord spake unto Moses This might be rendered better, Moreover the Lord spake, &c.


Verse 30

Numbers 14:30. I sware to make you dwell therein The phrase is not, I sware to you to make you dwell therein, but I sware, that is, to Abraham, to make you, that is, his seed, not you as individuals but as a people; for had that settlement been promised to them as individuals, it had been inconsistent with the divine veracity not to make good that oath; see Grotius de Jure Bel. and Pac. lib. ii. c. xiii. sect. 3. God's promises were made to the seed of Abraham; to the children of Israel; to the Hebrews, an abiding people; which was to subsist for many ages, though particular men were going off daily, as in all fleeting successive bodies. To that people, I say, the promises were literally made, and to the same people they were as literally fulfilled. The promise was not tied to certain persons, but to a certain people, and therefore might be performed at any time, if not otherwise limited, while that people subsisted. It is a very usual and a very intelligible way of speaking, common in all languages, to speak of nations in their national capacity, and to say we or you, not meaning it of the individuals now living, but of their ancestors or posterity; see Saurin's 59th Dissertation.


Verse 33

Numbers 14:33. Your children shall wander, &c.— Shall associate together like a flock, רעים raim; which possibly alludes to the manner of the Arabian shepherds, who removed their tents from place to place that they might find pasture for their flocks. The forty years are to be reckoned from their first coming out of Egypt into the wilderness. Respecting the word whoredoms, we have before observed, that idolatry and defection from God, to whom they were espoused by covenant, are constantly represented in Scripture under this idea; see Exodus 34:16 and Amos 5:25-26.


Verse 34

Numbers 14:34. Ye shall know my breach of promise My vengeance, Waterland. There is nothing for of promise in the original. Dr. Waterland follows many of the ancient versions. Houbigant renders it, and ye shall know that I have broken my covenant with you: the Hebrew, says he, is literally, my abrogation of the covenant תנואתי את eth tenuati; for God addresses the rebels, who now had no part in the covenant, which, however, was afterwards established with their children and posterity; see Numbers 14:30-31. The original word occurs only here and in Job 33:10. Upon which the very learned Schultens observes, that it is derived from the Hebrew נא na, and the Arabic noua, which signifies crude, half done, indigested, ulcerated; and hence, understanding it in a moral sense, we may render it, you shall perceive how I am incensed against you. Dr. Waterland observes, under our present uncertainties, respecting the original word, and while we want other light, I know no better rule to go by than the LXX, which is the most ancient version, and Saint Jerome, who had seen the other ancient Greek versions. Now the LXX have in this place τον θυμον της οργης μου my anger, or, more literally, the fury of my wrath; and in Job 33:10 they have μεμψιν complaint, accusation. Jerome in the first passage has ultionem meam; and in the other querelas. Le Clerc, having considered every way, and finding an Arabic root which seemed to favour such construction as the LXX and Vulgate give, acquiesces at length in this rendering, ye shall know my vengeance, being at least as good and as probable as any; see Scripture vindicated, part 2: p. 30.

REFLECTIONS.—Fixed is the fatal decree; judgment must proceed, but mingled with mercy. They shall not be consumed in an instant, as they deserved; yet shall they never possess the land that they have despised.

1. God's glory shall be manifested in pardoning and sparing them at Moses's intercession; yet in such a way, as that his displeasure shall appear in the most awful colours. Note; (1.) Great is the effect of fervent prayer. (2.) God will take care, even in his mercy to the sinner, to shew his indignation against sin.

2. The sentence of exclusion from Canaan goes forth against them. They wish it, and the wish is granted: during forty years they are, by degrees, to be consumed in their wanderings; a punishment less than their iniquities deserved, after having tempted, provoked God, and murmured so repeatedly, and this in the face of the daily miracles wrought for them. Note; (1.) God records our provocations, and he will visit us for them. (2.) Repeated backsliding is very aggravated guilt.

3. God commands them to retire; they would, and they shall. The Amalekites they feared are ready to fall on them; and now, as God will not help them, they are indeed an unequal match. Unbelieving fears are justly punished by the infliction of the dreaded evil.

4. Forty years (according to the days of their searching the land) they must bear their iniquities in the wilderness, where every hardship they endured should remind them of the cause of it, and humble them under the reflection of their provocations which occasioned these visitations. Note; (1.) It is a great mercy that we have space given us for repentance; and we ought to count as mercies those sufferings which lead us thereunto. (2.) The afflictions of others for sin should be a warning to us to avoid their transgressions, that we may not share in their plagues.

5. Mercy is promised to Caleb and Joshua. They were men of another spirit; and as they proved their fidelity by fully following the Lord, he will reward them with singular favour, by bringing them into the land. Note; (1.) God's people are men of a different spirit from the world around them, and from what themselves were in their unconverted state. 2. Their hearts fully cleave to the Lord; they have no allowed guile, and seek in simplicity to know and obey God's will. (3.) These, however reviled and rejected of men, shall find that God will amply recompence them, by an inheritance incorruptible, reserved for them in heaven.

6. The children, who are young, and not supposed to join in their parents' sin, are spared; they shall see the promise fulfilled; and, though their unbelieving fathers said they would be a prey, themselves shall seize the prey, and spoil these dreaded enemies. Note; If the children bear the iniquity of their fathers, it is only because they follow their sins; if, warned by their punishment, they avoid their evil ways, mercy shall compass them about on every side.


Verse 37

Numbers 14:37. Died by the plague, &c.— Rather, were struck dead before the Lord, who immediately gave them this terrible proof of his wrath, and pledge of the performance of what he had denounced and promised.


Verse 40

Numbers 14:40. They rose up early in the morning The people, struck with a temporary concern, a transient fit of slavish fear, as the sequel too clearly proves; were now as forward to advance as they had been backward before; and, though dissuaded by Moses from their rash attempt, still prone to disobey, they ventured forth; the consequence was such as might well be expected; for the Lord was not amongst them, Numbers 14:42. By the Canaanites, mentioned in the 45th verse, are meant one of the nations only, the Amorites, Deuteronomy 1:44. Concerning Hormath, (Numbers 14:45.) see chap. Numbers 21:3.


Verse 44

Numbers 14:44. But they presumed, &c.— "They loftily presumed, or took on them, by violence, with a lofty presumptuous mind. The word עפל, whose primary signification is a tower or fort, signifieth also a drawing-back from God by unbelief, Hebrews 10:36; Hebrews 10:39. So here, in this their presumptuous enterprize, their souls were lifted up within them, but withdrawn from God. Moses explains this by two words, Deuteronomy 1:41; Deuteronomy 1:43. Ye pressed forward, and ye were presumptuous."—Beaumont.

The spirit and behaviour of the Israelites in the wilderness, as Dr. Taylor observes, merit particular attention, as a very remarkable instance of the wretched effects of servitude upon the human soul. They had been slaves to the Egyptians for about a hundred and forty years; their spirits were debased; their judgments weak; their sense of God and religion very low; they were defective in attention, gratitude, generosity; full of distrust and uneasy suspicions; complaining and murmuring under the most astonishing displays of divine power and goodness, as if still under the frowns and scourges of their unjust task-masters; could scarcely raise their thoughts to prospects the most pleasing and joyous; knew not how to value their blessings of liberty; of a taste so mean and illiberal, that the flesh and fish, the onions and garlick of Egypt, weighed more with them than bread from heaven; more than all the divine assurances and demonstrations that they should be raised to the noblest privileges, the highest honor and felicity as a peculiar treasure to God. In short, nothing would do. The ill qualities of slavery were ingrained in their hearts. A grovelling, thoughtless, sturdy, dastardly spirit, fatigued the divine patience, and counteracted and defeated all his wise and beneficent measures. They could not be worked up to that sense of God, that esteem of his highest favours, that gratitude and generous dutifulness, that magnanimity of spirit, which were necessary to their conquering and enjoying the promised land; and, therefore, the wisdom of God determined that they should not attempt the possession of it till that generation was dead and buried. However, this did not lie out of the Divine plan. The policy and justice of the proceeding was conspicuous: God rejected them, but applied himself to regulate and improve the manners of their children, who became, by degrees, tractable and obedient to the laws of the Deity, and proved themselves, at least, fit instruments for carrying on the purpose of his providence; while the rejection of their fathers served a great purpose; namely, to warn them and all future ages of the church, both Jewish and Christian, that if they despise and abuse the goodness of God, and the noble privileges and prospects which they enjoy, they shall forfeit the benefit of them: and the apostle applieth it to this very important use, with great force and propriety, in the epistle to the Hebrews, Numbers 3:15 to the end, and Numbers 4:1; Numbers 4:12.

REFLECTIONS.—God begins to execute his decree.

1. Upon the ten men who were the principals in the mutiny; they were struck immediately dead, as they stood before the Lord. Note; (1.) Ringleaders in sin shall be first and deepest in suffering. (2.) It is among the greatest of sins, to misrepresent the good ways of the Lord, and to seek to prejudice the minds of men against them as melancholy or impracticable. (3.) The minister who misleads the souls of sinners shall be accountable for their blood. Caleb and Joshua are spared, a living proof of the truth which they spoke, and a present assurance of the favour that God will shew them hereafter. None ever lost in the end by their fidelity to him.

2. Moses acquaints the people with God's decree, and deeply they appear affected, but it is irreversible. Note; (1.) Many mourn for their punishments who do not mourn for their sins. (2.) In hell, the sinner's sorrow will neither assuage his torment, nor reverse his sentence.

3. They resolve, contrary to Moses's injunction, to go up: they would not go at God's bidding; it is at their peril now, if they attempt it.

4. They proceed, and are routed; God was not with them; and if he leave us, we are weak indeed. The sentence pronounced against them, the sword of their enemies thus begins to fulfil. Note; (1.) God's counsel will stand, in spite of every effort to defeat it. (2.) We can only hope to get the better of our spiritual enemies when we have secured God for our friend.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 14:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/numbers-14.html. 1801-1803.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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