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Complaining in the Desert
Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. 3So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned against them.
4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. 8The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.
10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
The Seventy Elders
16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 17I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. 18And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ” 21But Moses said, “The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month’! 22Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them? Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?” 23The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”
24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
31 Then a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground. 32So the people worked all that day and night and all the next day, gathering the quails; the least anyone gathered was ten homers; and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. 34So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. 35From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth.
1. And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord. 1111 Lat., “And the people was, as it were, fainting (fatiscentes,) if, was displeasing in the ears of Jehovah.” Fr. “Apres il adveint que le peuple fut comme gens discouragez, (margin, despitez,) ce que despleut aux aureilles de l’Eternel;” afterwards it came to pass that the people were as persons discouraged (or fretted) which displeased the ears of God. The ambiguous signification of the participle 1212 מתאננים. Prof. Robertson and Simon agree in referring this participle Hithpahel to the root אנן he groaned heavily, rather than to און C., as usual, has given some of the Rabbinical expositions which he saw in S.M. תאנה occurs in Judges 14:4., where A.V. has occasion; תאנים in Ezekiel 24:12, where Simon’s Lexicon notices it as meaning wearinesses, placing this word under the root און. — W. causes the translators to twist this passage into a variety of meanings. Since the Hebrew root און, aven, is sometimes trouble and labor, sometimes fatigue, sometimes iniquity, sometimes falsehood, some translate it, “The people were, as it were, complaining or murmuring.” Others (though this seems to be more beside the mark) insert the adverb unjustly; as if Moses said, that their complaint was unjust, when they expostulated with God. Others render it, “being sick, (nauseantes,”) but this savors too much of affectation; others, “lying, or dealing treacherously.” Some derive it from the root תואנה, thonah, and thus explain it, “seeking occasion,” which I reject as far fetched. To me the word fainting (fatiscendi) seems to suit best; for they failed, as if broken down with weariness. It is probable that no other crime is alleged against them than that, abandoning the desire to proceed, they fell into supineness and inactivity, which was to turn their back upon God, and repudiate the promised inheritance. This sense will suit very well, and thus the proper meaning of the word will be retained. Thus, Ezekiel calls by the name תאנים, theunim, those fatigues, whereby men destroy and overwhelm themselves through undertaking too much work. Still, I do not deny that, when they lay in a state of despondency, they uttered words of reproach against God; especially since Moses says that this displeased the ears of God, and not His eyes; yet the origin of the evil was, as I have stated, that they fainted with weariness, so as to refuse to follow God any further.
And the Lord heard it. He more plainly declares that the people broke forth into open complaints; and it is probable that they even east reproaches upon God, as we infer from the heaviness of this punishment. Although some understand the word fire metaphorically for vengeance, it is more correct to take it simply according to the natural meaning of the word, i.e., that a part of the camp burnt with a conflagration sent from God. Still a question arises, what was that part or extremity of the camp which the fire seized upon? for some think that the punishment began with the leaders themselves, whose crime was the more atrocious. Others suppose that the fire raged among the common people, from the midst of whom the murmuring arose. But I rather conjecture, as in a matter of uncertainty, that God kindled the fire in some extreme part, so as to awaken their terror, in order that there might be room for pardon; since it is presently added, that tie was content with the punishment of a few. It must, however, be remarked, that because the people were conscious of their sin, the door was shut against their prayers. Hence it is, that they cry to Moses rather than to God; and we may infer that, being devoid of repentance and faith, they dreaded to look upon God. This is the reward of a bad conscience, to seek for rest in our disquietude, and still to fly from God, who alone can allay our trouble and alarm. From the fact that God is appeased at the intercession of Moses, we gather that temporal punishment is often remitted to the wicked, although they still remain exposed to the judgment of God. When he says that the fire of the Lord was sunk down, 1313 Lat., “fuisse demersum.” A.V. “quenched.” Margin, “Heb. sunk.” “שקע, Submergi; In profundum deprimi, comprimi, reprimi.” — Buxtorf. for this is the proper signification of the word שקע, shakang, he designates the way in which it was put out, and in which God’s mercy openly manifested itself; as also, on the other hand. it is called the fire of God, as having been plainly kindled by Him, lest any should suppose that it was an accidental conflagration. A name also was imposed on the place, which might be a memorial to posterity both of the crime and its punishment; for Tabera is a burning, or combustion.
4. And the mixed multitude that was among them. A new murmuring of the people is here recorded: for we gather from many circumstances that this relation is different from that which precedes: although, as evil begets evil, it is probable that after they had begun to be affected by the disease of impatience, they spitefully invented grounds for increased tedium and annoyance. Yet there was something monstrous in this madness, that, when they had just been so severely chastised, and part of’ the camp was even yet almost smoking, and when God was hardly appeased, they should have given way to the indulgence of lust, whereby they brought upon themselves a still more severe punishment. Unquestionably, when they again provoked God by their iniquity, the remains of the fire were still before their eyes; whence it appears how greatly they were blinded by their obstinate wickedness. He states, indeed, that the murmuring first began among the strangers, or mixed multitude, who had mingled themselves with the Israelites, as we have seen elsewhere; but he adds that the whole people also were led into imitation of their ungodly complainings. Hence we are taught, that the wicked and sinful should be avoided, lest they should corrupt us by their bad example; since the contagion of vice easily spreads. At the same time also, we are warned, that it does not at all avail to excuse us, that others are the instigators of our sin; since it by no means profited the Israelites, that they fell through the influence of others, inasmuch as it was their own lust; which carried them away. In the first place, therefore, we must beware that our corrupt desires do not tempt us, and we must put a restraint upon ourselves; and then that the profane despisers of God do not add fuel to the fire.
A question here occurs, whether it is sinful to long for flesh; for if so, all our appetites must. likewise be condemned. I answer, that God was not wroth because the desire of flesh affected the Israelites; but, first, their disobedience displeased Him, because they longed to eat; flesh, as it were, against His will, when He would have them content with the manna alone; and then their intemperance and violent passion. For this reason Moses says that they “lusted a lust,” 1414 See Margin A.V. indicating that they abandoned all self-control, so as to go beyond all bounds. In the third place, their ingratitude displeased Him, which is here adverted to, but openly condemned in the Psalm, where the Prophet reproves them, for that God “had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,” so as to supply them with the “corn of heaven,” and the bread “of angels,” (Psalm 78:23-25;) and yet, even so they were not restrained from despising so excellent a benefit, and abandoning themselves to lawless intemperance. The rule of moderation, and of a sober and frugal life, which Paul prescribes, is well known; that we should
“know both how to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Philippians 4:12.)
Well known, too, is his admonition, that we should
“make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:14.)
All improper longing is, therefore, to be repressed, so that we should desire nothing which is not lawful; and, secondly, that our appetites should not be excessive. Hence, when he refers elsewhere to this occurrence, (1 Corinthians 10:6,)he warns us to fear the judgment of God; “to the intent we should not lust after evil things,” thus distinguishing wild and uncontrolled appetites from such as are moderate and well regulated.
When they ask, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” they seek to have it elsewhere than from God, who abundantly supplied them with food, though it was of a different kind. We see, then, that they rebelled with a brutal and blind impetuosity; for necessity was laid upon them by God, that they should eat nothing but manna; against this they struggled like fierce and stubborn beasts, as if they would make God the servant of their lust.
5. We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt. By this comparison with the former mode of living, they depreciate the present grace of God: and yet they enumerate no delicacies, when they speak of leeks, and onions, and garlic. Some, therefore, thus explain it, When such great abundance and variety was commonly to be met with, how painful and grievous must it be to us to be deprived of greater delicacies! My own opinion is, that these lowly people, who had been used to live on humble fare, praised their accustomed food, as if they had been the greatest luxuries. Surely rustics and artisans value as much their pork and beef, their cheese and curds, their onions and cabbage, as most of the rich do their sumptuous fare. Scornfully, therefore, do the Israelites magnify things which, in themselves, are but of little value, in order the more to stimulate their depraved appetite, already sufficiently excited. Still there is no doubt but that those who had been accustomed to a diet of herbs and fish, would think themselves happy with that kind of food. Moreover, to make the matter more invidious, they say in general, that they ate gratis 1515 A. V., “freely.” Ainsworth, “for nought;” this (he adds) may be referred to the fish which they had for nought, without price, getting them out of the rivers freely; or for nought, that is, for very little, very cheap. It may also have reference to the former, We remember for nought, i.e., in vain; so the Hebrew Chinnam, and the Greek δωρεὰν, sometimes signifieth a thing done or spoken in vain, and without effect; as Proverbs 1:17; Ezekiel 6:10; Galatians 2:21.” Geneva Version, “for nought, i.e., for a small price, or good cheep.” of that, which cost them but little: although such a phrase is common in all languages. For even profane writers testify that all that sea-shore abounds with fish. 1616 Herod., 2:93, describes the abundance of the fish in Egypt, and their migrations for the deposition of their spawn: and states that the inhabitants of the marshes, some of them, “live on nothing but fish.” — Ibid. 92. The fisheries of the Nile also are very productive, and a part: of the wealth of Egypt: whilst the country is so well watered, that it produces abundance of vegetables and fruits. 1717 Raphelius has a striking note on this passage from Herod. “The herbs (onions and garlic) were ordinarily given to laborers in Egypt. Whence also this was the food of the Israelites, whose labors the Egyptians used, or rather abused, in making bricks. Herod. 2:125. “It is declared by certain Egyptian inscriptions on the Pyramid itself, how much was paid to the workmen, ἔς τε συρμαίην, καὶ κρόμμυα καὶ σκόροδα, for radishes, onions, and garlic.” — Raphel., in loco.
6. But now our soul is dried away. They complain that they are almost wasted away with famine and hunger, whilst they are abundantly supplied with manna; in the same way as they had just been loudly declaring that they had lived in Egypt for a very little money; as if they were affected by a great dearth of provisions, when, by the pure liberality of God, a kind of food was provided for them, more easy to prepare than any other, and so actually prepared without trouble or cost. But such is the malignity and ingratitude of men, that they count all God’s bounty for nothing, whilst they are brooding over their own importunate lusts. Many in their gluttony consume, and bring to naught whatever God bestows upon them: others, in their avarice, dry up the fountain of His liberality, which else would be inexhaustible. But these, in the midst of their abundance, say that they are dry, because insatiable cupidity inflames them, so that God’s blessing, however ample, cannot satisfy them. Thus the rain, washing the hard rock, wets it not within, neither tempers its dryness by its moisture. Since, therefore, a contempt of God’s blessings withers them all, like a hot blast, let us learn to assign them their due honor, that they may be supplied to us in sufficiency. Thus will be fulfilled in our ease:
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.”
For Scripture does not so often declare in vain that God satisfies the longing souls, and filleth the hungry with food. They complain that there is nothing before their eyes but manna: as if their loathing of this one excellent and abundant kind of food was actual famine.
7. And the manna was as coriander seed. Moses had already adverted to this in Exodus 16; 1818 See ante, vol. 1:275. but he now repeats it, in order more fully to condemn their perverse desire; for what could be more unseemly and intolerable than thus to eschew a food delightful both in appearance and taste v. For the same reason the Prophet, in Psalm 78, records that men were not satisfied with “angels’ food,” and “corn from heaven.” Here, instead of saying that it was white, he calls it the color of Bedola, 1919 A. V., “bdellium;” Hebrew בדלהbedolach,. “The bdellium of the sacred writer was in all probability the pearl, as the Arabic version has rendered it.” — Illustr. Comment. on Genesis 2:12 a precious stone, whether a pearl, or some other kind. Its very appearance, then, was calculated to give them pleasure; and, since without much labor, either by grinding or crushing it, they might make it into various sorts of food, and all of a sweet and pleasant taste;. the baser was their ingratitude in complaining, as if God treated them with but little liberality as to their food.
10. Then Moses heard the people weep. Wonderful indeed, and almost prodigious was the madness of the people, thus all of them to mourn as if reduced to the extremity of despair. What would they have done in actual famine? what if they had to gnaw bitter roots, almost without any juice in them? What if they had had to live on tasteless and unwholesome bread? We see, therefore, how by the indulgence of their depraved lusts men make themselves wretched in the very midst of prosperity. Let us, then, learn to bridle our excessive passions, that we may not bring upon ourselves troubles and inconveniences, and all sorts of painful feelings; for if the cause be duly weighed, when men afflict themselves with sorrow and lamentation, we shall generally find that, whereas the evil might be lightened by endurance, its pain is increased by preposterous imaginations. But here a gross instance of luxury is set before us, when, in their satiety, they weep as if long abstinence threatened them with death. It was an effect of holy and praiseworthy zeal, that this great perverseness should displease Moses; but he was not without error in carrying it to excess; for he unjustly expostulates with God, complaining that He had laid too heavy a burden upon him, when tie knew all the time that he was sustained by His power. His charge was indeed difficult and laborious; but in that he had experienced God’s wondrous aid, whenever he had groaned beneath his burden, there was no room for complaint; besides, since he had been dignified by a peculiar honor, it was ungrateful to brand with disgrace the good gift of God. He reputes it his greatest evil that the charge of governing the people had been intrusted to him; whereas all his senses ought rather to have been ravished with astonishment, that God had condescended to choose him to be the redeemer of His people, and the minister of His wondrous power. This, too, was very inconsiderate, to ask whether he had begotten or brought forth the people; as if his calling by God did not lay him sufficiently under obligation, or as if there were no other ties than those of nature. God, indeed, has inspired parents with such love towards their offspring, that they willingly undergo incredible troubles on their account; but Moses was bound by another kind of piety, for by God’s command he was father of the people. Wherefore he ought not to have only regarded nature, but the obligation of his office also.
13. Whence should I have flesh to give to all this people? Justly, indeed, does he accuse the people, and deny that he is possessed of flesh wherewith to satisfy so great a multitude; but he is wrong in expostulating with God, as if he were burdened beyond his strength; for, since God knew that he was unequal to so many difficulties, He supported him by the influence of His Spirit. But he sinned most grossly in the conclusion of his complaint, requesting God to kill him. In these words we see how far even the best of God’s servants may be carried, when they give too great indulgence to their passions. For it is the longing of despair to seek that we may be removed from the world, so that death may bring our troubles to an end. Since the impetuosity of his grief hurried away Moses God’s most chosen servant to this, what might not happen to us, if impatience should hold dominion over our hearts? Let us, then, learn to put a stop to this disease in good time.
16. And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men. God complies with the request of Moses, by associating with him seventy companions, by whose care and assistance he may be relieved from some part of his labor; yet not without some signs of indignation, for, by taking from him some portion of His Spirit to distribute amongst the others, He inflicts upon him that mark of disgrace which he deserved. I know that some 2020 Thus, De Lyra; “It is not to be understood that anything was taken away from Moses and given to the others, but they were illuminated without any- diminution of the grace of Moses; thus, by the light of one candle others are lighted, without any diminution of its own light.” Ainsworth thus traces the gloss of De Lyra to its source: “Neither was Moses’ spirit hereby diminished; for as Sol. Jarchi says, ‘Moses in that hour was like unto the lamp that was left (burning) in the candlestick (in the Sanctuary) from which all the other lamps were lighted, yet the light thereof was not lessened any whit.’” So also St. Augustine, “We understand that God would signify nothing more than that they also would have assistance from the same Spirit of grace, as Moses had; that they also should have as much as God pleased, not that Moses would therefore have less. Quest. in Numbers 18. Edit. Bened., tom. 3. P. 1, p. 535. C., indeed, here, seems to have but few followers. The gloss in the Geneva version is; “I will distribute my Spirit among them, as I have done to thee;” and Attersoll says, “It it true he doth sometimes punish in this manner, sometimes by lessening, and sometimes by taking away, what he had formerly bestowed. Zechariah 11:17; Matthew 25:27. But we do not read or find that he dealt so with Moses, or that he was less fit for government than he was before,” etc. regard it differently, and think that nothing was taken away from Moses, but that the others were endued with new grace, such as Moses had been preeminent for possessing alone before. But, since the words expressly declare that God will make them partakers of that grace which He will take from Moses himself, I by no means admit the truth of this subtle exposition. The passage in Genesis 27:36 is quoted, in which it is said, “Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?” but, when God expressly says, “I will separate 2121 A. V., “I will take;” or “will separate.” — Ainsworth. of the Spirit which is upon thee,” there can be no question but that a diminution is indicated. For, as long as Moses alone was appointed to rule the people, he was so supplied with the necessary gifts of the Spirit, as that his ability should not be inferior to the greatness of the labor. God now promises that the others shall be his companions in such sort, as that He divides His gifts among them all. I have no doubt, then, but that this division comprehends punishment in it; and from hence we may gather a useful piece of instruction, viz., that the greater the difficulty is which God imposes upon any one, the greater is the liberality with which He treats him, in order that he may be sufficient for his charge. Thus it is in His power to work with equal efficiency by one man, as by a hundred, or a thousand; for He has no need of a multitude (of agents,) but, as He pleases, He executes His works sometimes without the aid of men, sometimes by their hands. In sum, God indirectly reproves the gross ingratitude of Moses, whereby he depreciated that marvelous grace which had hitherto shone forth in him; and He declares that he shall not be hereafter so great as he was, in regard to the excellency he derived from the Spirit; inasmuch as he had in a manner thrown away the gifts of the Spirit, by refusing to bear the trouble imposed upon him. Our modesty, indeed, is praiseworthy, if through consciousness of our own weakness we recoil from arduous charges; but it is too absurd for us to withdraw ourselves under this pretext from our duty, and, despising the calling of God, to shake off the yoke.
The word Spirit is here, as frequently elsewhere, applied to the gifts themselves; as if He had said, I had deposited with thee gifts sufficing for the government of the people; but now, since thou refusest, I will distribute his due measure to each of the seventy, so that the grace of the Spirit, which dwelt in thee alone, shall be manifestly dispersed among many. It is now asked how Moses separated the seventy, whether according to his own judgment only, or by the election of the people. It is generally agreed that six were chosen from each tribe, and thus that they were seventy-two; but that for the sake of brevity two were omitted, as amongst the Romans, 2222 “Centumviri were judges chosen from the thirty-five tribes, three from each, so that properly there were 105, but they were always named by a round number, Centumviri. Eestus.” — Adam’s Rom. Antiq. they spoke of the Centumviri, although they were a hundred and five; for they appointed three for each of the thirty-five tribes. Since the opinion is probable, I leave it undecided; but at the same time I retain the conjecture which I have elsewhere made, 2323 See ante, on Exodus 24:1, vol. 3, p. 316. viz., that, since the race of Abraham had been increased in an incredible manner in two hundred and twenty years, lest so astonishing a miracle should ever be forgotten, the seventy were elected in accordance with the number of the fathers who had gone down into Egypt with Jacob. And, in fact, this seems to have been with them, as it were, a sacred number; as recalling to their memory that little band from which they had derived their origin. For, before the Law was promulgated, Moses was commanded to take with him seventy to accompany him to the mount, and to be eye-witnesses of God’s glory. Meanwhile, I do not deny that there were two more than the number seventy; but I only point out why God fixed upon this number, viz., to equalize the leaders and heads of the people with the family of Jacob, which was the source of their race and name. In truth, from the fact that, when Hoses went up into Mount Sinai to receive the Tables from the hand of God, he took with him seventy officers, we infer that the number of those who should excel in honor, was already fixed at this, although the charge of governing, which is here spoken of, was not yet committed to them. And it is probable that these same persons who had been appointed leaders, were called to this new and unwonted office, as the words themselves imply. It is indeed certain, that when the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, because they were not permitted to appoint a king, they followed the example here set them in the establishment of their Sanhedrim; only this honor was paid to the memory of David and their rings, that from their race they chose their seventy rulers in whom the supreme power was vested. And this form of government continued down to Herod, 2424 Josephus, Antiq., 14:9. Section 4. who abolished the whole council by which he had been condemned, and destroyed the lives of them all. Still, I think that he was not impelled to commit the massacre only out of vengeance, but also lest the dignity of the royal race should be an obstacle to his tyranny.
It must, however, be observed that, although God promises new grace to the seventy men, he would not have them taken indiscriminately from the people in general, but expressly commands them to be chosen from the order of the elders, and heads of the people, being such as were already possessed of authority, and had given proofs of their diligence and virtue. Thus, also, now-a-days, when he calls both the pastors of the Church and magistrates
to their office, although He furnishes them with new gifts, still He would not have them raised to their honorable stations promiscuously as they may come first, but chooses rather with reference to their spiritual endowments, wherewith He distinguishes, and commends those whom He has destined to any exalted office. In short, He commands the most fitting to be chosen; but, after they have been elected, tie promises that He will add what is wanting. For this reason He commands that they should
station themselves at the door of the tabernacle, that He may there display His grace. Although I think that two other reasons were likewise taken into consideration, viz., that they might know that the office was intrusted to them by God, and might always be mindful of the heavenly tribunal, before which they must be accountable: and also that they might be held in additional reverence by the very associations of the place, and that the people might submit to them as the ministers of God. Now,
although God does not at present dwell in a visible tabernacle, yet are we reminded by this example that pastors and magistrates are not duly ordained, unless they are placed in the presence of God; nor rightly inaugurated in their offices, unless when they consecrate themselves to God Himself, and when His majesty, on the other hand, acquires their reverence. Cyprian
“Wherefore a people which obeyeth the precepts of the Lord, and feareth God, ought to separate itself from a Prelate who is a sinner, nor mingle itself up with the sacrifices of a sacrilegious priest, especially since it has itself the power either of choosing worthy priests, or rejecting the unworthy. This, too, we see to be derived from divine authority, that a priest should be chosen in presence of the people, in sight of all, and be approved
worthy and fit by public sentence and testimony; as in Numbers, the Lord commanded Moses, saying, Take Aaron thy brother, and Eleazar his son, and bring them up into the mount, before all the congregation: and strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son, and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there. (Numbers 20:25, 26.) God commands a priest
to be appointed before all the congregation, that is, He instructs and shows us, that the ordinations of priests ought only to be solemnized with the knowledge of the people standing by, that so by their presence either the crimes of the wicked may be detected, or the merits of the good proclaimed, and so the ordination be right and lawful, as having been examined with the suffrage and judgment of all.” — Epistles of S. Cyprian. Oxford Transl. 1844, pp. 211, 212.
The above quotation is from a letter written in the names of Cyprian and thirty-six of his brethren, as a reply to inquiries made by the presbyter and people of Leon and Astorga, and the deacons and faithful people in Merida. Cyprian has not cited Numbers 11:16, in any of the works now acknowledged as his, though the argument thus drawn from Numbers 20:25, 28, would have been more reasonably collected from the text, to which Calvin has assumed that he referred. twists this passage further, but I know not whether on sufficiently firm grounds, to prove that bishops are not to be elected, except with the consent of the whole people.
18. And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves. This is another part of the answer, which is given respecting the matter in consideration, viz., that the people should prepare themselves to satiate their greediness. Although the word קדש 2626 If קדש may be said to signify to prepare, it can only be so rendered when the preparation is by sanctifying. — W. kadesh, signifies to prepare, yet its literal meaning seems to be most appropriate here; I have therefore retained the word sanctify, which is, however, here used ironically, for Moses does not exhort: them to purge themselves from all defilement’s, and piously and sincerely to receive the grace of God, but he chastises their profane and brutal gluttony. Others translate it simply, as if it were said, Whet your teeth, and make ready your bellies: but, in my judgment, there is a reproof implied, because they are polluted by a foul and wicked desire, so as to be incapable of receiving God’s paternal favor: for “ye shall eat flesh” follows, “because your weeping and complaining has reached the ears of God;” by which words he signifies that by their importunate cries they had provoked God’s anger, so that they should devour none but deadly food. And soon afterwards it is stated more clearly that by their insolence they had deserved to be destroyed by the bounty of God. For “a whole month,” he says, ye shall gormandize, “till it come out of your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you.” Thus he compares them to those guttlers who so overwhelm themselves with gluttony, that they are obliged soon afterwards to vomit what they have eaten too greedily, or who abominate the taste of their superfluous luxuries, as if they were something filthy. This is what is meant by to “come out,” or to be blown out, “at the nostrils.” זרא 2727 זרא (loathsomeness) is said by S. M. to be an irregular form of זרה; and he renders it dispersion, agreeably with the acknowledged meaning of the root זרה. This account of the word has the sanction of modern lexicographers. — W. tzara, which we have translated abomination, properly means dispersion; but Moses indicates by it that they shall vomit, or spit it out, like something unfit to be swallowed. If any should object that it is said in Psalm 78:30, “They were not yet estranged from their lust:” this is easily solved by understanding that their unrestrained gluttony is there rebuked, 2828 Que la le Sainct Esprit deteste leur gourmandise desbordee;” that there the Holy Spirit marks His detestation of their unbridled gluttony. — Fr. as if he called them guttlers (gurgites,) whom no abundance can suffice to satisfy. Therefore the Prophet says, that although they were bursting with excess, they were not satiated; but were so inflamed by their boundless voracity, that God’s vengeance could alone repress it. But the reason alleged for this is especially to be observed, “because they had rejected God, who was in the midst of them.” By these words, the excuse of error or inadvertency is barred; for if, for the purpose of proving their patience God had withdrawn His power, the terror which they conceived at His absence might, perhaps, have been excusable; but now, when they knew by sure experience that their means of subsistence were supplied by Him, they betray their deliberate wickedness by despising His present beneficence. For that God was in the midst of them is equivalent to His giving manifest tokens both of His infinite power and His paternal favor. These words show us that the more immediately God manifests His grace to us, the more inexcusable we are, if we disparage it when it is thus liberally offered to us. What follows might appear not to deserve severe reproof, viz., that they “wept before God;” but the enormity of the sin is specified directly afterwards, i.e. that they were vexed by their departure from Egypt: for this was not merely to repudiate the deliverance, which they had so greatly longed for, but to quarrel with God, because He had listened to their cry, and had condescended to redeem them from their wretched and lost estate.
21. And Moses said, The people among whom I am, are six hundred thousand. Although Moses’ object was right, yet he fell into unbelief, and thus stumbled at the very threshold. His pious solicitude indeed impelled him to doubt; because he feared that God’s holy name would be exposed to derision and contumely, if he should send away empty those to whom he had promised food. But it seemed to him incredible that so mighty a multitude should be sufficiently supplied with flesh. When he calls them “six hundred thousand,” he either does not calculate their numbers exactly, or indicates that some had died since their departure, when he had numbered the people. (Exodus 14.) Yet it is probable that he referred to the recent census, in which they were found to be 603,550, (Numbers 1:46;) but for the sake of brevity he put the sum in the gross, as he does elsewhere, omitting the 3550. (Exodus 12:37.) By speaking of foot-men, he means the men, and thus excepts the women and. children. Assuredly such a multitude might astonish him, or, at any rate, might inspire him with alarm, so that he should mistrust the promise. His doubt, however, was wrong in two respects; first, because he did not simply trust, as if he were not assured that God was true in all His words; and, secondly, because he improperly allowed his mind to measure God’s inestimable power by his own senses. Let us learn, therefore, that, as soon as God has spoken, we should embrace, without discussion, whatever has proceeded out of His mouth; and so likewise let us learn to humble ourselves, and our own minds, and at the same time to rise by faith above the world, and our natural reason; so that no absurdity, which the flesh may suggest to us, should prevent us from certainly concluding that whatever God has promised He will, by His might, perform. For it is a most incorrect calculation to bind down God’s doings to ordinary standards; as if His power were not more extensive than our minds can reach. We must, therefore, carefully take notice of the rebuke, whereby God so corrected Moses at once, that it ought to prevent and to cure all diseases of distrust in us. For the immensity of God’s hand convicts the folly of those who would subject it to their own imaginations and rules. For, even although God should not stretch forth His hand, He holds heaven and earth in its “hollow,” as it is said in Isaiah 40:12. What madness, then, is it to seek to grasp by our own senses, and, as it were, to imprison that hand which is greater than a hundred worlds! As soon, therefore, as distrust on the score of difficulties begins to take possession of our minds, let this conclusion be remembered, that the promises of God do not exceed the measure of His power to accomplish effectually whatever He has declared. This question, however, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” may be explained in two ways: for the old interpreter 2929 That is, the V. “Numquid manus Domini invalida est?” has rendered it, “Is God’s hand weak?” But God seems to adduce the proof, whereby He had borne witness to His power, not only in the creation of heaven and earth, but also in so many recent miracles; as if to rebuke the ingratitude of Moses, who had profited so little by these most striking lessons: for Isaiah uses the same word in this sense, where he says: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened.” (Isaiah 59:1.) Moses is unquestionably exalting the blessings received on former occasions, wherein the people had experienced the saving power of God. I have retained the future tense of the verb, 3030 In this C. follows the LXX Μὴ χεὶρ Κυρίου οὐκ ἐξαρκέσει; “Shall not the Lord’s hand suffice?” and most of the versions, according to Poole, in which it is rendered “abbreviabitur?” since it does not injure the sense. What is said amounts to this, Will God’s hand be weaker than usual, so as not to put forth its power already known?
24. And Moses went out and told the people the words. We here see how greatly Moses profited by his brief rebuke, for he now actively sets about what he was commanded. Doubt had given him a check, so that he stopped in the middle of his course; whereas he now testifies by the promptitude of his obedience that his distrust is overcome. For just as unbelief discourages men, so that they sink down into inactivity, so faith inspires both body and mind with rigor for the effectual discharge of their duties.
Although the narrative does not expressly state that he spoke to them respecting the flesh, it declares in general terms that he omitted nothing; and, indeed, it would have been very inappropriate to speak only of the Seventy Elders, when the origin of all the evil had been the craving for flesh. Briefly stating, then, that he had reported the commands of God to the people, he includes both parts of the matter, the second of which he then follows up. And, first, he says that the elders were called to the Tabernacle, that they might there be appointed rulers and officers. When be states that they were “set round about,” I do not interpret the words so precisely as to suppose that eighteen were ranged on each side, and, of the rest, half were placed before the court, and half behind the Tabernacle; but that they were so arranged, as to surround some part of the Tabernacle. Now, this was equivalent to their being set before God, so that they might hereafter exercise their office with more authority, as being sent by Him; and at the same time that they might devote themselves to God, and dedicate themselves to His service; and also, that being invested with the necessary endowments, they might bear the tokens of their calling. For this reason, it is soon afterwards added, that enough of the spirit of Moses was given them for the discharge of their official duties; for, although Moses by God’s command had chosen men of approved virtue and experience, yet He would have them prepared anew, in order that their call might be effectual. When they are said to have “prophesied,” this was a visible sign of the gift of the Spirit, which, nevertheless, had reference to a different object; for they were not appointed to be. prophets, though God would testify by this outward mark that they were new men, in order that the people might receive them with greater reverence. In my opinion, however, prophecy here is equivalent to a special faculty of discoursing magnificently of secret things or mysteries. We know that poets were called prophets by profane writers, 3131 Vates is a name commonly applied by classical writers to poets. “Quare sue jure noster ille Ennius sanctos appellat poetas, quod quasi deorum aliquo dono, atque munere commendati nobis videantur.” — Cicero pro Archia Poeta, 8. “De versibus, quos tibi a me scribi vis, deest mihi quidem opera, quae non modo tempus, sed etiam animum vacuum ab omni cura desiderat; sed abest etiam ἐνθουσιασμὸς” — Ibid. Epist. ad Quint. Frat 3:4. because poetry itself savors of inspiration (ἐνθουσιασμὸν); in the same way that extraordinary ability, 3232 Fr. “La grace de parler authentiquement de choses hautes;” the grace to speak authentically of high things. in which the afflatus of the Spirit shone forth, obtained the name of prophecy. Thus, the gift of prophecy in Saul was a kind of mark of royalty; so that he might not ascend the throne without credentials. (1 Samuel 10:10.) Thus, then, this Spirit of Prophecy was only accorded to these persons for a short time; since it was sufficient that they should be once marked out by God: for so I understand what Moses says afterwards, “and they added not.” 3333 “These words are commonly rendered, ‘and did not cease (to prophesy,)’ as in our public version; or ‘and did not add,’ as they are rendered by Ainsworth and Purver, neither of which renderings is to me intelligible. By adopting the Sam. reading with Houbigant, Dathe, and Rosenmiiller, and placing ולא יאספי at the head of ver. 26, the text will be rectified, and the sense clear: At non congregati sunt, sed remanserant in castris viri duo, quorum nomen unius Eldad, et nomen alterius Medad, tamen requievit super eos spiritus ille (nam ipsi ex conscriptis, atsi non egressi erant ad tentorium) et prophetabant in castris.” — Boothroyd in loco. Thus, Eldad and Medad will be the nominative case to the verb, and its meaning “were not assembled.” it is too forced an interpretation to refer it, as some do, to the past. I confess, indeed, that they were not previously prophets; but I have no doubt but that Moses here indicates that the gift was a temporary one: as we are also told in the case of Saul: for, as soon as this token of God’s grace had manifested itself in him, 3434 The Fr. applies this sentence to the elders, “ils ont cesse de prophetizer;” they ceased to prophesy. he ceased to prophesy. The meaning, therefore, is that their call was thus substantiated for a short period, so that this unusual circumstance should awaken the more admiration.
26. But there remained two of the men in the camp. It is not certain why they had not appeared amongst the others. I do not at all doubt but that they were called for by Moses; nor would they have been endued with the same grace of the Spirit as the others, if through idleness or contempt they had not come at the time appointed. We may, therefore, probably infer that they did not actually receive the invitation, because they could not be found; and hence it arose that God excused their ignorance. Still, however, it must be observed that they were kept back by the secret counsel of God, that His grace might be made known by this illustrious proof amongst the common people in general, when they were not all eye-witnesses of it: for the greater portion of them had not assembled at the Tabernacle. In order, therefore, that its fame might spread more widely, and might reach even to the most lowly, God chose that this new and extraordinary gift of His Spirit should be conspicuous in the midst of the camp, lest any of the dullest and grossest among them should pretend to be ignorant of it. In fact, it is plain that they were all aroused by the miracle; for the “young man,” who is spoken of, would not have run to bear the incredible news to Moses, unless struck by the novelty of the case.
28. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses. It is obvious that this foolish and preposterous jealousy arose from a good source. Joshua saw that Moses was so preeminent above all others, as to be justly deemed, after God, the head of the people; he feared, therefore, lest, if any portion of his superiority should be withdrawn, the grace of God would be dispelled and lost. We know, too, that almost every change is injurious, and apt to give a shock to public affairs. In asserting, then, the rights of Moses, he desired, as far as he could, to consult the welfare of all; but the excess of his zeal had some alloy in it, in consequence of the immoderate affection and love which he bore to Moses; just as it often happens to ourselves, that although our desires have a right object, they still go astray into erroneous feelings. So, then, let us learn to revere the most illustrious servants of Christ, as that God alone should be supreme; and that He, who is far above all, should still maintain His pre-eminence. And this will be the case, if we hold fast to the principle, that although “there are diversities of gifts,” yet there is but one Spirit from whom they flow; and although there are “differences of administrations,” yet but one Lord who must be served, (1 Corinthians 12:4, 5;) which also Paul confirms elsewhere, where he teaches us that the gifts are so distributed as that no individual should have all, but each
“according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”
29. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? This may be understood in two different ways. Some take it, as if Moses had said, It is no business of yours, if I have suffered any loss: and if anything is taken from me, it would be mine and not yours to grieve and grudge; but I think Moses spoke more simply, as if he had said, Behold, how differently I feel from you; for I, whose cause you suppose yourselves to be promoting, should desire that all were endowed with the spirit of prophecy. So was that foolish jealousy admirably rebuked, which would put a restraint upon God’s blessing, so greatly to be desired by every pious mind. At the same time, we fully perceive the gentleness and humility of Moses, whom no ambition, nor consideration of his personal dignity, prevents from willingly admitting the very lowliest into companionship with himself. If any should object that it is God’s pleasure, in order to enhance the excellency of the gift, that there should be but few prophets in the Church, and consequently that Moses inconsiderately sought for that, which is in repugnance to God’s counsel in this matter, the reply is easy, that, al — though the saints acquiesce in His ordinary dispensations, and are persuaded that the arrangement, which He makes, is the best, yet that it is an act of piety in them to desire to communicate with all others what is given to themselves, so as to be anxious rather to be last of all, than to begrudge perfection to their brethren. In sum, Moses declares that nothing would be more gratifying to him, than that God should diffuse the grace of the spirit of prophecy amongst the whole people, so that all should be partakers of it, from the least to the greatest.
30. And Moses gat him into the camp. Although, after the appointment of the Seventy, all betook themselves to their own stations and dwelling-places, yet there is no doubt but that they were all forewarned of the approaching miracle, so as to be universally attentive to the event, which is presently related. When it is said that it was “a wind of the Lord” which brought the quails, there was no other reason for this than that God might openly manifest that all things under heaven are subject to His dominion, and are ready to obey Him. He might, indeed, have created the quails at will (nutu,) just as He rained the manna from heaven; nor was it natural that by the force of the winds such an abundance of birds should be east, and heaped together in one place; but by using the aid of the wind He confirmed what is written in Psalm 104:3, 4, that “He maketh the winds his messengers 3535 A.V., “Who maketh his angels spirits.” See C.’s own translation and comment. — Cal. Soc. Edit., vol. 4:144, and 147. and they bear him on their wings;” because in their swiftness they rapidly bear His commandments from the east to the west. Now, although it is true in the abstract that the winds come from Him, so that they are only His breath, and that the air cannot be stirred in the slightest degree except at His will, still an extraordinary miracle is here specified, as before in the passage of the Red Sea. The Prophet in the Psalm goes further:
“He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven; and by his power he brought in the south wind,” (Psalm 78:26,)
in which words He signifies that the whole air was shaken, since the winds suddenly arose from different quarters, which covered the earth in all directions with an immense multitude of the birds.
When he says that the earth was filled “as it were a day’s journey,” I do not understand it as if the dead birds lay at so great a distance, but that they occupied such a space of ground in thick heaps, and, in fact, continuously. And this also we gather from the Psalm, where the Prophet says, that they fell “in the midst of their camp,” and were carried to their tents round about. (Psalm 78:28.) What is added, as to their being “two cubits high,” I do not interpret, as some do, 3636 So the V., “Volabantque in aere duobus cubitis altitudine super terram.” “Sol. Jarchi saith, They flew so high as a man’s heart, that he was not toiled in getting them, either by reaching high, or by stooping low.” — Ainsworth in loco. Kitto, Illustr. Com. in loco, prefers this view. that they did not fly above two cubits from the ground, so as to be more easily taken with the hand; but that there was such a mass of them, that every one might carry away as much as he would. For to this also do those magnificent descriptions in the Psalm relate, whereby the miracle is extolled:
“He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and leathered fowls, like as the sand of the sea.” (Psalm 78:27.)
But how “they spread them abroad — round about,” 3737 “We are disposed to conclude with Calmer (in his note on this place) that the Hebrews salted their quails before they dried them. We have here, then, the earliest indication of processes, the benefits resulting from which have become so diffused and familiar, that it costs an effort of recollection to recognize them as benefits. Yet many centuries have not elapsed since the Emperor Charles V. thought it became him to erect a statue to the man (G. Bukel) who found the secret of salting and barrelling herrings.” — Illustr. Com. in loco. is not very clear to me; unless, perhaps, they were placed in cages or coops, and daily taken out for food.
33. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth. Moses does not specify any particular day; but only that God did not wait till satiety had produced disgust, but inflicted the punishment in the midst of their greediness. We may, however, conjecture from what precedes, that time was given them to gorge themselves. From whence their insatiable voracity may be gathered, which prevailed for so many continuous days, and could not be appeased by any quantity of food. God, therefore, allowed them time abundantly sufficient for them to gorge themselves, unless their gluttony was prodigious: and yet punished their intemperance, while the meat was yet in their mouths. They were, then, suddenly surprised in the midst of their guttling; and hence it is said in the Psalm, (Psalm 78:30,) “they were not yet estranged from their lust;” just as any glutton might choke himself, by devouring more than his throat could hold. Nor is that at variance with their repletion, of which mention was lately made; for, however the belly may swell with the quantity of its contents, the furious lust of eating is never appeased. But, in order that their punishment might be more manifest, God inflicted it in the very act; nor could any better opportunity have been chosen.
34. And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah. It was requisite that some memorial of so great a sin should exist, that the sons might not imitate their fathers. Heretofore God had sustained them with a food both agreeable and wholesome: by longing for unlawful nourishment they were their own poisoners and murderers. Now, such ingratitude was deservedly to be detested by their posterity; and therefore the name was given to the place, not without the inspiration of the Spirit of God. So Paul reminds us, that in this narrative God’s judgment against corrupt and vicious lusts was portrayed, that we might ourselves learn not to lust. (1 Corinthians 10:6.) I have already briefly explained how far our appetites are to be restrained, and what intemperance, properly speaking, is.