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Complaining in the Desert


Now when the people complained in the hearing of the L ord about their misfortunes, the L ord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the L ord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the L ord, and the fire abated. 3So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the L ord 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 L ord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the L ord, “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 L ord 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 L ord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord said to Moses, “Is the L ord’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 L ord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the L ord 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 L ord’s people were prophets, and that the L ord would put his spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

The Quails

31 Then a wind went out from the L ord, 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 L ord was kindled against the people, and the L ord 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.

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.”
(Ephesians 4:7.)

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.

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