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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.

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.

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