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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.

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?

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