Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.XI.
(1) And when the people complained . . . —Better, And the people were as those who complained (or murmured), (which was) evil in the ears of the Lord. The LXX. has, “And the people murmured sinfully before the Lord.” Comp. 1Corinthians 10:10 : “Neither murmur ye as some of them also murmured.”
And consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.-Better, and devoured at the extremity of the camp. Most commentators have remarked, and justly, upon the great severity of the Divine judgments which were inflicted after the giving of the Law, as compared with those which were inflicted before it. Reference may be made in illustration of this point to Exodus 14:11-14; Exodus 15:24-25; Exodus 16:2-8; Exodus 17:3-7. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews argues from the just recompense of reward which every transgression and disobedience received under the Law, the impossibility of the escape of those who neglect the great salvation of the Gospel. See Hebrews 2:2-3. Comp. also Hebrews 10:28-29; Hebrews 12:25.
And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched.(2) The fire was quenched.—Better, subsided or sunk down. No precise information is given as to the extent of the fire, or as to the objects which it destroyed. It broke out in the extremity of the encampment, and it was arrested in its progress at the supplication of Moses. It seems, however, more probable that it consumed some of the Israelites themselves, than that it consumed only some of their tents. Some suppose that the reference is to the simoom, or fiery south wind, which sometimes blows in the Eastern desert, and which stifles those over whom it sweeps.
And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.(3) Taberah—i.e., burning, a word cognate to the verb which is rendered burnt in Numbers 11:1 and in this verse.
And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?(4) And the mixt multitude.—The Authorised Version follows the LXX. and the Vulgate in rendering the word asaph-suph, which occurs only in this place, and which is derived from a verb which means to collect, in the same way as the ereb of Exodus 12:38, a mixed multitude, vulgus promiscuum—in many cases, probably, the children of Hebrew women by Egyptian fathers. This mixed multitude appears to have been very considerable, and they may have become, as the Gibeonites at a later period, servants to the Israelites, as hewers of wood and drawers of water (Deuteronomy 29:11). It is probable that this mixed multitude may have partaken even more largely than the Israelites of the fish and vegetables of Egypt, and they appear to have instigated the Israelites to repine at the deprivations to which they were exposed in the wilderness. There is no mention in Exodus 16:3 of weeping, but the same craving after the flesh-pots of Egypt was probably manifested in the same manner in both cases.
Who shall give us flesh to eat?—The word basar, which is rendered flesh, seems here to include—it may be to have primary reference to—fish. It is used of fish in Leviticus 11:11, and it is obvious from Numbers 11:22 that it was understood by Moses in this general signification. Cp. the use of flesh (1Corinthians 15:39).
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:(5) We remember the fish . . . —Classical writers and modern travellers agree in bearing testimony to the abundance of the fish in the Nile and in the neighbouring canals and reservoirs. The cucumbers in Egypt are of great size and finely flavoured. The watermelons serve to moderate the internal heat which the climate produces. (See The Land and the Book, p. 508.) The word rendered leeks (in Psalm 104:14, grass for cattle) is supposed by some to denote a species of clover which is peculiar to Egypt, and of which the young and fresh shoots are said to be used as food and to be an excellent stomachic. The onions of Egypt are said to be the sweetest in the world, and they constitute the common food of the lowest class of the people. Garlic is still much used by the modern Arabs. It is only the fish, which was probably equally within the reach of all, of which the Israelites are said to have eaten freely, i.e., not abundantly, but gratuitously. It is probable, however, that many of them cultivated the land to a greater or lesser degree, and so procured vegetables for themselves.
But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.(6) There is nothing at all . . . —Better, there is nothing, except that our eyes (look) upon, the manna.
And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium.(7) And the manna was . . . —The design of the description of the manna in this place (comp. Exodus 16:14; Exodus 16:31, and Notes in loc.; also Article Manna, in “Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible”) was probably to exhibit in its just light the sinfulness of the Israelites in repining at the merciful provision which God had made for the supply of their wants. The dissatisfaction of the Israelites with the sweet bread of heaven, and their craving after the more savoury and more stimulating food of Egypt may be regarded as typical of man’s natural repugnance to the spiritual food which is provided in the Gospel, and his restless cravings after the pleasures of the world.
And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.(8) As the taste of fresh oil.—Or, of a fat cake of oil. In Exodus 16:31 the taste of the manna is said to have been “like wafers made with honey.” The ancients used flour cakes mixed with oil and honey.
Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased.(10) Moses also was displeased.—Or, And it was evil (or, displeasing) in the eyes of Moses. Moses was displeased with the people on account of their murmuring, and he was oppressed with the heavy burden of responsibility to which he felt himself unequal.
And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?(11) Wherefore hast thou afflicted.—Literally, done evil to: the same verb, in a different conjugation, which is rendered “displeased” in Numbers 11:10.
Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?(12) Have I conceived . .?—The personal pronoun is emphatic in this and the following clause: Is it I who have conceived all this people? Is it I who have brought them forth? (or, begotten them), as in Genesis 4:18; Genesis 10:8.
Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.(13) Whence should I have flesh . . .?—Moses does not justify the murmuring of the people, and was doubtless conscious of their sinfulness. At the same time, he displays a spirit of discontent, and almost of despair, at God’s dealings with himself; and he appears to treat the demand of the Israelites. for flesh as one which was not altogether unreasonable.
I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.(14) To bear all this people alone.—In accordance with the advice of Jethro, able men had been chosen out of all Israel who heard and determined the small matters which arose among them (Exodus 18:25-26), but they were of no avail on occasions such as the present.
My wretchedness.—Or, my evil. This is one of the eighteen places in which the scribes are said to have altered the text, and to have substituted my for Thy.
And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.(15) Kill me, I pray thee, out of hand.—Or, Make an utter end of me.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.(16) Seventy men of the elders of Israel . . . —We find mention made of elders of the people in Exodus 3:16, and of officers (shoterim) in Exodus 5:16;
also of seventy elders in Exodus 24:1. Frequent mention is made in Scripture of the number seventy—a number which is composed of the two sacred numbers seven and ten—the former being the seal of the covenant, and the latter probably denoting perfection. The seventy who were chosen on the present occasion may have consisted of some of those who were appointed as judges at the suggestion of Jethro, but there is no evidence of their identity with any persons previously selected.
And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.(17) And I will come down . . . —The cloud which hovered over the Tabernacle appears to have descended to the entrance of it (Numbers 11:25). (Comp. Exodus 33:9; Numbers 12:5; Deuteronomy 31:15).
I will take of the spirit which is upon thee . . . —These words do not imply that there was any diminution of the gifts bestowed upon Moses, but that a portion of those spiritual gifts was bestowed upon the seventy. Rashi compares the mode of bestowal with the manner in which the other lamps of the Sanctuary were lighted at the golden candlestick without diminishing the light from which theirs was taken.
And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.(18) Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow.—(Comp. Exodus 19:10.) The Israelites were required to sanctify themselves by purification for the more immediate manifestation of the Divine presence, although their request was a sinful one, and was granted in judgment as well as—or even more than—in mercy. Comp. Psalm 106:15 : “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.”
Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;(19) Ye shall not eat one day . . . —The quails which had been sent the preceding year appear to have covered the camp only during one day (Exodus 16:13).
And Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month.(21) Six hundred thousand footmen.—In Numbers 1:46 the number is stated to be 603,550; but here, as elsewhere, a round number is mentioned.
Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?(22) Shall the flocks and the herds . .?—Rather, Shall flocks and herds . .? The definite article is not used here, nor the possessive pronoun, as elsewhere, where the flocks and herds of the Israelites are denoted. (Comp. Exodus 10:9; Exodus 34:3; Deuteronomy 12:6.) There is no evidence, therefore, that Moses alluded exclusively, or even primarily, to the flocks and herds which the Israelites had brought out of Egypt. Moreover, a large number of the sheep and goats must have been recently slain at the Passover. Whether the encampment was, or was not within an easy distance of the Ælanitic Gulf, the gathering together of the fish of the sea in sufficient quantities to satisfy such a multitude for so long a time would require a miraculous agency; and the same agency could also bring together from unknown sources flocks and herds. The expression may be regarded as a form of natural hyperbole.
And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle.(24) And Moses went out . . . —i.e., as it should seem, from the tabernacle of the congregation, where he had been conversing with God.
Round about the tabernacle.—This does not necessarily imply that the seventy men were placed so that they surrounded the whole of the tent of meeting. Comp. Exodus 7:24, where the word means on both sides of the river; also Job 29:5, where the same word is rendered about.
And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.(25) In a cloud.—Hebrew, In the cloud.
And gave it unto . . . —Better, and put it upon, as in Leviticus 2:15.
They prophesied, and did not cease.—Better, they prophesied, but did so no more. Comp. Genesis 8:12; Exodus 11:6; 2Samuel 2:28; so the LXX. The word prophesy does not necessarily denote the prediction of future events. It is elsewhere employed to denote the celebration of the praises of God, either with the voice or with instruments of music. (Comp. 1Samuel 10:6; 1Kings 18:29; 1Chronicles 25:1-3; Jeremiah 29:26.)
And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.(28) My lord Moses, forbid them.—The motive which prompted Joshua in making this request appears to have been similar to that which led St. John to forbid the man to cast out devils who did not follow with the Apostles (Mark 9:38-39; Luke 9:49-50). But as the man did not cast out devils in his own name, but in that of Christ, so in this case Eldad and Medad prophesied in virtue of the spirit which rested upon them from above, of which the Holy Ghost, not Moses, was the giver. The motives which deterred Eldad and Medad from going to the tent of meeting are unknown. The history teaches the freeness and the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit’s influences, as afterwards did that of Cornelius, when the Holy Ghost fell upon him and upon those who were with him, previously to the reception of baptism, and they spoke with tongues and magnified God (Acts 10:44-48).
And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!(29) Enviest thou for my sake?-Better, Art thou zealous for me? or, Art thou displeased on my account? (Comp. Numbers 25:13; 1Kings 19:10; 1Kings 19:14.)
And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.(31) And there went forth a wind.—In Psalm 78:26 we read thus: “He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.” A south-east wind would bring the quails from the neighbourhood of the Red Sea, where they abound.
And let them fall.—Better, and scattered them (or, spread them out). Comp. 1Samuel 30:16 : “They were spread abroad upon all the earth,” or, over all the ground.
Round about.—See Note on Numbers 11:24.
As it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.—Or, about two cubits over (or, above) the ground. Had the quails lain upon the earth in a heap for any considerable time, life could only have been preserved by miraculous interference with the ordinary laws of nature, and the Israelites were not allowed to eat of that which had died of itself. Quails commonly fly low, and when wearied with a long flight might fly only about breast-high. On the other hand, the more obvious interpretation of the words is that the quails were spread over the ground, and covered it in some places to the height of two cubits. They were probably taken and killed immediately on their descent, as the following verse seems to indicate, and then spread out and dried and hardened in the sun. Some think that the word which is here rendered quails denotes cranes.
And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.(32) Ten homers.—The homer, which was equal to ten ephahs, or a hundred omers, appears to have contained between five and six bushels, according to the Rabbinists, but according to Josephus about double that quantity.
And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.(33) With a very great plague.—The noun, maccah. plague, is cognate to the verb which is rendered smote. It is frequently used of a stroke inflicted by God, as, e.g., pestilence or any epidemic sickness. A surfeit, such as that in which the Israelites had indulged, especially under the circumstances in which they were placed, would naturally produce a considerable amount of sickness. Here, then, as in the account of the plagues of Egypt and in other parts of the sacred history, the natural and the supernatural are closely combined.
And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted.(34) Kibroth-hattaavah—i.e., the graves of lust ‘or, desire). In Numbers 33:16, Kibroth-hattaavah is mentioned as the first station after the departure from Sinai, whereas it is obvious that there must have been an encampment at Taberah. Taberah may have been the name given to a part of Kibroth-hattaavah, or the two names may have belonged to the same place.