Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. When the people complained it displeased the Lord,
&c.--Unaccustomed to the fatigues of travel and wandering into the
depths of a desert, less mountainous but far more gloomy and desolate
than that of Sinai, without any near prospect of the rich country that
had been promised, they fell into a state of vehement discontent, which
was vented at these irksome and fruitless journeyings. The displeasure
of God was manifested against the ungrateful complainers by fire sent
in an extraordinary manner. It is worthy of notice, however, that the
discontent seems to have been confined to the extremities of the camp,
where, in all likelihood, "the mixed multitude"
had their station. At the intercession of Moses, the appalling judgment
and the name given to the place, "Taberah" (a burning), remained ever
after a monument of national sin and punishment. (See on
4. the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting--These
consisted of Egyptians.
To dream of banquets and plenty of animal food in the desert becomes a
disease of the imagination; and to this excitement of the appetite no
people are more liable than the natives of Egypt. But the Israelites
participated in the same feelings and expressed dissatisfaction with
the manna on which they had hitherto been supported, in comparison with
the vegetable luxuries with which they had been regaled in Egypt.
5. We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt
The people of Egypt are accustomed to an almost exclusive diet of fish,
either fresh or sun-dried, during the hot season in April and May--the
very season when the Israelites were travelling in this desert. Lower
Egypt, where were the brick-kilns in which they were employed, afforded
great facilities for obtaining fish in the Mediterranean, the lakes,
and the canals of the Nile.
cucumbers--The Egyptian species is smooth, of a cylindrical form, and
about a foot in length. It is highly esteemed by the natives and when
in season is liberally partaken of, being greatly mellowed by the
influence of the sun.
melons--The watermelons are meant, which grow on the deep, loamy soil
after the subsidence of the Nile; and as they afford a juicy and
cooling fruit, all classes make use of them for food, drink, and
leeks--by some said to be a species of grass cresses, which is much
relished as a kind of seasoning.
onions--the same as ours; but instead of being nauseous and affecting
the eyes, they are sweet to the taste, good for the stomach, and form
to a large extent the aliment of the laboring classes.
garlic--is now nearly if not altogether extinct in Egypt although it
seems to have grown anciently in great abundance. The herbs now
mentioned form a diet very grateful in warm countries where vegetables
and other fruits of the season are much used. We can scarcely wonder
that both the Egyptian hangers-on and the general body of the
Israelites, incited by their clamors, complained bitterly of the want
of the refreshing viands in their toilsome wanderings. But after all
their experience of the bounty and care of God, their vehement longing
for the luxuries of Egypt was an impeachment of the divine
arrangements; and if it was the sin that beset them in the desert, it
became them more strenuously to repress a rebellious spirit, as
dishonoring to God and unbecoming their relation to Him as a chosen
6-9. But now . . . there is nothing . . . beside this manna--Daily
familiarity had disgusted them with the sight and taste of the
monotonous food; and, ungrateful for the heavenly gift, they longed for
a change of fare. It may be noticed that the resemblance of the manna
to coriander seed was not in the color, but in the size and figure; and
from its comparison to bdellium, which is either a drop of white gum or
a white pearl, we are enabled to form a better idea of it. Moreover, it is
evident, from the process of baking into cakes, that it could not have
been the natural manna of the Arabian desert, for that is too gummy or
unctuous to admit of being ground into meal. In taste it is said to
have been like "wafers made with honey"
and here to have the taste of fresh oil. The discrepancy in these
statements is only apparent; for in the latter the manna is described
in its raw state; in the former, after it was ground and baked. The
minute description given here of its nature and use was designed to
show the great sinfulness of the people, in being dissatisfied with
such excellent food, furnished so plentifully and gratuitously.
10-15. Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy
servant, &c.--It is impossible not to sympathize with his feelings
although the tone and language of his remonstrances to God cannot be
justified. He was in a most distressing situation--having a mighty
multitude under his care, with no means of satisfying their clamorous
demands. Their conduct shows how deeply they had been debased and
demoralized by long oppression: while his reveals a state of mind
agonized and almost overwhelmed by a sense of the undivided
responsibilities of his office.
16, 17. the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the
(Ex 3:16; 5:6; 24:9; 18:21, 24;
An order of seventy was to be created, either by a selection from the
existing staff of elders or by the appointment of new ones, empowered
to assist him by their collective wisdom and experience in the onerous
cares of government. The Jewish writers say that this was the origin of
the Sanhedrin, or supreme appellate court of their nation. But there is
every reason to believe that it was only a temporary expedient, adopted
to meet a trying exigency.
17. I will come down--that is, not in a visible manner or by local
descent, but by the tokens of the divine presence and operations.
and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee--"The spirit" means
the gifts and influences of the Spirit
and by "taking the spirit of Moses, and putting it upon them," is not
to be understood that the qualities of the great leader were to be in
any degree impaired but that the elders would be endowed with a portion
of the same gifts, especially of prophecy
--that is, an extraordinary penetration in discovering hidden and
settling difficult things.
18-20. say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow,
and ye shall eat flesh--that is, "prepare yourselves," by repentance
and submission, to receive to-morrow the flesh you clamor for. But it
is evident that the tenor of the language implied a severe rebuke and
that the blessing promised would prove a curse.
21-23. Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred
thousand . . . Shall the flocks and herds be slain for them, to suffice
them?--The great leader, struck with a promise so astonishing as that
of suddenly furnishing, in the midst of the desert, more than two
millions of people with flesh for a whole month, betrayed an
incredulous spirit, surprising in one who had witnessed so many
stupendous miracles. But it is probable that it was only a feeling of
the moment--at all events, the incredulous doubt was uttered only to
himself--and not, as afterwards, publicly and to the scandal of the
people. (See on
It was, therefore, sharply reproved, but not punished.
24. Moses . . . gathered the seventy men of the elders of
the people, &c.--The tabernacle was chosen for the convocation,
because, as it was there God manifested Himself, there His Spirit would
be directly imparted--there the minds of the elders themselves would be
inspired with reverential awe and their office invested with greater
respect in the eyes of the people.
25. when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not
cease--As those elders were constituted civil governors, their
"prophesying" must be understood as meaning the performance of their
civil and sacred duties by the help of those extraordinary endowments
they had received; and by their not "ceasing" we understand, either
that they continued to exercise their gifts uninterruptedly the first
or that these were permanent gifts, which qualified them in an eminent
degree for discharging the duty of public magistrates.
26-29. But there remained two of the men in the camp--They did not
repair with the rest to the tabernacle, either from modesty in
shrinking from the assumption of a public office, or being prevented by
some ceremonial defilement. They, however, received the gifts of the
Spirit as well as their brethren. And when Moses was urged to forbid
their prophesying, his answer displayed a noble disinterestedness as
well as zeal for the glory of God akin to that of our Lord
31-35. There went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from
the sea, &c.--These migratory birds
were on their journey from Egypt, when "the wind from the Lord," an
forcing them to change their course, wafted them over the Red Sea to
the camp of Israel.
let them fall a day's journey--If the journey of an individual is
meant, this space might be thirty miles; if the inspired historian
referred to the whole host, ten miles would be as far as they could
march in one day in the sandy desert under a vertical sun. Assuming it
to be twenty miles this immense cloud of quails
covered a space of forty miles in diameter. Others reduce it to
sixteen. But it is doubtful whether the measurement be from the center
or the extremities of the camp. It is evident, however, that the
language describes the countless number of these quails.
as it were two cubits high--Some have supposed that they fell on the
ground above each other to that height--a supposition which would
leave a vast quantity useless as food to the Israelites, who were
forbidden to eat any animal that died of itself or from which the blood
was not poured out. Others think that, being exhausted with a long
flight, they could not fly more than three feet above the earth, and so
were easily felled or caught. A more recent explanation applies the
phrase, "two cubits high," not to the accumulation of the mass, but to
the size of the individual birds. Flocks of large red-legged cranes,
three feet high, measuring seven feet from tip to tip, have been
frequently seen on the western shores of the Gulf of Akaba, or eastern
arm of the Red Sea
32. people stood up--rose up in eager haste--some at one time, others
at another; some, perhaps through avidity, both day and night.
ten homers--ten asses' loads; or, "homers" may be used indefinitely
and "ten" for many: so that the phrase "ten homers" is equivalent to
"great heaps." The collectors were probably one or two from each
family; and, being distrustful of God's goodness, they gathered not for
immediate consumption only, but for future use. In eastern and southern
seas, innumerable quails are often seen, which, when weary, fall down,
covering every spot on the deck and rigging of vessels; and in Egypt
they come in such myriads that the people knock them down with sticks.
spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp--salted and
dried them for future use, by the simple process to which they had been
accustomed in Egypt.
33. while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was
chewed--literally, "cut off"; that is, before the supply of quails,
which lasted a month
was exhausted. The probability is, that their stomachs, having been
long inured to manna (a light food), were not prepared for so sudden a
change of regimen--a heavy, solid diet of animal food, of which they
seem to have partaken to so intemperate a degree as to produce a
general surfeit, and fatal consequences. On a former occasion their
murmurings for flesh were raised
because they were in want of food. Here they proceeded, not from
necessity, but wanton, lustful desire; and their sin, in the righteous
judgment of God, was made to carry its own punishment.
34. called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah--literally, "The
graves of lust," or "Those that lusted"; so that the name of the place
proves that the mortality was confined to those who had indulged
35. Hazeroth--The extreme southern station of this route was a
watering-place in a spacious plain, now Ain-Haderah.