- The murmuring of the people against Moses and Aaron, verse 1-4.
- Their fruitless endeavour to still them, verse 5-10.
- God's threatening utterly to destroy them, verse 11-12.
- The intercession of Moses, verse 13-19.
- The decree that all that generation should die in the wilderness, verse 20-35.
- The immediate death of the spies, verse 36-39.
- The ill success of those who would go up notwithstanding, verse 40-45.
Against Moses and Aaron - As the instruments and occasions of their present calamity. That we had died in this wilderness - It was not long before they had their desire, and did die in the wilderness.
The Lord - From instruments they rise higher, and strike at God the cause and author of their journey: by which we see the prodigious growth and progress of sin when it is not resisted. A prey - To the Canaanites whose land we were made to believe we should possess.
A captain - Instead of Moses, one who will be more faithful to our interest than he. Into Egypt - Stupendous madness! Whence should they have protection against the hazards, and provision against all the wants of the wilderness? Could they expect either God's cloud to cover and guide them, or Manna from heaven to feed them? Who could conduct them over the Red-sea? Or, if they went another way, who should defend them against those nations whose borders they were to pass? What entertainment could they expect from the Egyptians, whom they had deserted and brought to so much ruin?
Fell on their faces - As humble and earnest suppliants to God, the only refuge to which Moses resorted in all such straits, and who alone was able to govern this stiff-necked people. Before all the assembly -That they might awake to apprehend their sin and danger, when they saw Moses at his prayers, whom God never failed to defend, even with the destruction of his enemies.
Rent their clothes - To testify their hearty grief for the peoples blasphemy against God and sedition against Moses, and that dreadful judgment which they easily foresaw this must bring upon the congregation.
Delight in us - If by our rebellion and ingratitude we do not provoke God to leave and forsake us.
Bread - We shall destroy them as easily as we eat our bread. Their defence - Their conduct and courage, and especially God, who was pleased to afford them his protection 'till their iniquities were full, is utterly departed from them, and hath given them up as a prey to us. With us - By his special grace and almighty power, to save us from them and all our enemies. Only rebel not against the Lord - Nothing can ruin sinners but their own rebellion. If God leaves them, 'tis because they drive him from them, and they die, because they will die.
Appeared - Now in the extremity of danger to rescue his faithful servants, and to stop the rage of the people. In the tabernacle - Upon or above the tabernacle, where the cloud usually resided, in which the glory of God appeared now in a more illustrious manner. When they reflected upon God, his glory appeared not, to silence their blasphemies: but when they threatened Caleb and Joshua, they touched the apple of his eye, and his glory appeared immediately. They who faithfully expose themselves for God, are sure of his special provision.
I will smite them - This was not an absolute determination, but a commination, like that of Nineveh's destruction, with a condition implied, except there be speedy repentance, or powerful intercession.
Not able - His power was quite spent in bringing them out of Egypt, and could not finish the work he had begun and had sworn to do.
Be great - That is appear to be great, discover its greatness: namely, the power of his grace and mercy, or the greatness of his mercy, in pardoning this and their other sins: for to this the following words manifestly restrain it, where the pardon of their sins is the only instance of this power both described in God's titles, Numbers 14:18, and prayed for by Moses Numbers 14:19, and granted by God in answer to him, 14:20. Nor is it strange that the pardon of sin, especially such great sins, is spoken of as an act of power in God, because undoubtedly it is an act of omnipotent and infinite goodness.
Visiting the iniquity - These words may seem to be improperly mentioned, as being a powerful argument to move God to destroy this wicked people, and not to pardon them. It may be answered, that Moses useth these words together with the rest, because he would not sever what God had put together. But the truer answer seems to be, that these words are to be translated otherwise, And in destroying he will not utterly destroy, though he visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation.
I have pardoned - So far as not utterly to destroy them.
With the glory of the Lord - With the report of the glorious and righteous acts of God in punishing this rebellious people.
My glory - That is, my glorious appearances in the cloud, and in the tabernacle. Ten times - That is, many times. A certain number for an uncertain.
Caleb - Joshua is not named, because he was not now among the people, but a constant attendant upon Moses, nor was he to be reckoned as one of them, any more than Moses and Aaron were, because he was to be their chief commander. He had another spirit - Was a man of another temper, faithful and courageous, not acted by that evil spirit of cowardice, unbelief, disobedience, which ruled in his brethren but by the spirit of God. Fully - Universally and constantly, through difficulties and dangers, which made his partners halt. Whereinto he went - In general, Canaan, and particularly Hebron, and the adjacent parts, Joshua 14:9.
In the valley - Beyond the mountain, at the foot whereof they now were, Numbers 14:40. And this clause is added, either 1. As an aggravation of Israel's misery and punishment, that being now ready to enter and take possession of the land, they are forced to go back into the wilderness or 2. As an argument to oblige them more willingly to obey the following command of returning into the wilderness, because their enemies were very near them, and severed from them only by that Idumean mountain, and, if they did not speedily depart, their enemies would fall upon them, and so the evil which before they causelessly feared would come upon them; they, their wives and their children, would become a prey to the Amalekites and Canaanites, because God would not assist nor defend them. By the way of the Red-sea - That leadeth to the Red-sea, and to Egypt, the place whither you desire to return.
As ye have spoken - When you wickedly wished you might die in the wilderness.
You - Your nation; for God did not swear to do so to these particular persons.
Your carcases - See with what contempt they are spoken of, now they had by their sin made themselves vile! The mighty men of valour were but carcases, now the Spirit of the Lord was departed from them! It was very probably upon this occasion, that Moses wrote the ninetieth psalm.
Forty years - So long as to make up the time of your dwelling in the wilderness forty years; one whole year and part of another were past before this sin or judgment. Your whoredoms - The punishment of your whoredoms, of your apostacy from, and perfidiousness against your Lord, who was your husband, and had married you to himself.
Each day for a year - So there should have been forty years to come, but God was pleased mercifully to accept of the time past as a part of that time. Ye shall know my breach of promise - That as you have first broken the covenant between you and me, by breaking the conditions of it, so I will make it void on my part, by denying you the blessings promised in that covenant. So you shall see, that the breach of promise wherewith you charged me, lies at your door, and was forced from me by your perfidiousness.
By the plague - Either by the pestilence, or by some other sudden and extraordinary judgment, sent from the cloud in which God dwelt, and from whence he spake to Moses, and wherein his glory at this time appeared before all the people, Numbers 14:10, who therefore were all, and these spies among the rest, before the Lord.
But Joshua and Caleb lived still - Death never misses his mark, nor takes any by oversight who are designed for life, tho' in the midst of those that are to die.
And the people mourned greatly - But it was now too late. There was now no place for repentance. Such mourning as this there is in hell; but the tears will not quench the flames.
Gat them up - Designed or prepared themselves to go up.
The Canaanites - Largely so called, but strictly the Amorites. Hormah - A place so called afterwards, Numbers 21:3, from the slaughter or destruction of the lsraelites at this time.