- The punishment of the murmurers stopt by the prayer of Moses, verse 1-3.
- The fresh murmuring of the people, verse 4-6.
- The description of manna, verse 7-9.
- The murmuring of Moses, verse 10-16.
- God's answer, verse 16-23.
- The appointment of the seventy elders, verse 24-30.
- Quails sent with a plague, verse 31-35.
Complained - Or, murmured, the occasion whereof seems to be their last three days journey in a vast howling wilderness, and thereupon the remembrance of their long abode in the wilderness, and the fear of many other tedious journeys, whereby they were like to be long delayed from coming to the land of milk and honey, which they thirsted after. The fire of the Lord - A fire sent from God in an extraordinary manner, possibly from the pillar of cloud and fire, or from heaven. The uttermost parts - Either because the sin began there among the mixed multitude, or in mercy to the people, whom he would rather awaken to repentance than destroy; and therefore he sent it into the skirts and not the midst of the camp.
The people - The murmurers, being penitent; or others for fear.
Taberah - This fire; as it was called Kibroth-hattaavah from another occasion, Numbers 11:34,35, and Numbers 33:16. It is no new thing in scripture for persons and places to have two names. Both these names were imposed as monuments of the peoples sin and of God's just judgment.
Israel also - Whose special relation and obligation to God should have restrained them from such carriage. Flesh - This word is here taken generally so as to include fish, as the next words shew. They had indeed cattle which they brought out of Egypt, but these were reserved for breed to be carried into Canaan, and were so few that they would scarce have served them for a month.
Freely - Either without price, for fish was very plentiful, and fishing was there free, or with a very small price. And this is the more probable because the Egyptians might not taste of fish, nor of the leeks and onions, which they worshipped for Gods, and therefore the Israelites, might have them upon cheap terms.
Our soul - Either our life, as the soul signifies, Genesis 9:5, or our body, which is often signified by the soul. Dried away - Is withered and pines away; which possibly might be true, through envy and discontent, and inordinate appetite.
As coriander-seed - Not for colour, for that is black, but for shape and figure. Bdellium - Is either the gum of a tree, of a white and bright colour, or rather a gem or precious stone, as the Hebrew doctors take it; and particularly a pearl wherewith the Manna manifestly agrees both in its colour, which is white, Exodus 16:14, and in its figure which is round.
Fresh oil - Or, of the most excellent oil; or of cakes made with the best oil, the word cakes being easily supplied out of the foregoing member of the verse; or, which is not much differing, like wafers made with honey, as it is said Exodus 16:31. The nature and use of Manna is here thus particularly described, to shew the greatness of their sin in despising such excellent food.
In the door of his tent - To note they were not ashamed of their sin.
Not found favour - Why didst thou not hear my prayer, when I desired thou wouldest excuse me, and commit the care of this unruly people to some other person.
Have I begotten them? - Are they my children, that I should be obliged to provide food and all things for their necessity and desire?
To bear - The burden of providing for and satisfying them. Alone - Others were only assistant to him in smaller matters; but the harder and greater affairs, such as this unquestionably was, were brought to Moses and determined by him alone.
My wretchedness - Heb. my evil, my torment, arising from the insuperable difficulty of my office and work of ruling this people, and from the dread of their utter extirpation, and the dishonour which thence will accrue to God and to religion, as if, not I only, but God also were an impostor.
To be elders - Whom thou by experience discernest to be elders not only in years, and name, but also in wisdom and authority with the people. And according to this constitution, the Sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews, which in after-ages sat at Jerusalem, and was the highest court of the judgment among them, consisted of seventy men.
I will come down - By my powerful presence and operation. I will put it on them - That is, I will give the same spirit to them which I have given to thee. But as the spirit was not conveyed to them from or through Moses, but immediately from God, so the spirit or its gifts were not by this means impaired in Moses. The spirit is here put for the gifts of the spirit, and particularly for the spirit of prophecy, whereby they were enabled, as Moses had been and still was, to discern hidden and future things, and resolve doubtful and difficult cases, which made them fit for government. It is observable, that God would not, and therefore men should not, call any persons to any office for which they were not sufficiently qualified.
Sanctify themselves - Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel, in the way of his judgments. Prepare yourselves by true repentance, that you may either obtain some mitigation of the plague, or, whilst your bodies are destroyed by the flesh you desire and eat, your souls may be saved from the wrath of God. Sanctifying is often used for preparing, as Jeremiah 6:4; . In the ears of the Lord - Not secretly in your closets, but openly and impudently in the doors of your tents, calling heaven and earth to witness.
At your nostrils - Which meat violently vomited up frequently doth. Thus God destroys them by granting their desires, and turns even their blessings into curses. Ye have despised the Lord - You have lightly esteemed his bounty and manifold blessings, you have slighted and distrusted his promises and providence after so long and large experience of it. Who is among you - Who is present and resident with you to observe all your carriage, and to punish your offences. This is added as a great aggravation of the crime, to sin in the presence of the judge. Why came we forth out of Egypt? - Why did God do us such an injury? Why did we so foolishly obey him in coming forth?
Six hundred thousand footmen - Fit for war, besides women and children. That Moses speaks this as distrusting God's word is evident; and that Moses was not remarkably punished for this as he was afterward for the same sin, Numbers 20:12, may be imputed to the different circumstances of this and that sin: this was the first offence of the kind, and therefore more easily passed by; that was after warning and against more light and experience. This seems to have been spoken secretly: that openly before the people; and therefore it was fit to be openly and severely punished to prevent the contagion of that example.
Moses went out - Out of the tabernacle, into which he entered to receive God's answers from the mercy-seat. The seventy men - They are called seventy from the stated number, though two of them were lacking, as the Apostles are called the twelve, Matthew 26:20, when one of that number was absent. Round the tabernacle - Partly that the awe of God might be imprinted upon their hearts, that they might more seriously undertake and more faithfully manage their high employment, but principally, because that was the place where God manifested himself, and therefore there he would bestow his spirit upon them.
Rested on them - Not only moved them for a time, but took up his settled abode with them, because the use and end of this gift was perpetual. They prophesied - Discoursed of the word and works of God in a marvellous manner, as the prophets did. So this word is used, 1 Samuel 10:5,6; Joel 2; ; 1 Corinthians 14:3. Yet were they not hereby constituted teachers, but civil magistrates, who together with the spirit of government, received also the spirit of prophesy, as a sign and seal both to themselves and to the people, that God had called them to that employment. They did not cease - Either for that day, they continued in that exercise all that day, and, it may be, all the night too, as it is said of Saul, 1 Samuel 19:24, or, afterwards also, to note that this was a continued gift conferred upon them to enable them the better to discharge their magistracy; which was more expedient for them than for the rulers of other people, because the Jews were under a theocracy or the government of God, and even their civil controversies were decided out of that word of God which the prophets expounded.
In the camp - Not going to the tabernacle, as the rest did, either not having seasonable notice to repair thither: or, being detained in the camp by sickness, or some urgent occasion, not without God's special providence, that so the miracle might be more evident. Were written - In a book or paper by Moses, who by God's direction nominated the fittest persons.
Told Moses - Fearing lest his authority should be diminished by their prophesying; and thereby taking authority to themselves without his consent.
One of his young men - Or, one of his choice ministers, which may be emphatically added, to note that even great and good men may mistake about the works of God. Forbid them - He feared either schism, or sedition, or that by their usurpation of authority, independently upon Moses, his power and esteem might be lessened.
Enviest thou for my sake - Art thou grieved because the gifts and graces of God are imparted to others besides me? Prophets - He saith prophets, not rulers, for that he knew was absurd and impossible. So we ought to be pleased, that God is glorified and good done, tho' to the lessening of our own honour.
Into the camp - Among the people, to exercise the gifts and authority now received.
A wind from the Lord - An extraordinary and miraculous wind both for its vehemency and for its effects. Quails - God gave them quails once before, Exodus 16:13, but neither in the same quantity, nor with the same design and effect as now. From the sea - Principally from the Red-sea, and both sides of it where, by the reports of ancient Heathen writers, they were then in great numbers, and, no doubt, were wonderfully increased by God's special providence for this very occasion. Two cubits high - Not as if the quails did cover all the ground two cubits high for a day's journey on each side of the camp, for then there had been no place left where they could spread them all abroad round about the camp; but the meaning is, that the quails came and fell down round about the camp for a whole day's journey on each side of it, and that in all that space they lay here and there in great heaps, which were often two cubits high.
Stood up - Or rather rose up, which word is often used for beginning to do any business. All that night - Some at one time, and some at the other, and some, through greediness or diffidence, at both times. Ten homers - That is, ten ass loads: which if it seem incredible, you must consider, 1. That the gatherers here were not all the people, which could not be without great inconveniences, but some on the behalf of all, while the rest were exercised about other necessary things. So the meaning is not, that every Israelite had so much for his share, but that every collector gathered so much for the family, or others by whom he was intrusted. 2. That the people did not gather for their present use only, but for a good while to come, and being greedy and distrustful of God's goodness, it is not strange if they gathered much more than they needed. 3. That the word, rendered homers, may signify heaps, as it doth, Exodus 8:14; Judges 15:16; Habakkuk 3:15, and ten, is often put for many, and so the sense is, that every one gathered several heaps. If yet the number seems incredible, it must be farther known, 4. That Heathen and other authors affirm, in those eastern and southern countries quails are innumerable, so that in one part of Italy, within the compass of five miles, there were taken about an hundred thousand of them every day for a month together. And Atheneus relates, that in Egypt, a country prodigiously populous, they were in such plenty, that all those vast numbers of people could not consume them, but were forced to salt and keep them for future use. They spread them - That so they might dry, salt and preserve them for future use, according to what they had seen in Egypt.
Chewed - Heb. cut off, namely from their mouths. A very great plague - Probably the pestilence. But the sense is, before they had done eating their quails, which lasted for a month. Why did God so sorely punish the peoples murmuring for flesh here, when he spared them after the same sin, Exodus 16:12. Because this was a far greater sin, and aggravated with worse circumstances; proceeding not from necessity, as that did, when as yet they had no food, but from mere wantonness, when they had Manna constantly given them; committed after large experience of God's care and kindness, after God had pardoned their former sins, and after God had in a solemn and terrible manner made known his laws to them.
Kibroth-hattaavah - Heb. the graves of lust, that is, of the men that lusted, as it here follows. And it notes that the plague did not seize upon all that eat of the quails, for then all had been destroyed, but only upon those who were inordinate both in the desire and use of them.