Nu 11:1-35. Manna
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" [see on Ex 12:38] had their
station. At the intercession of Moses, the appalling judgment ceased
11:2], and the name given to
the place, "Taberah" (a burning), remained ever after a monument of
national sin and punishment. (See on Nu
4. the mixed multitude that was among them fell a
lusting—These consisted of Egyptians. [See on Ex 12:38.] 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
freely—(See on Ex 7:17). 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 medicine.
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
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 people.
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" (Ex 16:31),
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 elders—(Ex 3:16; 5:6;
24:9; 18:21, 24; Le 4:15). 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 (Nu 27:18; Joe 2:28; Joh 7:39; 1Co 14:12), 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 (Nu 11:25)—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 Nu 20:10).
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 day (see 1Sa 19:24), or that these were permanent gifts,
which qualified them in an eminent degree for discharging the duty of
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 (Mr 9:39).
31-35. There went forth a wind from the Lord, and
brought quails from the sea, &c.—These migratory birds
(see on Ex 16:13) were on their journey from
Egypt, when "the wind from the Lord," an east wind (Ps 78:26) 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
78:27) 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 [Stanley; Shubert].
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 (as in Ex 8:14; Jud 15:16); 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 (Nu 11:20), 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
16:1-8) 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 inordinately.
35. Hazeroth—The extreme southern
station of this route was a watering-place in a spacious plain, now