Numbers 14
Benson Commentary
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.
And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
Numbers 14:2-3. Against Moses and Aaron — As the instruments and causes of their present calamity. That we had died in the wilderness — It was not long till they had their desire, and did die in the wilderness. Wherefore hath the Lord brought us, &c. — From instruments they rise higher, and not only vent their passion against his servants, but strike at God himself, as the cause and author of their journey most impiously accusing him as if he had dealt deceitfully with them. By this we see the rapid and 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.

And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
Numbers 14:4. A captain — Instead of Moses, one who will be more faithful to our interest than he. Nehemiah tells us they actually appointed them a captain. Into Egypt — Stupendous madness, insolence, and ingratitude! Had not God both delivered them from Egypt by a train of unparalleled wonders, and followed them ever since with continued miracles of mercy? But whence should they have protection against the hazards, and provisions 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?

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
Numbers 14:5. Fell on their faces — As humble and earnest supplicants 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.

And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
Numbers 14:6. Rent their clothes — To testify their hearty grief for the people’s blasphemy against God and sedition against Moses, and that dreadful judgment which they easily foresaw this must bring upon the congregation.

And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
Numbers 14:8-9. If the Lord delight in us — If by our rebellion and ingratitude we do not provoke God to leave and forsake us. They are bread for us — 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. The Lord is 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 leave them, it is because they drive him from them, and they die, because they will die.

Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.
But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.
Numbers 14:10. The glory of the Lord 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 protection.

And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
Numbers 14:12. 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.

And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)
And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.
Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.
Numbers 14:16-17. 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. Let the power of my Lord 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, Numbers 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.

And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
Numbers 14:18. By no means clearing the guilty — 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. But Moses uses these and the preceding words together, because he would not sever what God had put together; and to show that at the same time that he desired pardon for the penitent, he did not expect God to reverse his own laws, and clear them who, notwithstanding all they had heard and known, would not come unto God for mercy, put their trust in him, and obey his commands. It is true the word guilty is not in the original, but, as is observed in the note on Exodus 34:7, it is necessarily supplied to make the sense complete. And the interpretation of the words there given is perfectly consistent with the context, and with Moses’s intention here, which was not to beg that the people might be so pardoned as not to be chastised; for Moses certainly judged it proper that they should be chastised, and that severely; but that they might not be quite destroyed, or extirpated, as the Lord had threatened, Numbers 14:12, and as Moses feared would be accomplished.

Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
Numbers 14:20-22. 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.

But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;
Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
Numbers 14:24. 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 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 actuated by that evil spirit of cowardice, unbelief, disobedience, which ruled in his brethren; but by the Spirit of God. Hath followed me 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.

(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.
Numbers 14:25. In the valley — Beyond the mountain, at the foot whereof they now were, Numbers 14:40. And this clause is added, either, 1st, 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, 2d, 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.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.
Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:
Numbers 14:28-30. As ye have spoken — When you wickedly wished you might die in the wilderness. To make you dwell — That is, your nation; for God did not swear to do so to these particular persons.

Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,
Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.
But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
Numbers 14:32. Your carcasses — See with what contempt they are spoken of, now they had by their sin made themselves vile! The mighty men of valour were but carcasses, now the Spirit of the Lord was departed from them! It was very probably upon this occasion that Moses wrote the ninetieth Psalm.

And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.
Numbers 14:33. Shall wander in the wilderness — Hebrew, יהיו רעים, Jehju rognim, shall feed, shall seek their food from place to place, after the manner of the Arabian shepherds, that were forced to remove their tents from one place to another, that they might find pasture for their flocks. Forty years — Reckoning from the time of their first coming out of Egypt into the wilderness, where they had already wandered a year and a half. And bear your whoredoms — The punishment of your whoredoms, that is, of your idolatries, of your apostacy from, and perfidiousness against the Lord, who was your husband, having espoused you to himself by covenant. Idolatry and apostacy from God’s worship are continually represented under the idea of whoredom in the Scripture. And it appears from Amos 5:25-26, that the Israelites were every now and then falling off to this sin during the whole period of these forty years in the wilderness.

After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.
Numbers 14:34. 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. Thus you shall see that the breach of promise wherewith you charged me, lies at your door, and was forced from me by your perfidiousness.

I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land,
Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.
Numbers 14:37-38. 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 were designed for life, though in the midst of those that are to die.

But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still.
And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.
Numbers 14:39-40. 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.

And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.
And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper.
Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.
For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the LORD, therefore the LORD will not be with you.
But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.
Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.
Numbers 14:45. The Canaanites — Largely so called, but strictly the Amorites. Hormah — A place so called afterward, (Numbers 21:3,) from the slaughter or destruction of the Israelites at this time.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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