Numbers 14
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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!

(2) And all the children of Israel murmured.—When the people murmured in like manner in the wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:2-3) against Moses and Aaron because they had brought them forth into the wilderness, Moses assured them that at even they should know that it was Jehovah Himself who had brought them out from the land of Egypt (Ibid, Numbers 14:6). On the present occasion their murmuring was not against Moses and Aaron only, but they openly rebelled against Jehovah Himself, to whom they ascribed, in the way of reproach, their exodus from the land of Egypt.

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?
(3) And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land . . .?—Better, And wherefore doth the Lord bring us into this land?i.e., the land of Canaan, as clearly appears from the words which follow (comp. Numbers 15:18, where the same Hiphil participle is used). The destruction which the Israelites apprehended at this time was not a destruction by famine or drought, but by the sword of the Amorites and of the children of the Anakim. (Comp. Deuteronomy 1:27-28.)

That our wives and our children should be a prey—i.e., should fall into the hands of the enemy after their entrance into the land of Canaan. (Comp. Exodus 15:14-17.) It is possible, however, that the land through which the Israelites were passing may be included here and in Numbers 14:14.

And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
(6) Rent their clothes.—Comp. Leviticus 10:6 and Note.

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.
(9) Their defence is departed from them.—Literally, their shadow. This is a natural and frequently recurring figure of speech in the East, where protection from the scorching rays of the sun is a boon of incalculable worth. (Comp. Genesis 19:8; Psalm 17:8; Psalm 91:1; Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 30:2.) The measure of the iniquity of the Canaanites was now full, and they were ripe for

destruction. (Comp. Genesis 15:16; Leviticus 18:25; Leviticus 20:23.)

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.
(10) But all the congregation bade stone them with stones.—All the congregation here, as elsewhere, seems to denote the princes or chief men of the congregation; otherwise it is difficult to understand to whom the order was addressed to stone Joshua and Caleb. Stoning appears to have been a mode of death commonly adopted in Egypt (Exodus 8:26). Under the Jewish law stoning was the ordinary, and, as some think, the only prescribed mode of death, and was inflicted as the punishment for crimes such as adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22; Deuteronomy 22:24), idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:10), witchcraft (Leviticus 20:27), sabbath-breaking (Numbers 15:35), and blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16). Moses had apprehended the same outbreak of popular violence on a former occasion (Exodus 17:4), and, at a later period, David was threatened in a similar manner (1Samuel 30:6).

And the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation.—The meaning probably is in the court of the Tabernacle, or, as some think, above the Tabernacle. (See the Targum of Jonathan and the Vulgate and Septuagint Versions.) The children of Israel could not have seen the glory of the Lord had it been manifested within the Tabernacle.

I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
(12) And will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.—A similar promise had been given to Moses on occasion of the rebellion at Sinai, and Moses on that occasion interceded with God on behalf of His people in like manner as at this time (Exodus 32:10-12).

And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)
(13, 14) And Moses said unto the Lord . . . —There is considerable difficulty as to the correct rendering of these verses. They may be rendered in accordance with the Authorised Version, or they may be rendered as follows:—And Moses said unto the LORD, The Egyptians have both heard that thou hast brought up this people from among them by thy might, and they have also told (it) to the inhabitants of this land (i.e., the land of Canaan, as in Numbers 14:3); they (i.e., the Egyptians and the Canaanites) have heard that thou LORD art in the midst of this people, for thou LORD art seen face to face, and thy cloud standeth over them, and thou goest before them, &c. &c. Reference may be made to the following passages in illustration of the argument by which Moses enforced his intercessory prayer on behalf of Israel:—Deuteronomy 32:26-27; Joshua 7:9; Isaiah 48:9; Isaiah 48:11; Ezekiel 36:22-23.

And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
(17, 18) And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great.—The word Lord in Numbers 14:17 should not be printed in large capitals in this place, as in the Authorised Version of 1611, inasmuch as it is the rendering of Adonai, not of Jehovah, as in Numbers 14:18. Moses here employs a second argument, founded on the revelation of God’s name (i.e., His nature), as made to him on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6-7), the substance of which he here recites in the same terms.

And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
(20) I have pardoned according to thy word.—The holiness and justice of the Lord required that punishment should overtake the transgressors, as it had been foretold in Exodus 32:34. Nevertheless the prayer of Moses was heard and answered, and the people were not wholly exterminated.

(21, 22, 23) But as truly as I live . . . —The three verses may be rendered as follows:—Nevertheless, as truly as I live, and all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of those men who have seen my glory and my signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and (who) tempted me these ten times, and hearkened not unto my voice, shall see the land which I sware unto their fathers, &c. Some have explained the words these ten times by adding to the eight murmurings which are recorded—(1) at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11-12); (2) at Marah (Exodus 15:23); (3) in the wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:2); (4) at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1); (5) at Horeb (Exodus 32); (6) at Taberah (Numbers 11:1); (7) at the graves of lust (Numbers 11:4); and (8) at Kadesh (Numbers 14)—the transgressions of certain individuals—(1) in keeping the manna until the morning of the day after that on which it was gathered (Exodus 16:20); and (2) in going out to gather the manna on the seventh day, when none fell (Exodus 16:27). It is more probable, however, that the number ten is used here, as elsewhere (comp. Genesis 31:7), as denoting a full measure. The persons to whom the penalty applied are specified in Numbers 14:29 : viz., those who were included in the first census. The principal exceptions to the threat of exclusion from the land of promise are specified in Numbers 14:30-31 : viz., Joshua and Caleb, and the generation which had not reached twenty years of age at the exodus. The other exception, or exceptions, if such there were, belonged to the tribe of Levi, which was not included in the census which was first taken, nor represented by the spies. It has been inferred from the fact that Nadab and Abihu only went up into the mountain with Moses and Aaron, that Eleazar, who entered Canaan with Joshua (Joshua 14:1), was under twenty years of age at the exodus. It may be observed that it does not follow that the regulation respecting the age of the Levites at the time of entering upon their service applied also to the priests, and consequently Eleazar may have been under twenty years of age at the time of his consecration. (Comp. 2Chronicles 31:17.) There seems, however, to be no sufficient authority for such a supposition.

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.
(24) And his seed shall possess it.—It appears from Joshua 14:6-14 that Moses had specially promised Hebron to Caleb, and that the mountainous country which the Anakim inhabited, and which only he and Joshua of the twelve spies believed that the Israelites were able to take possession of, was afterwards allotted to him by Joshua “for an inheritance.”

(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.
(25) Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.—There is considerable difficulty in regard to the meaning and connection of these words. They may be attached to the words which precede: “And his seed shall possess it, and the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelling in the valley”—i.e., shall possess the land occupied by them. There are strong objections, however, to this rendering, as well as to the rendering adopted by the Authorised Version, if the latter be understood as an historical statement respecting the geographical position of the Amalekites and Canaanites, of which Moses can scarcely be supposed to have been ignorant, and which may be assigned with greater probability to the “hill” than to the “valley.” (Comp. Numbers 14:45 and Note; also Deuteronomy 1:44, where one or both of these races are spoken of under the name of Amorites or mountaineers.) The word which is rendered “dwelt” is often used in reference to a temporary sojourn, as, e.g., in Joshua 8:9 of the ambuscade sent by Joshua, which “abode” between Bethel and Ai, and in 1Samuel 25:13 of a portion of David’s men who “abode by the stuff.” It is used also in Numbers 14:45 of this chapter in respect to the position of the Amalekites and Canaanites, whether temporary or permanent, in the “hill,” which appears to be used in contrast with the “valley.” The passage may be rendered thus: “Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites are abiding in the valley,” i.e., are lying in ambuscade in the valley, and waiting for an opportunity to attack the Israelites (comp. Numbers 14:43). If this interpretation of the words, which is that of Ibn Ezra, be adopted, they afford a strong reason for the command which follows:—“To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea”—i.e., do not fall into the snare which is laid for you, but turn and go in a contrary direction.

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.
(27) How long shall I bear with this evil congregation . . .?—Or, How long shall I pardon (or forgive), &c. The verb is not expressed in the Hebrew. It is probable that one of the verbs in Numbers 14:19, pardon or forgive, should be supplied.

Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:
(28) As ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do unto you.—The Israelites had exclaimed in their sinful murmuring against God, “Would God we had died in the wilderness” (Numbers 14:2); and God declares in His wrathful displeasure that the judgment which they had thus invoked should be inflicted upon them, and that their carcases should fall in the wilderness.

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,
(29) From twenty years old and upward.—Rashi thinks that these words were employed to show that the Levites who were numbered from a month old and upwards were not included in the general sentence of destruction, and hence that it is no just cause of astonishment that some of them, as, e.g., Eleazar, should have entered the land of Canaan.

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.
(30) Concerning which I sware.—Literally, 1 lifted up my hand. Lifting up the hand is the attitude of swearing. (See Genesis 14:22 and Note; Deuteronomy 32:40.) The reference appears to be to the original covenant made with Abraham, and renewed to Isaac and Jacob, respecting the possession of the land of Canaan. (Comp. Genesis 15:7; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 22:16-18; Genesis 26:3-4; Genesis 28:13; Exodus 6:8.)

But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
(32) But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall.—Better, but your carcases, even yours, shall fall.

In this wilderness.—The very words which the Israelites themselves had used. (See Numbers 14:2.)

And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.
(33) And your children shall wander.—Better, shall be shepherds, or, shall feed their flocks.

Forty years.—The forty years were reckoned from the exodus, not from the return of the spies to Kadesh. (See Numbers 14:34 and Note.)

And bear your whoredoms.—The children were doomed to bear the penalty of their fathers’ apostasy. (Comp. Exodus 34:16.)

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.
(34) Even forty days, each day for a year.—The numbering which is recorded in chapter 26 took place after the death of Aaron, which happened on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the exodus (Numbers 33:38). Hence it follows that the year and a half which had elapsed since the exodus must be included in the forty years of shepherd life in the wilderness.

My breach of promise.—The noun which is thus rendered occurs only in one other place, viz., Job 33:10. The cognate verb, however, occurs several times in this book in the sense of refuse, disallow, or hinder. (See Numbers 30:5; Numbers 30:8; Numbers 30:11; Numbers 32:7.) The meaning here appears to be rejection or alienation.

Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.
(37) By the plague.—The word maggephah, which is here rendered plague, denotes a stroke. In Exodus 9:14 it is used of the ten plagues of Egypt. In Numbers 16:48-49, it is used of the plague which broke out after the insurrection of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and in Numbers 25:9-18 of that which broke out after the Israelites had joined in the idolatrous and lascivious rites of the Moabites and Midianites. In 1Samuel 4:17, 2Samuel 17:9; 2Samuel 18:7, it is used of destruction by the sword. It appears to denote in this place sudden death, inflicted by the immediate visitation of the Lord.

And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.
(39) And the people mourned greatly.—It appears from what follows that the sorrow which the Israelites felt was sorrow for the punishment which their sin had entailed, not godly sorrow for the sin itself.

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.
(40) Into the top of the mountain.—Or, towards the top of the mountain. This appears to have been the same route as that by which the spies had gone into the south country of Judæa. (See Numbers 13:17.) It seems to be implied in w. 44, 45 that the people did not actually ascend the top of the adjoining mountain.

Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.
(42) Go not up, for the Lord is not among you.—Moses had already received the command which is contained in Numbers 14:25. He knew, therefore, that the Israelites would not have the guidance of the cloud, the visible token of the Divine presence.

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.
(43) Are there before you.—Or, will be there before you. If the same persons are here spoken of as in Numbers 14:25, it will follow that they had left their temporary abode, and gone up into the hill country. It is possible however, that the reference is to different portions of the same nations.

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.
(44) They presumed to go up.i.e., they made a bold attempt to ascend the mountain. Their enemies appear to have encountered and discomfited them before they had actually gained the summit.

Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.
(45) Then the Amalekites came down . . . —The words “which dwelt in that hill” may refer to the Canaanites only, or to the Amalekites and the Canaanites, and may denote either permanent residence or temporary occupation. If the reference is, as seems most natural, to a permanent abode, it will follow Numbers 14:25, for the latter verse cannot be intended to describe the geographical position of the Canaanites.

Even unto Horman.—Or, the place of the ban. The definite article is used in this place, the Hormah. If the Hormah which is here mentioned is identical with the Hormah of Numbers 21:3, where the definite article is not used, and with the Hormah of Judges 1:17, we must conclude that the name is used proleptically, as is not unfrequently the case in Scripture. It is probable, however, that in each case a different place is denoted by a common name. The cognate verb is employed in Deuteronomy 20:17, where the command is given to devote the Canaanitish nations to utter destruction, i.e., to a state of hormah.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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