Numbers 11:33
And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.
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(33) With a very great plague.—The noun, maccah. plague, is cognate to the verb which is rendered smote. It is frequently used of a stroke inflicted by God, as, e.g., pestilence or any epidemic sickness. A surfeit, such as that in which the Israelites had indulged, especially under the circumstances in which they were placed, would naturally produce a considerable amount of sickness. Here, then, as in the account of the plagues of Egypt and in other parts of the sacred history, the natural and the supernatural are closely combined.

Numbers 11:33. The Lord smote the people with a very great plague — With a pestilence, say some, with a consumption, say others. But it seems more probable that it was by some untimely death, which was the effect of their own gluttony and intemperance. This seems to agree best with the threatening, Numbers 11:20. God was pleased, in a great measure, to overlook their first murmuring, about a year before, when he sent them the manna, because they were then under great necessity, being really pinched with hunger; whereas now that they were fed with bread from heaven, they cried for meat, not from need, but mere wantonness, and that after much experience of God’s care and kindness, after he had pardoned their former sins, and after he had made known his laws to them in a most solemn and terrible manner. Besides, the longer God exercises forbearance, the more is the offender’s guilt aggravated, if he remain impenitent. Reader, remember, “the goodness of God leads thee to repentance,” and take heed that thou do not, “after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasure up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath!”

11:31-35 God performed his promise to the people, in giving them flesh. How much more diligent men are in collecting the meat that perishes, than in labouring for meat which endures to everlasting life! We are quick-sighted in the affairs of time; but stupidity blinds us as to the concerns of eternity. To pursue worldly advantages, we need no arguments; but when we are to secure the true riches, then we are all forgetfulness. Those who are under the power of a carnal mind, will have their lusts fulfilled, though it be to the certain damage and ruin of their precious souls. They paid dearly for their feasts. God often grants the desires of sinners in wrath, while he denies the desires of his own people in love. What we unduly desire, if we obtain it, we have reason to fear, will be some way or other a grief and cross to us. And what multitudes there are in all places, who shorten their lives by excess of one kind or other! Let us seek for those pleasures which satisfy, but never surfeit; and which will endure for evermore.Ere it was chewed - Better, ere it was consumed. See Numbers 11:19-20. The surfeit in which the people indulged, as described in Numbers 11:32, disposed them to sickness. God's wrath, visiting the gluttonous through their gluttony, aggravated natural consequences into a supernatural visitation.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 raised (Ex 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. Chewed, Heb. cut off, to wit, from their mouths, which is here understood, and expressed Joel 1:5, i.e. ere it was taken away, as the flocks are said to be cut off from the fold, Habakkuk 3:17, when they are lost and perished. The sense is, before they had done eating their quails, which lasted for a month, as appears from Numbers 11:20.

A very great plague; whether it was leanness sent into them, Psalm 106:15, whereby the food was deprived of its nourishing power, which it hath only from God’s blessing; or surfeit, a punishment most suitable to their sin, and most likely to follow their intemperate desire and use of this food; or the pestilence; it is not much material: but a great and sore plague unquestionably it was.

Quest. Why did God so sorely punish the people’s murmuring and complaining for lack of flesh here, when he spared them after the same sin, Exo 16?

Answ. Because this sin was a far greater sin than that, and aggravated with worse circumstances; as proceeding not from necessity, as that did, when as yet they had no food, but from mere lust and wantonness, when they had manna constantly given them; as 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 and duty to them.

And while the flesh was yet between their teeth,.... When they had just got it into their mouths, and were about to bite it:

ere it was chewed; or "cut off"; or cut into pieces by the "incisores", or fore teeth, and then ground by the "molares", or grinders, and so became fit to be swallowed. Both quails and locusts were eaten as food; the former is a fat and delicious fowl, and the latter, some sorts of them, at least, were allowed clean food for the Jews, and were fed on by many people:

the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people; for their lusting after flesh, and despising the manna:

and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague; the pestilence, as Aben Ezra; or with fire, as Bochart (e), who gives the following reasons why the people were so severely punished now, and not before, when they murmured on a like account; because their sin's were greater, and more aggravated, they falling again into the same sin which had been forgiven them; and besides, they were before pressed with famine, now they had a plenty of manna every day; and also were better instructed, having received the law, which was not yet given when they were just come out of Egypt. Sulpitius (f) the historian says, 23,000 perished at this time.

(e) Ut supra, (Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 1. c. 15.) Colossians 109.

And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.
33. ere it was chewed] ere it came to an end, i.e. before the supply of flesh ran short.

Verse 33. - And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed. If this were taken in the most literal sense, it would mean that no one of the people had time to swallow a single morsel of the coveted food ere he was stricken down by the Divine visitation. We can scarcely imagine, however, that such was the case in every single instance. It would indeed appear as if they had with one consent postponed the enjoyment of eating the quails until they had gathered as huge a quantity for future use as possible; as if in defiance and contempt of the Divine warning that their greed would turn to satiety and loathing (see verses 19 and 32). If this were so, then the feast to which they so eagerly looked forward would begin throughout the camps on the second night, and the visitation of God might well have had the sudden and simultaneous character attributed to it here and in Psalm 78:30, 31. At any rate the statement of the text positively excludes the idea that they went on eating quails for a whole month, according to the promise (or threat) of verse 20. There was flesh enough to have secured the literal fulfillment of that promise by gorging them for a whole month; but it is evident that the Divine wrath anticipated any such tardy revenges, and smote its victims in the very moment of their keenest gratification. The Lord smote the people with a very great plague. Both ancients and moderns state that the flesh of quails is unwholesome (cf. Pliny, 10:23), but this appears to have no very valid foundation. Unquestionably quails eaten for a month by people unused to a flesh diet would produce many and fatal sicknesses; but there is no room for any such natural results here. Whatever form the plague may have taken, it was as clearly supernatural in its suddenness and intensity as the supply of quails itself. We do not know anything as to who were smitten, or how many; the Psalmist tells us that they were "the fattest" and "the chosen in Israel, and we may naturally suppose that those who had been foremost in the lusting and the murmuring were foremost in the ruin which followed. Numbers 11:33But while the flesh was still between their teeth, and before it was ground, i.e., masticated, the wrath of the Lord burned against them, and produced among the people a very great destruction. This catastrophe is not to be regarded as "the effect of the excessive quantity of quails that they had eaten, on account of the quails feeding upon things which are injurious to man, so that eating the flesh of quails produces convulsions and giddiness (for proofs, see Bochart, Hieroz. ii. pp. 657ff.)," as Knobel supposes, but as an extraordinary judgment inflicted by God upon the greedy people, by which a great multitude of people were suddenly swept away.
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