Matthew Poole's Commentary
And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.The murmuring of the people, for which the fire breaketh in upon them, Numbers 11:1. Moses prayeth to God; the fire is quenched, Numbers 11:2. The name of the place, and why called, Numbers 11:3. The people murmur again, and lust after flesh, Numbers 11:4-6. Manna described, Numbers 11:7-9. Moses’s complaint and prayer, Numbers 11:10-15. God commandeth him to gather seventy of the elders of Israel to help him, Numbers 11:16,17; promising them flesh to eat, Numbers 11:18-20. Moses’ unbelief, Numbers 11:21,22. God is angry with him, Numbers 11:23. Moses having gathered seventy of the elders of Israel together, rehearseth the words of the Lord to them, Numbers 11:24. God coming down in a cloud, taketh of Moses’s spirit and giveth to the seventy; the effects thereof, Numbers 11:25. Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp, Numbers 11:26-29. God giveth them quails to eat, Numbers 11:30-32; and smiteth the people with a very great plague, Numbers 11:33,34.
Complained, or, murmured; the occasion whereof seems to be their last three days’ journey in a vast howling wilderness, without any benefit; and thereupon the remembrance of their long abode in the wilderness, and the prospect and fear of many other tedious, and fruitless, and dangerous journeys, whereby they were like to be long delayed from coming to that rest, that land of milk and honey, which God had promised them, and which they thirsted after.
The fire of the Lord, i.e. a fire sent from God in an extraordinary manner, possibly from the pillar of cloud and fire, or from heaven, as 2 Kings 1:12.
In the uttermost parts of the camp; either because the sin began there among the mixt multitude, who probably had their place there; or amongst those who were feeble and weary with their last journey, and therefore hindmost in the march; or in mercy to the people, whom he would rather awaken to repentance than utterly destroy, and therefore he sent it into the skirts, and not the heart and midst of the camp.
And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched.The people, the murmurers being penitent, or others for fear.
Unto Moses, whom they knew to be very prevalent with God.
And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.Tabera, from this fire; as it was called Kibroth-hattaa-vah from another occasion, Numbers 11:34,35 33:16; as it is no new thing in Scripture for persons and places to have two names. Both these names were imposed as monuments of the people’s sin, and of God’s just judgment. See Deu 9:7,22,24.
And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?The mixt multitude, consisting of Egyptians or other people, which being affected with God’s miraculous works in Egypt, and thereupon believing the promise of God to carry them to a land of milk and honey, for their own advantage joined themselves to the Israelites, Exodus 12:38, an now, finding themselves sadly disappointed, they discover their evil minds.
The children of Israel, whose special relation and obligation to God should have restrained them from such carriages.
Wept again: this word relates either to their former murmuring upon this occasion a twelvemonth before, Exodus 16:2, or rather to their complaining mentioned Numbers 11:1, to note the aggravation of their sin, that having just now sinned in the same kind, and sorely smarted for their sin, and being but newly delivered from their fears and dangers caused thereby, they forthwith return to their vomit and murmur again, and that more passionately than before, expressing themselves in tears and bitter words.
Flesh: this word is here taken generally, so as to include fish, as the next words show, and as it is used 1 Corinthians 15:39. They had indeed flesh and cattle which they brought with them 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, as may be gathered from Numbers 11:20-22.
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:Freely; either without price, for fish was very plentiful, and fishing was there free; or with a very small price; for nothing is sometimes put for a little, as John 18:20 Acts 27:33; and none for few, as Jeremiah 8:6 1 Corinthians 2:8. 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, who speak these words, might have them there upon cheaper terms.
But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.Our soul; either,
1. Our life, as the soul signifies, Genesis 9:5 Psalm 33:19 Job 36:14; or,
2. Our body, which is oft signified by the soul, as Psalm 16:10 Psalm 35:12 105:18. So Leviticus 19:28 21:1 Numbers 5:2.
Is dried away; is withered, and pines away; which possibly might be true through envy and discontent, and inordinate appetite, as 2 Samuel 13:4 Proverbs 14:30.
Before our eyes;
Heb. our eyes see or look to nothing but this manna. They speak as if the manna were only useful to please their eyes with its fine colour and shape, but not to satisfy their appetites, or sustain their natures.
And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium.As coriander seed; not for colour, for that is black, but for shape and figure.
Bdellium is either,
1. The gum of a tree, of a white and bright colour; or rather,
2. A gem or precious stone, as the Hebrew doctors take it; and particularly a pearl, as some render it, wherewith the manna doth manifestly agree both in its colour, which is white, Exodus 16:14, and in its figure, which is round. See more on Genesis 2:12.
And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.Or, of the most excellent oil; or, of the flour of oil; or, as others, of cakes or paste 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 show the greatness of their sin in despising such excellent food as this was.
And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.And then the dew fell again upon it and covered it, as we see Exodus 16:13,14; so the manna lay hid as it were between two beds of dew. Hence the phrase of hidden manna Revelation 2:17.
Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased.In the door of his tent; to note, that they were not ashamed of their sin.
Moses was displeased; partly, for their great unthankfulness; partly, foreseeing the dreadful judgments coming upon them, and partly, for his own burden expressed in the following verses.
And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?Why didst thou not hear my prayer, when I desired thou wouldst excuse me, and commit the care and government of this unruly people to some other person? See Exodus 3:11 4:10.
Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?Have I begotten them; are they my children, that I should be obliged to provide food and all things for their necessity and desire?
As a nursing-father beareth the sucking-child; which expression shows the tender care and affection that governors by the command of God ought to have towards their people.
Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.No text from Poole on this verse.
I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.All this people, i.e. the burden of providing for and satisfying of them.
Object. How was he alone, when there were others added to help him, Exodus 18:21,24?
Answ. Those were only assistant to him in civil causes and smaller matters, but the harder and greater affairs, such as this unquestionably was, were brought to Moses and determined by him alone, Exodus 18:22.
And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.Heb. my evil, i.e. my intolerable anguish and torment, arising from the insuperable difficulty of my office and work of ruling this people, and from the dread of their utter extirpation which they will bring upon themselves, and the dishonour which thence will accrue to God and to religion; as if not I only, but God also, were an impostor. Seeing is here put for feeling, as to see death, Psalm 89:48 Luke 2:26, is to suffer it; and to see the salvation of God, Psalm 50:23 91:16, is to enjoy it.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.Of whom see Exodus 3:16 5:6 Leviticus 4:15 Deu 16:18.
Whom thou knowest to be the elders; whom thou by experience discernest to be elders not only in years, and name, and place, but also in wisdom, and gravity, and authority with the people.
And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.I will come down, not by local motion, but by my powerful presence and operation. See Genesis 11:5 Exodus 34:5.
Will put it upon them, i.e. 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, as it is Numbers 27:18 Joel 2:28 John 7:39 Acts 19:2,6 1 Corinthians 14:12,32; and particularly for the Spirit of prophecy, Numbers 11:25, 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 fit and qualified.
And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.Sanctify yourselves, i.e. prepare yourselves, either to receive the miraculous blessings of God, the flesh you desire; or rather,
Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel, in the way of his judgments, and to receive the punishment which God will inflict upon you; for it is evident, from Numbers 18:20, that God answered them with a curse instead of a blessing. 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, Numbers 11:33,34, your souls may be saved from the wrath of God. Sanctifying is oft used for preparing, as Jeremiah 6:4 12:3 51:28.
In the ears of the Lord; not secretly in your closets, but openly and impudently in the doors of your tents, Numbers 11:10, calling heaven and earth to witness your cries and complaints.
Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;No text from Poole on this verse.
But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the LORD which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?Till it come out at your nostrils; which meat loathed and violently vomited up frequently doth;
and it be loathsome unto you, being glutted with the abundance of it. Thus God destroys them by granting their desires, and turns even their blessings into curses; whilst he deals much more favourably with Moses, though he also fell into the same sin with the people, i.e. impatience and murmuring. But God will make a great difference between persons and persons, and between Moses’s sins of infirmity and the people’s presumptuous and oft-repeated provocations.
Ye have despised the Lord, i.e. you have lightly esteemed his bounty and manifold blessings in manna and other things, and have preferred the leeks, onions, &c. of Egypt before them all; you have slighted and distrusted his promises and providence after so long and large experience of it.
Which is among you; who is present and resident with you to observe all your carriages, 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 follow and obey him in coming forth?
And Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month.Six hundred thousand footmen, fit for war, Exodus 12:37, besides women, children, &c. That Moses speaks this as doubting or distrusting God’s words is evident enough from Numbers 11:22,23. And that Moses was not remarkably punished for this as he was afterward for the same sin, Num 20 next to God’s good pleasure may be imputed to the different circumstances of this and that sin: this was the first great offence of this kind, and therefore more easily passed by; that was after warning, and against more light and experience. This seems to have been spoken secretly in Moses’s breast; that openly and publicly before the people, and to their scandal, and therefore it was fit to be openly and severely punished to prevent the contagion of that example.
Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?Will they be sufficient for them? or where shall they have more?
And the LORD said unto Moses, Is the LORD'S hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.Waxed short, i.e. less able to work such great and glorious miracles as I have done.
And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle.Moses went out of the tabernacle, into which he entered to receive God’s answers from the mercy-seat, Numbers 7:89.
The seventy men, either they are called seventy from the stated number, though two of them were lacking, Numbers 11:26, as the apostles are called the twelve, Matthew 26:20, when one of that number was absent; or he is said to have gathered them, when he gave command to gather them.
Round about 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; partly, to gain them the more authority and respect from the people; and principally, because that was the place where God manifested himself, and gave his blessings, and therefore there he would bestow his Spirit upon them.
And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.Rested upon them, i.e. not only moved them for a time, but took up his settled abode with them, because the use and end of this gift was not temporary, but perpetual; they prophesied, i.e. discoursed of the word and works of God in a singular and marvellous manner, as the prophets did. So this word is used 1 Samuel 10:5,6 Joe 2:28 Acts 2:17 1 Corinthians 14:3. Yet were they not hereby constituted prophets or teachers, but civil magistrates and rulers, who together with the Spirit of government, which is here sufficiently implied, received also the Spirit of prophecy, as a sign and seal, both to themselves and to the people, that God had called them to that employment, and would be with them in it, as it was with Saul upon the same occasion, 1 Samuel 10:10.
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; and in their wilderness condition they had frequent occasions of seeking counsel from God, which was the work of prophets, and they were to determine all things agreeably to the mind and will of God, which therefore they were obliged to study. Others translate the words, and they added not; so the sense is, They prophesied only this day for an assurance of vocation to and due qualification for their work, but afterwards they prophesied no more; the gift of prophecy ceased in them, and only the Spirit of government rested upon them.
But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.In the camp; not going to the tabernacle, as the rest did; either modestly declining that high employment from a tremble sense of their own insufficiency, as Saul did, 1 Samuel 10:22; or not having sufficient or seasonable notice to repair thither; or, being detained in the camp and in their dwellings, whether by uncleanness, or sickness, or some urgent occasion, not without God’s special providence, that so the miracle might be more evident, and their call and authority more unquestionable, to all the people.
Were written, to wit, in a book or paper, by Moses, who by God’s direction nominated the fittest and worthiest persons.
And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.Fearing lest his authority should be diminished by their prophesying; and thereby, as by the signal given at this time, taking authority to themselves without his knowledge and consent.
And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.One of his young men, or one of his choice ministers, a chosen or excellent person; which may be emphatically added, to note that even great and good men may mistake and misjudge about the works of God. Or, from his youth, as the words will bear, and the Chaldee, Syriac, &c. render it. So it may be added as a reason why Joshua above others were concerned for Moses’s honour and authority. He feared either schism or sedition, or that by their usurpation of authority independently upon Moses, and separately from him, his power and esteem might be lessened, as the next words show.
And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!Enviest thou; art thou grieved because the gifts and graces of God are imparted to others besides me? Compare John 3:26. He saith
prophets, not rulers, for that he knew was absurd and impossible.
And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.Among the people, to exercise the gifts and authority now or formerly received.
And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.A wind from the Lord, i.e. an extraordinary and miraculous wind, both for its vehemency and for its effect
Quails; a delicious and very nourishing food, which, considering their greedy appetite, and the newness and plenty of it, disposed them to surfeits and other distemper of body, and prepared the way for the following plague. 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 report 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, as it is said they did, Numbers 11:32; 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 ofttimes two cubits high.
And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.Stood up, or rather rose up, which word is oft used for attempting or beginning to do any business.
All night; some at one time, and some at the other, and some, through their greediness or diffidence, at both times.
Ten homers, i.e. 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 confusion and other inconveniences; but some on the behalf of all, possibly one for each family, or the like, 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, as we shall see; 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 oft put for many; and so the sense is, that every one gathered several heaps. If yet the number seems incredible, it must be further known,
4. That heathen and other authors affirm, that 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 a hundred thousand of them every day for a month together; and that sometimes they fly so thick over the sea, that being weary they fall into ships, sometimes in such numbers that they sink them with their weight, as Varro and Solinus affirm. And Athenaeus relates, that in Egypt, a country prodigiously populous, as all agree, 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 their future use. So that there is no need at all that God should create innumerable quails for this purpose; which yet if it were affirmed he did, atheists and antiscripturists have no occasion of triumph, since they must either own the creation of the world, which is a far greater miracle, or ascribe the production of the world to a casual jumble of atoms, which is more senseless and ridiculous than all the fables of the poets.
Spread them all abroad, that so they may dry them, and salt them, and preserve them for their future use, according to what they had seen and learned in Egypt.
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.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 he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted.Kibroth-hattaavah, Heb. The graves of lust, i.e. of the men that lusted, as it here follows. The abstract for the concrete, which is frequent; as poverty, 2 Kings 24:14, pride, Psalm 36:11, deceit, sins, Proverbs 13:6, &c., dreams, Jeremiah 27:9, are put for men who are poor, or proud, or deceitful, or sinful, or dreamers. And it notes that this plague did not seize upon all that did 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.
And the people journeyed from Kibrothhattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth.Of which place See Poole "Numbers 33:17" See Poole "Deu 1:1".