We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic:…
These verses represent things sadly unhinged and out of order in Israel. Both the people and the prince uneasy.
I. HERE IS THE PEOPLE FRETTING AND SPEAKING AGAINST GOD HIMSELF (as it is interpreted, Psalm 78:19), notwithstanding His glorious appearances both to them and for them.
1. Observe who were the criminals.
(1) The mixed multitude began, "They felt a lusting" (ver. 4). These were the scabbed sheep that infected the flock, the leaven that leavened the whole lump. Note, a few factious, discontented, ill-natured people, may do a great deal of mischief in the best societies if great care be not taken to discountenance them. Such as these are an untoward generation, from which it is our wisdom to save ourselves (Acts 2:40).
(2) Even the children of Israel took the infection, so it follows (ver. 4). The holy seed joined themselves to the people of these abominations. This mixed multitude was not numbered with the children of Israel, but were set aside as people God made no account of. And yet the children of Israel, forgetting their own character and distinction, herded themselves with them, and learned their way; as if the scum and outcast of the camp were to be the privy councillors of it. The children of Israel, a people near to God, and highly privileged, yet drawn into a rebellion against Him! Oh, how little honour hath God in the world, when even that people which He formed for Himself to show forth His praise were so much a dishonour to Him! Therefore let none think that their external professions and privileges will be their security either against Satan's temptations to sin, or against God's judgments for sin (1 Corinthians 10:1, 2, 12).
2. What was the crime? They lusted and murmured. Though they were newly corrected for this sin, and many of them overthrown for it, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and the smell of the fire was still in their nostrils, yet they returned to it (Proverbs 27:22). We should not indulge ourselves in any desire which we cannot in faith turn into prayer, as we cannot, when we ask meat for our lust (Psalm 78:18). For this sin the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly against them; which is written for our admonition, that we should not lust after evil things, as they lusted (1 Corinthians 10:10). Flesh is good food, and may lawfully be eaten; yet they are said to lust after evil things. What is lawful in itself becomes evil to us when it is what God doth not allot to us, and yet we eagerly desire it.
II. MOSES HIMSELF, THOUGH SO MEEK AND GOOD A MAN, IS UNEASY UPON THIS OCCASION. Moses also was displeased. Now —
1. It must be confessed that the provocation was very great.
2. Yet Moses expressed himself otherwise than became him upon this provocation, and came short of his duty both to God and Israel in these expostulations.
(1) He undervalues the honour God had put upon him in making him the illustrious minister of His power and grace in the deliverance and conduct of that peculiar people, which might have been sufficient to balance the burden.
(2) He complains too much of a sensible grievance, and lays too near his heart a little noise and fatigue. If he could not bear the toil of government, which was but running with the footmen, how would he bear the terrors of war, which was contending with horses? He might easily have furnished himself with considerations enough to enable him to slight their clamours and make nothing of them.
(3) He magnifies his own performances, that all the burdens of the people lay upon him, whereas God Himself did, in effect, ease him of all the burden.
(4) He is not so sensible as he ought to be of the obligation he lay under from the Divine commission and command, to do the utmost he could for this people, when he suggests, that because they were not the children of his body begotten, therefore he was not concerned to take a fatherly care of them, though God Himself, who might employ him as He pleased, had appointed him to be a father to them.
(5) He takes too much to himself when he asks, "Whence should I have flesh to give them?" (ver. 13), as if he were the housekeeper, and not God. Moses gave them not the bread (John 6:34). Nor was it expected that he should give them the flesh, but as an instrument in God's hand; and having assistants appointed him, who should be, as the apostle speaks (1 Corinthians 12:28), helps, governments, i.e., helps in government, not at all to lessen or eclipse his honour, but to make the work more easy to him, and to bear the burden of the people with him. And that this provision might be both agreeable and really serviceable —
(a) Moses is directed to nominate the persons (ver. 16). The people were too hot, and heady, and tumultuous, to be entrusted with the election. Moses must please himself in the choice, that he may not afterwards complain.
(b) God promiseth to qualify them. If they were not found fit for the employ, they should be made fit, else they might prove more a hindrance than a help to Moses (ver. 17). Though Moses had talked too boldly with God, yet God doth not therefore break off communion with him; He bears a great deal with us, and we must with one another. "I will come down (saith God) and talk with thee, when thou art more calm and composed; and I will take of the same spirit of wisdom, and piety, and courage that is upon thee, and put it upon them." Not that Moses had the less of the spirit for their sharing, nor that they were hereby made equal with him. Moses was still a nonsuch (Deuteronomy 34:10). But they were clothed with a spirit of government proportionable to their place, and with a spirit of prophecy to evidence their Divine call to it, the government being a theocracy.Note —
1. Those whom God employs in any service He qualifies for it; and those that are not in some measure qualified cannot think themselves duly called.
2. All good qualifications are from God; every perfect gift is from the Father of lights. Even the humour of the discontented people shall be gratified too, that every mouth may be stopped. They are bid to sanctify themselves (ver. 18), i.e., to put themselves into a posture to receive such a proof of God's power as should be a token both of mercy and judgment. "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (Amos 4:12).
(1) God promiseth (shall I say?) He threatens rather, that they should have their belly-full of flesh. See here —
(a) The vanity of all the delights of sense; they will cloy, but not satisfy. Spiritual pleasures are the contrary. As the world passes away, so do the lusts of it (1 John 2:17). What was greedily coveted, in a little time comes to be nauseated.
(b) What brutish sins (and worse than brutish) gluttony and drunkenness are. They put a force upon nature, and make that the sickness of the body which should be its health; they are sins that are their own punishments, and yet not the worst that attend them.
(c) What a righteous thing it is with God to make that loathsome to men which they have inordinately lusted after. God could make them despise flesh as much as they had despised manna.
(2) Moses objects the improbability of making good this word (vers. 21, 22). It is an objection like that which the disciples made (Mark 8:4). He objects the number of the people, as if He that provided bread for them all could not by the same unlimited power provide flesh too. He reckons it must be the flesh either of beasts or fishes, because of them are the most bulky animals, little thinking that the flesh of birds, little birds, should serve the purpose. God sees not as men sees, but His thoughts are above ours. He objects the greediness of the people's desires in that word to suffice them. Note, even true and great believers sometimes find it hard to trust God under the discouragement of second causes, and against hope to believe in hope. Moses himself can scarce forbear saying, "Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" when this was become the common cry. No doubt this was his infirmity.
(3) God gives a short but sufficient answer to the objection in that question, "Is the Lord's band waxed short?" (ver. 23). If Moses had remembered the years of the right hand of the Most High, he had not started all these difficulties. Therefore God minds him of them, intimating that this objection reflected upon the Divine power which he had been so often not only the witness, but the instrument of. Whatever our unbelieving hearts may suggest to the contrary, it is certain —
(a) That God's hand is not short. His power cannot be restrained in the exerting of itself by anything but His own will; with Him nothing is impossible. That hand is not short which measures the waters, metes out the heavens (Isaiah 40:12), and grasps the winds (Proverbs 30:4).
(b) That it is not waxed short. He is as strong as ever He was; fainteth not, neither is weary. And this is sufficient to silence all our distrusts, when means fail us. Is anything too bard for the Lord? God here brings Moses to this first principle; sets him back in his lesson to learn the ancient name of God, the Lord God Almighty; and put the proof upon the issue, "Thou shalt see whether My word shall come to pass or not." This magnifies God's word above all His name, that His works never came short of it. If He speaks, it is done.
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: