Numbers 11


The people complain, the Lord is displeased, and many of them

are consumed by fire, 1.

Moses intercedes for them, and the fire is quenched, 2.

The place is called Taberah, 3.

The mixed multitude long for flesh, and murmur, 4-6.

The manna described, 7-9.

The people weep in their tents, and the Lord is displeased, 10.

Moses deplores his lot in being obliged to hear and bear with

all their murmurings, 11-15.

He is commanded to bring seventy of the elders to God that he

may endue them with the same spirit, and cause them to divide

the burden with him, 16, 17.

He is also commanded to inform the people that they shall have

flesh for a whole month, 18-20.

Moses expresses his doubt of the possibility of this, 21, 22.

The Lord confirms his promise, 23.

The seventy men are brought to the tabernacle, 24;

and the spirit of prophecy rests upon them, 25.

Eldad and Medad stay in the camp and prophesy, 26, 27.

Joshua beseeches Moses to forbid them, 28.

Moses refuses, 29, 30.

A wind from the Lord brings quails to the camp, 31, 32.

While feeding on the flesh, a plague from the Lord falls upon

them, and many of them die, 33.

The place is called Kibroth-hattaavah, or the graves of lust, 34.

They journey to Hazeroth, 35.


Verse 1. And when the people complained] What the cause of

this complaining was, we know not. The conjecture of St. Jerome

is probable; they complained because of the length of the way.

But surely no people had ever less cause for murmuring; they had

God among them, and miracles of goodness were continually wrought

in their behalf.

It displeased the Lord] For his extraordinary kindness was lost

on such an ungrateful and rebellious people. And his anger was

kindled-Divine justice was necessarily incensed against such

inexcusable conduct.

And the fire of the Lord burnt among them] Either a

supernatural fire was sent for this occasion, or the lightning was

commissioned against them, or God smote them with one of those hot

suffocating winds which are very common in those countries.

And consumed-in the uttermost parts of the camp.] It pervaded

the whole camp, from the centre to the circumference, carrying

death with it to all the murmurers; for we are not to suppose that

it was confined to the uttermost parts of the camp, unless we

could imagine that there were none culpable any where else. If

this were the same with the case mentioned Nu 11:4, then, as it is

possible that the mixed multitude occupied the outermost parts of

the camp, consequently the burning might have been confined to


Verse 2. The fire was quenched] Was sunk, or swallowed up, as

in the margin. The plague, of whatever sort, ceased to act, and

the people had respite.

Verse 4. The mixed multitude] hasaphsuph, the

collected or gathered people. Such as came out of Egypt with the

Israelites; and are mentioned Ex 12:38.

This mongrel people, who had comparatively little of the knowledge

of God, feeling the difficulties and fatigues of the journey, were

the first to complain; and then we find the children of Israel

joined them in their complainings, and made a common cause with

these demi-infidels.

Verse 5. We remember, &c.] The choice aliments which those

murmurers complained of having lost by their leaving Egypt, were

the following: fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.

A European may smile at such delicacies; but delicacies they were

in that country. Their fish is excellent; their cucumbers and

water melons highly salubrious and refreshing; and their onions,

garlic, &c., exquisitely flavoured, differing as much from

vegetables of the same species in these northern climes as a bad

turnip does from a good apple. In short, this enumeration takes

in almost all the commonly attainable delicacies in those


Verse 7. The manna was as coriander seed] Probably this short

description is added to show the iniquity of the people in

murmuring, while they had so adequate a provision. But the

baseness of their minds appears in every part of their conduct.

About the bdellium of the ancients the learned are not agreed;

and I shall not trouble the reader with conjectures.

See Clarke on Ge 2:12. Concerning the manna,

see the notes on Ex 16:1-36.

Verse 11. - 15. The complaint and remonstrance of Moses in

these verses serve at once to show the deeply distressed state of

his mind, and the degradation of the minds of the people. We have

already seen that the slavery they had so long endured had served

to debase their minds, and to render them incapable of every high

and dignified sentiment, and of every generous act.

Verse 17. I will take of the spirit which is upon thee] From

this place Origen and Theodoret take occasion to compare Moses to

a lamp, at which seventy others were lighted, without losing any

of its brightness. To convince Moses that God had sufficiently

qualified him for the work which he had given him to do, he tells

him that of the gifts and graces which he has given him he will

qualify seventy persons to bear the charge with him. This was

probably intended as a gracious reproof. Query. Did not Moses

lose a measure of his gifts in this business? And is it not right

that he whom God has called to and qualified for some particular

office, should lose those gifts which he either undervalues or

refuses to employ for God in the way appointed? Is there not much

reason to believe that many cases have occurred where the

spiritual endowments of particular persons have been taken away

and given to others who made a better use of them? Hence the

propriety of that exhortation, Re 3:11:

Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

The gracious God never called a man to perform a work without

furnishing him with adequate strength; and to refuse to do it on

the pretence of inability is little short of rebellion against


This institution of the seventy persons to help Moses the

rabbins consider as the origin of their grand council called the

Sanhedrin. But we find that a council of seventy men, elders of

Israel, had existed among the people a year before this time. See

Ex 24:9; see the advice given to Jethro to Moses, Ex 18:17, &c.,

and the notes there.

Verse 22. Shall the flocks and the herds be slain] There is

certainly a considerable measure of weakness and unbelief

manifested in the complaints and questions of Moses on this

occasion; but his conduct appears at the same time so very simple,

honest, and affectionate, that we cannot but admire it, while we

wonder that he had not stronger confidence in that God whose

miracles he had so often witnessed in Egypt.

Verse 23. Is the Lord's hand waxed short?] Hast thou

forgotten the miracles which I have already performed? or thinkest

thou that my power is decreased? The power that is unlimited can

never be diminished.

Verse 25. When the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied]

By prophesying here we are to understand their performing those

civil and sacred functions for which they were qualified;

exhorting the people to quiet and peaceable submission, to trust

and confidence in the goodness and providence of God, would make

no small part of the duties of their new office. The ideal

meaning of the word naba is to pray, entreat, &c. The

prophet is called nabi, because he prays, supplicates, in

reference to God; exhorts, entreats, in reference to man.

See Clarke on Ge 20:7.

Verse 27. Eldad and Medad do prophesy, &c.]

ELDAD, they said, and MEDAD there,

Irregularly bold,

By Moses uncommission'd, dare

A separate meeting hold!

And still whom none but heaven will own.

Men whom the world decry,

Men authorized by GOD alone,

Presume to prophesy!

Verse 28. My lord Moses, forbid them. .]

How often have I blindly done

What zealous Joshua did,

Impatient to the rulers run,

And cried, "My lords, forbid!

Silence the schismatics, constrain

Their thoughts with ours t' agree,

And sacrifice the souls of men

To idol UNITY!"

Verse 29. Enviest thou for my sake?]

Moses, the minister of God,

Rebukes our partial love,

Who envy at the gifts bestow'd

On those we disapprove.

We do not our own spirit know,

Who wish to see suppress'd

The men that Jesu's spirit show,

The men whom God hath bless'd.

Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets]

SHALL we the Spirit's course restrain,

Or quench the heavenly fire?

Let God his messengers ordain,

And whom he will inspire.

Blow as he list, the Spirit's choice

Of instruments we bless;

We will, if Christ be preached, rejoice,

And wish the word success.

Can all be prophets then? are all

Commission'd from above?

No; but whome'er the Lord shall call

We joyfully approve.

O that the Church might all receive

The spirit of prophecy,

And all in Christ accepted live,

And all in Jesus die!

Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures, by

Charles Wesley, M. A., and Presbyter of the Church of England.

Bristol, 1762. 2 vols. 12mo.

These sentiments are the more particularly remarkable as they

come from one who was sufficiently bigoted to what was called

ecclesiastical orders and regularity.

Verse 31. A wind from the Lord] An extraordinary one, not the

effect of a natural cause. And brought quails, a bird which in

great companies visits Egypt about the time of the year, March or

April, at which the circumstance marked here took place. Mr.

Hasselquist, the friend and pupil of the famous Linnaeus, saw many

of them about this time of the year, when he was in Egypt. See

his Travels, p. 209.

Two cubits high upon the face of the earth.] We may consider

the quails as flying within two cubits of the ground; so that the

Israelites could easily take as many of them as they wished, while

flying within the reach of their hands or their clubs. The common

notion is, that the quails were brought round about the camp, and

fell there in such multitudes as to lie two feet thick upon the

ground; but the Hebrew will not bear this version. The Vulgate

has expressed the sense, Volabantque in aere duobus cubitis

altitudine super terram. "And they flew in the air, two cubits

high above the ground."

Verse 32. The people stood up, &c.] While these immense flocks

were flying at this short distance from the ground, fatigued with

the strong wind and the distance they had come, they were easily

taken by the people; and as various flocks continued to succeed

each other for two days and a night, enough for a month's

provision might be collected in that time. If the quails had

fallen about the tents, there was no need to have stood up two

days and a night in gathering them; but if they were on the wing,

as the text seems to suppose, it was necessary for them to use

despatch, and avail themselves of the passing of these birds

whilst it continued. See Harmer, and

See Clarke on Ex 16:13.

And they spread them all abroad] Maillet observes that birds of

all kinds come to Egypt for refuge from the cold of a northern

winter; and that the people catch them, pluck, and bury them in

the burning sand for a few minutes, and thus prepare them for use.

This is probably what is meant by spreading them all abroad round

the camp.

Some authors think that the word salvim, rendered quails

in our translation, should be rendered locusts. There is no need

of this conjecture; all difficulties are easily resolved without

it. The reader is particularly referred to the note on

See Clarke on Ex 16:13.

Verse 33. The wrath of the Lord was kindled] In what way, and

with what effects, we cannot precisely determine. Some heavy

judgment fell upon those murmurers and complainers, but of what

kind the sacred writer says nothing.

Verse 34. Kibroth-hattaavah] The graves of lust; and thus

their scandalous crime was perpetuated by the name of the place.

1. St. JUDE speaks of persons who were murmurers and

complainers, walking after their own lusts, Jude 1:16, and seems

to have this people particularly in view, whom the sacred text calls

μεμψιμοιροι, complainers of their lot. They could never be

satisfied; even God himself could not please them, because they

were ever preferring their own wisdom to his. God will save us in

his own way, or not at all; because that way, being the plan of

infinite wisdom, it is impossible that we can be saved in any

other. How often have we professed to pray, "Thy will be done!"

And how seldom, very seldom, have our hearts and lips

corresponded! How careful should we be in all our prayers to ask

nothing but what is perfectly consistent with the will of God!

Many times our prayers and desires are such that, were they

answered, our ruin would be inevitable. "THY will be done!" is

the greatest of all prayers; and he who would pray safely and

successfully, must at least have the spirit of these words in all

his petitions. The Israelites asked flesh when they should not

have asked for it; God yields to their murmuring, and the death of

multitudes of these murmurers was the consequence! We hear of

such punishments, and yet walk in the same way, presuming on God's

mercy, while we continue to provoke his justice. Let us settle it

in our minds as an indisputable truth, that God is better

acquainted with our wants than we are ourselves; that he knows

infinitely better what we need; and that he is ever more ready to

hear than we are to pray, and is wont to give more than we can

desire or deserve.

2. In no case has God at any time withheld from his meanest

followers any of the spiritual or temporal mercies they needed.

Were he to call us to travel through a wilderness, he would send

us bread from heaven, or cause the wilderness to smile and blossom

as the rose. How strange is it that we will neither believe that

God has worked, or will work, unless we see him working!

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