Numbers 14


The whole congregation weep at the account brought by the

spies, 1.

They murmur, 2, 3;

and propose to make themselves a captain, and go back to

Egypt, 4.

Moses and Aaron are greatly affected, 5.

Joshua and Caleb endeavour to appease and encourage the

people, 6-9.

The congregation are about to stone them, 10.

The glory of the Lord appears, and he is about to smite the

rebels with the pestilence, 11, 12.

Moses makes a long and pathetic intercession in their behalf,


The Lord hears and forbears to punish, 20;

but purposes that not one of that generation shall enter into

the promised land save Joshua and Caleb, 21-24.

Moses is commanded to turn and get into the wilderness by way

of the Red Sea, 25.

The Lord repeats his purpose that none of that generation shall

enter into the promised land-that their carcasses shall fall in

the wilderness, and that their children alone, with Joshua and

Caleb, shall possess the land of the Canaanites, &c., 26-32.

As many days as they have searched the land shall they wander

years in the desert, until they shall be utterly consumed, 33-35.

All the spies save Joshua and Caleb die by a plague, 36-38.

Moses declares God's purpose to the people, at which they are

greatly affected, 39.

They acknowledge their sin, and purpose to go up at once and

possess the land, 40.

Moses cautions them against resisting the purpose of God, 41-43.

They, notwithstanding, presume to go, but Moses and the ark

abide in the camp, 44.

The Amalekites and Canaanites come down from the mountains, and

defeat them, 45.


Verse 1. Cried; and-wept that night.] In almost every case

this people gave deplorable evidence of the degraded state of

their minds. With scarcely any mental firmness, and with almost

no religion, they could bear no reverses, and were ever at their

wit's end. They were headstrong, presumptuous, pusillanimous,

indecisive, and fickle. And because they were such, therefore the

power and wisdom of God appeared the more conspicuously in the

whole of their history.

Verse 4. Let us make a captain] Here was a formal

renunciation of the authority of Moses, and flat rebellion against

God. And it seems from Ne 9:17 that they had actually appointed

another leader, under whose direction they were about to return to

Egypt. How astonishing is this! Their lives were made bitter,

because of the rigour with which they were made to serve in the

land of Egypt; and yet they are willing, yea eager, to get back

into the same circumstances again! Great evils, when once some

time past, affect the mind less than present ills, though much

inferior. They had partly forgot their Egyptian bondage, and now

smart under a little discouragement, having totally lost sight of

their high calling, and of the power and goodness of God.

Verse 6. And Joshua, &c.] See on the preceding chapter,

See Clarke on Nu 13:33.

Verse 9. Their defence] tsillam, their shadow, a

metaphor highly expressive of protection and support in the sultry

eastern countries. The protection of God is so called; see

Ps 91:1; 121:5; see also Isa 51:16; 49:2; 30:2.

The Arabs and Persians have the same word to express the same

thing. [Persian] nemayeed zulli doulet mamdood bad. "May the

shadow of thy prosperity be extended!" [Persian] nemayced zulli

doulet ber mufareki khayr khwahen mamdood bad. "May the shadow of

thy prosperity be spread over the heads of thy well-wishers!"

They have also the following elegant distich:-



Sayahat kem mubad az seri ma

Bast Allah zullikem abeda.

"May thy protection never be removed from my head!

May God extend thy shadow eternally!"

Here the Arabic [Arabic] zull answers exactly to the Hebrew

tsel, both signifying that which overspreads or overshadows.

See Clarke on Nu 14:14.

Verse 10. The glory of the Lord appeared] This timely

appearance of the Divine glory prevented these faithful servants

of God from being stoned to death by this base and treacherous

multitude. "Every man is immortal till his work is done," while

in simplicity of heart he is following his God.

Verse 14. That thy cloud standeth over them] This cloud, the

symbol of the Divine glory, and proof of the Divine presence,

appears to have assumed three different forms for three important


1. It appeared by day in the form of a pillar of a sufficient

height to be seen by all the camp, and thus went before them to

point out their way in the desert. Ex 40:38.

2. It appeared by night as a pillar of fire to give them light

while travelling by night, which they probably sometimes did; (see

Nu 9:21;) or to illuminate their tents in their encampment;

Ex 13:21, 22.

3. It stood at certain times above the whole congregation,

overshadowing them from the scorching rays of the sun; and

probably at other times condensed the vapours, and precipitated

rain or dew for the refreshment of the people. He spread a cloud

for their covering; and fire to give light in the night;

Ps 105:39.

It was probably from this circumstance that the shadow of the Lord

was used to signify the Divine protection, not only by the Jews,

but also by other Asiatic nations. See Clarke on Nu 14:9,

and see particularly Clarke's note on "Ex 13:21".

Verse 18. The Lord is longsuffering]

See Clarke on Ex 34:6.

Verse 19. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people]

From Nu 14:13-19 inclusive we have the words of

Moses's intercession; they need no explanation, they are full of

simplicity and energy; his arguments with God (for be did reason

and argue with his Maker) are pointed, cogent, and respectful; and

while they show a heart full of humanity, they evidence the

deepest concern for the glory of God. The argumentum ad hominem

is here used in the most unexceptionable manner, and with the

fullest effect.

Verse 20. I have pardoned] That is, They shall not be cut off

as they deserve, because thou hast interceded for their lives.

Verse 21. All the earth shall be filled, &c.] kol

haarets, all THIS land, i. e., the land of Canaan which was only

fulfilled to the letter when the preaching of Christ and his

apostles was heard through all the cities and villages of Judea.

It does not appear that the whole of the terraqueous globe is

meant by this expression in any of the places where it occurs

connected with this promise of the diffusion of the Divine light.

See Ps 72:19; Isa 40:5; Hab 2:14.

Verse 24. But my servant Caleb, &c.] Caleb had another

spirit-not only a bold, generous, courageous, noble, and heroic

spirit; but the Spirit and influence of the God of heaven thus

raised him above human inquietudes and earthly fears, therefore be

followed God fully; vaimalle acharai, literally, he

filled after me: God showed him the way he was to take, and the

line of conduct he was to pursue, and he filled up this line, and

in all things followed the will of his Maker. He therefore shall

see the promised land, and his seed shall possess it. A dastardly

spirit in the things of God is a heavy curse. How many are

retarded in their course, and fall short of the blessings of the

Gospel, through magnifying the number and strength of their

adversaries, their own weakness and the difficulties of the way,

with which we may connect their distrust of the power,

faithfulness, and goodness of God! And how many are prevented

from receiving the higher degrees of salvation by foolishly

attributing insurmountable power, either to their inward

corruptions or outward enemies! Only such men as Joshua and

Caleb, who take God at his word, and who know that against his

wisdom no cunning can stand, and against his might no strength can

prevail, are likely to follow God fully, and receive the heights,

lengths, breadths, and depths of the salvation of God.

Verse 34. After the number of the days] The spies were forty

days in searching the land, and the people who rebelled on their

evil report are condemned to wander forty years in the wilderness!

Now let them make them a captain and go back to Egypt if they

can. God had so hedged them about with his power and providence

that they could neither go back to Egypt nor get forward to the

promised land! God has provided innumerable spiritual blessings

for mankind, but in the pursuit of earthly good they lose them,

and often lose the others also! If ye be willing and obedient, ye

shall eat the fruit of the land, but not otherwise; unless for

your farther punishment God give you your portion in THIS life,

and ye get none in the life to come. From so great a curse may

God save thee, thou money-loving, honour-hunting,

pleasure-taking, thoughtless, godless man!

And ye shall know my breach of promise.] This is certainly a

most harsh expression; and most learned men agree that the words

eth tenuathi should be translated my vengeance, which

is the rendering of the Septuagint, Vulgate, Coptic, and

Anglo-Saxon, and which is followed by almost all our ancient

English translations. The meaning however appears to be this: As

God had promised to bring them into the good land, provided they

kept his statutes, ordinances, &c., and they had now broken their

engagements, he was no longer held by his covenant; and therefore,

by excluding them from the promised land, he showed them at once

his annulling of the covenant which they had broken, and his

vengeance because they had broken it.

Verse 37. Those men that did bring up the evil report-died]

Thus ten of the twelve that searched out the land were struck

dead, by the justice of God, on the spot! Caleb, of the tribe of

Judah, and Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim, alone escaped, because

they had followed God fully. Let preachers of God's word take

heed how they straiten the way of salvation, or render, by unjust

description, that way perplexed and difficult which God has made

plain and easy.

Verse 40. We-will go up unto the place, &c.] They found

themselves on the very borders of the land, and they heard God say

they should not enter it, but should be consumed by a forty years'

wandering in the wilderness; notwithstanding, they are determined

to render vain this purpose of God, probably supposing that the

temporary sorrow they felt for their late rebellion would be

accepted as a sufficient atonement for their crimes. They

accordingly went up, and were cut down by their enemies; and why?

God went not with them. How vain is the counsel of man against

the wisdom of God! Nature, poor, fallen human nature, is ever

running into extremes. This miserable people, a short time ago,

thought that though they had Omnipotence with them they could not

conquer and possess the land! Now they imagine that though God

himself go not with them, yet they shall be sufficient to drive

out the inhabitants, and take possession of their country! Man is

ever supposing he can either do all things or do nothing; he is

therefore sometimes presumptuous, and at other times in despair.

Who but an apostle, or one under the influence of the same Spirit,

can say, I can do ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST who strengtheneth me?

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