Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



This chapter details the murmuring and the inordinate hungering of the people for Egyptian food, (1-5,) and their disgust at the manna, which is particularly described, (6-9;) the complaint of Moses at his burdensome charge, (10-15;) the special relief granted in the appointment of seventy elders, and the temporary respite from the people’s clamours by the promise of a month of flesh-eating, (16-20;) Moses, instead of believing, reasons, doubts, and is reminded of Jehovah’s power, (21-23;) the seventy are appointed and baptized with the Spirit, (24-30;) the quails and “the graves of lust,” (31-34,) and the journey to Hazeroth.


(1.) “One of the most marked characteristics of the Hebrews, as distinguished from all communities before or since, showed itself prominently for the first time in connexion with the selection by Moses of the seventy elders as his special council, the original, in the belief of the rabbins, and even of some Christian theologians, of the Great Synagogue, to which Judaism owed so much after the return from exile at Babylon.… Thus, in the very beginnings, the history of Israel is not that of an inspired book or of an inspired order, but of an inspired people. The Spirit of God rests on them in a degree and in a manner which we meet with in no other race. The seventy, chosen from the tribes, anticipated, in their prophetic gifts, a characteristic of future generations. Miriam in the camp had a successor in Deborah on Mount Ephraim; nor was there a district in Palestine which did not, apparently, see a prophet or prophetess raised up in it by God before the gift was finally withdrawn. How great the fervour of religious life in a community where a succession of individuals could be found in whom it rose to so transcendent an elevation as is implied in the very name of prophet!” Geikie.

(2.) What might appropriately be called the great quail storm has been the subject of much discussion. Keil argues that the quails did not fly over the camp, but that they were thrown upon the ground by the wind in such numbers that they lay as much as two cubits deep in places about the camp, not everywhere of the same depth, but in drifts. He cites in confirmation Psalms 78:27-28, which is a very strong corroboration of his theory, even after abating the poetical exaggeration. It also has the advantage of the first impression produced by these words, “And let them fall by the camp,… as it were two cubits upon the face of the earth.” Says Tristram: “I have myself found the ground in Algeria, in the month of April, covered with quails for an extent of many acres at daybreak, where on the preceding afternoon there had not been one. They were so fatigued that they scarcely moved till almost trodden on; and, though hundreds were slaughtered, for two days they did not leave the district, till the wind veered and they then as suddenly ventured northward across the sea, leaving scarcely a straggler behind. We noticed a like phenomenon in the Jordan valley, on a smaller scale, and I caught several with my hand; one was actually crushed by my horse’s foot.”

The suggestion of the Pictorial Bible is, that the birds “were so strictly kept by the divine power within the limits of a day’s journey from the camp that even when roused they could not rise more than three feet, and were thus easily caught by nets or by the hand.” The extent of this quail shower is variously estimated from an area sixty miles in diameter to one of sixteen miles, or even half that number. The elements of doubt are, (1.) Whether the day’s journey is that of an individual or of the entire camp. (2.) Whether the starting-point of the day’s journey be the centre or the circumference of the camp.

Verse 1


1. Complained Hebrew, were as those who made themselves sad; R.V., “were as murmurers speaking evil in the ears of the Lord.” The whole clause is thus rendered by Keil: “The people were like those who complain in the ears of Jehovah of something bad.” No cause is assigned, but we infer that it was because of the privations and hardships of the journey, aggravated in this instance by its continuance through three days. Such murmuring was a reflection upon their divine Leader.

Fire of the Lord Supernaturally kindled, either by lightning or in some other way. It did not, as Knobel and Rosenmuller suppose, merely burn the bushes around the camp and the tents, but persons also.

The uttermost parts of the camp Probably one end, where most of the grumblers were.

Verse 2

2. The fire was quenched R.V., “abated;” literally, it sank down, through the intercession of Moses. The conduct of the people indicates the deep-felt human need of a mediator to shield the soul of the sinner from the divine wrath.

Verse 3

3. Taberah is simply a local designation of the spot in the end of the camp where the burning occurred. The entire camp took the name of Kibroth-hattaavah the graves of lust, caused by divine justice avenging the rebellion of Israel. Hence Taberah is not in the list of stations in Numbers 33:16, nor is there any mention of a removal from Taberah to Kibroth-hattaavah.

Verse 4

4. Mixed multitude The Hebrew is very expressive, it being a syllable intensively repeated, saph-sooph, the gathering of the gathered, much like our word riffraff, or ruffscuff. “With these two millions of Israelites also went up a mixed multitude of varied descent, drawn in the wake of God’s people by the signs and wonders so lately witnessed just as a mixed crowd still follows after every spiritual movement, a source of hinderance rather than of help to it, ever continuing strangers, and at most only fit to act as hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Edersheim. Tacitus, though egregiously caricaturing Jewish history in many particulars, employs a phrase peculiarly appropriate to this mongrel horde of hangers-on and camp-followers when he describes Israel as “populi colluvies undecumque collecta,” the dregs of people collected from everywhere. See Exodus 12:38, note. Many of this mixed multitude were related to Israel by intermarriage. Leviticus 24:10, note. There is nothing more damaging to the cause of Christ, and to the purity of his Church, than intimacy with men of mixed principles. This association is much more dangerous than it is with men of unmixed evil characters, whose open hostility puts the Christian on his guard.

Fell a lusting Hebrew, lusted a lust.

Wept again Literally, returned and wept. Similar complaining, respecting the absence of flesh, but without mention of tears, took place in the desert of Sin, Exodus 16:2-12. The Israelites, instead of feeling disgust at the animalism of the mob, began to imitate them. “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 it. This Egyptian rabble were the disordered sheep that infected the flock, the leaven that leavened the whole lump.” Henry.

Flesh to eat This is not the language of the starving, but of epicures. Their gross appetites were not satisfied with the wholesome food from heaven plentifully bestowed. The best Hebraists consider the flesh in this verse as the flesh of fish only, a much more savory food than any flesh diet which was likely to be within reach of the oppressed Israelites. Fish was, and is to this day, a staple article of food among the poor in Egypt.

Verse 5

5. The fish… freely Hebrew, for nothing. So abundant were the fish in the Nile that they were very cheap. Herodotus repeatedly speaks of the great use of fish as an article of food in Egypt. Not only man, but myriads of waterfowl, which swarm in Lower Egypt more than in any other country in the world, depend on fish, and yet the supply is as inexhaustible as ever. They were eaten either dried in the sun or salted.

The Egyptians are the first people mentioned in history as curing any kind of meat with salt.

Cucumbers These differ from the ordinary kind both in size, colour, softness, and sweetness of flavour. They are described by Forskal as “the most common of all the fruits in Egypt, being planted in whole fields.” Enormous quantities of them are eaten in the East. They are eaten with the rind on, without any condiment. They are the commonest and cheapest summer vegetable, and are never complained of as indigestible. “I remember seeing dinner served out to an Arab school in Jerusalem, which consisted of a thin barley-cake, and a raw cucumber to each boy.” Tristram.

Melons These are mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. In modern Egypt water-melons in immense numbers are sold so cheaply that the poor share their cooling properties. The very Hebrew name is retained slightly changed. “A traveller in the East who recollects the intense gratitude which the gift of a slice of melon inspired while journeying over the hot and dry plains, or one who remembers the consciousness of wealth and security which he derived from the possession of a melon while preparing for a day’s journey over the same plains he will readily comprehend the regret with which the Hebrews in the Arabian desert looked back upon the melons of Egypt.” “Nothing could be more regretted in the burning desert than these delicious melons, whose exuberant juice is so refreshing to the thirsty pilgrim.” W.M. Thomson.

Leeks The Hebrew word occurs twenty-two times, once rendered court, seventeen times grass, once herb, twice hay, and once leek. It is evident that leek, which is found only here, is a mistaken translation for grass. Hengstenberg and Kitto strongly contend for grass as the correct rendering. Says the latter, “Among the wonders of the natural history of Egypt, it is mentioned by travelers that the common people there eat with special relish a kind of grass similar to clover.” Mayer says of this plant, whose scientific name is Trigonella foenum Graecum, that its leaves are more pointed than clover, and that great quantities of it are eaten by the people. In Cairo it is a garden-plant called halbeh. In November it is sold in large bunches in the streets, and is eaten with incredible greediness without any kind of seasoning. The Targum of Onkelos for leeks has “cresses,” one species of which is the pepper-grass. But all the old versions and commentators insist that leeks is the proper translation. They were a favourite vegetable with the Egyptians indeed they were reverenced by them as sacred. Hence a Roman satirist ridicules the Egyptians for growing their gods in their gardens. Onions of a mild and pleasant taste flourish in Egypt better than elsewhere. According to Herodotus they were the ordinary food of the workmen at the pyramids. They are still almost the only food of the poor, eaten roasted, cut into four pieces, with some bits of meat. With this dish the Turks in Egypt are so delighted that they wish they may enjoy it in paradise. Garlic is the Allium sativum of Linnaeus, which abounds in Egypt, and is akin to the onion. Herodotus states that the allowance of this vegetable to the workman was inscribed on the great pyramid. Not one of all these refreshing vegetables could be found in the desert, and yet they are those after which there would be the most intense craving under the wilting heat of the desert. There was therefore some ground for the complaint of the people. But their culpability lay in their forgetfulness of the providential compensations: manna, emancipation from servitude, the written law of God, Jehovah visibly guiding them, and the inspiring hope of a home in Canaan. All the miseries of Egypt, the toil, the taskmaster, the contumely, and the degradation of bondage are forgotten in the discomforts of the present moment, and only the gross animal pleasures now come into mind. “Thus when once the heart loses its freshness in the divine life, and heavenly things begin to lose their savour, and first love declines, and Christ ceases to be a satisfying and altogether precious portion, and the Bible and communion with God lose their charm, and become dull and mechanical; then the eye wanders back to the world, the heart follows the eye, and the feet follow the heart. We forget, at such moments, what the world was to us when we were in it and of it.”

Verse 6

6. Our soul is dried away Our animal life faints for want of strong and refreshing food. Such a use of the term soul is still common in the East, where, hungry or thirsty, the people say, “Our soul is withered.”

Nothing at all, besides this manna The skilful reader will not fail, by correct intonation, to bring out the contempt here poured upon the bread of heaven, which prefigures our Lord Jesus according to his own words in John 6:32-33, and to St. Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 10:3. We know of nothing in the conduct of these Israelites that more strikingly exhibits their low moral character than this complaint. The animal appetites have completely subverted their intellectual and spiritual tastes, if they ever had any, and they here exhibit a disgusting sensuality. The carnal mind to-day treats the glorious Antitype with no more respect than these sensual Israelites treated the type. Sin is the same in all ages.

Verse 7

7. Manna See Exodus 16:14-15, and Joshua 5:12, notes. The coriander is found in Egypt, Persia, and India. It has a round, tall stalk, white or reddish flowers, and grayish, spicy seeds used by confectioners and druggists. It grows wild in Egypt and Palestine. Tristram found it in the valley of the Jordan. It is a spice to bread in the East, and an aroma to sweetmeats. Bdellium occurs only here and in Genesis 2:12. It is impossible to say whether it is a mineral, (beryl or crystal, as in the Septuagint,) animal, as pearl, for which some of the Jewish doctors contend, or vegetable, as an aromatic exudation.

Verse 8

8. Ground it in mills These probably differed but little from the Syrian mills of the present time. The mortar is still used by the Arabs to pound wheat for kibby, their national dish.

Pans R.V., “seethed it in pots.” The same Hebrew word is rendered pot in Judges 6:19, and 1 Samuel 2:14.

As the taste of fresh oil Olive oil. In Exodus 16:31, manna is said to have the taste of honey. Olive-oil and honey entered largely into the diet of the Hebrews in Canaan; they are also prominent articles of food to the Easterns at this day.

Verse 9

9. Dew seems to have been the medium of the miracle. See Exodus 16:14, note.

Verse 10

10. Every man This indicates the universality of the disaffection.

In the door of his tent Not secretly but publicly giving vent to his tears and complaints. The anger of the Lord was justly kindled in view of the ingratitude of the people for their deliverance from bondage, their forgetfulness of past mercies, their contempt for present blessings, and their distrust of the divine guidance. Faith never complains.

Moses also was displeased His very sympathy with Jehovah required this displeasure. Anger in the interest of God and justice, and not asthe expression of personal resentment, is not only innocent but is demanded. Plato says, that he who cannot be angry at an outrage upon innocence is like a man with a withered muscle.

Verses 10-15

THE COMPLAINT OF MOSES, Numbers 11:10-15.

The human infirmity of Moses, and his imperfection as a mediator, here strikingly appear. His faith, his repose of soul in the Almighty, is evidently shaken. He had not learned that God strengthens the back while he increases the burden, the lesson so well learned by St. Paul: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” The sensuality and insubordination of this company of serfs, just set free from the brickkilns of Egypt, greatly aggravated the burdens of Moses as the national executive, and justify his appeal to the Lord.

Verse 11

11. Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant In a moment of weak faith the most honoured person on earth honoured in bearing the largest part in the elevation of the race deems himself the subject of special afflictions. But this was only momentary and exceptional in the history of Moses. He usually “endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

Verse 12

12. Have I conceived all this people Moses does not throw off all care for the people, but he rather devolves on Jehovah that burden as the Creator and Father of Israel, (Exodus 4:22,) more in despair than in unbelief. For unbelief complains, but does not pray. The Holy Ghost has declared that “Moses was faithful in all his house.” Hebrews 3:2. He was, in the language of the New Testament, a perfect man, inasmuch as the bent of his will, the outgoing of his affections, the drift of his whole being was toward God; yet this verse unveils the infirmities which were still marring his character. The holiest man, in times of great distress, may momentarily lose heart through forgetfulness of the fact that God is a great burden-bearer, as Moses forgot that Israel was but a feather’s weight upon the divine shoulders. How honestly does Moses draw aside the veil which might have concealed his own weakness, and which an uninspired historian would have left undrawn!

Carry them in thy bosom Moses here seems to disclose some past charge given to him by the Lord. It is in striking consonance with the character of the great Shepherd of Israel: “He shall gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom.” Isaiah 40:11; John 10:11-14, notes.

As a nursing father Moses’s ideal of a ruler is here beautifully expressed: not a stern despot wielding a sceptre, but a kind and loving father bearing his infant babe in his arms. St. Paul, as a spiritual ruler of the Church of Christ, realized this ideal. 1 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:11. The Palestinian Targum, instead of “nursing father” has “pedagogue” child leader the term which describes the office of the law in Galatians 3:24.

Verse 13

13. Whence should I have flesh The eye of Moses had certainly fallen from God to himself. His faith had fallen from the supernatural to the natural. He had forgotten that this was God’s work, and that he might be trusted now and forever. Moses is not the only good man who has imagined that the crank of the universe is turned by his hand.

Verse 15

15. Kill me… out of hand That is, outright, by an instantaneous stroke. The oppressiveness of his official responsibility, and the depth of his despair in this temporary eclipse of faith, are here strikingly portrayed.

My wretchedness His apprehended future failure and disgrace. Faith alone spans the future with the bow of hope. Unbelief always forebodes evil. Some MSS. read, “their wretchedness.” Thus the Jerusalem Targum, which adds “who are thy people.” Though the spirit of this prayer is reprehensible, no rebuke is administered by the longsuffering Jehovah. He who knoweth our frame saw in the heart of his servant no wilful apostasy.

Verse 16

16. Whom thou knowest to be the elders Something in addition to mature age is evidently sought, namely, the qualities which properly belong to advancing years gravity, wisdom, and piety. Out of an existing class of elders the seventy were to be chosen by Moses. See Exodus 24:1.

Officers Hebrew, shoterim. These were not judges, (Deuteronomy 16:18,) but writers who kept the genealogical registers on which all hereditary succession and ancestral fame depended. Hence the office was fully as dignified as that of a judge. In subsequent times the Levites, the scholastic tribe, supplied most of these scribes. See Exodus 5:6-9, notes. These were brought unto the tabernacle, that they might be first separated from secular employments and then be filled with the Spirit.

After this public inauguration there could be no doubt among the people as to their authority. If this body of elders was designed to be a permanent council the Sanhedrim of the New Testament it is remarkable that no further mention is made of it in the Old Testament during the fifteen intervening centuries. Hence we conclude that this senate was designed only to afford temporary relief to Moses amid the extraordinary perplexities of the sojourn in the wilderness.

Verses 16-23


Though Jehovah might have said to Moses, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” he chose to give the sinking faith of his servant a visible prop in the election of a council of seventy to share his responsibility. When the Lord stations a man at a post of duty he fits him for it if he trust in him, and maintains him in it by raising up coadjutors.

Verse 17

17. I will come down Not figuratively, but by a literal descent in the pillar of cloud, as in Numbers 11:25. Chaldee, “I will manifest myself.” Targum of Palestine, “I will be revealed in the glory of my shekinah.” There is no record of the words of Jehovah to Moses on this occasion.

I will take of the spirit The Hebrew for take is an unusual word here, signifying to divide into portions. The elders were to share, but probably in a less degree, the charismata, or special gifts of wisdom and administration which Moses possessed. There was to be no diminution of the endowment of Moses. The Targum of Palestine says: “I will amplify the spirit of prophecy that is upon thee, and bestow it upon them.” Hence Origen and Theodoret take occasion to compare Moses to a lamp at which seventy others were lighted without diminishing its lustre. Dr. Adam Clarke, however, queries whether Moses did not lose a measure of his gifts at this time because he had undervalued them, in accordance with the great law that a spiritual gift unused or slighted declines.

Verse 18

18. Sanctify yourselves As a preparation for this extraordinary manifestation of the Holy One all physical and ceremonial defilement was to be put away from their clothes and persons. See Genesis 35:2; Exodus 19:10, notes.

For it was well with us in Egypt This declared superiority of condition beneath the crushing yoke of Pharaoh to their present elevation in the service of the Lord, indicates a depth of moral degradation and spiritual stupor which provokes his just anger.

Verse 19

19. Ye shall not eat one day As they did a year before. Exodus 16:12-13.

Verse 20

20. Until it come out at your nostrils We cannot agree with Bishop Patrick that this is a prediction of copious vomiting, but rather that so great a quantity would be eaten day after day that the digestive power would fail, and the stench of the foul stomach would pour forth through the nose.

Says the Targum of Palestine, “Until the smell of it come forth from your nostrils.”

Loathsome Offensive even to themselves. Because ye…

despised the Lord Complaining of providential allotments may include contempt of God. Great is the guilt of grumblers!

Which is among you The Chaldee elucidates the heinousness of the sin: “whose divine majesty dwells among you,” in the shekinah. Under Tiberius the offence of majestas (treason) was extended to all acts and words which might appear to be disrespectful to the emperor.

Verse 21

21. Six hundred thousand footmen This, in round numbers, is the census of men fit for military service. See Numbers 1:21-46, notes. Hence the entire population must have exceeded two millions. “In view of the demands of such an immense host the faith of Moses seems to have wavered. Either from the discomposure of his spirit by reason of the affronts of the people, or from a fear that they might be commanded to feed upon the cattle required for sacrifice, or from sheer incredulity, he is prompted to enquire how it can be possible that so many mouths should be fed with flesh for a whole month together.” Bush. Reason looks at natural causes alone. Faith brings God into the scene, and therefore knows absolutely nothing of difficulties; yea, she laughs at impossibilities.

Verse 22

22. All the fish of the sea See Numbers 11:5, note. The Mediterranean and the Red Sea were the only seas with which Israel was acquainted.

Verse 23

23. Is the Lord’s hand waxed short The hand is the instrument, and hence the symbol, of power. To say that a person’s hand is short is, in Hebrew conception, to say that he is impotent. Among the modern Arabs and Persians a long hand denotes strength, a short hand weakness. When the idea of omnipotence as available for human necessities in answer to prayer drops out of the mind, unbelief enters. Hence Jesus says to the blind men, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” The burden of Paul’s epistles and prayers is, that believers “may know the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe.” Ephesians 1:19. It is of the utmost importance to all Christians, especially to all preachers, to keep the almightiness of God ever before the soul. This entire verse is a rebuke to the littleness of Moses’s faith.

Verse 24


24. Moses… told the people In order to quiet their murmurings, not to secure a popular election of the seventy. Moses was the sole judge of their fitness. See Numbers 11:16, note.

Round about the tabernacle Why the elders were assembled around the tabernacle and not at the door, the usual place of important gatherings, is unknown. This unique place was in keeping with the unique purpose of the meeting.

Verse 25

25. In a cloud Literally, in the cloud. This visible symbol of Jehovah’s presence, which stood above the tabernacle, descended and encompassed it and the seventy elders, and thus was the vehicle of the Spirit to them as the breath of Jesus was to the disciples. John 20:22.

And spake unto him The communication is not recorded, perhaps because it was private.

They prophesied The word נבא , to bubble up, occurs here the first time in the Bible. Its most common use is of inspired human discourse. It is chiefly in the passive voice, implying that the prophet is not so much the speaker as the one through whom the divine afflatus, which possesses his faculties, speaks. Thus in the Greek we have the passive form of the verb μαντευεσθαι , to divine, like μαινεσθαι , to be mad, and in the Latin vaticinari, to foretell. Hence prophecy has been regarded by all these peoples as beyond the range of the human mind, and as the work of God subsidizing human organs. This extraordinary utterance may not be limited to the prediction of future events: it may be employed in rebuke, testimony, instruction, exhortation, or comforting, 1 Corinthians 14:3. The Holy Spirit always loosens the tongue. It is fitting that the gift of speech, the crowning faculty of man as distinguished from the brutes, should be monopolized by its Giver when he takes exclusive possession of the body and soul as his temple. See 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 19:20-23, notes; Acts 2:18; Acts 19:6. Under the Christian dispensation one in possession of the fulness of the Spirit naturally expresses himself in elevated language, or song. Ephesians 5:18-19. For the difference between the operations of the Spirit before the day of Pentecost and afterward, see Numbers 27:18, note.

And did not cease The Septuagint literally and correctly translates this by και ουκ ετι προσεθεντο , and they did not add, (to prophecy.) They prophesied one day and ceased. Thus the R.V. This was sufficient to impress the people with their divine vocation to an office in which administration and not prophecy was the great function. The Targums, the Vulgate, and the Chaldee all read, they ceased not. This is explained by stone as a perpetual prophetic endowment, and by Patrick and others as covering only the time in which the elders surrounded the tabernacle.

Verse 26

26. But there remained two For reasons satisfactory to the Lord, perhaps from excessive reserve and self-distrust, certainly not from obstinacy, Eldad and Medad did not go to the tabernacle, though they were of them that were written in the roll of the elect seventy. But the Spirit found them out and endowed them. The fire shut up in their bones finds a vent through their lips.

Went not out unto the tabernacle This is by no means a proof that the tabernacle was at this time outside of the camp. “If a gentleman goes out of his yard into his house, it does not follow that his house is not in the yard. The camp, considered as the abode of the people, had its limits within as well as without. An open space, such as reverence required, separated the tents of the people from the tent of God; and this must be traversed in passing from one to the other. It was just as natural to distinguish the camp from the sacred enclosure of the tabernacle as it is for a person in New York city to speak of driving out to Central Park, which is nevertheless within the city limits.” Dr. W.H. Green. There was, for a short time, at the foot of Mount Sinai, a tabernacle without the camp. See Exodus 33:7-11. This was because the sin of the golden calf ruptured the covenant and put an end to all proceedings under it. Without going on to construct the tabernacle according to the specifications given him, Moses sets before the eyes of the people a visible sign of their altered relation to Jehovah by pitching a provisional tabernacle some distance outside the camp, signifying that he would not dwell in the midst of them. But when THE TABERNACLE was built out of the gifts of Israel it was located in the midst of the camp. How wide of the truth is the assertion of Professor W.R. Smith, that Ezekiel paved the way for the sanctuary being located in the midst of the people!

They prophesied in the camp This was deemed an irregularity and an infraction of good order. The unity of the Church in the wilderness was in danger of destruction by this independent centre of prophetic inspiration and authority separate from Moses and the tabernacle.

Verse 28

28. Joshua See Exodus 17:9, and the Introduction to the Book of Joshua, page 7.

My lord This title of respect is applied to Moses by Aaron in Numbers 12:11, and by the people in Numbers 32:25.

Forbid them This is the beginning of religious intolerance for nonconformity in worship.

Verse 29

29. Enviest thou for my sake Do you think this act is derogatory to my dignity, and disrespectful to my office as the human head of Israel?

All… were prophets This strongly expressed wish evinces the unselfishness of Moses, his freedom from unholy ambition, and his desire for the spiritual well-being of all the people.

Put his Spirit upon them This may be regarded as prophetic of the dispensation more distinctly announced by Joel, (Joel 2:28,) proclaimed by John the Baptist as at hand, (Matthew 3:11,) promised by Jesus Christ, (John 14:16,) and ushered in by the coming of the Comforter on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:0. All who enjoy the fulness of the Spirit most earnestly desire the universal diffusion of this unspeakable gift “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Compare John 4:14; John 7:37-39; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 5:18. This desire of Moses, in view of the spiritual desolation of the world, even in Israel, is only an anticipatory outbreaking of the prayer for more labourers which Jesus taught his disciples. Matthew 9:37-38, notes.

Verses 31-32

31, 32. A wind from the Lord All winds are produced by the power of Jehovah, (Psalms 135:7,) since neither the laws of nature nor the qualities of matter produce motion. The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras taught that all force emanates from νους , mind, a power distinct from nature, and presiding over it. This is the best Christian philosophy. The wind was either a southwest wind, from the region of the upper Nile, or a southeast one, from the Arabian Gulf.

Brought quails Some have contended that the salvim were not quails but locusts; but modern Hebraists reject this interpretation, and insist that the common quail is the bird. This is corroborated by the striking similarity of the modern Arabic salwa, quail, to the Hebrew, selav. See Exodus 16:13, note. The theory that they were wild fowls about three feet high, such as wild geese or storks, or Stanley’s “large red-legged cranes,” is a gratuitous assumption without the least scriptural foundation.

A day’s journey On both sides of the camp, for the space of eight or ten miles, the ground was thickly strewn with exhausted quails, none of them able to fly more than two cubits from the ground. “It is a not uncommon occurrence, that, when wearied, these birds droop and settle down for rest, so as to be easily clubbed with sticks, and even caught by the hand. The miraculous provision chiefly lay in the extraordinary number, the seasonable arrival, and the peculiar circumstances under which those quails came.” Edersheim. See Concluding Notes.

Ten homers About fifty-five bushels, according to Josephus, or half this quantity, according to the rabbins. This was the accumulation of the least industrious person. “By this enormous quantity, which so immensely surpassed the natural size of the flocks of quails, God purposed to show the people his power to give them flesh not for a day or several days, but for a whole month, both to put to shame their unbelief, and to punish their greediness.” Keil.

They spread them all abroad For the purpose of drying them in the sun. Our earliest history of Egypt describes the people as salting and drying great quantities of fish and fowl. Calmet thinks that the Hebrews salted their quails, and then dried them, in imitation of the Egyptians.

Verses 31-34


The remarkable promise of God that all Israel should surfeit upon flesh, a promise at which even Moses had staggered, is now to be fulfilled.

Verse 33

33. While the flesh… teeth Before the flesh was chewed and swallowed, the wrath of Jehovah burned against the people, not as Knobel supposes, as the effect of the excessive quantity of quails eaten, producing giddiness and convulsions, but as a manifest judgment direct from God, by which a great multitude were suddenly swept away.

The wrath of the Lord was kindled This phrase is no sign of a lower conception of God than the Lord Jesus gives. Wrath is an integral part of love, when the lover is perfectly holy and the loved are unholy. The most terrible anger is that of perfect meekness, as expressed in that solemn paradox of the apostle of love, “the wrath of the Lamb.” God was angry with Israel because he loved them, and desired their love for their own good. The fact of his choice of Israel for his own, and the intensity of his love, were shown no less by his anger at their sin than by the blessings which crowned obedience.

Great plague The Hebrew for plague signifies a stroke. It does not here indicate any particular disease, but a sudden and widespread destruction of human life.

Verse 34

34. Kibroth-hattaavah This word, signifying the graves of lust, is to the dead murmurers an epitaph, and to the living a warning against yielding to the clamours of unbridled appetite. If Huderah is ancient Hazeroth, “the graves of lust” may be a day’s journey thence in the direction of Sinai, and would lie within fifteen miles of the Gulf of Akabah. Here at Erweis el Ebeirig, a piece of elevated ground which forms a watershed, E.H. Palmer recently found the remains of a large encampment miles in extent, such as stone hearths and bits of charcoal found beneath the surface of the ground. “Just outside of the camp were an immense number of stone heaps, which, from their shape and position could be nothing else but graves.” These Professor Palmer identifies with the scene of this dreadful pestilence.

Verse 35

35. Hazeroth This is identified with modern Ain Huderah by Robinson, Stanley, and Palmer. It is a plain begirt by tall cliffs of sandstone. “Here and there a hill or dyke of green stone, or a rock of rosy granite, contrasts or blends harmoniously with the rest; and in the midst, beneath a lofty cliff, nestles the dark-green palm-grove of Hazeroth such a landscape as none but the Great Artist’s hand could have designed.” Palmer’s Desert of the Exodus. “The region through which the Israelites had hitherto marched was a wide tangle of mountains, with occasional broad plains and numerous narrow wadies, twisting hither and thither. The approach to Hazeroth, however, had been over sandy plains broken by outstanding sandstone cliffs, but the camp itself had been pitched on the sides and in the basin of a hollow, surrounded by weird and fantastic sandstone walls of the most varied colours deep red and violet, and rich gold and scarlet, mingled with deep purple.” Geikie.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 11". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.