Exodus 16:3
And the children of Israel said to them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) Would to God we had died.—Heb., Would that we had died. There is no mention of “God.”

By the hand of the Lord.—There is, perhaps, an allusion to the last of the plagues, “Would that we had not been spared, but had been smitten, as the Egyptians were! A sudden death would have been far better than a long and lingering one.” (Comp, Lamentations 4:9.)

When we did eat bread to the full.—The Israelites had been well fed in Egypt. They had been nourished upon flesh, fish, bread, and abundant vegetables, especially cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlick (Numbers 11:5). It was the habit of the Egyptians to feed well those whom they employed in forced labours (Herod. ii. 125), just as slave-owners commonly do their slaves. The remembrance of the past abundance intensified the pain felt at the present want.

To kill this whole assembly with hunger.—It is difficult to imagine that there could have been as yet any real danger of starvation. The cattle may have suffered considerably in the passage through the wilderness of Shur, but the bulk of it survived (Exodus 17:3), and there were lambs enough for the whole nation to observe a Passover a few months later at Sinai (Numbers 9:1-5). But it may well be that a considerable number of the Israelites had had no cattle; others may have lost what they had, or have consumed them. Want may have stared some in the face, and the nation generally may have come to see that the prospect before them was a dismal one. Even supposing that the desert was anciently four or five times as productive as it is now, it could not possibly have afforded sufficient pasturage to maintain such flocks and herds as would have been requisite to support on their milk and flesh a population of two millions. It may have been brought home to the people that their flocks and herds were rapidly diminishing, and they may have realised the danger that impended of ultimate starvation after the cattle was all gone.

Exodus 16:3. Would to God we had died — They so undervalue their deliverance, that they wish they had died in Egypt; nay, and died by the hand of the Lord too. That is, by some of the plagues which cut off the Egyptians; as if it were not the hand of the Lord, but of Moses only, that brought them into this wilderness! It is common for people to say of that pain or sickness of which they see not the second causes, It is what pleaseth God, as if that were not so likewise which comes by the hand of man, or some visible accident. We cannot suppose they had any great plenty in Egypt, how largely soever they now talk of the flesh-pots, nor could they fear dying for want in the wilderness while they had their flocks and herds with them; but discontent magnifies what is past, and vilifies what is present, without regard to truth or reason. None talk more absurdly than murmurers.16:1-12 The provisions of Israel, brought from Egypt, were spent by the middle of the second month, and they murmured. It is no new thing for the greatest kindness to be basely represented as the greatest injuries. They so far undervalue their deliverance, that they wished they had died in Egypt; and by the hand of the Lord, that is, by the plagues which cut off the Egyptians. We cannot suppose they had plenty in Egypt, nor could they fear dying for want in the wilderness, while they had flocks and herds: none talk more absurdly than murmurers. When we begin to fret, we ought to consider, that God hears all our murmurings. God promises a speedy and constant supply. He tried whether they would trust him, and rest satisfied with the bread of the day in its day. Thus he tried if they would serve him, and it appeared how ungrateful they were. When God plagued the Egyptians, it was to make them know he was their Lord; when he provided for the Israelites, it was to make them know he was their God.By the hand of the Lord - This evidently refers to the plagues, especially the last, in Egypt: the death which befell the Egyptians appeared to the people preferable to the sufferings of famine.

Flesh pots, and ... bread - These expressions prove that the servile labors to which they had been subjected did not involve privations: they were fed abundantly, either by the officials of Pharaoh, or more probably by the produce of their own fertile district.

3. Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt—How unreasonable and absurd the charge against Moses and Aaron! how ungrateful and impious against God! After all their experience of the divine wisdom, goodness, and power, we pause and wonder over the sacred narrative of their hardness and unbelief. But the expression of feeling is contagious in so vast a multitude, and there is a feeling of solitude and despondency in the desert which numbers cannot dispel; and besides, we must remember that they were men engrossed with the present—that the Comforter was not then given—and that they were destitute of all visible means of sustenance and cut off from every visible comfort, with only the promises of an unseen God to look to as the ground of their hope. And though we may lament they should tempt God in the wilderness and freely admit their sin in so doing, we can be at no loss for a reason why those who had all their lives been accustomed to walk by sight should, in circumstances of unparalleled difficulty and perplexity, find it hard to walk by faith. Do not even we find it difficult to walk by faith through the wilderness of this world, though in the light of a clearer revelation, and under a nobler leader than Moses? [Fisk]. (See 1Co 10:11, 12). By the hand of the Lord; by any of those plagues wherewith God destroyed the Egyptians.

When we did eat bread to the full; which is not probable; but they amplify their former mercies, that they might aggravate their present calamity, as the manner of impatient and ungodly men is.

Quest. What danger was there of dying with hunger, seeing they had their flocks and herds which they brought out of Egypt?

Answ. 1. There was no great danger of it, but they use aggravating expressions, as discontented persons use to do.

2. Their flocks and herds were not so numerous as to suffice them for above a month’s provision, if they had all been slain and eaten, as it is implied Numbers 11:21,22. So there was some danger of it, though neither immediate nor great.

3. They were it seems resolved to spare these, partly for increase, and for their future subsistence; and partly for sacrifice, as not knowing how many of them they should be required to offer. See Exodus 10:26. And the children of Israel said unto them,.... They not only inwardly murmured, and privately complained among themselves, but they spoke out their complaints, and that in a very extravagant manner:

would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt; by one of the plagues, or some such like plague as were inflicted on the Egyptians, which killed many of them, and particularly the hailstorm and plague on the firstborn; suggesting that death, even by the hand of the Lord, whether in an ordinary or extraordinary way, was more eligible than their present circumstances: when we sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat bread to the full; which is an exaggeration of their former circumstances, and the happiness of them, in order to aggravate the misery of their present ones; for it can hardly be thought strictly true, that while they were in hard bondage in Egypt, they had often flesh in their pots, and leisure time to sit and attend them, either the boiling of it in them, or the eating of it when served up in dishes at the table; which they seem to boast of, as if they had several dishes of meat at table, and sat in great splendour, and took a great deal of time to regale themselves, and when they indulged themselves to satiety, having fulness of bread and all provisions:

for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger: but there was no danger of that at present, since they had so many flocks and herds with them; though indeed so large a number would soon have ate them up, and which could not so comfortably be fed upon without bread; and, besides, these they did not choose to slay, unless under great necessity, which they reserved for sacrifice, and for an increase.

And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh {b} pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

(b) It is a hard thing for the flesh not to complain against God when the stomach is empty.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. Would that, &c.] Cf. the similar wish, and similar complaint, in Numbers 20:3-5; also ch. Exodus 14:11-12.

by the flesh pots, &c.] Cf. the picture in Numbers 11:5.

4, 5 (J). Jehovah promises that He will give the people bread from heaven. The promise here, it is to be noted, relates only to the ‘bread’ (i.e. the manna); the ‘flesh between the two evenings’ (i.e. the quails) is promised only in P (v. 12).Verse 3. - Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt - i.e., "Would that God had smitten us with a painless death, as he did the first-born of the Egyptians! Then we should have avoided the painful and lingering death from starvation which we now see before us." The cry puts on the garb of piety, and names the name of Jehovah, but indicates a want of faith in him, his power, and his promises (Exodus 4:8, 17; Exodus 6:8; Exodus 12:25; Exodus 13:5, 11), which was sinful, and, after the miracles that they had seen, barely excusable. When we sat by the flesh-pots of Egypt. Compare Numbers 11:5. Both passages make it clear that, whatever the sufferings of the Israelites in Egypt from the cruelty of the taskmasters and the hard tasks set them, at any rate their sustenance was well cared for - they had abundance of agreeable food. Did eat bread. It has been said that "bread" here means "food in general" (Kalisch); and no doubt the word has sometimes that sense. But it was probably actual bread, rather than anything else, for which the Israelites were longing. See the Introduction to the chapter.

CHAPTER 16:4-8 Exodus 15:22-24

Leaving the Red Sea, they went into the desert of Shur. This name is given to the tract of desert which separates Egypt from Palestine, and also from the more elevated parts of the desert of Arabia, and stretches from the Mediterranean to the head of the Arabian Gulf or Red Sea, and thence along the eastern shore of the sea to the neighbourhood of the Wady Gharandel. In Numbers 33:8 it is called the desert of Etham, from the town of Etham, which stood upon the border (see Exodus 13:20). The spot where the Israelites encamped after crossing the sea, and sang praises to the Lord for their gracious deliverance, is supposed to have been the present Ayun Musa (the springs of Moses), the only green spot in the northern part of this desolate tract of desert, where water could be obtained. At the present time there are several springs there, which yield a dark, brackish, though drinkable water, and a few stunted palms; and even till a very recent date country houses have been built and gardens laid out there by the richer inhabitants of Suez. From this point the Israelites went three days without finding water, till they came to Marah, where there was water, but so bitter that they could not drink it. The first spot on the road from Ayun Musa to Sinai where water can be found, is in the well of Howra, 33 English miles from the former. It is now a basin of 6 or 8 feet in diameter, with two feet of water in it, but so disagreeably bitter and salt, that the Bedouins consider it the worst water in the whole neighbourhood (Robinson, i. 96). The distance from Ayun Musa and the quality of the water both favour the identity of Howra and Marah. A whole people, travelling with children, cattle, and baggage, could not accomplish the distance in less than three days, and there is no other water on the road from Ayum Musa to Howra. Hence, from the time of Burckhardt, who was the first to rediscover the well, Howra has been regarded as the Marah of the Israelites. In the Wady Amara, a barren valley two hours to the north of Howra, where Ewald looked for it, there is not water to be found; and in the Wady Gharandel, two hours to the south, to which Lepsius assigned it, the quality of the water does not agree with our account.

(Note: The small quantity of water at Howra, "which is hardly sufficient for a few hundred men, to say nothing of so large an army as the Israelites formed" (Seetzen), is no proof that Howra and Marah are not identical. For the spring, which is now sanded up, may have flowed more copiously at one time, when it was kept in better order. Its present neglected state is the cause of the scarcity.)

It is true that no trace of the name has been preserved; but it seems to have been given to the place by the Israelites simply on account of the bitterness of the water. This furnished the people with an inducement to murmur against Moses (Exodus 15:24). They had probably taken a supply of water from Ayum Musa for the three days' march into the desert. But this store was now exhausted; and, as Luther says, "when the supply fails, our faith is soon gone." Thus even Israel forgot the many proofs of the grace of God, which it had received already.

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