Numbers 11:1
And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.
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(1) And when the people complained . . . —Better, And the people were as those who complained (or murmured), (which was) evil in the ears of the Lord. The LXX. has, “And the people murmured sinfully before the Lord.” Comp. 1Corinthians 10:10 : “Neither murmur ye as some of them also murmured.”

And consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.-Better, and devoured at the extremity of the camp. Most commentators have remarked, and justly, upon the great severity of the Divine judgments which were inflicted after the giving of the Law, as compared with those which were inflicted before it. Reference may be made in illustration of this point to Exodus 14:11-14; Exodus 15:24-25; Exodus 16:2-8; Exodus 17:3-7. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews argues from the just recompense of reward which every transgression and disobedience received under the Law, the impossibility of the escape of those who neglect the great salvation of the Gospel. See Hebrews 2:2-3. Comp. also Hebrews 10:28-29; Hebrews 12:25.

Numbers 11:1. The people complained — Hebrew, as it were, complained; that is, they began to mutter some complaints, and for a while, it seems, kept their discontent from coming to Moses’s ear. The chief cause of their murmuring is represented (Numbers 11:5) to be their growing weary of the manna, upon which they had now lived for a year. But, besides this, it is probable that their last three days’ journey in that vast howling wilderness, the remembrance of their long abode in it, and the fear of many more tedious journeys, and much delay before they should arrive at the land of milk and honey, which they longed for, had greatly contributed to their dissatisfaction. It displeased the Lord — Though their discontent did not at first break forth into open murmurings against Moses, yet God saw the mutinous and rebellious disposition of their minds, and testified his displeasure on account of it. The fire of the Lord — A fire sent from God in an extraordinary manner, perhaps from the pillar of cloud and fire, or lightning from heaven, which is called the fire of God, 2 Kings 1:12; Job 1:16. Le Clerc thinks it might be one of those fiery blasting winds which are incident to those countries, See Ezekiel 17:10; Ezekiel 19:12. It was, however, sent in a supernatural and miraculous way. The uttermost part of the camp — Either because the sin began there among the mixed multitude, or in mercy to the people, whom he would rather awaken to repentance than destroy; and therefore he sent it into the skirts, and not the midst of the camp.11:1-3 Here is the people's sin; they complained. See the sinfulness of sin, which takes occasion from the commandment to be provoking. The weakness of the law discovered sin, but could not destroy it; checked, but could not conquer it. They complained. Those who are of a discontented spirit, will always find something to quarrel or fret about, though the circumstances of their outward condition be ever so favourable. The Lord heard it, though Moses did not. God knows the secret frettings and murmurings of the heart, though concealed from men. What he noticed, he was much displeased with, and he chastised them for this sin. The fire of their wrath against God burned in their minds; justly did the fire of God's wrath fasten on their bodies; but God's judgments came on them gradually, that they might take warning. It appeared that God delights not in punishing; when he begins, he is soon prevailed with to let it fall.See the marginal rendering. They murmured against the privations of the march.

The fire of the Lord - Probably lightning; compare Psalm 78:21.

In the uttermost parts - Rather, in the end. The fire did not reach far into the camp. It was quickly quenched at the intercession of Moses.


Nu 11:1-35. Manna Loathed.

1. When the people complained it displeased the Lord, &c.—Unaccustomed to the fatigues of travel and wandering into the depths of a desert, less mountainous but far more gloomy and desolate than that of Sinai, without any near prospect of the rich country that had been promised, they fell into a state of vehement discontent, which was vented at these irksome and fruitless journeyings. The displeasure of God was manifested against the ungrateful complainers by fire sent in an extraordinary manner. It is worthy of notice, however, that the discontent seems to have been confined to the extremities of the camp, where, in all likelihood, "the mixed multitude" [see on [71]Ex 12:38] had their station. At the intercession of Moses, the appalling judgment ceased [Nu 11:2], and the name given to the place, "Taberah" (a burning), remained ever after a monument of national sin and punishment. (See on [72]Nu 11:34).The murmuring of the people, for which the fire breaketh in upon them, Numbers 11:1. Moses prayeth to God; the fire is quenched, Numbers 11:2. The name of the place, and why called, Numbers 11:3. The people murmur again, and lust after flesh, Numbers 11:4-6. Manna described, Numbers 11:7-9. Moses’s complaint and prayer, Numbers 11:10-15. God commandeth him to gather seventy of the elders of Israel to help him, Numbers 11:16,17; promising them flesh to eat, Numbers 11:18-20. Moses’ unbelief, Numbers 11:21,22. God is angry with him, Numbers 11:23. Moses having gathered seventy of the elders of Israel together, rehearseth the words of the Lord to them, Numbers 11:24. God coming down in a cloud, taketh of Moses’s spirit and giveth to the seventy; the effects thereof, Numbers 11:25. Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp, Numbers 11:26-29. God giveth them quails to eat, Numbers 11:30-32; and smiteth the people with a very great plague, Numbers 11:33,34.

Complained, or, murmured; the occasion whereof seems to be their last three days’ journey in a vast howling wilderness, without any benefit; and thereupon the remembrance of their long abode in the wilderness, and the prospect and fear of many other tedious, and fruitless, and dangerous journeys, whereby they were like to be long delayed from coming to that rest, that land of milk and honey, which God had promised them, and which they thirsted after.

The fire of the Lord, i.e. a fire sent from God in an extraordinary manner, possibly from the pillar of cloud and fire, or from heaven, as 2 Kings 1:12.

In the uttermost parts of the camp; either because the sin began there among the mixt multitude, who probably had their place there; or amongst those who were feeble and weary with their last journey, and therefore hindmost in the march; or in mercy to the people, whom he would rather awaken to repentance than utterly destroy, and therefore he sent it into the skirts, and not the heart and midst of the camp.

And when the people complained,.... Or "were as complainers" (p); not merely like to such, but were truly and really complainers, the "caph", here being not a note of similitude, but of truth and reality, as in Hosea 5:10. This Hebraism is frequent in the New Testament, Matthew 14:5. What they complained of is not said, it being that for which there was no foundation; it is generally supposed to be of their journey; but if they were come but eight miles, as observed on Numbers 10:33; they could not be very weary; and especially as they were marching towards the land of Canaan, it might be thought they would be fond and eager of their journey. Some think it was for want of flesh, being weary of manna, and that this was only the beginning of their complaints on that head, which opened more afterwards; but if that is the case, one would think that the fire, which consumed many of them, would have put a stop to that. Jarchi says, the word signifies taking an occasion, and that the sense is, that these men sought an occasion how to separate from the Lord; they wanted to return to Egypt again, that was what they were meditating and contriving; so the Targum of Jonathan,"and the ungodly of the people were in distress, and intended and meditated evil before the Lord:"

it displeased the Lord: a murmuring complaining spirit is always displeasing to him, when a thankful heart for mercies received is an acceptable sacrifice; murmurers and complainers God will judge at the great day, Jde 1:14,

and the Lord heard it: though it was an inward secret complaint, or an evil scheme formed in their minds; at most but a muttering, and what Moses had not heard, or had any knowledge of; but God, that knows the secrets of all hearts, and every word in the tongue before it is well formed or pronounced, he heard what they complained of, and what they whispered and muttered to one another about:

and his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burnt among them; from the pillar of fire, or from heaven, such as destroyed Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10:1; the two hundred fifty men that had censers in Korah's company, Numbers 16:35; and the captains of fifties that came to take Elijah, 2 Kings 1:14; and might be lightning from heaven, or a burning wind sent by the Lord, such as is frequent in the eastern countries. Thevenot (q) speaks of one in 1658, which destroyed at once twenty thousand men:

and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp; who very likely were the principal aggressors; or it began to arouse and terrify the body of the people, and bring them to repentance, who might fear it would proceed and go through the whole camp, the hinder part or rearward of which was the camp of Dan; and so the Targum of Jonathan.

(p) "ut conquerentes injuste", Montanus, Fagius, Vatablus; "ut qui vaba moliuntur", Drusius. (q) Travels, par. 1. l. 2. c. 34.

And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.
1. as murmurers, speaking evil] as those who murmur at misfortune. The murmurings and rebellions of the people, whom Moses controlled with his wonderful power of leadership and personal influence, are related in Exodus 14:11 f., Numbers 15:24, Numbers 16:2 f., Numbers 17:3, Numbers 32:1-4, Numbers 11:1-6; Numbers 12:1-2; Numbers 14:2 f., 16, Numbers 20:2-5, Numbers 21:4 f. They are referred to in Deuteronomy 1:27, Psalm 78:17-20; Psalm 78:40-42; Psalm 95:8-11; Psalm 106:25, 1 Corinthians 10:10, Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:3.

the fire of Jehovah] It is possible that the tradition of divine fire arose, in the first instance, from a catastrophe caused by destructive lightning. But by the time of the writer, who lived some three centuries or more after the event, a miraculous visitation of a much more terrible nature was thought of. Cf. Exodus 19:18, 1 Kings 18:38, 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12.

1–3. Taberah. This narrative should perhaps be ascribed to E . No mention is made of the reason for the murmuring of the people. But it is possible that they murmured because they were tired of the manna and wanted flesh. If so, this may have been E’s account, parallel to that of J in the verses which follow. In P’s itinerary (Numbers 33:16) Taberah is not included; Kibroth-hattaavah is given as the first stopping place after Sinai. D, who had both the narratives J and E before him, mentions both Taberah and Kibroth-hattaavah (in conjunction with Massah) in Deuteronomy 9:22.Verse 1. - And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord. There is no "when" in the original. It is literally, "And the people were as complainers evil in the ears of the Lord." This may be paraphrased as in the A.V.; or it may be rendered as in the Septuagint, ῆν ὁ λαὸς γογγύζων πονηρὰ ἔυαντι κυρίου (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:10), where πονηρά means the wicked things they uttered in their discontent; or the "evil" may mean the hardships they complained cf. The Targums understand it in the same way as the Septuagint, and this seems to agree best with the context. As to the time and place of this complaining, the narrative seems to limit it within the three days' march from the wilderness of Sinai; but it is not possible to fix it more precisely. It is sufficient that the very first incident in the great journey thought worthy of record was this sin and its punishment, and the natural conclusion is that it came to pass very shortly after the departure. As to the reason of the complaining, although it is not stated, and although there does not seem to have been any special cause of distress, we can hardly be mistaken about it. The fatigue and anxiety of the march, after a year's comparative idleness, the frightful nature of the country into which they were marching, and the unknown terrors of the way which lay before them, these were quite enough to shake their nerves and upset their minds. Such things could only be borne and faced in a spirit of faith and trustful dependence upon God and their appointed leaders, and that spirit they knew nothing cf. Slavery, even when its outward pressure is past and gone like a bad dream, leaves behind it above all things an incurable suspicion of, and a rooted disbelief in, others, which shows itself outwardly by blank ingratitude and persistent complaint of bad treatment. This is the well-known mental attitude of liberated slaves even towards their benefactors and liberators; and in the case of Israel this temper extended to the King of Israel himself, whom they held responsible for all the privations and terrors of an apparently needless journey through a hideous waste. The Targum of Palestine says here, "There were wicked men of the people who, being discontent, devised and imagined evil before the Lord." The complaining, however, seems to have been general throughout the host, as the Psalmist more truly acknowledges (Psalm 78:17-22). And the fire of the Lord burnt among them. The "fire of the Lord" may mean one of three things.

1. Lightning, as apparently in Job 1:16; for lightning to the unscientific is the fiery bolt, even as thunder is the angry voice, of God (cf. 1 Samuel 12:18, 19).

2. A miraculous outburst of flame from the Presence in the tabernacle, such as slew Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:2), and afterwards the 250 men who offered incense (chapter 16:35).

3. A miraculous descent of fire from heaven, as apparently in 2 Kings 1:10-12 (cf. Revelation 13:13). Of these the second seems to be excluded by the fact that the conflagration was in the outskirts of the camp furthest removed from the tabernacle. If we suppose the fire to have been natural, we may further suppose that it set alight to the dry bushes and shrubs which abound in parts of the desert, and which blaze with great fury when the flame is driven by the wind. It is, however, at least as likely that a wholly supernatural visitation of God is here intended. What is most important to notice is this, that the punishment in this case followed hard and sore upon the sin, whereas before they came to Sinai the Lord had passed over similar murmurings without any chastisement (Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2). The reason of this difference was twofold. In the first place, they had now had abundant opportunity to become acquainted with the power and goodness of the Lord, and had solemnly entered into covenant with him, and he had taken up his abode among them; wherefore their responsibilities grew with their privileges, their dangers kept pace with their advantages. In the second place, they had while at Sinai committed an act of national apostasy (Exodus 32), the punishment of which, although suspended (verse 14), was only suspended (verse 34), and was always capable of being revived; Israel was plainly warned that he was under sentence, and that any disobedience would awake the terrors of the Lord against him. And consumed... in the uttermost parts of the camp. Probably setting fire to the outer line of tents, or some pitched outside the line, and consuming the people that were in them. The Targum of Palestine affirms that it "destroyed some of the wicked in the outskirts of the house of Dan, with whom was a graven image;" but this attempt to shift the responsibility, and to alter the character of the sin, is clearly worthless, and only suggested by occurrences wholly unconnected with the present (see Judges 18). The conversation in which Moses persuaded Hobab the Midianite, the son of Reguel (see at Exodus 2:16), and his brother-in-law, to go with the Israelites, and being well acquainted with the desert to act as their leader, preceded the departure in order of time; but it is placed between the setting out and the march itself, as being subordinate to the main events. When and why Hobab came into the camp of the Israelites-whether he came with his father Reguel (or Jethro) when Israel first arrived at Horeb, and so remained behind when Jethro left (Exodus 18:27), or whether he did not come till afterwards-was left uncertain, because it was a matter of no consequence in relation to what is narrated here.

(Note: The grounds upon which Knobel affirms that the "Elohist" is not the author of the account in Numbers 10:29-36, and pronounces it a Jehovistic interpolation, are perfectly futile. The assertion that the Elohist had already given a full description of the departure in vv. 11-28, rests upon an oversight of the peculiarities of the Semitic historians. The expression "they set forward" in Numbers 10:28 is an anticipatory remark, as Knobel himself admits in other places (e.g., Genesis 7:12; Genesis 8:3; Exodus 7:6; Exodus 12:50; Exodus 16:34). The other argument, that Moses' brother-in-law is not mentioned anywhere else, involves a petitio principii, and is just as powerless a proof, as such peculiarities of style as "mount of the Lord," "ark of the covenant of the Lord," היטיב to do good (Numbers 10:29), and others of a similar kind, of which the critics have not even attempted to prove that they are at variance with the style of the Elohist, to say nothing of their having actually done so.)

The request addressed to Hobab, that he would go with them to the place which Jehovah had promised to give them, i.e., to Canaan, was supported by the promise that he would do good to them (Hobab and his company), as Jehovah had spoken good concerning Israel, i.e., had promised it prosperity in Canaan. And when Hobab declined the request, and said that he should return into his own land, i.e., to Midian at the south-east of Sinai (see at Exodus 2:15 and Exodus 3:1), and to his kindred, Moses repeated the request, "Leave us not, forasmuch as thou knowest our encamping in the desert," i.e., knowest where we can pitch our tents; "therefore be to us as eyes," i.e., be our leader and guide, - and promised at the same time to do him the good that Jehovah would do to them. Although Jehovah led the march of the Israelites in the pillar of cloud, not only giving the sign for them to break up and to encamp, but showing generally the direction they were to take; yet Hobab, who was well acquainted with the desert, would be able to render very important service to the Israelites, if he only pointed out, in those places where the sign to encamp was given by the cloud, the springs, oases, and plots of pasture which are often buried quite out of sight in the mountains and valleys that overspread the desert. What Hobab ultimately decided to do, we are not told; but "as no further refusal is mentioned, and the departure of Israel is related immediately afterwards, he probably consented" (Knobel). This is raised to a certainty by the fact that, at the commencement of the period of the Judges, the sons of the brother-in-law of Moses went into the desert of Judah to the south of Arad along with the sons of Judah (Judges 1:16), and therefore had entered Canaan with the Israelites, and that they were still living in that neighbourhood in the time of Saul (1 Samuel 15:6; 1 Samuel 27:10; 1 Samuel 30:29).

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