Numbers 11:31
And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high on the face of the earth.
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(31) And there went forth a wind.—In Psalm 78:26 we read thus: “He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.” A south-east wind would bring the quails from the neighbourhood of the Red Sea, where they abound.

And let them fall.—Better, and scattered them (or, spread them out). Comp. 1Samuel 30:16 : “They were spread abroad upon all the earth,” or, over all the ground.

Round about.—See Note on Numbers 11:24.

As it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.—Or, about two cubits over (or, above) the ground. Had the quails lain upon the earth in a heap for any considerable time, life could only have been preserved by miraculous interference with the ordinary laws of nature, and the Israelites were not allowed to eat of that which had died of itself. Quails commonly fly low, and when wearied with a long flight might fly only about breast-high. On the other hand, the more obvious interpretation of the words is that the quails were spread over the ground, and covered it in some places to the height of two cubits. They were probably taken and killed immediately on their descent, as the following verse seems to indicate, and then spread out and dried and hardened in the sun. Some think that the word which is here rendered quails denotes cranes.

Numbers 11:31. There went forth a wind from the Lord — An extraordinary and miraculous wind, both for its vehemency and for its effects. And brought quails — So the Hebrew word, שׂלוים, salvim, is interpreted by Josephus, and all the ancient versions; nor does there appear to be any sufficient authority for translating it locusts; notwithstanding what Ludolphus, in his History of Ethiopia, 50:1, c. 13; and after him Bishop Patrick, and the late bishop of Clogher, have said on the subject. This is the second time that God gave them these quails. He sent them the former year, and much about the same season, Exodus 16:13; but neither in the same quantity nor with the same design as now. From the sea — Principally from the Arabian gulf, or Red sea, and both sides of it, where, according to ancient heathen writers, they were then in great numbers, and no doubt were wonderfully increased by God’s special providence for this very occasion. This sea lies south of that part of Arabia where the Israelites were now encamped. It was therefore a south wind that brought these quails, and is said to have come forth from the Lord, because it was ordered and directed by his special power and providence. Two cubits high — Not as if the quails did cover all the ground two cubits high for a day’s journey on each side of the camp, for then there had been no place left where they could spread them all abroad round about the camp; but the meaning is, that the quails came and fell down round about the camp for a whole day’s journey on each side of it, and that in all that space they lay here and there in great heaps, which were often two cubits high.11:31-35 God performed his promise to the people, in giving them flesh. How much more diligent men are in collecting the meat that perishes, than in labouring for meat which endures to everlasting life! We are quick-sighted in the affairs of time; but stupidity blinds us as to the concerns of eternity. To pursue worldly advantages, we need no arguments; but when we are to secure the true riches, then we are all forgetfulness. Those who are under the power of a carnal mind, will have their lusts fulfilled, though it be to the certain damage and ruin of their precious souls. They paid dearly for their feasts. God often grants the desires of sinners in wrath, while he denies the desires of his own people in love. What we unduly desire, if we obtain it, we have reason to fear, will be some way or other a grief and cross to us. And what multitudes there are in all places, who shorten their lives by excess of one kind or other! Let us seek for those pleasures which satisfy, but never surfeit; and which will endure for evermore.The southeast wind, which blew from the neighboring Elanitic gulf of the Red Sea, brought the quails Exodus 16:13.

Two cubits high - Better, "two cubits above the face of the ground:" i. e. the quails, wearied with their long flight, flew about breast high, and were easily secured by the people, who spread them all abroad for themselves Numbers 11:32, in order to salt and dry them. The quail habitually flies with the wind, and low.

31-35. There went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, &c.—These migratory birds (see on [76]Ex 16:13) were on their journey from Egypt, when "the wind from the Lord," an east wind (Ps 78:26) forcing them to change their course, wafted them over the Red Sea to the camp of Israel.

let them fall a day's journey—If the journey of an individual is meant, this space might be thirty miles; if the inspired historian referred to the whole host, ten miles would be as far as they could march in one day in the sandy desert under a vertical sun. Assuming it to be twenty miles this immense cloud of quails (Ps 78:27) covered a space of forty miles in diameter. Others reduce it to sixteen. But it is doubtful whether the measurement be from the center or the extremities of the camp. It is evident, however, that the language describes the countless number of these quails.

as it were two cubits high—Some have supposed that they fell on the ground above each other to that height—a supposition which would leave a vast quantity useless as food to the Israelites, who were forbidden to eat any animal that died of itself or from which the blood was not poured out. Others think that, being exhausted with a long flight, they could not fly more than three feet above the earth, and so were easily felled or caught. A more recent explanation applies the phrase, "two cubits high," not to the accumulation of the mass, but to the size of the individual birds. Flocks of large red-legged cranes, three feet high, measuring seven feet from tip to tip, have been frequently seen on the western shores of the Gulf of Akaba, or eastern arm of the Red Sea [Stanley; Shubert].

A wind from the Lord, i.e. an extraordinary and miraculous wind, both for its vehemency and for its effect

Quails; a delicious and very nourishing food, which, considering their greedy appetite, and the newness and plenty of it, disposed them to surfeits and other distemper of body, and prepared the way for the following plague. God gave them quails once before, Exodus 16:13, but neither in the same quantity, nor with the same design and effect as now.

From the sea; principally from the Red Sea, and both sides of it; where, by the report of ancient heathen writers, they were then in great numbers, and, no doubt, were wonderfully increased by God’s special providence for this very occasion.

Two cubits high; not as if the quails did cover all the ground two cubits high for a day’s journey on each side of the camp, for then there had been no place left where they could spread them all abroad round about the camp, as it is said they did, Numbers 11:32; but the meaning is, that the quails came and fell down round about the camp for a whole day’s journey on each side of it, and that in all that space they lay here and there in great heaps, which were ofttimes two cubits high. And there went forth a wind from the Lord,.... Both an east wind and a south wind, according to Psalm 78:26; either first one wind, and then another; one to bring the quails, or whatever are meant, to a certain point, and then the other to bring them to the camp of Israel; or a southeast wind, as the Jewish writers interpret it: however, it was not a common wind, but what was immediately raised by the Lord for the following purpose:

and brought quails from the sea; the Red sea, from the coasts of it, not out of it. Josephus (t) says, there were great numbers of this sort of fowl about the gulf of Arabia; and Diodorus Siculus (u) says, near Rhinocalura, a place not far from those parts, quails in flocks were brought from the sea, which the people caught and lived upon. After Job Ludolphus, who has wrote a learned dissertation on locusts, many are of opinion with him, that locusts are intended here, and think that what is hereafter related best agrees with them; it is pretty difficult to determine which is most correct; there are learned advocates, and much to be said, for both (w):

and let them fall by the camp: the camp of Israel, and round about it on all sides, as follows; which agrees well enough with locusts, which are usually brought by a wind, as the locusts of Egypt were by an east wind, which fall, rest, and settle on the earth, and sometimes in heaps, one upon another; and these, whatever they were, fell as thick as rain, and were as dust, and as the sand of the sea. The Jewish writers, who understand them of quails, interpret this not of their falling to the ground, but of their flying low, two cubits from the earth, about the breast of a man, so that they had no trouble in taking them; so the Targum of Jonathan, Jarchi, Ben Gersom, and Abendana; but this seems to be without any foundation:

as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp; on the north side, and on the south side, as the Targum of Jonathan explains it; but it doubtless means on all sides, since they fell round about the camp; and from thence they lay thick upon the ground, a day's journey every way; which some compute at sixteen, others at twenty miles on which space there must be a prodigious number of quails or locusts; and it is certain the latter do come in great numbers, so as to darken the air, and to cover a country, as they did Egypt; and the quails also, in some countries, have been taken in great numbers; in Italy, on the coast of Antium, within a month, in the space of five miles, 100,000 quails were taken every day (x):

and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth; as they fell they lay one upon another, the height of two cubits; which it is thought better agrees with locusts than with quails, since the quails, by lying one upon another such a depth, must be suffocated; whereas the locusts, through the length of their feet, and the thinness of their wings, would not.

(t) Antiqu. l. 3. c. 1. sect. 5. (u) Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 55. (w) Vid. Calmet's Dictionary in the word "Quails", & Scheuchzer. Physica Sacr. in loc. Bishop of Clogher's Chronology, p. 375, 376. Shaw's Travels, p. 189. (x) Blond. ltal. Illustrat. p. 314. apud Huet. Alnetan. Quaest. l. 2. c. 12. sect. 17.

And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.
31. a wind from Jehovah] He employed a wind to reduce the deluge (Genesis 8:1 P ), to bring and remove the locusts (Exodus 10:13; Exodus 10:19 J ), and to drive back the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21 J ).

brought quails across from the sea] Probably from the Gulf of Akaba. It is so understood by the writer of Psalm 78:26 who speaks of the east and the south wind.

let them fall] left them. The wind suddenly lessened, and the quails came down tired with their long flight. Some of them may have fallen to the ground exhausted, as was frequently the case in quail swarms; but the main body of them were hovering above the ground at a height of about two cubits (c. one yard), and were easily netted. Quails fly northwards to Europe in large numbers in March, returning towards the end of September (see art. ‘Quails’ in Hastings’ DB. iv.).Verse 31. - A wind from the Lord. A wind Divinely sent for this purpose. In Psalm 78:26 it is said to have been a wind from the east and south, i.e., a wind blowing up the Red Sea and across the Gulf of Akabah. And brought quails from the sea. On the "quails" (Hebrew, salvim - probably the common quail) see Exodus 16:13. The Septuagint has in both places ἡ ὀρτυγομήτρα, "the quail-mother," the sense of which is uncertain. These birds, which migrate in spring in vast numbers, came from the sea, but it does not follow that the camp was near the sea. They may have been following up the Gulf of Akabah, and been swept far inland by the violence of the gale. Let them fall by the camp. Rather, "threw them down on the camp." יִּטַשׁ עַל הַמַּחֲגֶה. Septuagint, ἐπέβαλεν ἐπὶ τὴν παρεμβολήν. Either the sudden cessation of the gale, or a violent eddying of the wind, threw the exhausted birds in myriads upon the camp (cf. Psalm 78:21, 28). Two cubits high upon the face of the earth. The word "high" is not in the original, but it probably gives the true meaning. The Septuagint, ὡσεὶ δίπηχυ ἀπο τῆς γῆς, is somewhat uncertain. The Targums assert that the quails "flew upon the face of the ground, at a height of two cubits;" and this is followed by the Vulgate ("volabant in acre duobus cubitis altiludine super terram") and by many commentators. This idea, however, although suggested by the actual habits of the bird, and adopted in order to avoid the obvious difficulty of the statement, is inconsistent with the expressions used here and in Psalm 78. If the birds were "thrown" upon the camp, or "rained" upon it like sand, they could not have been flying steadily forward a few feet above the ground. It is certainly impossible to take the statement literally, for such a mass of birds would have been perfectly unmanageable; but if we suppose that they were drifted by the wind into heaps, which in places reached the height of two cubits, that will satisfy the exigencies of the text: anything like a uniform depth would be the last thing to be expected under the circumstances. Jehovah then came down in the cloud, which soared on high above the tabernacle, and now came down to the door of it (Numbers 12:5; Exodus 33:9; Deuteronomy 31:15). The statement in ch. Numbers 9:18., and Exodus 40:37-38, that the cloud dwelt (שׁכן) above the dwelling of the tabernacle during the time of encampment, can be reconciled with this without any difficulty; since the only idea that we can form of this "dwelling upon it" is, that the cloud stood still, soaring in quietness above the tabernacle, without moving to and fro like a cloud driven by the wind. There is no such discrepancy, therefore, as Knobel finds in these statements. When Jehovah had come down, He spoke to Moses, sc., to explain to him and to the elders what was about to be done, and then laid upon the seventy elders of the Spirit which was upon him. We are not to understand this as implying, that the fulness of the Spirit possessed by Moses was diminished in consequence; still less to regard it, with Calvin, as signum indignationis, or nota ignominiae, which God intended to stamp upon him. For the Spirit of God is not something material, which is diminished by being divided, but resembles a flame of fire, which does not decrease in intensity, but increases rather by extension. As Theodoret observed, "Just as a person who kindles a thousand flames from one, does not lessen the first, whilst he communicates light to the others, so God did not diminish the grace imparted to Moses by the fact that He communicated of it to the seventy." God did this to show to Moses, as well as to the whole nation, that the Spirit which Moses had received was perfectly sufficient for the performance of the duties of his office, and that no supernatural increase of that Spirit was needed, but simply a strengthening of the natural powers of Moses by the support of men who, when endowed with the power of the Spirit that was taken from him, would help him to bear the burden of his office. We have no description of the way in which this transference took place; it is therefore impossible to determine whether it was effected by a sign which would strike the outward senses, or passed altogether within the sphere of the Spirit's life, in a manner which corresponded to the nature of the Spirit itself. In any case, however, it must have been effected in such a way, that Moses and the elders received a convincing proof of the reality of the affair. When the Spirit descended upon the elders, "they prophesied, and did not add;" i.e., they did not repeat the prophesyings any further. יספוּ ולא is rendered correctly by the lxx, καὶ οὐκ ἔτι προσέθεντο; the rendering supported by the Vulgate and Onkelos, nec ultro cessaverunt ("and ceased not"), is incorrect. התנבּא, "to prophesy," is to be understood generally, and especially here, not as the foretelling of future things, but as speaking in an ecstatic and elevated state of mind, under the impulse and inspiration of the Spirit of God, just like the "speaking with tongues," which frequently followed the gift of the Holy Ghost in the days of the apostles. But we are not to infer from the fact, that the prophesying was not repeated, that the Spirit therefore departed from them after this one extraordinary manifestation. This miraculous manifestation of the Spirit was intended simply to give to the whole nation the visible proof that God had endowed them with His Spirit, as helpers of Moses, and had given them the authority required for the exercise of their calling.
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