Numbers 11:4
And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?
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(4) And the mixt multitude.—The Authorised Version follows the LXX. and the Vulgate in rendering the word asaph-suph, which occurs only in this place, and which is derived from a verb which means to collect, in the same way as the ereb of Exodus 12:38, a mixed multitude, vulgus promiscuum—in many cases, probably, the children of Hebrew women by Egyptian fathers. This mixed multitude appears to have been very considerable, and they may have become, as the Gibeonites at a later period, servants to the Israelites, as hewers of wood and drawers of water (Deuteronomy 29:11). It is probable that this mixed multitude may have partaken even more largely than the Israelites of the fish and vegetables of Egypt, and they appear to have instigated the Israelites to repine at the deprivations to which they were exposed in the wilderness. There is no mention in Exodus 16:3 of weeping, but the same craving after the flesh-pots of Egypt was probably manifested in the same manner in both cases.

Who shall give us flesh to eat?—The word basar, which is rendered flesh, seems here to include—it may be to have primary reference to—fish. It is used of fish in Leviticus 11:11, and it is obvious from Numbers 11:22 that it was understood by Moses in this general signification. Cp. the use of flesh (1Corinthians 15:39).

Numbers 11:4. The children of Israel also wept again — That is, they again complained and murmured, that God had so lately visited them with such awful marks of his displeasure; though their special relation and obligation to God should have restrained them from any such carriage. Bishop Kidder justly observes, that “their sin was much aggravated on the following accounts: 1st, They declared their distrust of God’s power and providence, of which they had had so great experience. 2d, They despised God and his former mercies. 3d, They covetously desired flesh, when they had much cattle of their own, Exodus 12:32; Exodus 12:38, and Numbers 32:4.”

11:4-9 Man, having forsaken his proper rest, feels uneasy and wretched, though prosperous. They were weary of the provision God had made for them, although wholesome food and nourishing. It cost no money or care, and the labour of gathering it was very little indeed; yet they talked of Egypt's cheapness, and the fish they ate there freely; as if that cost them nothing, when they paid dearly for it with hard service! While they lived on manna, they seemed exempt from the curse sin has brought on man, that in the sweat of his face he should eat bread; yet they speak of it with scorn. Peevish, discontented minds will find fault with that which has no fault in it, but that it is too good for them. Those who might be happy, often make themselves miserable by discontent. They could not be satisfied unless they had flesh to eat. It is evidence of the dominion of the carnal mind, when we want to have the delights and satisfaction of sense. We should not indulge in any desire which we cannot in faith turn into prayer, as we cannot when we ask meat for our lust. What is lawful of itself becomes evil, when God does not allot it to us, yet we desire it.Occurrences at Kibroth-hattavah.

Numbers 11:4

The mixt multitude - The word in the original resembles our "riff-raff," and denotes a mob of people scraped together. It refers here to the multitude of strangers (see Exodus 12:38) who had followed the Israelites from Egypt.

4. the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting—These consisted of Egyptians. [See on [73]Ex 12:38.] To dream of banquets and plenty of animal food in the desert becomes a disease of the imagination; and to this excitement of the appetite no people are more liable than the natives of Egypt. But the Israelites participated in the same feelings and expressed dissatisfaction with the manna on which they had hitherto been supported, in comparison with the vegetable luxuries with which they had been regaled in Egypt. The mixt multitude, consisting of Egyptians or other people, which being affected with God’s miraculous works in Egypt, and thereupon believing the promise of God to carry them to a land of milk and honey, for their own advantage joined themselves to the Israelites, Exodus 12:38, an now, finding themselves sadly disappointed, they discover their evil minds.

The children of Israel, whose special relation and obligation to God should have restrained them from such carriages.

Wept again: this word relates either to their former murmuring upon this occasion a twelvemonth before, Exodus 16:2, or rather to their complaining mentioned Numbers 11:1, to note the aggravation of their sin, that having just now sinned in the same kind, and sorely smarted for their sin, and being but newly delivered from their fears and dangers caused thereby, they forthwith return to their vomit and murmur again, and that more passionately than before, expressing themselves in tears and bitter words.

Flesh: this word is here taken generally, so as to include fish, as the next words show, and as it is used 1 Corinthians 15:39. They had indeed flesh and cattle which they brought with them out of Egypt, but these were reserved for breed to be carried into Canaan, and were so few that they would scarce have served them for a month, as may be gathered from Numbers 11:20-22.

And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting,.... These came out of Egypt with them, Exodus 12:38; having either contracted affinity with them, or such intimacy of conversation, that they could not part, or being proselyted to the Jewish religion, at least in pretence; these were not only Egyptians, but a mixture of divers people, who having heard or seen the wonderful things done for Israel, joined them in hopes of sharing the blessings of divine goodness with them; so the Targum of Jonathan calls them proselytes, that were gathered among them: these "lusted a lusting" (t), as the words may be rendered; not after women, as some Jewish writers (u) think, even after such that were near akin to them, with whom they were forbidden to marry, and therefore desired to have those laws dissolved; but they lusted after eating flesh taken in a proper sense, as the latter part of the verse and the whole context show:

and the children of Israel also wept again; they lusted after flesh likewise, following the example of the mixed multitude; thus evil communication corrupts good manners, 1 Corinthians 15:33; and a little leaven leavens the whole lamp, 1 Corinthians 5:6; wicked men prove great snares to, and do much mischief among good men, when they get into their societies, Jeremiah 5:26, and because the Israelites could not have what they would to gratify their lusts, they wept as children do, when they cannot have what they are desirous of; and they wept "again", for it seems they had wept before, either when they complained, Numbers 11:1; or at Rephidim, where they wanted water, Exodus 17:1, as here flesh, or before that when they wanted bread, Exodus 16:3,

and said, who shall give us flesh to eat? shall Moses, or even the Lord himself? from lusting they fell to unbelief and distrust of the power and providence of God; for so the Psalmist interprets this saying of theirs, Psalm 78:19.

(t) "concupiverunt concupiscentiam", Pagninus: Montanus, Drusius. (u) Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 15. fol. 219. 1.

And the mixt {a} multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?

(a) Which were of those strangers that came out of Egypt with them, Ex 12:38.

4. The place where the incident occurred is not stated. But in Numbers 11:34 a name is given to the spot in consequence of the event.

the mixed multitude] The Heb. word ’asaphsûph is a reduplicated form from ’âsaph ‘to collect.’ The alliteration may be represented by riff-raff. It is a contemptuous term for non-Israelites who had attached themselves to the camp. They would include Egyptians with whom Israelites may to a small extent have intermarried (Leviticus 24:10), and people of various nationalities who, having been united with the Israelites in the forced building labour in Egypt, would be glad to escape with them. They are mentioned (by a different term) in Exodus 12:38.

fell a lusting] The words can denote any bodily appetite or desire, legitimate or otherwise. In 1 Corinthians 10:6 Christians are warned by the example of the Israelites.

wept again] No murmuring by the mixed multitude has been previously recorded, and in previous murmurings of the people in general weeping has not been mentioned. But the word need not be pressed. J relates a murmuring in Exodus 15:23-25. It is not certain, however, that the words are an their original form. The Heb. idiom is ‘and they returned and they wept’; this makes it possible to suppose that ‘and they returned’ was inserted by a compiler in reference to the murmuring in Numbers 11:1-3. LXX. and Vulg. escape the difficulty by reading ‘they sat down and wept’ (וַיֵּשְׁבוּ for וַיָּשֻׁבוּ).

Oh that we could have flesh to eat!] The necessity for miraculous provision of flesh is evidence that, according to one form of the tradition of the journeys, the Israelites had no flocks and herds. This has been preserved in J together with the contrary tradition that they were richly supplied with them, both at the beginning of the wanderings (Exodus 12:32; Exodus 12:38), throughout the course of them (Numbers 14:33 see note, Exodus 17:3; Exodus 19:13; Exodus 34:3), and at the end (Numbers 32:1). The traditions in P assume an immense wealth in cattle, which made possible the elaborate sacrificial system in force from Sinai and onwards.

4–34. (I) The Manna and Quails. J . (II) The burden of the people too heavy for Moses. J . (III) The Spirit of ecstasy upon the elders. E .

These verses should be studied in the following order:

(I) Numbers 11:4-10; Numbers 11:13; Numbers 11:18-24 a (to ‘the words of the Lord’), 31–34.

(II) Numbers 11:11-12; Numbers 11:14-15.

(III) Numbers 11:16-17 a, 24b–30.

It will be seen that the narratives (II) and (III) have no real connexion with (I). In the process of compilation two sentences were lost. The words ‘And Moses said unto Jehovah’ in Numbers 11:11 a are required for both narratives, and must be added for (I) at the beginning of Numbers 11:13. Similarly Numbers 11:18 (as Numbers 11:16) must begin ‘And Jehovah said unto Moses, say thou &c.’ If this is done, two distinct narratives emerge, and a fragment of a third:

(I) The people being weary of manna murmured for flesh. Jehovah was angry and warned them that they would loathe the flesh when it came. Moses was incredulous that such a miracle could be performed. But a wind brought a mass of quails, and a plague was the result.

(II) Moses found the care and guidance of the people a burden too heavy to bear, and prayed that he might die.

(III) Jehovah took some of Moses’ spirit and put it upon seventy elders, so that they were filled with prophetic frenzy, including two who were not with the others in front of the Tent. Joshua wished Moses to forbid them, but he refused.

(I) Numbers 11:4-10; Numbers 11:13; Numbers 11:18-24 a, 31–34. Manna and Quails. In Exodus 16 there is a more complete narrative of the manna, from P , where Numbers 11:35 (‘they did eat the manna … until they came into the borders of the land of Canaan’) shews that manna was not sent on two distinct occasions, but that the two narratives are parallel accounts. In the present chapter the sending of the manna is not related (see on Numbers 11:6). But it must not be concluded from this that our narrative is the sequel to that in Exodus 16; for (I) a description of the manna is given, as though it were a new phenomenon, in Numbers 11:7-9 as well as in Exodus 16:14; Exodus 16:31, and there are considerable differences in the two accounts; and (2) the laying of the pot of manna ‘before the Testimony’ (Exodus 16:34) shews that that narrative belongs to a time after the Testimony (i.e. the Decalogue) was given at Sinai. Thus both in P and J it is related that manna was sent after the departure from the mountain. Moreover, while P has this very full parallel account of the manna, it also has fragmentary references to the quails embedded in it. See Exodus 16:8 a (‘in the evening flesh to eat’), 12 (‘at even ye shall eat flesh’), 13a (‘at even the quails came up and covered the camp’).

(II) Numbers 11:11-12; Numbers 11:14-15. It is not at first sight so clear that (II) is unconnected with (III). The gift of Moses’ spirit to the elders might seem to be the answer to Moses’ prayer for more help in managing the people. And the compiler has given this impression by the insertion of Numbers 11:17 b. But (1) the spirit is not represented as being a spirit of wisdom and understanding, but merely of ecstasy or frenzy which enabled them to ‘prophesy’ as in the case of Saul and his messengers at a later time (1 Samuel 19:20 f., 23 f.). Moses’ answer to Joshua (Numbers 11:29) as well as the express statement that the inspiration was purely temporary (Numbers 11:25), quite preclude the idea that the elders were to help him in bearing the burden of the people. And (2) Moses’ complaint of the burden is closely similar in thought and language to Exodus 33:12 to Exodus 34:9. The discussion of the whole problem belongs rather to a commentary on Exodus. But it is far from improbable that (II) has been displaced from Exodus 33. Because the people had sinned, Jehovah said that He would not go to Canaan with them; Moses, therefore, would have to bear the burden alone; and he was overwhelmed with the thought. In consequence of Moses’ repeated intercession Jehovah relented and condescended to go with them.

(III) Numbers 11:16-17 a, 24b–30. There are indications that the narrative of the elders is from E . Now the last passage from E previously to this is Exodus 33:7-11, a fragment relating Moses’ usual practice with regard to the ‘Tent of Meeting,’ in which the young man Joshua acted as his minister, and where Jehovah used to ‘come down’ in the cloud and converse with Moses. If that passage and (III) are read side by side, it will be seen that they are connected in the closest possible manner, both in style and subject-matter.

(I) 4–10. The Manna.

Verse 4. The mixed multitude. Hebrew, ha-saphsuph, the gathered; the rift-raft, or rabble, which had followed the fortunes of Israel out of Egypt, where they had probably been strangers and slaves themselves. What the nature and the number and the fate of this rabble were is a matter of mere conjecture and of some perplexity. There does not seem any room for them in the regulations laid down for Israel, nor are they mentioned in any other place except at Exodus 12:38. In Leviticus 24:10 we read of the son of an Israelitish woman by an Egyptian father, and this might lead us to conjecture that a great part of the "mixed multitude" was the offspring of such left-handed alliances. These half-breeds, according to the general rule in such cases, would follow their mothers; they would be regarded with contempt by the Jews of pure blood, and would accompany the march as hangers-on of the various tribes with which they were connected. As to their fate, it may be probably concluded, from the reason of things and from the absence of any further notice of them, that they found their way back to the slavery and the indulgences of Egypt; they were bound by no such strong restraints and animated by no such national feelings as the true people of the Lord. And the children of Israel also wept again. This expression, again (Hebrew, שׁוּב, used adverbially), would seem to point to some former weeping, and this is generally found in the "murmuring" of which they had been guilty in the desert of Sin (Exodus 16:2, 3). This, however, is unsatisfactory for several reasons: first, because that occurrence was too remote, having been more than a year ago; second, because there is no mention of any "weeping" at that time; third, because the matter of complaint on the two occasions was really quite different: then they murmured faithlessly at the blank starvation which apparently stared them in the face; now they weep greedily at the absence of remembered luxuries. It is therefore much more likely that the expression has regard to the "complaining" which had just taken place at Tabeerah. It was indeed wonderful that the punishment then inflicted did not check the sin; wonderful that it burst out again in an aggravated form almost immediately. But such was the obstinacy of this people, that Divine vengeance, which only perhaps affected a few, and only lasted for a brief space, was not sufficient to silence their wicked clamour. Who shall give us flesh to eat? בָּשָׂר - Septuagint, κρέα - means flesh-meat generally. They had flocks and herds it is true, but they were no doubt carefully preserved, and the increase of them would little more than suffice for sacrifice; no one would dream of slaughtering them for ordinary eating. Numbers 11:4The first impulse to this came from the mob that had come out of Egypt along with the Israelites. "The mixed multitude:" see at Exodus 12:38. They felt and expressed a longing for the better food which they had enjoyed in Egypt, and which was not to be had in the desert, and urged on the Israelites to cry out for flesh again, especially for the flesh and the savoury vegetables in which Egypt abounded. The words "they wept again" (שׁוּב used adverbially, as in Genesis 26:18, etc.) point back to the former complaints of the people respecting the absence of flesh in the desert of Sin (Exodus 16:2.), although there is nothing said about their weeping there. By the flesh which they missed, we are not to understand either the fish which they expressly mention in the following verse (as in Leviticus 11:11), or merely oxen, sheep, and goats; but the word בּשׂר signifies flesh generally, as being a better kind of food than the bread-like manna. It is true they possessed herds of cattle, but these would not have been sufficient to supply their wants, as cattle could not be bought for slaughtering, and it was necessary to spare what they had. The greedy people also longed for other flesh, and said, "We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for nothing." Even if fish could not be had for nothing in Egypt, according to the extravagant assertions of the murmurers, it is certain that it could be procured for such nominal prices that even the poorest of the people could eat it. The abundance of the fish in the Nile and the neighbouring waters is attested unanimously by both classical writers (e.g., Diod. Sic. i. 36, 52; Herod. ii. 93; Strabo, xvii. p. 829) and modern travellers (cf. Hengstenberg, Egypt, etc., p. 211 Eng. tr.). This also applies to the vegetables for which the Israelites longed in the desert. The קשּׁאים, or cucumbers, which are still called katteh or chate in the present day, are a species differing from the ordinary cucumbers in size and colour, and distinguished for softness and sweet flavour, and are described by Forskal (Flor. Aeg. p. 168), as fructus in Aegypto omnium vulgatissimus, totis plantatus agris. אבטּחים: water-melons, which are still called battieh in modern Egypt, and are both cultivated in immense quantities and sold so cheaply in the market, that the poor as well as the rich can enjoy their refreshing flesh and cooling juice (see Sonnini in Hengstenberg, ut sup. p. 212). חציר does not signify grass here, but, according to the ancient versions, chives, from their grass-like appearance; laudatissimus porrus in Aegypto (Plin. h. n. 19, 33). בּצלים: onions, which flourish better in Egypt than elsewhere, and have a mild and pleasant taste. According to Herod. ii. 125, they were the ordinary food of the workmen at the pyramids; and, according to Hasselquist, Sonnini, and others, they still form almost the only food of the poor, and are also a favourite dish with all classes, either roasted, or boiled as a vegetable, and eaten with animal food. שׁוּמים: garlic, which is still called tum, tom in the East (Seetzen, iii. p. 234), and is mentioned by Herodotus in connection with onions, as forming a leading article of food with the Egyptian workmen. Of all these things, which had been cheap as well as refreshing, not one was to be had in the desert. Hence the people complained still further, "and now our soul is dried away," i.e., faint for want of strong and refreshing food, and wanting in fresh vital power (cf. Psalm 22:16; Psalm 102:5): "we have nothing (כּל אין, there is nothing in existence, equivalent to nothing to be had) except that our eye (falls) upon this manna," i.e., we see nothing else before us but the manna, sc., which has no juice, and supplies no vital force. Greediness longs for juicy and savoury food, and in fact, as a rule, for change of food and stimulating flavour. "This is the perverted nature of man, which cannot continue in the quiet enjoyment of what is clean and unmixed, but, from its own inward discord, desires a stimulating admixture of what is sharp and sour" (Baumgarten). To point out this inward perversion on the part of the murmuring people, Moses once more described the nature, form, and taste of the manna, and its mode of preparation, as a pleasant food which God sent down to His people with the dew of heaven (see at Exodus 16:14-15, and Exodus 16:31). But this sweet bread of heaven wanted "the sharp and sour, which are required to give a stimulating flavour to the food of man, on account of his sinful, restless desires, and the incessant changes of his earthly life." In this respect the manna resembled the spiritual food supplied by the word of God, of which the sinful heart of man may also speedily become weary, and turn to the more piquant productions of the spirit of the world.
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