Numbers 11:5
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic:
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(5) We remember the fish . . . —Classical writers and modern travellers agree in bearing testimony to the abundance of the fish in the Nile and in the neighbouring canals and reservoirs. The cucumbers in Egypt are of great size and finely flavoured. The watermelons serve to moderate the internal heat which the climate produces. (See The Land and the Book, p. 508.) The word rendered leeks (in Psalm 104:14, grass for cattle) is supposed by some to denote a species of clover which is peculiar to Egypt, and of which the young and fresh shoots are said to be used as food and to be an excellent stomachic. The onions of Egypt are said to be the sweetest in the world, and they constitute the common food of the lowest class of the people. Garlic is still much used by the modern Arabs. It is only the fish, which was probably equally within the reach of all, of which the Israelites are said to have eaten freely, i.e., not abundantly, but gratuitously. It is probable, however, that many of them cultivated the land to a greater or lesser degree, and so procured vegetables for themselves.

Numbers 11:5-6. The fish which we did eat freely — Either without price, for fish was very plentiful, and fishing there free, or at a very small price. Our soul — Either our life, as the term signifies, Genesis 9:5, or our body, which is often intended by the word soul. Dried-away — Is withered, and pines away, which possibly might be true, through their envy, discontent, and inordinate appetite. The expression seems to be of the same purport with that of the psalmist, <19A204>Psalm 102:4, My heart is withered like grass.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.The natural dainties of Egypt are set forth in this passage with the fullness and relish which bespeak personal experience.5. We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely—(See on [74]Ex 7:17). The people of Egypt are accustomed to an almost exclusive diet of fish, either fresh or sun-dried, during the hot season in April and May—the very season when the Israelites were travelling in this desert. Lower Egypt, where were the brick-kilns in which they were employed, afforded great facilities for obtaining fish in the Mediterranean, the lakes, and the canals of the Nile.

cucumbers—The Egyptian species is smooth, of a cylindrical form, and about a foot in length. It is highly esteemed by the natives and when in season is liberally partaken of, being greatly mellowed by the influence of the sun.

melons—The watermelons are meant, which grow on the deep, loamy soil after the subsidence of the Nile; and as they afford a juicy and cooling fruit, all classes make use of them for food, drink, and medicine.

leeks—by some said to be a species of grass cresses, which is much relished as a kind of seasoning.

onions—the same as ours; but instead of being nauseous and affecting the eyes, they are sweet to the taste, good for the stomach, and form to a large extent the aliment of the laboring classes.

garlic—is now nearly if not altogether extinct in Egypt although it seems to have grown anciently in great abundance. The herbs now mentioned form a diet very grateful in warm countries where vegetables and other fruits of the season are much used. We can scarcely wonder that both the Egyptian hangers-on and the general body of the Israelites, incited by their clamors, complained bitterly of the want of the refreshing viands in their toilsome wanderings. But after all their experience of the bounty and care of God, their vehement longing for the luxuries of Egypt was an impeachment of the divine arrangements; and if it was the sin that beset them in the desert, it became them more strenuously to repress a rebellious spirit, as dishonoring to God and unbecoming their relation to Him as a chosen people.

Freely; either without price, for fish was very plentiful, and fishing was there free; or with a very small price; for nothing is sometimes put for a little, as John 18:20 Acts 27:33; and none for few, as Jeremiah 8:6 1 Corinthians 2:8. And this is the more probable, because the Egyptians might not taste of fish, nor of the leeks and onions, which they worshipped for gods, and therefore the Israelites, who speak these words, might have them there upon cheaper terms. We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely,.... Fish was food the Egyptians much lived upon; for though Herodotus says the priests might not taste of fish, the common people ate much; yea, he himself says that some lived upon nothing else but fish gutted and dried in the sun; and he observes, that the kings of Egypt had a great revenue from hence (w); the river Nile, as Diodorus Siculus (x) says, abounded with all kind of fish, and with an incredible number, so that there was a plenty of them, and to be bought cheap; and so Aben Ezra and Ben Gersom interpret the word freely, of a small price, as if they had them for nothing almost; but surely they forgot how dear they paid for their fish, by their hard toil, labour, and service. Now this, with what follows, they call to mind, to increase their lust, and aggravate their present condition and circumstances:

the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; in the Hebrew language, the word for "cucumbers" has the signification of hardness, because they are hard of digestion In the Talmud (y) they are so called, because they are as harmful to the body as swords; though it is said in the same, that Antoninus always had them at his table; and Suetonius (z) and Pliny (a) say, that they were in great esteem with the emperors Augustus and Tiberias; though some think what they call cucumbers were melons. We are told (b), that the Egyptian cucumbers are very different from our European ones, which in the eastern countries serve only to feed hogs with, and not men; but the Egyptian cucumber, called "chate", differs from the common one in size, colour, and softness; and not only its leaves, but its fruit, are different from ours, being sweeter to the taste, and of more easy digestion, and reckoned to be very wholesome to the bodies of men: and so their "melons" are different from ours, which they call "abdellavi", to distinguish them from others called "chajar", which are of little use for food, and not pleasant, and more insipid, and of a softer pulp (c): as for the "leeks, onions, and garlic", that these were commonly and in great plenty eaten of by the Egyptians appears from the vast sums of money spent upon the men that worked in building one of the pyramids, in radishes, onions, and garlic only, which Herodotus (d), Diodorus Siculus (e), and Pliny (f) make mention of. Indeed, in later times these were worshipped as gods, and not suffered to be eaten, as Pliny (g) and Juvenal (h) inform us; but there is little reason to believe that this kind of idolatry obtained so early as the time of Israel's being in Egypt; though some have thought that these were cheaper because of that, and so the Israelites could more easily come at them; but if that had been the case, it is more reasonable to believe that the Egyptians would not have allowed them to have eat of them at all: however, these are still in great plenty, and much used in Egypt to this day, as Vansleb (i) relates, who says, for desserts they have fruits, as onions, dried dates, rotten olives, melons, or cucumbers, or pompions, or such like fruits as are in season: thus carnal men prefer their sensual lusts and pleasures, and self-righteous men their righteousness, to Christ, the heavenly manna, his grace and righteousness.

(w) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 37, 92, 149. (x) Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 32. (y) T. Bab. Avodah Zarah, fol. 11. 1.((z) In Vit. August. c. 77. (a) Nat. Hist. l. 19. c. 5. (b) Alpinus de Plant. Aegypt. l. 1. p. 114. apud Scheuchzer. Physic. Saer. vol. 3. p. 369. (c) Alpinus ib. (d) Ut supra, (Euterpe, sive, l. 2.) c. 125. (e) Ut supra. (Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 58.) (f) Nat. Hist. l. 36. c. 12. (g) lb. l. 19. c. 6. (h) "Porrum et coepe nefas violare", &c. Satyr. 15. (i) Relation of a Voyage to Egypt, p. 186.

We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt {c} freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:

(c) For a final price, or good cheap.

5. the fish] These were very plentiful in Egypt. See Exodus 7:21, Isaiah 19:8.

the leeks, and the onions] ‘Herod. (ii. 125), speaking of the pyramid, says that on it was declared “how much was spent on radishes and onions and leeks for the workmen” ’ (Gray). The verse accurately summarises the principal articles of diet of the lower classes in Egypt. See Lane, Modern Egyptians (ch. vii).Verse 5. - We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, i.e., gratis. No doubt this was an exaggeration on the part of the murmurers, but it is attested by classical writers that fish swarmed in the Nile waters, and cost next to nothing (Died. Sic., 1:36, 52; Herod., 2:93; Strabo, 17. page 829). Cucumbers. קִשֻׁאִים. Cucumbers of peculiar softness and flavour are spoken of by Egyptian travelers as fructus in Egypto omnium vulgatissimus. Melons. אַבַטִּחִים. Water-melons, still called battieh, grow in Egypt, as in all hot, moist lands, like weeds, and are as much the luxury of the poorest as of the richest. Leeks. חָצִיר. This word usually means grass (as in Psalm 104:14), and may do so hare, for the modern Egyptians eat a kind of field-clover freely. The Septuagint, however, translates it by τὰ πράσα, leeks or chives, which agrees better with the context. Pliny (Nat. Hist. 19:33) speaks of it as "laudatissimus porrus in Egypto." Onions. בְּצָלִים. Garlic. שׁוּמְים. These are mentioned in the well-known passage of Herodotus (2:125) as forming the staple food of the workmen at the pyramids; these still form a large part of the diet of the labouring classes in Egypt, as in other Mediterranean countries. If we look at these different articles of food together, so naturally and inartificially mentioned in this verse, we find a strong argument for the genuineness of the narrative. They are exactly the luxuries which an Egyptian labourer of that day would have cried out for, if deprived of them; they are not the luxuries which a Jew of Palestine would covet, or would even think cf. The very words here used for the cucumber, the melon, and the garlic were probably Egyptian, for they may still be recognized in the common names of those vegetables in Egypt. In Numbers 10:35 and Numbers 10:36, the words which Moses was in the habit of uttering, both when the ark removed and when it came to rest again, are given not only as a proof of the joyous confidence of Moses, but as an encouragement to the congregation to cherish the same believing confidence. When breaking up, he said, "Rise up, Jehovah! that Thine enemies may be scattered, and they that hate Thee may flee before Thy face;" and when it rested, "Return, Jehovah, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel!" Moses could speak in this way, because he knew that Jehovah and the ark of the covenant were inseparably connected, and saw in the ark of the covenant, as the throne of Jehovah, a material pledge of the gracious presence of the Almighty God. He said this, however, not merely with reference to enemies who might encounter the Israelites in the desert, but with a confident anticipation of the calling of Israel, to strive for the cause of the Lord in this hostile world, and rear His kingdom upon earth. Human power was not sufficient for this; but to accomplish this end, it was necessary that the Almighty God should go before His people, and scatter their foes. The prayer addressed to God to do this, is an expression of bold believing confidence, - a prayer sure of its answer; and to Israel it was the word with which the congregation of God was to carry on the conflict at all times against the powers and authorities of a whole hostile world. It is in this sense that in Psalm 68:2, the words are held up by David before himself and his generation as a banner of victory, "to arm the Church with confidence, and fortify it against the violent attacks of its foes" (Calvin). שׁוּבה is construed with an accusative: return to the ten thousands of the hosts of Israel, i.e., after having scattered Thine enemies, turn back again to Thy people to dwell among them. The "thousands of Israel," as in Numbers 1:16.

(Note: The inverted nuns, נ, at the beginning and close of Numbers 10:35, Numbers 10:36, which are found, according to R. Menachem's de Lonzano Or Torah (f. 17), in all the Spanish and German MSS, and are sanctioned by the Masorah, are said by the Talmud (tract de sabbatho) to be merely signa parentheseos, quae monerent praeter historiae seriem versum 35 et 36 ad capitis finem inseri (cf. Matt. Hilleri de Arcano Kethib et Keri libri duo, pp. 158, 159). The Cabbalists, on the other hand, according to R. Menach. l. c., find an allusion in it to the Shechinah, "quae velut obversa ad tergum facie sequentes Israelitas ex impenso amore respiceret" (see the note in J. H. Michaelis' Bibl. hebr.). In other MSS, however, which are supported by the Masora Erffurt, the inverted nun is found in the words בּנסע (Numbers 10:35) and כּמתאננים העם ויהי (Numbers 11:1): the first, ad innuendum ut sic retrorsum agantur omnes hostes Israeliarum; the second, ut esset symbolum perpetuum perversitatis populi, inter tot illustria signa liberationis et maximorum beneficiorum Dei acerbe quiritantium, ad declarandam ingratitudinem et contumaciam suam (cf. J. Buxtorf, Tiberias, p. 169).)

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