Numbers 14:44
But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.
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(44) They presumed to go up.i.e., they made a bold attempt to ascend the mountain. Their enemies appear to have encountered and discomfited them before they had actually gained the summit.

14:40-45 Some of the Israelites were now earnest to go forward toward Canaan. But it came too late. If men would but be as earnest for heaven while their day of grace lasts, as they will be when it is over, how well would it be for them! That which has been duty in its season, when mistimed, may be turned into sin. Those who are out of the way of their duty, are not under God's protection, and go at their peril. God bade them go, and they would not; he forbade them, and they would go. Thus is the carnal mind enmity against God. They had distrusted God's strength; they now presume upon their own without his. And the expedition fails accordingly; now the sentence began to be executed, that their carcases should fall in the wilderness. That affair can never end well, which begins with sin. The way to obtain peace with our friends, and success against our enemies, is, to have God, as our Friend, and to keep in his love. Let us take warning from the fate of Israel, lest we perish after the same example of unbelief. Let us go forth, depending on God's mercy, power, promise, and truth; he will be with us, and bring our souls to everlasting rest.My breach of promise - In the original, a word, found elsewhere only in Job 30:10, and meaning "my withdrawals" "my turning away." See the margin. 40-45. they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain—Notwithstanding the tidings that Moses communicated and which diffused a general feeling of melancholy and grief throughout the camp, the impression was of very brief continuance. They rushed from one extreme of rashness and perversity to another, and the obstinacy of their rebellious spirit was evinced by their active preparations to ascend the hill, notwithstanding the divine warning they had received not to undertake that enterprise.

for we have sinned—that is, realizing our sin, we now repent of it, and are eager to do as Caleb and Joshua exhorted us—or, as some render it, though we have sinned, we trust God will yet give us the land of promise. The entreaties of their prudent and pious leader, who represented to them that their enemies, scaling the other side of the valley, would post themselves on the top of the hill before them, were disregarded. How strangely perverse the conduct of the Israelites, who, shortly before, were afraid that, though their Almighty King was with them, they could not get possession of the land; and yet now they act still more foolishly in supposing that, though God were not with them, they could expel the inhabitants by their unaided efforts. The consequences were such as might have been anticipated. The Amalekites and Canaanites, who had been lying in ambuscade expecting their movement, rushed down upon them from the heights and became the instruments of punishing their guilty rebellion.

They presumed; guilty both of rashness and rebellion; thus running from one extreme to another.

But they presumed to go up unto the hill top,.... In a bold, audacious, and presumptuous manner; they attempted to go up to the top of the hill, notwithstanding the remonstrances of Moses against it, and the danger they would be exposed unto; but withdrawing themselves from God and his ministers, and lifted up in themselves, and confident of their own strength, ventured on this rash enterprise: the Vulgate Latin version is, "being darkened they went up": either having their understandings darkened, and being given up to a judicial blindness and hardness of heart; or else they went up in the morning while it was dark, before daylight; which latter sense is favoured by the Targum of Jonathan,"and they girded (or armed) themselves in the dark, before the morning light;''and the former by an ancient exposition, called Tanchuma, mentioned by Jarchi,"they went obscure (as it were in the dark) because without leave:"

nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp; the cloud not being taken up, but abiding on the tabernacle, which was the signal for resting, both for the ark, and for the camp, the Kohathites did not move with the ark: the Jews (e) have a notion, that there were two arks which went with Israel in the wilderness, one in which the law was put, and another in which the broken pieces of the tables were left; that in which the law was, was placed in the tabernacle of the congregation, and of this it is written, "the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not", &c. but that in which the broken pieces of the tables were, went in and out with them: but this does not clearly appear; and it is highly probable no ark went with them at this time; nor did Moses, the leader and commander of the people, stir from the camp of the Levites; wherefore it was a bold and hazardous undertaking the other camps engaged in without God going with them, and their general before them, or Joshua his minister; for if one did not go, the same may be concluded of the other.

(e) T. Hieros. Sotah, fol. 22. 2.

But they {r} presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.

(r) They could not be stayed by any means.

44. the ark of the covenant of Jehovah] The words ‘of the covenant’ are probably a gloss by a Dt. writer. There is no evidence in J or E that the tablets of the Covenant laws were placed in the ark. See on Numbers 10:33 b.

and Moses] Moses was the guardian of the ark.

out of the midst of the camp] In E the sacred tent, in which the ark was presumably housed, stood outside the camp (cf. Numbers 12:4, Exodus 33:7-11). The position, here implied by J , afterwards formed an important factor in P’s description of the Tabernacle (Numbers 1:50; Numbers 1:53).

Verse 44. - They presumed to go up. This gives the sense very well: they were deaf to all persuasion or command to stay. Septuagint, διαβιασάμενοι ἀνέβησαν. Thus they added to an evil distrust in the power of God an almost more evil trust in their own power. It does not seem correct to say that "unbelief" was the real cause of both errors - unbelief, firstly in God's promises, and secondly in his threats. It was rather one of those many cases in which men seek to atone for a fault on one side by rushing into as great a fault on the other side. They spoke brave words about the "place which the Lord hath promised," as though it were indeed obedience and trust which spurred them on, instead of presumption and selfishness. The ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. The plainest possible token that the Lord was not with them. With Moses remained no doubt all the Levites, and the silver trumpets, and Joshua, and perhaps the bulk of the people. Numbers 14:44(cf. Deuteronomy 1:41-44). The announcement of the sentence plunged the people into deep mourning. But instead of bending penitentially under the judgment of God, they resolved to atone for their error, by preparing the next morning to go to the top of the mountain and press forward into Canaan. And they would not even suffer themselves to be dissuaded from their enterprise by the entreaties of Moses, who denounced it as a transgression of the word of God which could not succeed, and predicted their overthrow before their enemies, but went presumptuously (לעלות יעפּלוּ) up without the ark of the covenant and without Moses, who did not depart out of the midst of the camp, and were smitten by the Amalekites and Canaanites, who drove them back as far as Hormah. Whereas at first they had refused to enter upon the conflict with the Canaanites, through their unbelief in the might of the promise of God, now, through unbelief in the severity of the judgment of God, they resolved to engage in this conflict by their own power, and without the help of God, and to cancel the old sin of unbelieving despair through the new sin of presumptuous self-confidence, - an attempt which could never succeed, but was sure to plunge deeper and deeper into misery. Where "the top (or height) of the mountain" to which the Israelites advanced was, cannot be precisely determined, as we have no minute information concerning the nature of the ground in the neighbourhood of Kadesh. No doubt the allusion is to some plateau on the northern border of the valley mentioned in Numbers 14:25, viz., the Wady Murreh, which formed the southernmost spur of the mountains of the Amorites, from which the Canaanites and Amalekites came against them, and drove them back. In Deuteronomy 1:44, Moses mentions the Amorites instead of the Amalekites and Canaanites, using the name in a broader sense for all the Canaanites, and contenting himself with naming the leading foes with whom the Amalekites who wandered about in the Negeb had allied themselves, as Bedouins thirsting for booty. These tribes came down (Numbers 14:45) from the height of the mountain to the lower plateau or saddle, which the Israelites had ascended, and smote them and יכּתוּם (from כּתת, with the reduplication of the second radical anticipated in the first: see Ewald, 193, c.), "discomfited them, as far as Hormah," or as Moses expressed it in Deuteronomy 1:44, They "chased you, as bees do" (which pursue with great ferocity any one who attacks or disturbs them), "and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah." There is not sufficient ground for altering "in Seir" into "from Seir," as the lxx, Syriac, and Vulgate have done. But בּשׂעיר might signify "into Seir, as far as Hormah." As the Edomites had extended their territory at that time across the Arabah towards the west, and taken possession of a portion of the mountainous country which bounded the desert of Paran towards the north (see at Numbers 34:3), the Israelites, when driven back by them, might easily be chased into the territory of the Edomites. Hormah (i.e., the ban-place) is used here proleptically (see at Numbers 21:3).
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