Matthew Poole's Commentary
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.The children of Israel murmur against Moses and Aaron, Numbers 14:1-4. Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua go to appease the people, Numbers 14:5-9; wherefore the people would have stoned them, Numbers 14:10. The Lord threateneth them with the pestilence, Numbers 14:11,12. Moses entreateth the Lord for the people, Numbers 14:13-19. The Lord heareth Moses, Numbers 14:20,21; yet promiseth that the murmurers shall never enter into the land of Canaan, Numbers 14:22,23. Judgments on the murmurers, Numbers 14:26-35. They that brought an evil report on the land die of the plague, Numbers 14:36,37. They who would take possession of the land contrary to God’s command are smitten, Numbers 14:40-45.
Except Caleb and Joshua, and some few others. A synecdochial expression, the whole for the greatest part.
And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!Against Moses and against Aaron, as the instruments and occasions of their present calamity.
That we had died in the wilderness: it was not long before they had their desire, and did die in the wilderness.
And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?From the instruments they rise higher, and strike at God the chief cause and author of their journey; by which we see the prodigious growth and progress of sin when it is not resisted. Should be a prey to the Canaanites, whose land we were made to believe we should possess.
And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.A captain, instead of Moses, one who will be more faithful to our interest than he. This was but a purpose or desire, and yet it is imputed to them as if they had done it, Nehemiah 9:16,17, they appointed a captain, &c., even as Abraham’s purpose to offer up Isaac is reckoned for the deed, Hebrews 11:17.
Let us return into Egypt. Stupendous madness! Whence should they have protection against the many hazards, and provision against all the wants of the wilderness? Could they expect either God’s cloud to cover and guide them, or manna from Heaven to lead them? Who should conduct them over the Red Sea? or, if they went another way, who should defend them against those nations whose borders they were to pass? What entertainment could they expect if the Egyptians, whom they had deserted and brought to so much ruin?
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.As humble and earnest suppliants, either to the people, to entreat them to desist from their wicked and pernicious enterprise; or rather, to God, by comparing this with Numbers 16:4 20:6, the only refuge to which Moses resorted in all such straits, and who alone was able to still and govern this tumultuous and stiff-necked people.
Before all the assembly, that they might be awaked to apprehend their sin and danger, when they saw Moses at his prayers, whom God never used to deny, and never failed to defend, even with the destruction of his enemies.
And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:To testify their hearty grief for the people’s blasphemy against God and sedition against Moses, and that dreadful judgment which they easily foresaw this must bring upon the congregation and people of God.
And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.No text from Poole on this verse.
If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.If by our rebellion and ingratitude we do not provoke God to loathe and forsake us.
Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.They are bread for us; we shall destroy them as easily as we do our bread or common food. Compare Numbers 24:8 Psalm 14:4.
Their defence, i.e. their counsel, conduct, and courage, and especially God, who was pleased to afford them his protection till their iniquities were full, Genesis 15:16, is utterly departed from them, and hath given them up as a prey to us.
The Lord is with us, by his special grace and almighty power, to save us from them; and from all our enemies.
But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.Now in the extremity of danger, to rescue his faithful servants, and to stop the rage of the people.
In the tabernacle, i.e. upon or above the tabernacle, where the cloud usually resided, in which the glory of God did appear upon occasion, and now in a more illustrious manner, as the state of things required.
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?No text from Poole on this verse.
I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.This was not an absolute determination, as the event showed, but only a condition, like that of Nineveh’s destruction within forty days, with a condition implied, except there be speedy repentance, or powerful intercession.
And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)Then, i.e. in case thou dost utterly destroy them.
Thou broughtest up this people, whereby thou didst get great honour to thyself, which now thou wilt certainly lose.
And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.To the inhabitants of this land, for there was much intercourse between these two nations.
Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,As one man, i.e. altogether, or to a man; and suddenly as it were by one blow, as if all had but one neck.
Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.His power was quite spent in bringing them out of Egypt, and could not finish the work he had begun and had sworn to do.
And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,Be great, i.e. appear to be great, discover its greatness; a real verb put for a declarative, or the thing for the manifestation of the thing. And this may be understood either,
1. Of God’s power in preserving the people, and carrying them on into Canaan, which sense may seem to be favoured by the foregoing verse, where the Egyptians deny that God had power to do so. And according to that sense he adds the following words, not as an explication of this power, but as an argument to move him to show forth his power for his people notwithstanding their sins, according as, or rather because, (as the Hebrew word is oft rendered,) he had spoken, saying, &c., and so he should maintain the honour and the truth of his own name, or of those titles which he had ascribed to himself. Or,
2. The power of his grace and mercy, or the greatness of his mercy, as he calls it, Numbers 14:19, in pardoning of this and their other sins; for to this the following words manifestly restrain it,
according as thou hast spoken, & c., where the pardon of their sins is the only instance of this power both described in God’s titles, Numbers 14:18, and prayed for by Moses, Numbers 14:19, pardon, I beseech thee, &c., and granted by God in answer to him, Numbers 14:20, I have pardoned, &c. Nor is it strange that the pardon of sin, especially of such great sins, be spoken of as an act of power in God, because undoubtedly it is an act of omnipotent and infinite goodness; whence despairing sinners sometimes cry out that their sins are greater than God can pardon, as some translate Cain’s words, Genesis 4:13. And since power is applied to God’s wrath in punishing sin, Romans 9:22, why may it not as well be attributed to God’s mercy in forgiving it? especially if it be considered that even in men revenge is an act of impotency, and consequently it must needs be an act of power to conquer their passions and inclinations to revenge, and to pardon those enemies whom they could destroy.
The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.These words may seem to be very improperly mentioned, as being a powerful argument to move God to destroy this wicked people, and not to pardon them. It may be answered, that Moses useth these words together with the rest, partly because he would not sever what God had put. together, and partly to show that he did not desire a fulfil and absolute pardon, (but was willing that God should execute his vengeance upon the principal authors of this rebellion, and leave some character of his displeasure upon all the people, as God did,) but only that God would not disinherit them, Numbers 14:12, nor kill all the people as one man, Numbers 14:15, nor destroy them both root and branch, because he, had promised not to extend his wrath against them in punishing their sins beyond the third and fourth generation. But the truer answer seems to be, that these words are to be translated otherwise, and in destroying he will not utterly destroy, though he visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children,
unto the third and fourth generation. Of which See Poole "Exodus 34:7", where all this verse is explained.
Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.After many and great provocations; show thyself still to be the same sin-pardoning God.
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:So far as not utterly to destroy them, as I threatened, Numbers 14:12, and thou didst fear, and beg the prevention of it, Numbers 14:15.
But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.i.e. With the report of the glorious and righteous acts of God in punishing this rebellious people in manner following. That this is the true sense, appears both from the particle of opposition, and the solemn introduction of them.
But truly as I live, and from the following verses, because all these men, &c, which come in without any note of opposition, and have a manifest relation to and connexion with this verse.
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;My glory, i.e. my glorious appearances in the cloud, and in the tabernacle.
Ten times, i.e. many times. A certain number for an uncertain, as Genesis 31:7 Leviticus 26:8 Job 19:3. Though some reckon ten times precisely, wherein they did eminently provoke God.
Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:No text from Poole on this verse.
But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.Joshua is not here named, because he was not now among the people, but a constant attendant upon Moses; nor was he to be reckoned as one of them, any more than Moses and Aaron were, because he was to be their chief commander.
Another spirit with him, i.e. was a man of another temper and carriage, faithful and courageous, not acted by that evil spirit of cowardice, unbelief, unthankfulness, disobedience, which ruled in his brethren, but by the Spirit of God.
Fully, i.e. universally and constantly, in and through difficulties and dangers, which made his partners halt.
The land whereinto he went; in general, Canaan, and particularly Hebron, and the adjacent parts, Joshua 14:9.
Shall possess it, or, shall expel it, i.e. its inhabitants, the land being oft put for the people of it. Compare Joshua 8:7 14:12.
(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.In the valley; beyond the mountain at the foot whereof they now were, Numbers 14:40. And this clause is added, either,
1. As an aggravation of Israel’s misery and punishment, that being now ready to enter and take possession of the land, they are forced to go back into the wilderness; or,
2. As an argument to oblige them more willingly to obey the following command of returning into the wilderness, because their enemies were very near them, and severed from them only by that Idumean mountain, and if they did not speedily depart, their enemies would hear of them and fall upon them, and so the evil which before they causelessly feared would come upon them; they, their wives, and their children would become a prey to the Amalekites and Canaanites, because God had forsaken them, and would not assist nor defend them. The verse may be rendered thus,
And, or But, for the present,
the Amalekite and the Canaanite dwell in the valley; therefore (which particle is here understood, as it is in other places)
to-morrow turn ye, & c. Though some knit these words to the former, and read the place thus, Caleb—and his seed shall possess it, to wit, the land near Hebron, and also the land of the Amalekites and of the Canaanites that dwell in the valley.
Quest. But how are the Canaanites said to dwell in the valley here, when they dwelt in the hill, Numbers 14:45, and by the sea-coasts, Numbers 21:1?
Answ. 1. Part of them dwelt in one place, and part in other places.
2. The word Canaanite may here be understood more generally of all the inhabitants of Canaan.
By the way of the Red Sea, i.e. that leadeth to the Red Sea, and to Egypt, the place whither you desire to return, Numbers 14:3,4.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.Bear with, or pardon, as Numbers 14:19,20, or spare; which words are necessarily and easily understood. It is a short and imperfect speech, which is frequent in case of anger, as Exodus 32:32 Psalm 6:3 90:13.
Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:As you wickedly wished you might have died in the wilderness, Numbers 14:2, I will bring your imprecations upon your heads.
Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,No text from Poole on this verse.
Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.To make you, i.e. your nation; for God did not swear to do so to these particular persons.
But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.No text from Poole on this verse.
But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.No text from Poole on this verse.
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.Wander, like sheep, feeding in the deserts; or shall be shepherds, i.e. shall live like the shepherds of Arabia, in tents, and removing from place to place, having no certain dwelling.
Forty years, i.e. so long as to make up the time of your dwelling in the wilderness forty years, as appears from Numbers 33:8 Deu 1:3 2:14. Compare Amos 5:25. It is manifest that one whole year and part of another were past before this sin or judgment.
Your whoredoms, i.e. the punishment of your whoredoms, to wit, of your apostacy from, and perfidiousness against, your Lord, who was your Husband, and had married you to himself. See Jeremiah 3:14. Whence idolatry is called whoredom.
After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.Each day for a year; so there should have been forty years to come, but God was pleased mercifully to accept of the time past as a part of that time.
My breach of promise, that as you have first broken the covenant between you and me, by breaking the terms or conditions of it, so I will make it void on my part, by denying you the blessings promised in that covenant, and to be given to you in case of your obedience. So you shall see that the breach of promise wherewith you charged me, Numbers 14:3, lies at your door, and was forced from me by your perfidiousness. Or, my breach; either passively, i.e. your breaking off from me, as such pronouns are oft used, as Genesis 1:4 Isaiah 53:11 56:7; or actively, i.e. my breaking off or departing from you, and stopping the current of my blessings towards you; you shall feel by experience how sad your condition is when I withdraw my grace and favour from you.
I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land,No text from Poole on this verse.
Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.Either by the pestilence threatened Numbers 14:12, or by some other sudden and extraordinary judgment, sent from the cloud in which God dwelt, and from whence he spake to Moses, and wherein his glory at this time appeared before all the people, Numbers 14:10, who therefore were all, and these spies among the rest, before the Lord.
But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.No text from Poole on this verse.
And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.Gat them up, i.e. designed, or attempted, or prepared themselves to go up; for that they were not yet actually gone up, plainly appears from Numbers 14:42,44, and from Deu 1:41. Things designed or endeavoured in Scripture phrase are oft said to be done. See on Genesis 37:21,22 Exo 8:18.
And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper.The commandment of the Lord; either that command, Go not up, &c., which, though in this place mentioned after, yet may seem to have gone before their transgression, by comparing this place with Deu 1:42,43; or that command above, Numbers 14:25, Turn ye, and get ye into the wilderness, &c., which was a course directly contrary to that which they took.
Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.No text from Poole on this verse.
For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the LORD, therefore the LORD will not be with you.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.They presumed; guilty both of rashness and rebellion; thus running from one extreme to another.
Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.The Canaanite; largely so called, but strictly the Arnorite, as appears from Deu 1:44.
Which dwelt; so they were a part and branch of those that dwelt in the valley, Numbers 14:25. Or, sat, i.e. placed themselves, lay in ambush, expecting your coming.
Hormah; a place so called afterwards Numbers 21:3, from the great slaughter or destruction of the Israelites at this time.