Numbers 14:1-45 . THE PEOPLE MURMUR AT THE SPIES' REPORT.
1. all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried--Not literally all, for there were some exceptions.
2-4. Would God that we had died in Egypt--Such insolence to their generous leaders, and such base ingratitude to God, show the deep degradation of the Israelites, and the absolute necessity of the decree that debarred that generation from entering the promised land [ Numbers 14:29-35 ]. They were punished by their wishes being granted to die in that wilderness [ Hebrews 3:17 , Jude 1:5 ]. A leader to reconduct them to Egypt is spoken of ( Nehemiah 9:17 ) as actually nominated. The sinfulness and insane folly of their conduct are almost incredible. Their conduct, however, is paralleled by too many among us, who shrink from the smallest difficulties and rather remain slaves to sin than resolutely try to surmount the obstacles that lie in their way to the Canaan above.
5. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces--as humble and earnest suppliants--either to the people, entreating them to desist from so perverse a design; or rather, to God, as the usual and only refuge from the violence of that tumultuous and stiff-necked rabble--a hopeful means of softening and impressing their hearts.
6. Joshua . . . and Caleb, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes--The two honest spies testified their grief and horror, in the strongest manner, at the mutiny against Moses and the blasphemy against God; while at the same time they endeavored, by a truthful statement, to persuade the people of the ease with which they might obtain possession of so desirable a country, provided they did not, by their rebellion and ingratitude, provoke God to abandon them.
8. a land flowing with milk and honey--a general expression, descriptive of a rich and fertile country. The two articles specified were among the principal products of the Holy Land.
9. their defence is departed--Hebrew, "their shadow." The Sultan of Turkey and the Shah of Persia are called "the shadow of God," "the refuge of the world." So that the meaning of the clause, "their defence is departed from them," is, that the favor of God was now lost to those whose iniquities were full ( Genesis 15:16 ), and transferred to the Israelites.
10. the glory of the Lord appeared--It was seasonably manifested on this great emergency to rescue His ambassadors from their perilous situation.
12. the Lord said, . . . I will smite them with the pestilence--not a final decree, but a threatening, suspended, as appeared from the issue, on the intercession of Moses and the repentance of Israel.
17. let the power of my Lord be great--be magnified.
21. all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord--This promise, in its full acceptation, remains to be verified by the eventual and universal prevalence of Christianity in the world. But the terms were used restrictively in respect to the occasion, to the report which would spread over all the land of the "terrible things in righteousness" [ Psalms 65:5 ] which God would do in the infliction of the doom described, to which that rebellious race was now consigned.
22. ten times--very frequently.
24. my servant Caleb--Joshua was also excepted, but he is not named because he was no longer in the ranks of the people, being a constant attendant on Moses.
because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully--Under the influence of God's Spirit, Caleb was a man of bold, generous, heroic courage, above worldly anxieties and fears.
25. (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley)--that is, on the other side of the Idumean mountain, at whose base they were then encamped. Those nomad tribes had at that time occupied it with a determination to oppose the further progress of the Hebrew people. Hence God gave the command that they seek a safe and timely retreat into the desert, to escape the pursuit of those resolute enemies, to whom, with their wives and children, they would fall a helpless prey because they had forfeited the presence and protection of God. This verse forms an important part of the narrative and should be freed from the parenthetical form which our English translators have given it.
30. save Caleb . . . and Joshua--These are specially mentioned, as honorable exceptions to the rest of the scouts, and also as the future leaders of the people. But it appears that some of the old generation did not join in the mutinous murmuring, including in that number the whole order of the priests ( Joshua 14:1 ).
34. ye shall know my breach of promise--that is, in consequence of your violation of the covenant betwixt you and Me, by breaking the terms of it, it shall be null and void on My part, as I shall withhold the blessings I promised in that covenant to confer on you on condition of your obedience.
36-38. those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord--Ten of the spies struck dead on the spot--either by the pestilence or some other judgment. This great and appalling mortality clearly betokened the hand of the Lord.
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.
45. even unto Hormah--The name was afterwards given to that place in memory of the immense slaughter of the Israelites on this occasion.