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Numbers 11:4-6

Context
Complaints about Food

11:4 1 Now the mixed multitude 2  who were among them craved more desirable foods, 3  and so the Israelites wept again 4  and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5  11:5 We remember 6  the fish we used to eat 7  freely 8  in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 11:6 But now we 9  are dried up, 10  and there is nothing at all before us 11  except this manna!”

1 sn The story of the sending of the quail is a good example of poetic justice, or talionic justice. God had provided for the people, but even in that provision they were not satisfied, for they remembered other foods they had in Egypt. No doubt there was not the variety of foods in the Sinai that might have been available in Egypt, but their life had been bitter bondage there as well. They had cried to the Lord for salvation, but now they forget, as they remember things they used to have. God will give them what they crave, but it will not do for them what they desire. For more information on this story, see B. J. Malina, The Palestinian Manna Tradition. For the attempt to explain manna and the other foods by natural phenomena, see F. W. Bodenheimer, “The Manna of Sinai,” BA 10 (1947): 1-6.

2 tn The mixed multitude (or “rabble,” so NASB, NIV, NRSV; NLT “foreign rabble”) is the translation of an unusual word, הֲָאסַפְסֻף (hasafsuf). It occurs in the Hebrew Bible only here. It may mean “a gathering of people” from the verb אָסַף (’asaf), yielding the idea of a mixed multitude (in line with Exod 12:38). But the root is different, and so no clear connection can be established. Many commentators therefore think the word is stronger, showing contempt through a word that would be equivalent to “riff-raff.”

3 tn The Hebrew simply uses the cognate accusative, saying “they craved a craving” (הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה, hitavvu tavah), but the context shows that they had this strong craving for food. The verb describes a strong desire, which is not always negative (Ps 132:13-14). But the word is a significant one in the Torah; it was used in the garden story for Eve’s desire for the tree, and it is used in the Decalogue in the warning against coveting (Deut 5:21).

4 tc The Greek and the Latin versions read “and they sat down” for “and they returned,” involving just a change in vocalization (which they did not have). This may reflect the same expression in Judg 20:26. But the change does not improve this verse.

tn The Hebrew text uses a verbal hendiadys here, one word serving as an adverb for the other. It literally reads “and they returned and they wept,” which means they wept again. Here the weeping is put for the complaint, showing how emotionally stirred up the people had become by the craving. The words throughout here are metonymies. The craving is a metonymy of cause, for it would have then led to expressions (otherwise the desires would not have been known). And the weeping is either a metonymy of effect, or of adjunct, for the actual complaints follow.

5 tn The Hebrew expresses the strong wish or longing idiomatically: “Who will give us flesh to eat?” It is a rhetorical expression not intended to be taken literally, but merely to give expression to the longing they had. See GKC 476 §151.a.1.

6 tn The perfect tense here expresses the experience of a state of mind.

sn As with all who complain in such situations, their memory was selective. It was their bitter cries to the Lord from the suffering in bondage that God heard and answered. And now, shortly after being set free, their memory of Egypt is for things they do not now have. It is also somewhat unlikely that they as slaves had such abundant foods in Egypt.

7 tn The imperfect tense would here be the customary imperfect, showing continual or incomplete action in past time.

8 tn The adverb “freely” is from the word חָנַן (khanan, “to be gracious”), from which is derived the noun “grace.” The word underscores the idea of “free, without cost, for no reason, gratis.” Here the simple sense is “freely,” without any cost. But there may be more significance in the choice of the words in this passage, showing the ingratitude of the Israelites to God for His deliverance from bondage. To them now the bondage is preferable to the salvation – this is what angered the Lord.

9 tn Heb “our souls.”

10 sn The Hebrews were complaining both about the bland taste of the manna and dehydration – they were parched in the wilderness.

11 tn Heb “before our eyes,” meaning that “we see nothing except this manna.”



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