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Numbers 14:1-10

Context
The Israelites Respond in Unbelief

14:1 1 Then all the community raised a loud cry, 2  and the people wept 3  that night. 14:2 And all the Israelites murmured 4  against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died 5  in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished 6  in this wilderness! 14:3 Why has the Lord brought us into this land only to be killed by the sword, that our wives and our children should become plunder? Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 14:4 So they said to one another, 7  “Let’s appoint 8  a leader 9  and return 10  to Egypt.”

14:5 Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces to the ground 11  before the whole assembled community 12  of the Israelites. 14:6 And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, two of those who had investigated the land, tore their garments. 14:7 They said to the whole community of the Israelites, “The land we passed through to investigate is an exceedingly 13  good land. 14:8 If the Lord delights in us, then he will bring us into this land and give it to us – a land that is flowing with milk and honey. 14  14:9 Only do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. 15  Their protection 16  has turned aside from them, but the Lord is with us. Do not fear them!”

14:10 However, the whole community threatened to stone them. 17  But 18  the glory 19  of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the tent 20  of meeting.

1 sn This chapter forms part of the story already begun. There are three major sections here: dissatisfaction with the reports (vv. 1-10), the threat of divine punishment (vv. 11-38), and the defeat of the Israelites (vv. 39-45). See K. D. Sakenfeld, “The Problem of Divine Forgiveness in Num 14,” CBQ 37 (1975): 317-30; also J. R. Bartlett, “The Use of the Word רֹאשׁ as a Title in the Old Testament,” VT 19 (1969): 1-10.

2 tn The two verbs “lifted up their voice and cried” form a hendiadys; the idiom of raising the voice means that they cried aloud.

3 tn There are a number of things that the verb “to weep” or “wail” can connote. It could reflect joy, grief, lamentation, or repentance, but here it reflects fear, hopelessness, or vexation at the thought of coming all this way and being defeated by the Canaanite armies. See Judg 20:23, 26.

4 tn The Hebrew verb “to murmur” is לוּן (lun). It is a strong word, signifying far more than complaining or grumbling, as some of the modern translations have it. The word is most often connected to the wilderness experience. It is paralleled in the literature with the word “to rebel.” The murmuring is like a parliamentary vote of no confidence, for they no longer trusted their leaders and wished to choose a new leader and return. This “return to Egypt” becomes a symbol of their lack of faith in the Lord.

5 tn The optative is expressed by לוּ (lu) and then the verb, here the perfect tense מַתְנוּ (matnu) – “O that we had died….” Had they wanted to die in Egypt they should not have cried out to the Lord to deliver them from bondage. Here the people became consumed with the fear and worry of what lay ahead, and in their panic they revealed a lack of trust in God.

6 tn Heb “died.”

7 tn Heb “a man to his brother.”

8 tn The verb is נָתַן (natan, “to give”), but this verb has quite a wide range of meanings in the Bible. Here it must mean “to make,” “to choose,” “to designate” or the like.

9 tn The word “head” (רֹאשׁ, rosh) probably refers to a tribal chief who was capable to judge and to lead to war (see J. R. Bartlett, “The Use of the Word רֹאשׁ as a Title in the Old Testament,” VT 19 [1969]: 1-10).

10 tn The form is a cohortative with a vav (ו) prefixed. After the preceding cohortative this could also be interpreted as a purpose or result clause – in order that we may return.

11 sn This action of Moses and Aaron is typical of them in the wilderness with the Israelites. The act shows self-abasement and deference before the sovereign Lord. They are not bowing before the people here, but in front of the people they bow before God. According to Num 17:6-15 this prostration is for the purpose of intercessory prayer. Here it prevents immediate wrath from God.

12 tn Heb “before all the assembly of the congregation.”

13 tn The repetition of the adverb מְאֹד (mÿod) is used to express this: “very, very [good].”

14 tn The subjective genitives “milk and honey” are symbols of the wealth of the land, second only to bread. Milk was a sign of such abundance (Gen 49:12; Isa 7:21,22). Because of the climate the milk would thicken quickly and become curds, eaten with bread or turned into butter. The honey mentioned here is the wild honey (see Deut 32:13; Judg 14:8-9). It signified sweetness, or the finer things of life (Ezek 3:3).

15 sn The expression must indicate that they could destroy the enemies as easily as they could eat bread.

16 tn Heb “their shade.” The figure compares the shade from the sun with the protection from the enemy. It is also possible that the text is alluding to their deities here.

17 tn Heb “said to stone them with stones.” The verb and the object are not from the same root, but the combination nonetheless forms an emphasis equal to the cognate accusative.

18 tn The vav (ו) on the noun “glory” indicates a strong contrast, one that interrupts their threatened attack.

19 sn The glory of the Lord refers to the reality of the Lord’s presence in a manifestation of his power and splendor. It showed to all that God was a living God. The appearance of the glory indicated blessing for the obedient, but disaster for the disobedient.

20 tc The Greek, Syriac, and Tg. Ps.-J. have “in the cloud over the tent.”



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