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Numbers 14:1-4

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.”

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.



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