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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!”

Numbers 11:18-35

Context

11:18 “And say to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves 12  for tomorrow, and you will eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing 13  of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat, 14  for life 15  was good for us in Egypt?” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat. 11:19 You will eat, not just one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, 11:20 but a whole month, 16  until it comes out your nostrils and makes you sick, 17  because you have despised 18  the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why 19  did we ever come out of Egypt?”’”

11:21 Moses said, “The people around me 20  are 600,000 on foot; 21  but you say, ‘I will give them meat, 22  that they may eat 23  for a whole month.’ 11:22 Would they have enough if the flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? If all the fish of the sea were caught for them, would they have enough?” 11:23 And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? 24  Now you will see whether my word to you will come true 25  or not!”

11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. He then gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and had them stand around the tabernacle. 11:25 And the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to them, and he took some of the Spirit that was on Moses 26  and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, 27  they prophesied, 28  but did not do so again. 29 

Eldad and Medad

11:26 But two men remained in the camp; one’s name was Eldad, and the other’s name was Medad. And the spirit rested on them. (Now they were among those in the registration, 30  but had not gone to the tabernacle.) So they prophesied in the camp. 11:27 And a 31  young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” 11:28 Joshua son of Nun, the servant 32  of Moses, one of his choice young men, 33  said, 34  “My lord Moses, stop them!” 35  11:29 Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for me? 36  I wish that 37  all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 11:30 Then Moses returned to the camp along with the elders of Israel.

Provision of Quail

11:31 Now a wind 38  went out 39  from the Lord and brought quail 40  from the sea, and let them fall 41  near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side, and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about three feet 42  high on the surface of the ground. 11:32 And the people stayed up 43  all that day, all that night, and all the next day, and gathered the quail. The one who gathered the least gathered ten homers, 44  and they spread them out 45  for themselves all around the camp. 11:33 But while the meat was still between their teeth, before they chewed it, 46  the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague.

11:34 So the name of that place was called Kibroth Hattaavah, 47  because there they buried the people that craved different food. 48  11:35 The people traveled from Kibroth Hattaavah to Hazeroth, and they stayed at Hazeroth.

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.”

12 tn The Hitpael is used to stress that they are to prepare for a holy appearance. The day was going to be special and so required their being set apart for it. But it is a holy day in the sense of the judgment that was to follow.

13 tn Heb “in the ears.”

14 tn Possibly this could be given an optative translation, to reflect the earlier one: “O that someone would give….” But the verb is not the same; here it is the Hiphil of the verb “to eat” – “who will make us eat” (i.e., provide meat for us to eat).

15 tn The word “life” is not in the text. The expression is simply “it was for us,” or “we had good,” meaning “we had it good,” or “life was good.”

16 tn Heb “a month of days.” So also in v. 21.

17 tn The expression לְזָרָה (lÿzarah) has been translated “ill” or “loathsome.” It occurs only here in the Hebrew Bible. The Greek text interprets it as “sickness.” It could be nausea or vomiting (so G. B. Gray, Numbers [ICC], 112) from overeating.

18 sn The explanation is the interpretation of their behavior – it is in reality what they have done, even though they would not say they despised the Lord. They had complained and shown a lack of faith and a contempt for the program, which was in essence despising the Lord.

19 tn The use of the demonstrative pronoun here (“why is this we went out …”) is enclitic, providing emphasis to the sentence: “Why in the world did we ever leave Egypt?”

20 tn Heb “the people who I am in their midst,” i.e., among whom I am.

21 tn The Hebrew sentence stresses the number. The sentence begins “600,000….”

22 tn The word order places the object first here: “Meat I will give them.” This adds to the contrast between the number and the statement of the Lord.

23 tn The verb is the perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive, carrying the sequence from the preceding imperfect tense. However, this verb may be subordinated to the preceding to express a purpose clause.

24 sn This anthropomorphic expression concerns the power of God. The “hand of the Lord” is idiomatic for his power, what he is able to do. The question is rhetorical; it is affirming that his hand is not shortened, i.e., that his power is not limited. Moses should have known this, and so this is a rebuke for him at this point. God had provided the manna, among all the other powerful acts they had witnessed. Meat would be no problem. But the lack of faith by the people was infectious.

25 tn Or “will happen” (TEV); KJV “shall come to pass unto thee.”

26 tn Heb “on him”; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

27 tn The temporal clause is introduced by the temporal indicator וַיְהִי (vayÿhi), which need not be translated. It introduces the time of the infinitive as past time narrative. The infinitive construct is from נוּחַ (nuakh, “to rest”). The figurative expression of the Spirit resting upon them indicates the temporary indwelling and empowering by the Spirit in their lives.

28 tn The text may mean that these men gave ecstatic utterances, much like Saul did when the Spirit came upon him and he made the same prophetic utterances (see 1 Sam 10:10-13). But there is no strong evidence for this (see K. L. Barker, “Zechariah,” EBC 7:605-6). In fact there is no consensus among scholars as to the origin and meaning of the verb “prophesy” or the noun “prophet.” It has something to do with speech, being God’s spokesman or spokeswoman or making predictions or authoritative utterances or ecstatic utterances. It certainly does mean that the same Holy Spirit, the same divine provision that was for Moses to enable him to do the things that God had commanded him to do, was now given to them. It would have included wisdom and power with what they were saying and doing – in a way that was visible and demonstrable to the people! The people needed to know that the same provision was given to these men, authenticating their leadership among the clans. And so it could not simply be a change in their understanding and wisdom.

29 tn The final verb of the clause stresses that this was not repeated: “they did not add” is the literal rendering of וְלֹא יָסָפוּ (vÿloyasafu). It was a one-time spiritual experience associated with their installation.

30 tn The form of the word is the passive participle כְּתֻבִים (kÿtuvim, “written”). It is normally taken to mean “among those registered,” but it is not clear if that means they were to be among the seventy or not. That seems unlikely since there is no mention of the seventy being registered, and vv. 24-25 says all seventy went out and prophesied. The registration may be to eldership, or the role of the officer.

31 tn The article indicates that the “young man” was definite in the mind of the writer, but indefinite in English.

32 tn The form is the Piel participle מְשָׁרֵת (mÿsharet), meaning “minister, servant, assistant.” The word has a loftier meaning than the ordinary word for slave.

33 tn The verb is בָּחַר (bakhar, “to choose”); here the form is the masculine plural participle with a suffix, serving as the object of the preposition מִן (min). It would therefore mean “[one of] his chosen men,” or “[one of] his choice men.”

34 tn Heb “answered and said.”

35 sn The effort of Joshua is to protect Moses’ prerogative as leader by stopping these men in the camp from prophesying. Joshua did not understand the significance in the Lord’s plan to let other share the burden of leadership.

36 tn The Piel participle מְקַנֵּא (mÿqanne’) serves as a verb here in this interrogative sentence. The word means “to be jealous; to be envious.” That can be in a good sense, such as with the translation “zeal,” or it can be in a negative sense as here. Joshua’s apparent “zeal” is questioned by Moses – was he zealous/envious for Moses sake, or for some other reason?

37 tn The optative is expressed by the interrogative clause in Hebrew, “who will give….” Moses expresses here the wish that the whole nation would have that portion of the Spirit. The new covenant, of course, would turn Moses’ wish into a certainty.

38 sn The irony in this chapter is expressed in part by the use of the word רוּחַ (ruakh). In the last episode it clearly meant the Spirit of the Lord that empowered the men for their spiritual service. But here the word is “wind.” Both the spiritual service and the judgment come from God.

39 tn The verb means “burst forth” or “sprang up.” See the ways it is used in Gen 33:12, Judg 16:3, 14; Isa 33:20.

40 sn The “quail” ordinarily cross the Sinai at various times of the year, but what is described here is not the natural phenomenon. Biblical scholars looking for natural explanations usually note that these birds fly at a low height and can be swatted down easily. But the description here is more of a supernatural supply and provision. See J. Gray, “The Desert Sojourn of the Hebrews and the Sinai Horeb Tradition,” VT 4 (1954): 148-54.

41 tn Or “left them fluttering.”

42 tn Heb “two cubits.” The standard cubit in the OT is assumed by most authorities to be about eighteen inches (45 cm) in length.

43 tn Heb “rose up, stood up.”

44 sn This is about two thousand liters.

45 tn The verb (a preterite) is followed by the infinitive absolute of the same root, to emphasize the action of spreading out the quail. Although it is hard to translate the expression, it indicates that they spread these quail out all over the area. The vision of them spread all over was evidence of God’s abundant provision for their needs.

46 tn The verb is a prefixed conjugation, normally an imperfect tense. But coming after the adverb טֶּרֶם (terem) it is treated as a preterite.

47 sn The name “the graves of the ones who craved” is again explained by a wordplay, a popular etymology. In Hebrew קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה (qivrot hattaavah) is the technical name. It is the place that the people craved the meat, longing for the meat of Egypt, and basically rebelled against God. The naming marks another station in the wilderness where the people failed to accept God’s good gifts with grace and to pray for their other needs to be met.

48 tn The words “different food” are implied, and are supplied in the translation for clarity.



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