The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:18 (Numbers 11:18)

Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow. By certain ablutions, and by avoidance of legal pollution (see Exodus 19:10 , Exodus 19:14 , Exodus 19:15 ). The people were to prepare themselves as for some revelation of God's holiness and majesty. In truth it was for a revelation of his wrath, and of the bitter consequences of sin. There is about the words, as interpreted by the result, a depth of very terrible meaning; it was as though a traitor, unknowing of his doom, were bidden to a grand ceremonial on the morrow, which ceremonial should be his own execution. For it was well with us in Egypt. These false and wicked words, in which the base ingratitude of the people reached its highest pitch, are repeated to them in the message of God with a quiet sternness which gave no sign to their callous ears of the wrath they had aroused.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. THAT ALL THIS SIN AND MISERY BEGAN WITH " LUST ," i.e; UNHALLOWED AND UNRESTRAINED DESIRE , which is indeed the inner source of all iniquity, because it is the will of the creature setting itself upon that which the Creator has forbidden or denied; hence it is the simplest and readiest way in which the creature can rebel against the Creator, for it is always possible, and indeed easy, to lust, and there is no one who is not tempted to it. Thus Eve lusted for the forbidden fruit, and brought death into the world. Even so St. James says, "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and is enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin." And our Saviour, that all evil proceeds out of the heart, which is the seat of the emotions and desires. If, therefore, our desires were held in subjection to the will and word of God, there would be no sin in us; but as long as concupiscence is in us, it will assuredly draw us into evil (cf. Romans 7:7 , Romans 7:8 , Romans 7:11 ; Ephesians 2:3 ; 1 John 2:16 ).

II. THAT THE FIRST EXPRESSION ( AT ANY RATE ) OF THIS UNHALLOWED DESIRE CAME FROM THE MIXED MULTITUDE —the aliens, or half-breeds, who had come with them, not from faith in God, but from inferior motives. Even so the low moral tone and the frequent enormities chargeable upon Christians are due in the first instance to those who are only nominally Christian, who have been attracted into the fellowship either by accident of birth or by worldly and unspiritual motives. It is the fate of every great and successful movement to carry away with it many who have (inwardly) no sympathy with it and no part in it. So it was with Israel, so with the Church of Christ, so with any religious revival. Here is the great danger of an established and fashionable Christianity; it numbers a multitude of nominal adherents, whose motives and desires are wholly unchastened, and who are always ready to set the worst example, and to encourage the most pernicious practices. Compare the "false brethren," 2 Corinthians 11:26 .

III. THAT THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL WERE CARRIED AWAY WITH IT , IN SPITE OF THE WARNING THEY HAD SO RECENTLY RECEIVED AT TABEERAH . No doubt it spread the more rapidly because,

Even so it is the most striking feature of sin in feeling or in act that it becomes an epidemic which only a very sound and vigorous spiritual state can resist. Compare the case of Judas and the other apostles ( Matthew 26:8 , Matthew 26:9 ; John 12:4 , John 12:5 ); compare St. Peter and the Judaisers (Galatians if. 12, 13); compare the Corinthians ( 1 Corinthians 5:1 , 1 Corinthians 5:2 , 1 Corinthians 5:6 , 1 Corinthians 5:11 ); and the sins which each generation of Christians has committed or does commit in common—such as lying, dueling, swindling. There is no sin against which more fearful warnings and examples lie than that of covetousness; yet there is none of which Christians are more generally guilty under stress of bad example and the low moral tone and degraded traditions of society, of trade, of business, &c.; The warnings of the New Testament, though always fresh in the hearing and clear in the remembrance of Christian people, are absolutely ineffective as against the common promptings of evil desire.

IV. THAT WHAT THEY EVILLY DESIRED WAS NOT EVIL IN ITSELF . There was no harm in eating flesh, nor were any of the cheap luxuries they coveted objectionable in themselves. Even so we ever excuse ourselves for wanting, because what we want is not forbidden, but only denied. There is no harm (absolutely) in being rich, therefore we take no shame at covetousness. There is no harm (absolutely) in the pleasures of the flesh, therefore we are ready to excuse any indulgence in them. Christian morality is a law of liberty, unbound by formal rules, therefore we boldly strain that liberty to our immediate advantage, and fancy that the absence of prohibition is tantamount to actual allowance on the part of God.

V. THAT WHAT THEY DESIRED WAS WRONG , BECAUSE ,

Even so sinful greed among Christians is known by the same three tokens.

(2) It is a craving for things essentially connected with the bondage of sin and worldliness, from which we are escaped. Such luxuries as wealth, rank, or fashion can afford are (without being in themselves evil) so closely connected with evil that every earnest Christian must dread rather than covet them ( Matthew 6:19 , Matthew 6:21 , Matthew 6:31 , Matthew 6:32 a; Luke 6:24 ; Luke 16:19 , Luke 16:25 ; James 5:1 ).

VI. THAT THE UNRESTRAINED WEEPING OF THE PEOPLE FOR THE DAINTIES THEY COULD NOT HAVE WAS EXCEEDING HATEFUL IN THE SIGHT OF GOD . It did indeed make no account of all his mercies, but rather reproached him for bringing them out of Egypt and setting them free. It was as good as saying they wished he had never troubled himself about them. Even so the greed of Christians is an open reproach against him that loved them and gave himself for them, as though he had done nothing to earn their trust and gratitude, and had rather treated them unkindly. He who passionately desires earthly gains, or bitterly laments earthly losses, flings contempt upon the gifts of Heaven and reproach upon his God and Saviour. Wherefore it speaks of "the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth" ( Psalms 10:3 ; cf. Luke 12:15 ; Ephesians 5:3 ; Colossians 3:5 ; James 4:3 , James 4:4 ).

VII. THAT THE LORD , IN ORDER TO PUNISH THE PEOPLE , GAVE THEM AN ABUNDANCE OF WHAT THEY ASKED FOR . Even so God punishes our greed by letting us have as much as we want of the coveted thing. The covetous person is punished by ample wealth, the slothful by abundance of ease, the proud by success and flattery, the vain by large admiration, the sensual by unstinted gratification. Thus the man punishes himself, the Lord providing h{m with the means of destruction. Whether we like it or not, this is the law of Providence; and to us it is the justice of God. Compare the case of Pharaoh ( Romans 9:17 , Romans 9:18 ); of the rich fool ( Luke 12:16 ); of Herod ( Acts 12:22 ).

VIII. THAT THE PEOPLE IN THEIR GREED LABOURED DAY AND NIGHT TO ACCUMULATE PRODIGIOUS QUANTITIES OF FOOD WHICH THEY NEVER ATE . Even so do vain men labour and toil to lay up treasures upon earth, never resting as long as anything remains to be got—treasures which after all they shall never enjoy, and shall perhaps eternally regret ( Matthew 19:24 ; Luke 12:21 ; Luke 16:25 ; James 5:2 ; Revelation 3:17 ).

IX. THAT THE PEOPLE , APART FROM ANY SUPERNATURAL INTERVENTION , WOULD HAVE SICKENED OF THE QUANTITY OF ANIMAL FOOD THEY THOUGHT TO EAT , AND FOUND IT " LOATHSOME ." Even so self-indulgence soon reaches its natural limits, even when left to itself, and provokes a natural reaction of disgust. If this world were all, moderation, self-restraint, and contentment with a little would still make a happier life than luxury and dissipation. The "roses and raptures of vice" which are sung by many poets, ancient and modern, do not only fade very quickly, but leave a very evil smell behind them.

X. THAT THE JUSTICE Or GOD LEFT NOT THE ISRAELITES TO THE SLOW REVENGE OF NATURAL SATIETY ; hardly had they tasted the flesh ere the plague began among them. Even so greed has its natural reaction of misery, even in the life of this world, but it has its Divine punishment in the soul. "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul," says the Psalmist ( Psalms 106:15 ), revealing the spiritual truth which lay hid in this history. There is a balance Divinely held between the bodily life and that of the soul, so that if the first is full and fat and well-liking, the second is empty and lean and ill-favoured. No man can cater greedily for his body without impoverishing his soul; no man Can gratify eagerly his carnal appetites without incurring spiritual disease ( Luke 6:24-26 ).

XI. THAT ONE OF THE EARLIEST STATIONS ON THE WAY TO CANAAN WAS " THE GRAVES OF GREED ," AND THAT THE NEXT WAS " ENCLOSURES ." Even so in the heavenward journey of the Church we soon come (alas, how soon I) to the graves of greed, to the dishonourable sepulchers of such as perished through love of money or of pleasure. Behold the graves of Ananias, of Sapphira, of those who "slept" at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 11:30 ), of "that woman Jezebel" ( Revelation 2:20 ), of Demas. And after this we come to "enclosures "—long series of outward restrictions and regulations, some apostolic and some later, which mark a stage in the Church's journey, and testify to her efforts to maintain her moral purity (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9 , 1 Corinthians 5:11 ; 1 Corinthians 11:34 b; 1 Timothy 5:9 ). And what is true of the Church is true of many an individual member. As memory retraces the onward path, how soon come the "graves of greed," the sad memorials of passions sinfully indulged and sharply revenged! and after that the "enclosures "—the restraints and restrictions by which liberty was perforce abridged in order that sin and folly might be fenced out.

Consider, again, with respect to the manna—

I. THAT THE PEOPLE WERE REALLY TEMPTED TO WEARY OF THE SAMENESS AND INSIPIDITY OF THE MANNA , their staple food. To a palate accustomed to the pungent condiments and varied delicacies of Egypt, it was a great trial to have nothing but manna for a year; no doubt it failed to satisfy the appetite, and cloyed upon the taste, in spite of its wholesome and nutritious qualities. Even so it is a real trial to one who has known the excitements of sin and the dissipations of the world to satisfy himself with the spiritual joys and interests of religion, and we ought to recognize the fact that it is a real trial. In many Who have been recovered from a life of indulgence the craving for excitement is at times almost intolerable. Nature itself, even when not depraved by long habit, longs for excitement and change, and wearies of the calm monotony of faith, hope, and charity. Even the "sweetness" of the bread of life, which is at first as "honey" and as "fresh oil" to the starved and sickly soul, palls upon it after a while, and the old longings reassert themselves. How many tire of "angels' food" who took to it eagerly enough at first I (cf. 1 Timothy 5:11-13 , 1 Timothy 5:15 ; Revelation 2:4 ).

II. THAT THE MANNA WAS IN FORM AS " CORIANDER SEED ," WHICH WE KNOW ; IN COLOUR AS " BDELLIUM ," WHICH WE DO NOT KNOW . Even so there is about the true bread of heaven a mixture of the known and the unknown, of that which can be expressed, and of that which passes human understanding. The coriander seed is of common use, but the bdellium is of paradise ( Genesis 2:12 ). And so may we all know the beauty of Christ in part, but in part we shall never know until we see him as he is (cf. Revelation 2:17 , "hidden manna;" Revelation 3:12 , "my new name;" Revelation 19:12 ).

III. THAT THE PEOPLE HABITUALLY PREPARED THE MANNA FOR EATING IN VARIOUS WAYS , as experience and their own preference guided them. Even so the manna of souls, although it does not need, yet it does not reject, the use of human means and art in order to present it acceptably to the spiritual needs of men. God has nowhere said that all men, of whatsoever habit of mind, must receive the word and sacrament of Christ in the simplest and barest form, or not at all; it is only needful that Christ, however received, be the sole and substantial sustenance of the soul ( John 6:50 , John 6:58 ; 1 Corinthians 3:11 ; Galatians 1:9 ; Philippians 1:18 ).

Consider, again, with respect to Moses and the seventy—

I. THAT THE SIN OF THE PEOPLE LED TO A DIFFERENT SIN IN MOSES . He would never have murmured at hardships, or have lusted; but he lost his temper, and spake unadvisedly with his lips. Even so sin constantly leads to sin, even where it has no direct influence, and other people's faults are often not less dangerous temptations to us because we abhor them. Thus a frivolous wife may make a soured husband; an unprincipled father a hard and stern child; a worldly clergyman a sarcastic and incredulous congregation (cf. Matthew 24:12 ; Luke 18:11 ; Romans 2:22 b).

II. THAT THE TEMPTATION UNDER WHICH MOSES FELL WAS A PECULIARLY INSIDIOUS ONE . His passionate anger with the people and disgust with his position as their leader might seem only a noble indignation against wrong. Even so many are tempted to feel nothing but scorn at "baptized heathenism," and impatience with the moral failures of the age, without due consideration either of the wise and loving purposes of God or of their own duties ( Psalms 37:8 ; Jonah 4:9 ; Ephesians 4:26 , Ephesians 4:27 ; James 1:19 , James 1:20 ).

III. THAT IN HIS SORROW AND RESENTMENT BY REASON OF THE WICKED HE WAS GUILTY OF GRAVE INJUSTICE AND INSOLENCE AGAINST GOD . Even so we, if we are carried away by indignation against un-Christlike Christians, are in danger of sinning against God, who has borne with them, and bears with them still, and who has made us responsible not for their perfection, but only for our own, and has not given to any a greater burden than he is able to bear ( Luke 9:55 , Luke 9:56 ; 2 Corinthians 2:11 ; 2 Timothy 2:21 , 2 Timothy 2:25 , 2 Timothy 2:26 ; 2 Peter 3:15 ).

IV. THAT MOSES ALSO ERRED BY FORMING FAR TOO HIGH AN ESTIMATE OF HIS OWN OFFICIAL IMPORTANCE AND RESPONSIBILITY , as though he had been the real father of his people, whereas "one was their Father, which was in heaven." Even so it is very easy and natural for us, if we are in earnest, to exaggerate the importance of our work, and to mistake the nature of our responsibility in the Church. It is only God who by his one Spirit does all good work in the Church, and he will take care that it is done to his own mind; we are but instruments, who have no responsibility, save that of being "meet for the Master's use" ( 1 Corinthians 3:5 ; 1 Corinthians 4:2 ; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ).

V. THAT GOD WAS EXCEEDING MERCIFUL TO THE SIN OF MOSES , because it was of human infirmity, and because it was the petulant outbreak of a mind and heart overcharged with grief and failure. Even so did our Lord bear with his apostles, and will bear with all the errors and outbreaks of an honest heart ( Psalms 103:13 , Psalms 103:14 ; Luke 22:31-34 , Luke 22:61 ; John 20:27 ).

VI. THAT GOD ALLOWED THE ONE COMPLAINT OF MOSES WHICH WAS REASONABLE , AND FOUNDED THE PROPHETIC ORDER TO ASSIST IN THE RELIGIOUS DIRECTION OF THE PEOPLE . Even so out of complaints and difficulties have arisen many permanent gifts of the Spirit to the Church, for in this as in other ways man's extremity is God's opportunity. Thus out of tile murmuring of the Grecians arose the diaconate ( Acts 6:1 , Acts 6:6 ); out of the troubles at Corinth the better regulation of the Agape and the Eucharist ( 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 ).

VII. THAT IT WAS THE SPIRIT WHICH RESTED UPON MOSES WHICH WAS COMMUNICATED TO THE SEVENTY , inasmuch as their prophetic office was to be held and exercised in unity with, and subordination to, the mediator of Israel. Even so it is the Spirit of Jesus which-is the spirit of prophecy—the Spirit of Christ and from Christ which must rest upon every Christian teacher. The anointing which qualifies to speak Divine mysteries must be from him who was anointed the one Mediator and the only Prophet ( John 1:16 , John 1:33 ; John 16:13 , John 16:14 , &c.;).

VIII. THAT THE ANOINTING OF THE SPIRIT SHOWED ITSELF IN THE SEVENTY BY ECSTATIC UTTERANCE —A THING NEVER RECORDED OF MOSES HIMSELF . Even so the first evidence of the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ upon the disciples was that they spake with tongues, which our Lord had never done; for all such manifestations are for a sign, and are no evidence of any superior greatness or holiness in the person so endowed. How often are mere "gifts" mistaken for intrinsic worth, and "the disciple" really esteemed "above his master," because he is not" as his master"! ( John 14:12 b; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ).

IX. THAT THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT WAS INDEPENDENT OF OUTWARD ACCIDENTS , THOUGH NOT OF OUTWARD ORDER . The designation of the seventy was left to Moses, and Eldad and Medad were among the number selected; they were prevented from attending at the tabernacle, but they received the same gift as the others. Even so the gifts of the Spirit are not independent of ecclesiastical order, nor are they bestowed at random; but they are not restrained by anything unavoidable or accidental. It is the purpose of God which is operative, not the ceremonial, however authoritative. The Spirit of God is a free Spirit, even where he elects to act through certain channels (cf. Acts 1:26 ; Acts 13:2 ; 1 Corinthians 12:11 ; 2 Corinthians 3:17 ).

X. THAT THE JEALOUSY OF JOSHUA FOR HIS MASTER WAS RIGHT IN PRINCIPLE , ALTHOUGH WRONG IN THE PARTICULAR APPLICATION . It was impossible for him always to distinguish between a right and a wrong jealousy for the authority and supremacy of Moses. Even so jealousy for the sole pre-eminence of Christ is deeply rooted in all true Christian hearts, but it constantly shows itself in the most mistaken forms. The most opposite bigotries derive their strength from this principle in ignorant or prejudiced minds, and indeed the very best and wisest may often err in this matter. Good people do, as a fact, constantly denounce this or that as an interference with the prerogatives of Christ: when it is in truth only a carrying out of his work in his name. Since, however, the principle is right, we must bear with the wrong application of it; we must not be angry even with intolerance if it spring from genuine loyalty to the one Lord and only Mediator, Christ.

XI. THAT MOSES DESIRED NOTHING SO LITTLE AS A MONOPOLY OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS . If he ever had been personally ambitious, a larger knowledge of his people and experience of his work had quite delivered him from it. Even so every true Christian teacher and leader, howsoever he may feel bound to magnify his office, will greatly long for the time when "all will he taught of God," and when all distinctions will be for ever abolished, save such as depend on persona] nearness to God. How hateful is the idea that the flock should be kept in darkness in order that the shepherds may have a monopoly of influence I How happy were the pastor's charge if all were "spiritual" 1 ( Jeremiah 31:34 ; John 6:45 ; 1 Corinthians 14:5 ; 1 Corinthians 4:8 b; 1 Peter 5:3 ; 1 John 2:20 , 1 John 2:27 ).

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:16-25 (Numbers 11:16-25)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. Regarding THE STATUS AND FUNCTIONS OF THIS COMPANY OF SEVENTY there have been many debates. Some have identified them with the Sanhedrim or Council of Seventy whom we meet with so often in the Gospels and the Acts. Passing by these questions, let us note the facts recorded in the text itself. What was wanted was not the appointment of ordinary rulers or judges. Every tribe had already a prince, a body of elders and officers, and rulers of tens and fifties and hundreds and thousands, who judged between man and man. What was wanted was a council to aid Moses with their advice and assistance in the administration of the national affairs. (Compare the Governors and Council in a British dependency.)

II. THE MANNER OF THE APPOINTMENT OF THE SEVENTY IS CAREFULLY DESCRIBED .

1 . No one was appointed who was not in public office already. "Gather unto me seventy men, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them;" i.e; they were not to be raw, inexperienced, untried men. Only those were eligible who had given proof of ability and faithfulness in the public service, either as elders or as officers ( i.e; writers or scriveners—this is the literal meaning of the Hebrew shoterim. The reference is to professional scribes, the assessors of non-professional magistrates, such as the Hebrew elders were). This rule was a good one. No man should be raised at one bound to high office, either in Church or State.

2 . They were nominated by Moses. In this respect the procedure was exceptional. There was far less of centralization in the government of Israel than a modern and Western reader of the Bible is apt to think. To be sure, there were no representative bodies such as we are familiar with. Nevertheless, the government was truly popular. Even in Egypt the people were ruled, in the first instance, by their own elders—the beads of families and tribes; and this primitive system was continued in a more perfect form in Palestine. But although local government could be best administered by local magistrates, it was otherwise with the supreme and central government with which Moses was charged. A council such as he required could only be had by freely calling forth men of outstanding ability and approved wisdom.

3 . They were invested with office in the face of the congregation, and before the Lord. In the face of the congregation, to remind them that they were to act for the public good, and not in pursuance of any private interest. Before the Lord, to remind them that "there is no power but of God;" their authority is from God, and is to be used as they shall answer to him.

4 . They were endowed from above with new gifts to qualify them for their new office. When Moses gathered them before the tabernacle, "the Lord came down in a cloud, and spoke unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders." This has been interpreted to mean that there was abstracted from Moses some part of the spirit by which he had hitherto been sustained. But that is certainly a perverse misinterpretation. Twenty lamps may be lighted from one lamp without diminishing its brightness (cf. 2 Kings 2:9 ). God sendeth no man to warfare at his own charges. When he calls any man to public service, whether in Church or State, the man so called may, without doubting, ask and expect the wisdom, strength, courage which the service requires ( James 1:5-8 ).

III. The most picturesque feature in the narrative is that which remains yet to be noticed— THE STRIKING SIGN BY WHICH NOTIFICATION WAS GIVEN THAT THE SEVENTY ELDERS HAD TRULY BEEN CALLED BY GOD AND WOULD BE COUNTENANCED BY HIM . "When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, and added no more" (such is the rendering now preferred by all the best translators). "They prophesied," that is, they spoke as men who were for the time lifted above themselves—as men under the influence of an irresistible power external to themselves. We may presume that what they did say would be of such a kind as to make it plain that the power acting upon them was Divine and heavenly. This prophesying was intended to signalize the inward gifts with which the newly-appointed elders were now being endowed. This is plain from the parallel case related in 1 Samuel 10:1-27 . The Lord in appointing Saul be king over Israel promised "to be with him; to give him another heart," so that he should "be turned into another man." With the kingly office he was to get from the Lord the kingly mind. In token of this, the Spirit came upon him, and he prophesied (cf. Acts 2:3 , Acts 2:4 ; Acts 10:44-47 ). The impulse was only a transient one. "They prophesied, and added no more." The miracle, having served its purpose, ceased; but the spiritual endowment of which it was the token remained. This prophesying, if you consider it well, will be seen to be more than a token. Besides notifying the Lord s approval of the elders, and assuring them of help, it suggested much instruction regarding the principles which should regulate their administration. The tongues of fire and the rapturous speaking with tongues on the day of Pentecost, we know what that miracle meant. It admonished the disciples that the warfare of Christ's kingdom is to be accomplished not with the sword, but with the tongue; not with violence and bloodshed, but by the earnest and living manifestation of the truth. It was a lesson of the same kind which the Lord suggested by the miracle wrought on the seventy elders in front of the tabernacle. They were admonished that in their administration of affairs they ought to make use rather of wise and persuasive speech than of brute force. And is not this a lesson for us also? The time is not come yet—perhaps will never come in the present state—for rulers to lay aside the sword altogether. Violent men, if they will not listen to reason, must be restrained with violence. Nevertheless, even for civil rulers, the employment of force is the less honourable function of their office. Better to restrain and guide and govern men with wise, firm, persuasive words than with the sword.—B.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. THE FACTS are, shortly, these:—Moses having complained that the leadership of the nation was a burden greater than he could bear, the Lord gave direction that a Council of Seventy should be associated with him in it. This was done. From among the acting elders and officers of the congregation Moses called out seventy and they were solemnly set apart to the new office, before the Lord and the congregation. This consecration-service did not pass without a palpable token of the Divine approval, a palpable token that appropriate gifts would be forthcoming to the new rulers as they had been to Moses. When the Seventy were being set apart, the Spirit fell upon them, and they prophesied. While this was going on at the tent of meeting, a young man came running with the tidings that two men were prophesying in the camp. On inquiry it turned out that these were two of the seventy whom Moses had nominated for the council. For some reason or other they had not come forward with the rest to the tent of meeting. Notwithstanding of this, the Spirit had come on them in the camp exactly as he had come on their brethren, and they were prophesying. Clearly there was in this a breach of due order. Eldad and Medad ought to have presented themselves along with the rest. They were chargeable with an irregularity. Accordingly, Joshua, who is already the trusted "minister of Moses," suggests that they should be silenced. "My lord Moses, forbid them." But Moses is of another mind. Is it certain that Eldad and Medad are prophesying? If so, the hand of the Lord, we may presume, is in the matter. Spiritual gifts are not such cheap and common things that we can afford to throw them away. Possibly enough these prophets in the camp have failed to make due acknowledgment of me as the Divinely-appointed leader of the congregation. But let no man look with an evil eye on them for my sake. Would that the Spirit were put on all the people! I should rejoice to see my light outshone in such a general brightness!

II. WHAT HAVE THESE FACTS TO SAY TO US ? What lesson do they teach?

1 . At first sight it might seem as if they taught us to make light of office, solemn ordination to office, official service, and to attach importance only to the possession and exercise of gifts. But that certainly is not intended. The new council was not to consist of men simply obeying an internal call. No one was admissible without prior experience in office, and without election by Moses. And it was by Divine command that the sixty-eight were solemnly set apart before the Lord and the congregation. I need not prove that in the State it is the will of God that there should be magistrates, laws, and strict enforcement of the laws. In the Church there is: no doubt, a difference; for the Church has no coercive power. Its weapons are the truth and the tongue of fire, not the sword. Nevertheless, order is quite as necessary in the Church as in the State. "In all churches of the saints God is the author of peace, not of confusion," and all things are to be "done decently and in order" ( 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 ).

2 . The narrative admonishes us that office and order and official service, necessary as they may be, are not everything. They are not everything, even in the State, much less are they everything in the Church. The salvation and edification of souls will not go forward unless there is a continual ministration of the Spirit in gifts and in grace. That is a general lesson the facts teach. More particularly they admonish us that we need not be surprised if it should occasionally happen that men who are walking irregularly give evidence of having been richly endowed with spiritual gifts. I will not discuss the question, How such a thing can be; how the God of order can, without contradicting himself, bestow his valuable gifts on men who do not quite conform to the good order of his house. For the fact is plain. Whether we can account for it or no, the fact is indubitable. Has not Christ raised up men like Pascal within the Romish communion? Yet every Protestant believes that the Church of Rome has grievously erred both in respect to Church order, and in the weightiest points of faith and holiness. Do not suppose that these and similar facts are to be accounted for by alleging that Christendom has for a long while fallen away into anarchy. For facts of the same kind found place in connection with the personal ministry of Christ himself. The Twelve were Christ's apostles, and it was the duty of all disciples to follow with them. Did, therefore, Christ withhold his gifts from all save those in the apostles' company? On the contrary, there was found an individual now and then who, though he followed not with the apostles, nevertheless both spoke in Christ's name, and spoke to such good purpose that devils were cast forth.

3 . What, then, is the conclusion to which we are led? "Quench not the Spirit: despise not prophesying." I do not say that it was the duty of Moses, or is our duty in similar circumstances, to go forth to Eldad and Medad, and identify ourselves with them in their work. That will depend on circumstances. Sometimes one cannot take part with the irregular prophets without concurring in what would for us be sin. Christ's command was not, Go and join yourselves to the man who is casting out devils in my name, irregularly. But it was, Forbid him not. Is a man really prophesying? Is he casting out devils? Is he setting forth the truth and doing-good? Then do not forbid him. Bring him, if you can, to a fuller knowledge of the truth, and to more regular courses, but do not look on him with jealous eyes, or try to put him down. If Christ is preached, whether it be in pretence or in truth, I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice ( Philippians 1:14-28 ).—B.

Numbers 11:4-15 ; 31-35

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. THE COMPLAININGS OF THE PEOPLE .

1 . Where the sin began. It was among "the mixed multitude." A great crowd of foreigners who had been neighbours to the Israelites in Egypt, came forth with them at the Exodus, moved some by one motive and some by another ( Exodus 12:38 ). It is instructive to observe that these were the first to break out into rebellious murmurs; equally instructive to observe that the evil generated amongst them spread from them into the body of the people. Every community has its mixed multitude, its pariahs, its residuum. To the existence of this class men have been too willing to shut their eyes. I know no better sign of the present age than its wide-spread desire to take note of these masses, and if possible bring them to God. Were there no higher motive, self-preservation might well plead with men to labour in this work. When destitution and filth are suffered to generate typhus among the poor, the deadly infection will make its way into the palaces of the rich. So when sin is suffered to become rampant in one class the other classes will not long escape the contagion.

2 . The matter of complaint was little to the credit of the complainers. So long as the congregation lay en-camped in Horeb, the fare would be occasionally diversified with herbs and the like. In the wilderness of Paran there is only the manna. Certainly no just ground of complaint. The daily miracle ought rather to have moved to daily thanksgiving. But even of manna the people wearied. They craved greater variety.

3 . How the complaint is answered (verses 18-21, 31-33). The people demand flesh, and flesh is given them beyond their utmost thought. They get their desire, but not God's blessing with it. So it becomes to them a curse in the end. Such a plague followed the "shower of flesh" that the place has ever since borne the ghastly name of Kibroth-hattaavah, the graves of lust. It is an admonition to us not to give way to impatience on account of real or imagined hardships in our lot; above all, not to let our impatience hurry us into rebellious demands for a change. Many a time such demands are granted to the confusion of those who made them. Before leaving this story of the people's sin at Kibroth-hattaavah, let me caution you against supposing that it is a mere parable, a late fiction, not the history of a real transaction. It is at present the fashion in some quarters to get rid of the miracles of the Exodus and of the forty years in the wilderness, by denying the historical truth of the Pentateuch, and interpreting it as at best an allegory or parable. But the Spirit of God has been careful to leave on the narrative indubitable marks of historical verity to confound such interpretations. For example, in this narrative

II. Moses, TOO , WAS A COMPLAINER AT KIBROTH - HATTAAVAH (read verses 11-15). His words are sufficiently bitter and impatient There is in them no little sin; yet they are not resented as the people's were. Moses is not taken at his word and smitten with a plague. On the contrary, the Lord comforts him with cheering words, and grants him a council of elders to alleviate the burden. This is the more worthy of notice, because it is by no means singular (see 1 Kings 19:4 ). Do you ask, What can be the reason of this? Why deal so gently with the complaints of Moses and Elijah, when the complaints of the congregation are so sharply punished? The difference can be explained. Observe where and to whom Moses expressed the grief and weariness of his heart. It was not to the Egyptians from whom they had come out; nor was it to the congregation of Israel. It was in the ear of God himself; he complains not of the Lord, but to the Lord—two very different sorts of complaint. A dutiful son may remonstrate with his father when the two are alone, but he will not cry out against his father to strangers. When the child of God has a complaint to make, it is to God he carries it. And complaints carried to God, even although there should be much impatience and unbelief at the root of them, will be listened to very graciously. The Lord, so great is his condescending love, would rather that we should pour out the griefs—even the unreasonable griefs—of our hearts, than that we should let them rankle in our bosoms.—B.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. THE DISCONTENT OF THE ISRAELITES .

II. ITS DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES .

I. 1 . Its disgraceful origin: "the mixed multitude," "hangers-on," "rift-raft." The chosen people of God listened and sympathized with them rather than with Moses and God. Apply to worldlings grumbling about weather, homes, situations, incomes, &c.; ( Proverbs 1:10 ; Romans 12:2 ; 2 Corinthians 6:14 ).

2 . The gross ingratitude of it. They were dissatisfied with the manna, which was wholesome, abundant, and adapted to various uses ( Numbers 11:7-9 ), as though Hindoos should quarrel with their rice or the English with their wheat ( 1 Timothy 6:8 ). They recollect certain casual sensual advantages of past bondage, but forget its cruelties and degradation ( Numbers 11:4-6 ). Why not remember the whips and fetters and infanticide? They think of suppers more than sufferings, of full stomachs rather than of famished souls. Let Christians beware of hankering after the indulgences of their old life ( Proverbs 23:3 ; 1 John 2:15 ). And they complain of temporary deprivations, though hastening to a home of permanent and abundant good. They were passing through "that great and terrible wilderness" (Paran) because it was the direct route to the promised land ( Deuteronomy 1:19 ; cf. 1 Peter 1:13 ; 1 Peter 2:11 ).

3 . The aggravations of it. For they had seen God's power already ( Exodus 16:13 ; Psalms 78:19 , Psalms 78:20 ). And have not we? (cf. Psalms 22:4 , Psalms 22:5 , Psalms 22:9 , Psalms 22:10 ). And they overlooked recent chastisement ( Numbers 11:1 ). God forbid that Isaiah 26:11 should be true of us, lest Proverbs 29:1-27 , I should be also.

II. The disastrous results of their sin.

1 . They angered Jehovah. Discontent in the guests of his bounty dishonours their generous host, as though Reuben bad complained because Joseph gave more to Benjamin ( Genesis 43:34 ).

2 . They grieved Moses, and even infected him with their own desponding spirit ( Proverbs 29:11-15 ; see sketch below). Note how sin may become epidemic, spreading from the mixed multitude to the Israelites, and thence to Moses, like a disease introduced by foreign sailors spreading to our homes and palaces. Beware of carrying infection (Illustration, Asaph, Psalms 73:11-15 ).

3 . They got what they desired, but are ruined thereby. Moses' prayer for help is answered in mercy ( Proverbs 29:16 , Proverbs 29:17 ); theirs for flesh, in judgment ( Proverbs 29:18-20 ). They probably added gluttony to lust, and perished in the sight of plenty and at the moment of gratification (cf. Job 20:22 , Job 20:23 ; Psalms 78:30 , Psalms 78:31 ).

Learn—

1 . Prayers of discontent may bring answers of destruction. E.g; Rachel demanding children, and the Israelites a king. Greater wealth but worse health ( Ecclesiastes 6:1 , Ecclesiastes 6:2 ); worldly prosperity, but leanness of soul ( Psalms 106:15 ; 1 Timothy 6:9 ; James 4:4 ).

2 . The blessedness of a contented trust ( Philippians 4:11-13 ; Hebrews 13:5 ).—P.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. MOSES FORGETS THAT THE BURDENS OF RESPONSIBILITY AND THE AFFLICTIONS THEY BRING WITH THEM , INSTEAD OF BEING A SIGN THAT HE HAS " NOT FOUND FAVOUR " IN GOD 'S SIGHT , ARE A PROOF OF THE HONOUR PUT UPON HIM . Illustration: a diplomatist or a general ( e.g; Sir Garnet Wolseley) selected out of all the Queen's servants for some arduous enterprise. Christian wife honoured by God with the responsibilities and burdens of motherhood.

II. HE FORGETS THAT OUR DUTIES ARE NOT LIMITED BY OUR NATURAL RELATIONSHIPS ( Numbers 11:12 ). We are all "members of one another" ( Romans 14:7 ; Philippians 2:4 ). All are in danger of a selfish disregard of those afar oft (savage Caffres, idolatrous Hindoos), or even of those at our doors, not our own kindred, respecting whose spiritual welfare we may be selfishly indifferent or despondent.

III. HE SPEAKS AS THOUGH THE BURDEN WAS THROWN ENTIRELY ON HIMSELF . The questions in Numbers 11:12 , Numbers 11:13 are very unworthy of him. The cold fog of despondency chills him and obscures the light of God's presence which was promised to him ( Exodus 33:14 ).

IV. HIS DESPONDENCY LEADS TO UNWORTHY REFLECTIONS ON GOD AND EXAGGERATED STATEMENTS ABOUT HIMSELF ( Numbers 11:13 , Numbers 11:14 ). A smaller burden would have been too great for him "alone;" a heavier not too great with God (cf. John 15:5 ; Philip. John 4:13 ).

V. IT PROMPTS HIM TO A SINFUL PRAYER ( Numbers 11:15 ). Imagine that the prayer had been answered, and Moses had died on the spot; what a humiliating end! (cf. 1 Kings 19:4 ).

Let us learn the lesson Psalms 56:3 , and thus climb to the level of a still higher experience: "I will trust, and not be afraid" ( Isaiah 12:2 ; Isaiah 26:3 ).—P.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. JOSHUA 'S APPEAL . His love of order may have been offended. He feared lest the unity of the camp under the leadership of Moses should be disturbed. He was anxious for the honour of his master, and desired that political and ecclesiastical discipline should be not only really, but ostensibly, in his hands. The call of the seventy elders with prophetic powers was a new departure in the history of the theocracy, and now the prophesying of Eldad and Medad, apart, threatened still further apparently to derogate from the honours of Moses. Thus now narrow minds or small hearts may be fearful of that which is novel, and envious of those who take a course independent of established authorities and Church traditions, even though they "seem to have the Spirit of God." They may forbid, or at least "despise, prophesyings" which are not according to rule.

II. MOSES ' REPLY . The only question with Moses is one not of place or method, but of reality. Are the prophesyings and the spirit "of God"? Largeness of heart cannot exempt us from this duty ( 1 Thessalonians 5:21 ; 1 John 4:1-3 ). Moses could not recognize the falsehoods uttered in the tabernacle of Korah, though he rejoiced in the prophesyings of Eldad. Spurious charity is traitorous to truth; true charity can only rejoice "in the truth" ( 1 Corinthians 13:6 ). The lesson taught us is illustrated by various incidents in the New Testament. A large-hearted Christian will not be offended—

1 . If those who are clearly working in the name of Christ, and with the seal of his approval, do not follow with him ( Mark 9:38-40 ).

2 . If their success seems to imperil the prosperity of his party or denomination ( John 3:26 , &c.;).

3 . He will rejoice in the work, though unofficial and obscure men have originated it ( Acts 11:19-24 ).

4 . He will not "envy," but delight, in the proclamation of the gospel, even if the motives of the preachers are marred by "envy and strife" ( Philippians 1:15-18 ). Large-heartedness will "covet earnestly the best gifts" for others, whatever the consequences may be to ourselves.—P.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

II. THE DANGER FROM ITS PRESENCE . The mixed multitude began to lust, therein acting according to its nature. There was no covenant with it, no promise to it, no assurance of Canaan. It had no lot in the tabernacle, and what share it got of the manna was to be regarded as one in later days regarded the Saviour's boon to her: "The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Hence it was free to think without let or hindrance on the much-loved delicacies of Egypt. Just so there is a mixed multitude in and about the Church of Christ, which, with the spirit of the world dominant in its heart, soon makes the ways of the world to appear in its life. From many temptations you can escape by running away from the scene of them; but what must you do if temptations beset you in the very paths of religion themselves? This is the peculiar danger from the mixed multitude. When Jesus foils the third temptation in the wilderness, Satan departs from him for a season; but what shall he do when Peter, the chosen, daily companion, in the impulse of his carnal heart, would turn him from the cross? We know what Jesus did, but none the less was he exposed to the spirit of the ,nixed multitude then. Or what shall Paul do, intrepid enough against avowed enemies, when his friends at Caesarea assail him in a way to break his heart ( Acts 21:12 , Acts 21:13 ). There is a subtle, unconscious, unintended way in which the prophecy may be carried out that a man's foes shall be they of his own household. The mixed multitude may have been dangerous most of all in this, that it did not mean to be dangerous at all.

III. How TO GUARD AGAINST THE DANGER . There is but one way, and that to live more and more in pursuit of heavenly objects. The mixed multitude will not alter in the objects of its love; when any of its number cease to do so, it is because they have passed over to join the true Israel. The change then must be in us—more of ardour and aspiration. Note Paul's counsel to Timothy: "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow ( διώκε ) righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" ( 2 Timothy 2:22 ). The fleeing is not a mere fleeing; it is a pursuing; a fleeing because it is a pursuing. Many temptations will pant in vain after the ardour and simplicity in Christ Jesus of such a man as Paul ( 2 Corinthians 4:18 ; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 ; Ephesians 4:17-24 ; Philippians 1:21-23 ; Philippians 3:7-14 ). And even the subtlest temptations of the mixed multitude are turned gently aside, as by Jesus himself, when his mother and brethren desired to speak with him ( Matthew 12:46-50 ). We must not only say, but feel it, that the Father's business is the main thing. From the very depths of our hearts must rise the cry, almost a groaning that cannot be uttered, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Thy will, not the wishes of corrupted human affections, however strong and entangling the affections may be ( 1 Corinthians 5:9 , 1 Corinthians 5:10 ; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 ).—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. IT CONTAINS A CLEAR RECOGNITION OF DUTY . Duty may be perfectly clear, even when there is much perplexity as to how it is to be performed. Moses had no manner of doubt that God had put him in his present position. Intolerable was the burden and keen the pain, but they had not come through any ambition of his own, and this in itself made a great deal of difference. If Moses had led the Israelites into the wilderness for his own purposes, he could not have spoken in the way he did. From the intolerable burden there were two ways of escape, flight and death—death did suggest itself, but flight never. Moses even in his very complaining is nobler than Jonah running away. As we see him thus suffering this great pressure for the sins of the people, we cannot help thinking of Jesus in the garden, praying that, it possible, the cup might pass from him. So Paul tells us that, in addition to things from without, the care ( μέριμνα ) of all the Churches came upon him ( 2 Corinthians 11:28 ). It may be our duty, in the name of God, and at his clear command, to attempt what the world, following out its own order of thinking, calls impossible.

II. IT INDICATES A TOO FAVOURABLE ESTIMATE OF HUMAN NATURE , AS HAVING BEEN ENTERTAINED BY MOSES . He must have thought better of his followers and fellow-countrymen than they deserved. Not that he who had seen so much of them could possibly be blind to their faults; but we may well suppose that he expected too great a change from the influences of the sojourn near Sinai. He gave them credit, probably, for something of his own feeling, full of expectation and of joy in the abiding favour and protection of God. And now, when the reality appears in all its hideousness, there is a corresponding reaction. Unregenerate human nature must always be regarded with very moderate expectations. At its best it is a reed easily broken. How much higher than Moses is Jesus! He knew what was in man. And what light he gave to his apostles on this subject, e.g; to Paul, who saw and declared so distinctly the weakness of law to do anything save expose and condemn. It is not possible for us to make too much allowance for the corruption and degradation of human nature through sin. Only thus shall we appreciate the change to be effected before men are what God would have them to be.

III. THE REACTION FROM THIS TOO FAVOURABLE ESTIMATE SHOWS ITSELF IN THE DESPAIRING LANGUAGE OF MOSES . He goes from one extreme to the other. Having thought too well of Israel he now speaks of them below the truth. They are but sucking children. The many thousands of Israel have been thrown like helpless infants on his bands. We see presently that seventy men out of this very multitude are found fit to assist him, but in his confusion and despair he cannot stop to think of anything but death. He saw only the cloud and not the silver lining. Life henceforth meant nothing but wretchedness, and God's greatest boon would be to take it away. He wanted to be in that refuge which Job sought after his calamities, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest ( Job 3:1-26 , the whole chapter). It is worth while again contrasting Moses under the law with the apostles ,ruder the gospel. When Moses feels the heavily-pressing burden, he loses his presence of mind and begins to talk of death. When the apostles have the murmurers coming to them, they at once in a calm and orderly way prepare to get assistance ( Acts 6:1-6 ).—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

2 . The first word of God tends to bring Moses to a calmer mind. It sets before him something practical and not very difficult. Left to himself, he knows not how to begin dealing with this anarchy, especially with his own mind in such a distressed state. But it was a task quite within his reach, to pick out from a limited and probably well-known circle, seventy elders, official and experienced men. As he went through this work, he would be brought to feel, and not without a sense of shame, that he had been overtaken by panic. He has talked about sucking children; he now hears that there are at least seventy elders upon whose experience and influence he can lean. We soon find out, if we only listen to God, that temporal troubles are never so bad as they seem.

3 . The way in which this help was made as effectual as possible. As God had given a certain spirit to Moses, so he would give it also to these seventy assistant elders. This was a reminder that he had not afflicted his servant and frowned upon him, as he so recklessly said ( Numbers 11:11 ). We often murmur and complain against Providence for neglecting us, when the real neglect is with ourselves in making a bad use of gifts bestowed. God never tells his people to do things beyond natural strength, without first assuring a sufficiency of power for the thing commanded. "I can do all things, through Christ who inwardly strengthens me," said Paul There is further encouragement in God's promise here, as being an illustration of how the spirit is given without measure. There was not a certain limited manifestation to Moses, so that if others shared the spirit with him, he must have less. Neither his power nor his honour were one whir diminished. The question always is, What is the need of men in the sight of God? Then, according to that need, and never coming short of it, are the communications of his Holy Spirit. Moses, instead of being poorer, was really richer, for the spirit was working in a mind to which a precious experience had been added.

4 . In the sight of these directions we are reminded how Moses spoke out of a comparative inexperience of the burden. Moses said there was nothing left for him but to die. The history tells us that so far from dying, he had yet in him nearly forty years of honourable mediatorship between God and men. His proper word was, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord" ( Psalms 118:17 ). It is marvelous to think what some men have gone through in the way of difficulties, losses, and trials. Even the natural man has greater strength in the hour of trouble than at first he is conscious of—a great deal of trouble, when it is once fairly over, comes in the course of time to look a very small thing—and if we have God's strength, then we shall not merely endure tribulation, but glory in it. Front these words of Moses and the practical gentle reply of God, learn one great lesson—how easy it is to exaggerate our difficulties and underrate our resources.—Y.

Numbers 11:18-20 ; 31-35

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Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

II. GOD 'S TEST OF SELF - CONTROL . He gives the quails, not for one day's luxury, but to be the food of a month. As nothing is said to the contrary, we must presume the manna was still continued. Indeed we can easily see the reason for its continuance. God in giving the quails, adds an express and solemn warning. They are to be taken with all their consequences. Sweet at first, they shall turn to objects of bitter loathing. They were given, not in complacency, but in anger, hence they had in them the efficacy of a test. Surely the whole of Israel was not rebellious and murmuring. There must have been men of the Nazarite spirit even then, and the question for them is: "Shall we go out after our wont and gather the manna ( Exodus 16:1-36 ), or shall we, like the rest, gratify our appetites with these delicious quails?" Who can doubt that God was watching his own faithful ones, the Israelites indeed in whom there was no guile? There are doubtless many things in the world, the chief use of which is to test the disposition of man to obey God ( Genesis 2:16 , Genesis 2:17 ). These quails were given, but there was no obligation to eat them. Every Israelite was free to refuse. A timely repentance, and another wind would have blown away the quails as rapidly as they came. There was a lesson if the people would learn it, from the submissive birds to the rebellious human beings.

III. GOD 'S PENALTY FOR SELF - INDULGENCE . There is a seeming contradiction between Numbers 35:19 , Numbers 35:20 , and Numbers 35:33 , but it is only seeming. God hastened his judgment and thereby really showed his mercy. As David chose the brief pestilence, and to fall into the hand of the Lord ( 2 Samuel 24:1-25 .), so here God comes with an immediate and sweeping visitation. Besides, it is possible the people neglected the command to sanctify themselves, and thus further provoked the anger already stirred up; when people get lust into their hearts all sense of law is apt to vanish. It was well the people should see clearly the close connection between disobedience and retribution. Thus did God show, even in these quails, the spirit of a good and perfect gift, Nothing in creation is a blessing in itself; God must make it so, and he can easily in his anger turn it to a curse. God, in making the effect of eating the quails so conspicuous and sudden, still further illustrated by contrast the glory of the manna, for this manna was a beautiful type of the true bread that cometh from heaven. The people had never gathered the manna with such greed and application as they had gathered the quails. When a man breaks the law he is at once guilty, and the punishment, if it be deferred, is so as a matter of expediency, not of right. The lapse of time only makes the connection between sin and punishment less obvious, not at all less certain ( Psalms 106:15 ; Galatians 6:7-9 ).—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 11:4-35 (Numbers 11:4-35)

I. THE FOOLISH ADVICE Or JOSHUA . Foolish, although given by a devoted friend. Joshua would probably have died for Moses, but he could not, therefore, give him good counsel. Attachment itself has not unfrequently a blinding effect on the judgment. A stranger might advise more wisely. It is the right of friendship to offer advice, but it is often the height of friendship, the very bloom and delicacy of it, to refrain. We find similar instances ( Matthew 16:21-23 ; Acts 21:12 , Acts 21:13 ). Foolish, because evidently given without consideration. The circumstances were quite novel to Joshua. The grounds on which he dashed out his advice were mere matters of hearsay. There was enough to have made him cautious. Eldad and Medad were among the chosen ones; those present had been gifted with the spirit; what more likely then upon consideration, what more worthy of reverent acceptance, than that the absentees should have been similarly visited? Advice, when it is given with full knowledge of circumstances and full consideration of thefts, may be indeed precious, the very salvation and security of a perplexed mind. Otherwise, the greater the ignorance the greater the mischief. Advice should mostly come in response to a request for it. Foolish, because it concerned the status of Moses rather than the glory of God. Much of the advice of friendship is vitiated, through shutting out all save personal considerations. One friend advises another as a counsel does his client, not that justice may be done, but that his client may gain his end. Joshua was considering how the reputation and influence of "his lord Moses" would be affected. Foolish because it was given to a man who was in no doubt. Moses was rejoicing in escape from a heavy burden, and the visitation upon Eldad and Medad was the very thing still further to comfort him. The folly of the advice is crowned, as we observe that it recommended an impossibility. "Forbid them." Forbid what? That they should prophesy! As well forbid the branches not to sway with a strong wind as forbid men to prophesy when the Spirit comes upon them. Even Balaam could not help uttering the Lord's prophecies and blessing Israel from the very mouth that would fain, in its greed of filthy lucre, have uttered a curse.

II. THIS FOOLISH ADVICE WISELY REJECTED .

1 . As to the substance of the rejection. Possibly if Moses had been a different kind of man, he might have said to himself, "There is something in what Joshua says." But he was not one of the aut Caesar ant nullus order. Joshua, in his impetuous word, was concerned for his master's honour; the master himself was concerned about his grievous burden. Not even Joshua understood the bitter experiences through which Moses had lately passed. "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets!" Our measure before God does not depend on our standing among men. Moses would not have been one whit less esteemed in heaven if every other Israelite had been as spiritually-minded as himself. Joshua had been speaking to a man who, like Christian, had been toiling on with a weary weight on his back. He has just got rid of it, and "Forbid them" really meant, "Take the burden up again."

2 . As to the spirit of the rejection. Moses shows here the meekness and gentleness with which he is so emphatically credited in the next chapter. Advice, when it cannot be taken, even when it is most foolish and meddlesome, should be pushed gently away; and if the spirit in which it has been given is evidently kind and generous, let the refusal be mingled with gratefulness. Joshua loved Moses, and Moses loved Joshua. "Enviest thou for my sake?" Thus Moses recognizes the devotion and bona fides of his friend.—Y.

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