7. And the manna was as coriander seed. Moses had already adverted to this in Exodus 16; f18but he now repeats it, in order more fully to condemn their perverse desire; for what could be more unseemly and intolerable than thus to eschew a food delightful both in appearance and taste v. For the same reason the Prophet, in Psalm 78, records that men were not satisfied with “angels’ food,” and “corn from heaven.” Here, instead of saying that it was white, he calls it the color of Bedola,f19a precious stone, whether a pearl, or some other kind. Its very appearance, then, was calculated to give them pleasure; and, since without much labor, either by grinding or crushing it, they might make it into various sorts of food, and all of a sweet and pleasant taste;. the baser was their ingratitude in complaining, as if God treated them with but little liberality as to their food.
10.Then Moses heard the people weep. Wonderful indeed, and almost prodigious was the madness of the people, thus all of them to mourn as if reduced to the extremity of despair. What would they have done in actual famine? what if they had to gnaw bitter roots, almost without any juice in them? What if they had had to live on tasteless and unwholesome bread? We see, therefore, how by the indulgence of their depraved lusts men make themselves wretched in the very midst of prosperity. Let us, then, learn to bridle our excessive passions, that we may not bring upon ourselves troubles and inconveniences, and all sorts of painful feelings; for if the cause be duly weighed, when men afflict themselves with sorrow and lamentation, we shall generally find that, whereas the evil might be lightened by endurance, its pain is increased by preposterous imaginations. But here a gross instance of luxury is set before us, when, in their satiety, they weep as if long abstinence threatened them with death. It was an effect of holy and praiseworthy zeal, that this great perverseness should displease Moses; but he was not without error in carrying it to excess; for he unjustly expostulates with God, complaining that He had laid too heavy a burden upon him, when tie knew all the time that he was sustained by His power. His charge was indeed difficult and laborious; but in that he had experienced God’s wondrous aid, whenever he had groaned beneath his burden, there was no room for complaint; besides, since he had been dignified by a peculiar honor, it was ungrateful to brand with disgrace the good gift of God. He reputes it his greatest evil that the charge of governing the people had been intrusted to him; whereas all his senses ought rather to have been ravished with astonishment, that God had condescended to choose him to be the redeemer of His people, and the minister of His wondrous power. This, too, was very inconsiderate, to ask whether he had begotten or brought forth the people; as if his calling by God did not lay him sufficiently under obligation, or as if there were no other ties than those of nature. God, indeed, has inspired parents with such love towards their offspring, that they willingly undergo incredible troubles on their account; but Moses was bound by another kind of piety, for by God’s command he was father of the people. Wherefore he ought not to have only regarded nature, but the obligation of his office also.
13. Whence should I have flesh to give to all this people? Justly, indeed, does he accuse the people, and deny that he is possessed of flesh wherewith to satisfy so great a multitude; but he is wrong in expostulating with God, as if he were burdened beyond his strength; for, since God knew that he was unequal to so many difficulties, He supported him by the influence of His Spirit. But he sinned most grossly in the conclusion of his complaint, requesting God to kill him. In these words we see how far even the best of God’s servants may be carried, when they give too great indulgence to their passions. For it is the longing of despair to seek that we may be removed from the world, so that death may bring our troubles to an end. Since the impetuosity of his grief hurried away Moses God’s most chosen servant to this, what might not happen to us, if impatience should hold dominion over our hearts? Let us, then, learn to put a stop to this disease in good time.
16.And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men. God complies with the request of Moses, by associating with him seventy companions, by whose care and assistance he may be relieved from some part of his labor; yet not without some signs of indignation, for, by taking from him some portion of His Spirit to distribute amongst the others, He inflicts upon him that mark of disgrace which he deserved. I know that some f20 regard it differently, and think that nothing was taken away from Moses, but that the others were endued with new grace, such as Moses had been preeminent for possessing alone before. But, since the words expressly declare that God will make them partakers of that grace which He will take from Moses himself, I by no means admit the truth of this subtle exposition. The passage in <012736>Genesis 27:36 is quoted, in which it is said, “Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?” but, when God expressly says, “I will separate f21 of the Spirit which is upon thee,” there can be no question but that a diminution is indicated. For, as long as Moses alone was appointed to rule the people, he was so supplied with the necessary gifts of the Spirit, as that his ability should not be inferior to the greatness of the labor. God now promises that the others shall be his companions in such sort, as that He divides His gifts among them all. I have no doubt, then, but that this division comprehends punishment in it; and from hence we may gather a useful piece of instruction, viz., that the greater the difficulty is which God imposes upon any one, the greater is the liberality with which He treats him, in order that he may be sufficient for his charge. Thus it is in His power to work with equal efficiency by one man, as by a hundred, or a thousand; for He has no need of a multitude (of agents,) but, as He pleases, He executes His works sometimes without the aid of men, sometimes by their hands. In sum, God indirectly reproves the gross ingratitude of Moses, whereby he depreciated that marvelous grace which had hitherto shone forth in him; and He declares that he shall not be hereafter so great as he was, in regard to the excellency he derived from the Spirit; inasmuch as he had in a manner thrown away the gifts of the Spirit, by refusing to bear the trouble imposed upon him. Our modesty, indeed, is praiseworthy, if through consciousness of our own weakness we recoil from arduous charges; but it is too absurd for us to withdraw ourselves under this pretext from our duty, and, despising the calling of God, to shake off the yoke.
The word Spirit is here, as frequently elsewhere, applied to the gifts themselves; as if He had said, I had deposited with thee gifts sufficing for the government of the people; but now, since thou refusest, I will distribute his due measure to each of the seventy, so that the grace of the Spirit, which dwelt in thee alone, shall be manifestly dispersed among many. It is now asked how Moses separated the seventy, whether according to his own judgment only, or by the election of the people. It is generally agreed that six were chosen from each tribe, and thus that they were seventy-two; but that for the sake of brevity two were omitted, as amongst the Romans, f22 they spoke of the Centumviri, although they were a hundred and five; for they appointed three for each of the thirty-five tribes. Since the opinion is probable, I leave it undecided; but at the same time I retain the conjecture which I have elsewhere made, f23 viz., that, since the race of Abraham had been increased in an incredible manner in two hundred and twenty years, lest so astonishing a miracle should ever be forgotten, the seventy were elected in accordance with the number of the fathers who had gone down into Egypt with Jacob. And, in fact, this seems to have been with them, as it were, a sacred number; as recalling to their memory that little band from which they had derived their origin. For, before the Law was promulgated, Moses was commanded to take with him seventy to accompany him to the mount, and to be eye-witnesses of God’s glory. Meanwhile, I do not deny that there were two more than the number seventy; but I only point out why God fixed upon this number, viz., to equalize the leaders and heads of the people with the family of Jacob, which was the source of their race and name. In truth, from the fact that, when Hoses went up into Mount Sinai to receive the Tables from the hand of God, he took with him seventy officers, we infer that the number of those who should excel in honor, was already fixed at this, although the charge of governing, which is here spoken of, was not yet committed to them. And it is probable that these same persons who had been appointed leaders, were called to this new and unwonted office, as the words themselves imply. It is indeed certain, that when the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, because they were not permitted to appoint a king, they followed the example here set them in the establishment of their Sanhedrim; only this honor was paid to the memory of David and their rings, that from their race they chose their seventy rulers in whom the supreme power was vested. And this form of government continued down to Herod, f24 who abolished the whole council by which he had been condemned, and destroyed the lives of them all. Still, I think that he was not impelled to commit the massacre only out of vengeance, but also lest the dignity of the royal race should be an obstacle to his tyranny.
It must, however, be observed that, although God promises new grace to the seventy men, he would not have them taken indiscriminately from the people in general, but expressly commands them to be chosen from the order of the elders, and heads of the people, being such as were already possessed of authority, and had given proofs of their diligence and virtue. Thus, also, now-a-days, when he calls both the pastors of the Church and magistrates to their office, although He furnishes them with new gifts, still He would not have them raised to their honorable stations promiscuously as they may come first, but chooses rather with reference to their spiritual endowments, wherewith He distinguishes, and commends those whom He has destined to any exalted office. In short, He commands the most fitting to be chosen; but, after they have been elected, tie promises that He will add what is wanting. For this reason He commands that they should station themselves at the door of the tabernacle, that He may there display His grace. Although I think that two other reasons were likewise taken into consideration, viz., that they might know that the office was intrusted to them by God, and might always be mindful of the heavenly tribunal, before which they must be accountable: and also that they might be held in additional reverence by the very associations of the place, and that the people might submit to them as the ministers of God. Now, although God does not at present dwell in a visible tabernacle, yet are we reminded by this example that pastors and magistrates are not duly ordained, unless they are placed in the presence of God; nor rightly inaugurated in their offices, unless when they consecrate themselves to God Himself, and when His majesty, on the other hand, acquires their reverence. Cyprian f25 twists this passage further, but I know not whether on sufficiently firm grounds, to prove that bishops are not to be elected, except with the consent of the whole people.
18.And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves. This is another part of the answer, which is given respecting the matter in consideration, viz., that the people should prepare themselves to satiate their greediness. Although the word çdq f26 kadesh, signifies to prepare, yet its literal meaning seems to be most appropriate here; I have therefore retained the word sanctify, which is, however, here used ironically, for Moses does not exhort: them to purge themselves from all defilement’s, and piously and sincerely to receive the grace of God, but he chastises their profane and brutal gluttony. Others translate it simply, as if it were said, Whet your teeth, and make ready your bellies: but, in my judgment, there is a reproof implied, because they are polluted by a foul and wicked desire, so as to be incapable of receiving God’s paternal favor: for “ye shall eat flesh” follows, “because your weeping and complaining has reached the ears of God;” by which words he signifies that by their importunate cries they had provoked God’s anger, so that they should devour none but deadly food. And soon afterwards it is stated more clearly that by their insolence they had deserved to be destroyed by the bounty of God. For “a whole month,” he says, ye shall gormandize, “till it come out of your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you.” Thus he compares them to those guttlers who so overwhelm themselves with gluttony, that they are obliged soon afterwards to vomit what they have eaten too greedily, or who abominate the taste of their superfluous luxuries, as if they were something filthy. This is what is meant by to “come out,” or to be blown out, “at the nostrils.” arz f27tzara, which we have translated abomination, properly means dispersion; but Moses indicates by it that they shall vomit, or spit it out, like something unfit to be swallowed. If any should object that it is said in <197830>Psalm 78:30, “They were not yet estranged from their lust:” this is easily solved by understanding that their unrestrained gluttony is there rebuked, f28 as if he called them guttlers (gurgites,) whom no abundance can suffice to satisfy. Therefore the Prophet says, that although they were bursting with excess, they were not satiated; but were so inflamed by their boundless voracity, that God’s vengeance could alone repress it. But the reason alleged for this is especially to be observed, “because they had rejected God, who was in the midst of them.” By these words, the excuse of error or inadvertency is barred; for if, for the purpose of proving their patience God had withdrawn His power, the terror which they conceived at His absence might, perhaps, have been excusable; but now, when they knew by sure experience that their means of subsistence were supplied by Him, they betray their deliberate wickedness by despising His present beneficence. For that God was in the midst of them is equivalent to His giving manifest tokens both of His infinite power and His paternal favor. These words show us that the more immediately God manifests His grace to us, the more inexcusable we are, if we disparage it when it is thus liberally offered to us. What follows might appear not to deserve severe reproof, viz., that they “wept before God;” but the enormity of the sin is specified directly afterwards, i.e. that they were vexed by their departure from Egypt: for this was not merely to repudiate the deliverance, which they had so greatly longed for, but to quarrel with God, because He had listened to their cry, and had condescended to redeem them from their wretched and lost estate.
21.And Moses said, The people among whom I am, are six hundred thousand. Although Moses’ object was right, yet he fell into unbelief, and thus stumbled at the very threshold. His pious solicitude indeed impelled him to doubt; because he feared that God’s holy name would be exposed to derision and contumely, if he should send away empty those to whom he had promised food. But it seemed to him incredible that so mighty a multitude should be sufficiently supplied with flesh. When he calls them “six hundred thousand,” he either does not calculate their numbers exactly, or indicates that some had died since their departure, when he had numbered the people. (Exodus 14.) Yet it is probable that he referred to the recent census, in which they were found to be 603,550, (<040146>Numbers 1:46;) but for the sake of brevity he put the sum in the gross, as he does elsewhere, omitting the 3550. (<021237>Exodus 12:37.) By speaking of foot-men, he means the men, and thus excepts the women and. children. Assuredly such a multitude might astonish him, or, at any rate, might inspire him with alarm, so that he should mistrust the promise. His doubt, however, was wrong in two respects; first, because he did not simply trust, as if he were not assured that God was true in all His words; and, secondly, because he improperly allowed his mind to measure God’s inestimable power by his own senses. Let us learn, therefore, that, as soon as God has spoken, we should embrace, without discussion, whatever has proceeded out of His mouth; and so likewise let us learn to humble ourselves, and our own minds, and at the same time to rise by faith above the world, and our natural reason; so that no absurdity, which the flesh may suggest to us, should prevent us from certainly concluding that whatever God has promised He will, by His might, perform. For it is a most incorrect calculation to bind down God’s doings to ordinary standards; as if His power were not more extensive than our minds can reach. We must, therefore, carefully take notice of the rebuke, whereby God so corrected Moses at once, that it ought to prevent and to cure all diseases of distrust in us. For the immensity of God’s hand convicts the folly of those who would subject it to their own imaginations and rules. For, even although God should not stretch forth His hand, He holds heaven and earth in its “hollow,” as it is said in <234012>Isaiah 40:12. What madness, then, is it to seek to grasp by our own senses, and, as it were, to imprison that hand which is greater than a hundred worlds! As soon, therefore, as distrust on the score of difficulties begins to take possession of our minds, let this conclusion be remembered, that the promises of God do not exceed the measure of His power to accomplish effectually whatever He has declared. This question, however, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?”may be explained in two ways: for the old interpreter f29 has rendered it, “Is God’s hand weak?” But God seems to adduce the proof, whereby He had borne witness to His power, not only in the creation of heaven and earth, but also in so many recent miracles; as if to rebuke the ingratitude of Moses, who had profited so little by these most striking lessons: for Isaiah uses the same word in this sense, where he says: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened.” (<235901>Isaiah 59:1.) Moses is unquestionably exalting the blessings received on former occasions, wherein the people had experienced the saving power of God. I have retained the future tense of the verb, f30 since it does not injure the sense. What is said amounts to this, Will God’s hand be weaker than usual, so as not to put forth its power already known?
24.And Moses went out and told the people the words. We here see how greatly Moses profited by his brief rebuke, for he now actively sets about what he was commanded. Doubt had given him a check, so that he stopped in the middle of his course; whereas he now testifies by the promptitude of his obedience that his distrust is overcome. For just as unbelief discourages men, so that they sink down into inactivity, so faith inspires both body and mind with rigor for the effectual discharge of their duties.
Although the narrative does not expressly state that he spoke to them respecting the flesh, it declares in general terms that he omitted nothing; and, indeed, it would have been very inappropriate to speak only of the Seventy Elders, when the origin of all the evil had been the craving for flesh. Briefly stating, then, that he had reported the commands of God to the people, he includes both parts of the matter, the second of which he then follows up. And, first, he says that the elders were called to the Tabernacle, that they might there be appointed rulers and officers. When be states that they were “set round about,” I do not interpret the words so precisely as to suppose that eighteen were ranged on each side, and, of the rest, half were placed before the court, and half behind the Tabernacle; but that they were so arranged, as to surround some part of the Tabernacle. Now, this was equivalent to their being set before God, so that they might hereafter exercise their office with more authority, as being sent by Him; and at the same time that they might devote themselves to God, and dedicate themselves to His service; and also, that being invested with the necessary endowments, they might bear the tokens of their calling. For this reason, it is soon afterwards added, that enough of the spirit of Moses was given them for the discharge of their official duties; for, although Moses by God’s command had chosen men of approved virtue and experience, yet He would have them prepared anew, in order that their call might be effectual. When they are said to have “prophesied,” this was a visible sign of the gift of the Spirit, which, nevertheless, had reference to a different object; for they were not appointed to be. prophets, though God would testify by this outward mark that they were new men, in order that the people might receive them with greater reverence. In my opinion, however, prophecy here is equivalent to a special faculty of discoursing magnificently of secret things or mysteries. We know that poets were called prophets by profane writers, f31 because poetry itself savors of inspiration (ejnqousiasmo in the same way that extraordinary ability, f32 in which the afflatus of the Spirit shone forth, obtained the name of prophecy. Thus, the gift of prophecy in Saul was a kind of mark of royalty; so that he might not ascend the throne without credentials. (<091010>1 Samuel 10:10.) Thus, then, this Spirit of Prophecy was only accorded to these persons for a short time; since it was sufficient that they should be once marked out by God: for so I understand what Moses says afterwards, “and they added not.” f33 it is too forced an interpretation to refer it, as some do, to the past. I confess, indeed, that they were not previously prophets; but I have no doubt but that Moses here indicates that the gift was a temporary one: as we are also told in the case of Saul: for, as soon as this token of God’s grace had manifested itself in him, f34 he ceased to prophesy. The meaning, therefore, is that their call was thus substantiated for a short period, so that this unusual circumstance should awaken the more admiration.
26.But there remained two of the men in the camp. It is not certain why they had not appeared amongst the others. I do not at all doubt but that they were called for by Moses; nor would they have been endued with the same grace of the Spirit as the others, if through idleness or contempt they had not come at the time appointed. We may, therefore, probably infer that they did not actually receive the invitation, because they could not be found; and hence it arose that God excused their ignorance. Still, however, it must be observed that they were kept back by the secret counsel of God, that His grace might be made known by this illustrious proof amongst the common people in general, when they were not all eye-witnesses of it: for the greater portion of them had not assembled at the Tabernacle. In order, therefore, that its fame might spread more widely, and might reach even to the most lowly, God chose that this new and extraordinary gift of His Spirit should be conspicuous in the midst of the camp, lest any of the dullest and grossest among them should pretend to be ignorant of it. In fact, it is plain that they were all aroused by the miracle; for the “young man,” who is spoken of, would not have run to bear the incredible news to Moses, unless struck by the novelty of the case.
28.And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses. It is obvious that this foolish and preposterous jealousy arose from a good source. Joshua saw that Moses was so preeminent above all others, as to be justly deemed, after God, the head of the people; he feared, therefore, lest, if any portion of his superiority should be withdrawn, the grace of God would be dispelled and lost. We know, too, that almost every change is injurious, and apt to give a shock to public affairs. In asserting, then, the rights of Moses, he desired, as far as he could, to consult the welfare of all; but the excess of his zeal had some alloy in it, in consequence of the immoderate affection and love which he bore to Moses; just as it often happens to ourselves, that although our desires have a right object, they still go astray into erroneous feelings. So, then, let us learn to revere the most illustrious servants of Christ, as that God alone should be supreme; and that He, who is far above all, should still maintain His pre-eminence. And this will be the case, if we hold fast to the principle, that although “there are diversities of gifts,” yet there is but one Spirit from whom they flow; and although there are “differences of administrations,”yet but one Lord who must be served, (<461204>1 Corinthians 12:4, 5;) which also Paul confirms elsewhere, where he teaches us that the gifts are so distributed as that no individual should have all, but each
“according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”
29.And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? This may be understood in two different ways. Some take it, as if Moses had said, It is no business of yours, if I have suffered any loss: and if anything is taken from me, it would be mine and not yours to grieve and grudge; but I think Moses spoke more simply, as if he had said, Behold, how differently I feel from you; for I, whose cause you suppose yourselves to be promoting, should desire that all were endowed with the spirit of prophecy. So was that foolish jealousy admirably rebuked, which would put a restraint upon God’s blessing, so greatly to be desired by every pious mind. At the same time, we fully perceive the gentleness and humility of Moses, whom no ambition, nor consideration of his personal dignity, prevents from willingly admitting the very lowliest into companionship with himself. If any should object that it is God’s pleasure, in order to enhance the excellency of the gift, that there should be but few prophets in the Church, and consequently that Moses inconsiderately sought for that, which is in repugnance to God’s counsel in this matter, the reply is easy, that, al — though the saints acquiesce in His ordinary dispensations, and are persuaded that the arrangement, which He makes, is the best, yet that it is an act of piety in them to desire to communicate with all others what is given to themselves, so as to be anxious rather to be last of all, than to begrudge perfection to their brethren. In sum, Moses declares that nothing would be more gratifying to him, than that God should diffuse the grace of the spirit of prophecy amongst the whole people, so that all should be partakers of it, from the least to the greatest.
30.And Moses gat him into the camp. Although, after the appointment of the Seventy, all betook themselves to their own stations and dwelling-places, yet there is no doubt but that they were all forewarned of the approaching miracle, so as to be universally attentive to the event, which is presently related. When it is said that it was “a wind of the Lord” which brought the quails, there was no other reason for this than that God might openly manifest that all things under heaven are subject to His dominion, and are ready to obey Him. He might, indeed, have created the quails at will (nutu,) just as He rained the manna from heaven; nor was it natural that by the force of the winds such an abundance of birds should be east, and heaped together in one place; but by using the aid of the wind He confirmed what is written in <19A403>Psalm 104:3, 4, that “He maketh the winds his messengers f35 and they bear him on their wings;” because in their swiftness they rapidly bear His commandments from the east to the west. Now, although it is true in the abstract that the winds come from Him, so that they are only His breath, and that the air cannot be stirred in the slightest degree except at His will, still an extraordinary miracle is here specified, as before in the passage of the Red Sea. The Prophet in the Psalm goes further:
“He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven; and by his power he brought in the south wind,” (<197826>Psalm 78:26,)
in which words He signifies that the whole air was shaken, since the winds suddenly arose from different quarters, which covered the earth in all directions with an immense multitude of the birds.
When he says that the earth was filled “as it were a day’s journey,” I do not understand it as if the dead birds lay at so great a distance, but that they occupied such a space of ground in thick heaps, and, in fact, continuously. And this also we gather from the Psalm, where the Prophet says, that they fell “in the midst of their camp,” and were carried to their tents round about. (<197828>Psalm 78:28.) What is added, as to their being “two cubits high,” I do not interpret, as some do, f36 that they did not fly above two cubits from the ground, so as to be more easily taken with the hand; but that there was such a mass of them, that every one might carry away as much as he would. For to this also do those magnificent descriptions in the Psalm relate, whereby the miracle is extolled:
“He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and leathered fowls, like as the sand of the sea.” (<197827>Psalm 78:27.)
But how “they spread them abroad — round about,” f37 is not very clear to me; unless, perhaps, they were placed in cages or coops, and daily taken out for food.
33.And while the flesh was yet between their teeth. Moses does not specify any particular day; but only that God did not wait till satiety had produced disgust, but inflicted the punishment in the midst of their greediness. We may, however, conjecture from what precedes, that time was given them to gorge themselves. From whence their insatiable voracity may be gathered, which prevailed for so many continuous days, and could not be appeased by any quantity of food. God, therefore, allowed them time abundantly sufficient for them to gorge themselves, unless their gluttony was prodigious: and yet punished their intemperance, while the meat was yet in their mouths. They were, then, suddenly surprised in the midst of their guttling; and hence it is said in the Psalm, (<197830>Psalm 78:30,) “they were not yet estranged from their lust;” just as any glutton might choke himself, by devouring more than his throat could hold. Nor is that at variance with their repletion, of which mention was lately made; for, however the belly may swell with the quantity of its contents, the furious lust of eating is never appeased. But, in order that their punishment might be more manifest, God inflicted it in the very act; nor could any better opportunity have been chosen.
34. And he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah. It was requisite that some memorial of so great a sin should exist, that the sons might not imitate their fathers. Heretofore God had sustained them with a food both agreeable and wholesome: by longing for unlawful nourishment they were their own poisoners and murderers. Now, such ingratitude was deservedly to be detested by their posterity; and therefore the name was given to the place, not without the inspiration of the Spirit of God. So Paul reminds us, that in this narrative God’s judgment against corrupt and vicious lusts was portrayed, that we might ourselves learn not to lust. (<461006>1 Corinthians 10:6.) I have already briefly explained how far our appetites are to be restrained, and what intemperance, properly speaking, is.