Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Uproar among the People. - Num 14:1-4. This appalling description of Canaan had so depressing an influence upon the whole congregation (cf. Deu 1:28 : they "made their heart melt," i.e., threw them into utter despair), that they raised a loud cry, and wept in the night in consequence. The whole nation murmured against Moses and Aaron their two leaders, saying "Would that we had died in Egypt or in this wilderness! Why will Jehovah bring us into this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should become a prey (be made slaves by the enemy; cf. Deu 1:27-28)? Let us rather return into Egypt! We will appoint a captain, they said one to another, and go back to Egypt."
At this murmuring, which was growing into open rebellion, Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces before the whole of the assembled congregation, namely, to pour out their distress before the Lord, and move Him to interpose; that is to say, after they had made an unsuccessful attempt, as we may supply from Deu 1:29-31, to cheer up the people, by pointing them to the help they had thus far received from God. "In such distress, nothing remained but to pour out their desires before God; offering their prayer in public, however, and in the sight of all the people, in the hope of turning their minds" (Calvin). Joshua and Caleb, who had gone with the others to explore the land, also rent their clothes, as a sign of their deep distress at the rebellious attitude of the people (see at Lev 10:6), and tried to convince them of the goodness and glory of the land they had travelled through, and to incite them to trust in the Lord. "If Jehovah take pleasure in us,"; they said, "He will bring us into this land. Only rebel not ye against Jehovah, neither fear ye that people of the land; for they are our food;" i.e., we can and shall swallow them up, or easily destroy them (cf. Num 22:4; Num 24:8; Deu 7:16; Psa 14:4). "Their shadow is departed from them, and Jehovah is with us: fear them not!" "Their shadow" is the shelter and protection of God (cf. Ps 91; Psa 121:5). The shadow, which defends from the burning heat of the sun, was a very natural figure in the sultry East, to describe defence from injury, a refuge from danger and destruction (Isa 30:2). The protection of God had departed from the Canaanites, because God had determined to destroy them when the measure of their iniquity was full (Gen 15:16; cf. Exo 34:24; Lev 18:25; Lev 20:23). But the excited people resolved to stone them, when Jehovah interposed with His judgment, and His glory appeared in the tabernacle to all the Israelites; that is to say, the majesty of God flashed out before the eyes of the people in a light which suddenly burst forth from the tabernacle (see at Exo 16:10).
Intercession of Moses. - Num 14:11, Num 14:12. Jehovah resented the conduct of the people as base contempt of His deity, and as utter mistrust of Him, notwithstanding all the signs which He had wrought in the midst of the nation; and declared that He would smite the rebellious people with pestilence, and destroy them, and make of Moses a greater and still mightier people. This was just what He had done before, when the rebellion took place at Sinai (Exo 32:10). But Moses, as a servant who was faithful over the whole house of God, and therefore sought not his own honour, but the honour of his God alone, stood in the breach on this occasion also (Psa 106:23), with a similar intercessory prayer to that which he had presented at Horeb, except that on this occasion he pleaded the honour of God among the heathen, and the glorious revelation of the divine nature with which he had been favoured at Sinai, as a motive for sparing the rebellious nation (Num 14:13-19; cf. Exo 32:11-13, and Exo 34:6-7). The first he expressed in these words (Num 14:13.): "Not only have the Egyptians heard that Thou hast brought out this people from among them with Thy might; they have also told it to the inhabitants of this land. They (the Egyptians and the other nations) have heard that Thou, Jehovah, art in the midst of this people; that Thou, Jehovah, appearest eye to eye, and Thy cloud stands over them, and Thou goest before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Now, if Thou shouldst slay this people as one man, the nations which have heard the tidings of Thee would say, Because Jehovah was not able to bring this people into the land which He sware to them, He has slain them in the desert." In that case God would be regarded by the heathen as powerless, and His honour would be impaired (cf. Deu 32:27; Jos 7:9). It was for the sake of His own honour that God, at a later time, did not allow the Israelites to perish in exile (cf. Isa 48:9, Isa 48:11; Isa 52:5; Eze 36:22-23). - ואמרוּ...ושׁמעוּ (Num 14:13, Num 14:14), et audierunt et dixerunt; ו - ו = et - et, both - and. The inhabitants of this land (Num 14:13) were not merely the Arabians, but, according to Exo 15:14., the tribes dwelling in and round Arabia, the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Canaanites, to whom the tidings had been brought of the miracles of God in Egypt and at the Dead Sea. שׁמעוּ, in Num 14:14, can neither stand for שׁמעוּ כּי (dixerunt) se audivisse, nor for שׁמעוּ אשׁר, qui audierunt. They are neither of them grammatically admissible, as the relative pronoun cannot be readily omitted in prose; and neither of them would give a really suitable meaning. It is rather a rhetorical resumption of the שׁמעוּ in Num 14:13, and the subject of the verb is not only "the Egyptians," but also "the inhabitants of this land" who held communication with the Egyptians, or "the nations" who had heard the report of Jehovah (Num 14:15), i.e., all that God had hitherto done for and among the Israelites in Egypt, and on the journey through the desert. "Eye to eye:" i.e., Thou hast appeared to them in the closest proximity. On the pillar of cloud and fire, see at Exo 13:21-22. "As one man," equivalent to "with a stroke" (Jdg 6:16). - In Num 14:17, Num 14:18, Moses adduces a second argument, viz., the word in which God Himself had revealed His inmost being to him at Sinai (Exo 34:6-7). The words, "Let the power be great," equivalent to "show Thyself great in power," are not to be connected with what precedes, but with what follows; viz., "show Thyself mighty by verifying Thy word, 'Jehovah, long-suffering and great in mercy,' etc.; forgive, I beseech Thee, this people according to the greatness of Thy mercy, and as Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now." נשׁא (Num 14:19) = עון נשׁא (Num 14:18).
In answer to this importunate prayer, the Lord promised forgiveness, namely, the preservation of the nation, but not the remission of the well-merited punishment. At the rebellion at Sinai, He had postponed the punishment "till the day of His visitation" (Exo 32:34). And that day had now arrived, as the people had carried their continued rebellion against the Lord to the furthest extreme, even to an open declaration of their intention to depose Moses, and return to Egypt under another leader, and thus had filled up the measure of their sins. "Nevertheless," added the Lord (Num 14:21, Num 14:22), "as truly as I live, and the glory of Jehovah will fill the whole earth, all the men who have seen My glory and My miracles...shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers." The clause, "all the earth," etc., forms an apposition to "as I live." Jehovah proves Himself to be living, by the fact that His glory fills the whole earth. But this was to take place, not, as Knobel, who mistakes the true connection of the different clauses, erroneously supposes, by the destruction of the whole of that generation, which would be talked of by all the world, but rather by the fact that, notwithstanding the sin and opposition of these men, He would still carry out His work of salvation to a glorious victory. The כּי in Num 14:22 introduces the substance of the oath, as in Isa 49:18; Sa1 14:39; Sa1 20:3; and according to the ordinary form of an oath, אם in Num 14:23 signifies "not." - "They have tempted Me now ten times." Ten is used as the number of completeness and full measure; and this answered to the actual fact, if we follow the Rabbins, and add to the murmuring (1) at the Red Sea, Exo 14:11-12; (2) at Marah, Exo 15:23; (3) in the wilderness of Sin, Exo 16:2; (4) at Rephidim, Exo 17:1; (5) at Horeb, Ex 32; (6) at Tabeerah, Num 11:1; (7) at the graves of lust, Num 11:4.; and (8) here again at Kadesh, the twofold rebellion of certain individuals against the commandments of God at the giving of the manna (Exo 16:20 and Exo 16:27). The despisers of God should none of them see the promised land.
But because there was another spirit in Caleb, - i.e., not the unbelieving, despairing, yet proud and rebellious spirit of the great mass of the people, but the spirit of obedience and believing trust, so that "he followed Jehovah fully" (lit., "fulfilled to walk behind Jehovah"), followed Him with unwavering fidelity, - God would bring him into the land into which he had gone, and his seed should possess it. (אחרי מלּא here, and at Num 32:11-12; Deu 1:36; Jos 14:8-9; Kg1 11:6, is a constructio praegnans for אחרי ללכת מלּא; cf. Ch2 34:31.) According to the context, the reference is not to Hebron particularly, but to Canaan generally, which God had sworn unto the fathers (Num 14:23, and Deu 1:36, comp. with Deu 1:35); although, when the land was divided, Caleb received Hebron for his possession, because, according to his own statement in Jos 14:6., Moses had sworn that he would give it to him. But this is not mentioned here; just as Joshua also is not mentioned in this place, as he is at Num 14:30 and Num 14:38, but Caleb only, who opposed the exaggerated accounts of the other spies at the very first, and endeavoured to quiet the excitement of the people by declaring that they were well able to overcome the Canaanites (Num 13:30). This first revelation of God to Moses is restricted to the main fact; the particulars are given afterwards in the sentence of God, as intended for communication to the people (Num 14:26-38).
The divine reply to the intercession of Moses terminated with a command to the people to turn on the morrow, and go to the wilderness to the Red Sea, as the Amalekites and Canaanites dwelt in the valley. "The Amalekites," etc.: this clause furnishes the reason for the command which follows. On the Amalekites, see at Gen 36:12, and Exo 17:8. The term Canaanites is a general epithet applied to all the inhabitants of Canaan, instead of the Amorites mentioned in Deu 1:44, who held the southern mountains of Canaan. "The valley" is no doubt the broad Wady Murreh (see at Num 13:21), including a portion of the Negeb, in which the Amalekites led a nomad life, whilst the Canaanites really dwelt upon the mountains (Num 14:45), close up to the Wady Murreh.
Sentence upon the Murmuring Congregation. - After the Lord had thus declared to Moses in general terms His resolution to punish the incorrigible people, and not suffer them to come to Canaan, He proceeded to tell him what announcement he was to make to the people.
This announcement commences in a tone of anger, with an aposiopesis, "How long this evil congregation" (sc., "shall I forgive it," the simplest plan being to supply אשּׂא, as Rosenmller suggests, from Num 14:18), "that they murmur against Me?"
Jehovah swore that it should happen to the murmurers as they had spoken. Their corpses should fall in the desert, even all who had been numbered, from twenty years old and upwards: they should not see the land into which Jehovah had lifted up His hand (see at Exo 6:8) to lead them, with the sole exception of Caleb and Joshua. But their children, who, as they said, would be a prey (Num 14:3), them Jehovah would bring, and they should learn to know the land which the others had despised.
"As for you, your carcases will fall in this wilderness. But your sons will be pasturing (i.e., will lead a restless shepherd life) in the desert forty years, and bear your whoredom (i.e., endure the consequences of your faithless apostasy; see Exo 34:16), until your corpses are finished in the desert," i.e., till you have all passed away.
"After the number of the forty days that he have searched the land, shall ye bear your iniquity, (reckoning) a day for a year, and know My turning away from you," or תּנוּאה, abalienatio, from נוא (Num 32:7).
As surely as Jehovah had spoken this, would He do it to that evil congregation, to those who had allied themselves against Him (נועד, to bind themselves together, to conspire; Num 16:11; Num 27:3). There is no ground whatever for questioning the correctness of the statement, that the spies had travelled through Canaan for forty days, or regarding this as a so-called round number - that is to say, as unhistorical. And if this number is firmly established, there is also no ground for disputing the forty years' sojourn of the people in the wilderness, although the period during which the rebellious generation, consisting of those who were numbered at Sinai, died out, was actually thirty-eight years, reaching from the autumn of the second year after their departure from Egypt to the middle of the fortieth year of their wanderings, and terminating with the fresh numbering (ch. 26) that was undertaken after the death of Aaron, and took place on the first of the fifth month of the fortieth year (Num 20:23., compared with Num 33:38). Instead of these thirty-eight years, the forty years of the sojourn in the desert are placed in connection with the forty days of the spies, because the people had frequently fallen away from God, and been punished in consequence, even during the year and a half before their rejection; and in this respect the year and a half could be combined with the thirty-eight years which followed into one continuous period, during which they bore their iniquity, to set distinctly before the minds of the disobedient people the contrast between that peaceful dwelling in the promised land which they had forfeited, and the restless wandering in the desert, which had been imposed upon them as a punishment, and to impress upon them the causal connection between sin and suffering. "Every year that passed, and was deducted from the forty years of punishment, was a new and solemn exhortation to repent, as it called to mind the occasion of their rejection" (Kurtz). When Knobel observes, on the other hand, that "it is utterly improbable that all who came out of Egypt (that is to say, all who were twenty years old and upward when they came out) should have fallen in the desert, with the exception of two, and that there should have been no men found among the Israelites when they entered Canaan who were more than sixty years of age," the express statement, that on the second numbering there was not a man among those that were numbered who had been included in the numbering at Sinai, except Joshua and Caleb (Num 26:64.), is amply sufficient to overthrow this "improbability" as an unfounded fancy. Nor is this statement rendered at all questionable by the fact, that "Aaron's son Eleazar, who entered Canaan with Joshua" (Jos 14:1, etc.), was most likely more than twenty years old at the time of his consecration at Sinai, as the Levites were not qualified for service till their thirtieth or twenty-fifth year. For, in the first place, the regulation concerning the Levites' age of service is not to be applied without reserve to the priests also, so that we could infer from this that the sons of Aaron must have been at least twenty-five or thirty years old when they were consecrated; and besides this, the priests do not enter into the question at all, for the tribe of Levi was excepted from the numbering in ch. 1, and therefore Aaron's sons were not included among the persons numbered, who were sentenced to die in the wilderness. Still less does it follow from Jos 24:7 and Jdg 2:7, where it is stated that, after the conquest of Canaan, there were many still alive who had been eye-witnesses of the wonders of God in Egypt, that they must have been more than twenty years old when they came out of Egypt; for youths from ten to nineteen years of age would certainly have been able to remember such miracles as these, even after the lapse of forty or fifty years.
But for the purpose of giving to the whole congregation a practical proof of the solemnity of the divine threatening of punishment, the spies who had induced the congregation to revolt, through their evil report concerning the inhabitants of Canaan, were smitten by a "stroke before Jehovah," i.e., by a sudden death, which proceeded in a visible manner from Jehovah Himself, whilst Joshua and Caleb remained alive.
(cf. Deu 1:41-44). The announcement of the sentence plunged the people into deep mourning. But instead of bending penitentially under the judgment of God, they resolved to atone for their error, by preparing the next morning to go to the top of the mountain and press forward into Canaan. And they would not even suffer themselves to be dissuaded from their enterprise by the entreaties of Moses, who denounced it as a transgression of the word of God which could not succeed, and predicted their overthrow before their enemies, but went presumptuously (לעלות יעפּלוּ) up without the ark of the covenant and without Moses, who did not depart out of the midst of the camp, and were smitten by the Amalekites and Canaanites, who drove them back as far as Hormah. Whereas at first they had refused to enter upon the conflict with the Canaanites, through their unbelief in the might of the promise of God, now, through unbelief in the severity of the judgment of God, they resolved to engage in this conflict by their own power, and without the help of God, and to cancel the old sin of unbelieving despair through the new sin of presumptuous self-confidence, - an attempt which could never succeed, but was sure to plunge deeper and deeper into misery. Where "the top (or height) of the mountain" to which the Israelites advanced was, cannot be precisely determined, as we have no minute information concerning the nature of the ground in the neighbourhood of Kadesh. No doubt the allusion is to some plateau on the northern border of the valley mentioned in Num 14:25, viz., the Wady Murreh, which formed the southernmost spur of the mountains of the Amorites, from which the Canaanites and Amalekites came against them, and drove them back. In Deu 1:44, Moses mentions the Amorites instead of the Amalekites and Canaanites, using the name in a broader sense for all the Canaanites, and contenting himself with naming the leading foes with whom the Amalekites who wandered about in the Negeb had allied themselves, as Bedouins thirsting for booty. These tribes came down (Num 14:45) from the height of the mountain to the lower plateau or saddle, which the Israelites had ascended, and smote them and יכּתוּם (from כּתת, with the reduplication of the second radical anticipated in the first: see Ewald, 193, c.), "discomfited them, as far as Hormah," or as Moses expressed it in Deu 1:44, They "chased you, as bees do" (which pursue with great ferocity any one who attacks or disturbs them), "and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah." There is not sufficient ground for altering "in Seir" into "from Seir," as the lxx, Syriac, and Vulgate have done. But בּשׂעיר might signify "into Seir, as far as Hormah." As the Edomites had extended their territory at that time across the Arabah towards the west, and taken possession of a portion of the mountainous country which bounded the desert of Paran towards the north (see at Num 34:3), the Israelites, when driven back by them, might easily be chased into the territory of the Edomites. Hormah (i.e., the ban-place) is used here proleptically (see at Num 21:3).