Numbers 14 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Numbers 14)

Verse 2

[2] And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!

Against Moses and Aaron — As the instruments and occasions of their present calamity.

That we had died in this wilderness — It was not long before they had their desire, and did die in the wilderness.

Verse 3

[3] And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?

The Lord — From instruments they rise higher, and strike at God the cause and author of their journey: by which we see the prodigious growth and progress of sin when it is not resisted.

A prey — To the Canaanites whose land we were made to believe we should possess.

Verse 4

[4] And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.

A captain — Instead of Moses, one who will be more faithful to our interest than he.

Into Egypt — Stupendous madness! Whence should they have protection against the hazards, and provision against all the wants of the wilderness? Could they expect either God's cloud to cover and guide them, or Manna from heaven to feed them? Who could conduct them over the Red-sea? Or, if they went another way, who should defend them against those nations whose borders they were to pass? What entertainment could they expect from the Egyptians, whom they had deserted and brought to so much ruin?

Verse 5

[5] Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

Fell on their faces — As humble and earnest suppliants to God, the only refuge to which Moses resorted in all such straits, and who alone was able to govern this stiff-necked people.

Before all the assembly — That they might awake to apprehend their sin and danger, when they saw Moses at his prayers, whom God never failed to defend, even with the destruction of his enemies.

Verse 6

[6] And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:

Rent their clothes — To testify their hearty grief for the peoples blasphemy against God and sedition against Moses, and that dreadful judgment which they easily foresaw this must bring upon the congregation.

Verse 8

[8] If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

Delight in us — If by our rebellion and ingratitude we do not provoke God to leave and forsake us.

Verse 9

[9] Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.

Bread — We shall destroy them as easily as we eat our bread.

Their defence — Their conduct and courage, and especially God, who was pleased to afford them his protection 'till their iniquities were full, is utterly departed from them, and hath given them up as a prey to us.

With us — By his special grace and almighty power, to save us from them and all our enemies.

Only rebel not against the Lord — Nothing can ruin sinners but their own rebellion. If God leaves them, 'tis because they drive him from them, and they die, because they will die.

Verse 10

[10] But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.

Appeared — Now in the extremity of danger to rescue his faithful servants, and to stop the rage of the people.

In the tabernacle — Upon or above the tabernacle, where the cloud usually resided, in which the glory of God appeared now in a more illustrious manner. When they reflected upon God, his glory appeared not, to silence their blasphemies: but when they threatened Caleb and Joshua, they touched the apple of his eye, and his glory appeared immediately. They who faithfully expose themselves for God, are sure of his special provision.

Verse 12

[12] I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

I will smite them — This was not an absolute determination, but a commination, like that of Nineveh's destruction, with a condition implied, except there be speedy repentance, or powerful intercession.

Verse 16

[16] Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.

Not able — His power was quite spent in bringing them out of Egypt, and could not finish the work he had begun and had sworn to do.

Verse 17

[17] And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,

Be great — That is appear to be great, discover its greatness: namely, the power of his grace and mercy, or the greatness of his mercy, in pardoning this and their other sins: for to this the following words manifestly restrain it, where the pardon of their sins is the only instance of this power both described in God's titles, Numbers 14:18, and prayed for by Moses Numbers 14:19, and granted by God in answer to him, 14:20. Nor is it strange that the pardon of sin, especially such great sins, is spoken of as an act of power in God, because undoubtedly it is an act of omnipotent and infinite goodness.

Verse 18

[18] The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

Visiting the iniquity — These words may seem to be improperly mentioned, as being a powerful argument to move God to destroy this wicked people, and not to pardon them. It may be answered, that Moses useth these words together with the rest, because he would not sever what God had put together. But the truer answer seems to be, that these words are to be translated otherwise, And in destroying he will not utterly destroy, though he visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation.

Verse 20

[20] And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:

I have pardoned — So far as not utterly to destroy them.

Verse 21

[21] But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.

With the glory of the Lord — With the report of the glorious and righteous acts of God in punishing this rebellious people.

Verse 22

[22] Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;

My glory — That is, my glorious appearances in the cloud, and in the tabernacle.

Ten times — That is, many times. A certain number for an uncertain.

Verse 24

[24] But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.

Caleb — Joshua is not named, because he was not now among the people, but a constant attendant upon Moses, nor was he to be reckoned as one of them, any more than Moses and Aaron were, because he was to be their chief commander.

He had another spirit — Was a man of another temper, faithful and courageous, not acted by that evil spirit of cowardice, unbelief, disobedience, which ruled in his brethren but by the spirit of God.

Fully — Universally and constantly, through difficulties and dangers, which made his partners halt.

Whereinto he went — In general, Canaan, and particularly Hebron, and the adjacent parts, Joshua 14:9.

Verse 25

[25] (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.

In the valley — Beyond the mountain, at the foot whereof they now were, Numbers 14:40. And this clause is added, either 1. As an aggravation of Israel's misery and punishment, that being now ready to enter and take possession of the land, they are forced to go back into the wilderness or 2. As an argument to oblige them more willingly to obey the following command of returning into the wilderness, because their enemies were very near them, and severed from them only by that Idumean mountain, and, if they did not speedily depart, their enemies would fall upon them, and so the evil which before they causelessly feared would come upon them; they, their wives and their children, would become a prey to the Amalekites and Canaanites, because God would not assist nor defend them.

By the way of the Red-sea — That leadeth to the Red-sea, and to Egypt, the place whither you desire to return.

Verse 28

[28] Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:

As ye have spoken — When you wickedly wished you might die in the wilderness.

Verse 30

[30] Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

You — Your nation; for God did not swear to do so to these particular persons.

Verse 32

[32] But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.

Your carcases — See with what contempt they are spoken of, now they had by their sin made themselves vile! The mighty men of valour were but carcases, now the Spirit of the Lord was departed from them! It was very probably upon this occasion, that Moses wrote the ninetieth psalm.

Verse 33

[33] And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.

Forty years — So long as to make up the time of your dwelling in the wilderness forty years; one whole year and part of another were past before this sin or judgment.

Your whoredoms — The punishment of your whoredoms, of your apostacy from, and perfidiousness against your Lord, who was your husband, and had married you to himself.

Verse 34

[34] After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.

Each day for a year — So there should have been forty years to come, but God was pleased mercifully to accept of the time past as a part of that time.

Ye shall know my breach of promise — That as you have first broken the covenant between you and me, by breaking the conditions of it, so I will make it void on my part, by denying you the blessings promised in that covenant. So you shall see, that the breach of promise wherewith you charged me, lies at your door, and was forced from me by your perfidiousness.

Verse 37

[37] Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.

By the plague — Either by the pestilence, or by some other sudden and extraordinary judgment, sent from the cloud in which God dwelt, and from whence he spake to Moses, and wherein his glory at this time appeared before all the people, Numbers 14:10, who therefore were all, and these spies among the rest, before the Lord.

Verse 38

[38] But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still.

But Joshua and Caleb lived still — Death never misses his mark, nor takes any by oversight who are designed for life, tho' in the midst of those that are to die.

Verse 39

[39] And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.

And the people mourned greatly — But it was now too late. There was now no place for repentance. Such mourning as this there is in hell; but the tears will not quench the flames.

Verse 40

[40] And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.

Gat them up — Designed or prepared themselves to go up.

Verse 45

[45] Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.

The Canaanites — Largely so called, but strictly the Amorites.

Hormah — A place so called afterwards, Numbers 21:3, from the slaughter or destruction of the lsraelites at this time.