Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859 edition.

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NUMBERS - Chapter 11

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Numbers xi.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. Fatigue. Hebrew simply, "and the people were like those who complain of evil, or who seek pretexts, inwardly, in the ears of the Lord." St. Jerome explains this evil to mean the fatigue of the journey, which lasted for three days together. (Calmet) --- Hence, some who were ready to lay hold of every pretext, took occasion to murmur, and to contrast their present wearisome life with the false pleasures of Egypt. The people of that country were now desirous of returning, and prevailed upon many of the Hebrews to join with them, ver. 4. (Haydock) --- They were chiefly those who were farthest from the ark, the dregs of the people; though some pretend that the uttermost part means the principal men of the camp. See Genesis xlviii. 2. "The fire devoured one part of the camp," Septuagint.

Ver. 2. Up, as rain is by the earth, Amos ix. 5.

Ver. 3. The burning. Hebrew tabherah. (Challoner) --- Calmet uses no reason for confounding this station with that mentioned [in] ver. 34.

Ver. 4. For, seems, however, to connect the burning of some with the destruction of many more, who had eaten the quails, as if both judgments took place at the same encampment. Septuagint render the Hebrew, "and a mixt rabble among them, desired greatly; and sitting, cried, as well as the Israelites, and said," &c. (Haydock) --- A mixt multitude. These were people that came with them out of Egypt, who were not of the race of Israel: who, by their murmuring, drew also the children of Israel to murmur: this should teach us the danger of associating ourselves with the children of Egypt; that is, with the lovers and admirers of this wicked world. (Challoner) --- This verse may relate a different history from the preceding ones, as the punishment was of another kind. (Du Hamel) --- The murmurers were burnt to death. (Haydock)

Ver. 5. Fish. The Nile abounds in fish, which they might catch freely. The fish of the lake Mœris, brought a considerable revenue to the king of Egypt. (Herodotus, ii. 149.) The Hebrews had dwelt also near the Mediterranean Sea. Fish was formerly in greater esteem than it is at present. The priests of Egypt abstained from it, (Herodotus, ii. 37,) and the people from such as had scales, and from eels, because they believed they were sacred. (Herodotus, ii. 72). Porphyrius and Ovid even maintain that they refrained from all fish, as well as the Syrians. But they had not probably carried their superstition so far, in the days of Moses. --- Garlic. These things are much more delicious and wholesome in hot countries. The Greeks fed much on cucumbers and garlic. (Aristophanes) --- The Turks still delight in them, eating the former raw with sour milk, (which would be very dangerous in our climate), and onions, which are as good as our pears. (Spon. Bellon. iii. 18, &c.) The wounded Machaon feasts upon onions, &c. (Homer, Iliad ix.) The Egyptians afterwards scrupled to eat leeks and onions. (Calmet) --- Porrum & cepe nefas violare....O sanctas gentes! quibus hæc nascuntur in hortis---Numina. (Juvenal, Sat. xv.) But in the earlier ages Moses represents them as accustomed to such food. (Haydock)

Ver. 6. Dry, like people quite worn out for want of food. (Psalm ci. 5, 12; Lamentations iv. 8.) --- Nothing. An exaggeration. We are disgusted with this light food. (Calmet) --- They wished not only for the taste, but also for the colour, of other meats. (Menochius) --- How often do we imitate their folly, when we are disgusted with the bread of life! (Haydock)

Ver. 7. Bdellium. Bdellium, according to Pliny, ([Natural History?] lib. xxi. chap. 9,) was of the colour of a man's nail, white and bright; (Challoner) or like wax, ([Natural History?] lib. xii. 9,) between white and yellow. It might resemble a tarnished pearl or ivory in colour, and coriander-seed in shape.

Ver. 8. Oil; or, when unprepared, like flour and honey, Exodus xvi. 31. (Calmet)

Ver. 10. By. Hebrew, "for." Jonathan and others endeavour to excuse their ancestors, by saying that they wept because they were forbidden to marry their near relations. --- His tent. Some explain the Hebrew of the tent of Moses. But the Israelites more probably staid at home.

Ver. 12. Nurse. We often read of men nursing and watching over others. (4 Kings x. 5; Esther ii. 11.) Thus kings shall nurse the Church, Isaias xlix. 23. (Calmet) --- All who have authority should treat their subjects with love. (Menochius)

Ver. 14. For me. Had he not the judges, whom Jethro advised him to appoint? But all matters of consequence were still brought to Moses. He was made answerable for all things.

Ver. 15. Evils. Hebrew, "my misfortune." The Rabbins say their, or thy, was formerly written, but corrected by the scribes. (Calmet) --- Moses fears the anger of God falling upon the people. (Haydock) --- It is very wonderful that the Hebrew text here retains the feminine pronoun att, instead of atta; thy, thee; as if Moses were addressing himself to some woman; and this absurd peculiarity is more absurdly accounted for, by saying that Moses was "so exasperated during this his address to the divine Being, as to be incapable of pronouncing both syllables!" The same mistake occurs [in] 1 Kings xxiv. 19. (Kennicott, i. 412.) God does not reprehend Moses as guilty of any disrespect or pusillanimity. (Haydock) --- The holy man prays with due submission to the will of the most High. (Worthington)

Ver. 16. Seventy men. This was the first institution of the council or senate, called the Sanhedrim, consisting of seventy, or seventy-two senators or counselors. (Challoner) --- Calmet calls this in question. (Dissert. on the Police, &c.) Moses chose these senators from among the officers, whom he had before set over the people, (Exodus xviii.) or from those who had superintended their affairs in Egypt, according to the Rabbins, (Exodus iii. 14,) who say that the traditions explaining the law were entrusted to them. (Jarchi, &c.) --- Ancients; a title of authority in the East. See Genesis l. 7. It was not so necessary that they should be far advanced in year, as that they should be men of prudence and of consummate virtue. These qualifications received a great increase, when they were filled with the spirit of God. (Calmet) --- They were thus authorized to decide controversies peremptorily, and to consult God, like Moses, being endued also with a prophetic spirit. (Menochius)

Ver. 17. Thy spirit. St. Augustine (q. 18,) reads "of the spirit which is on thee;" (Septuagint) referring it to the indivisible spirit of God, so that these ancients received what was sufficient for them, while Moses suffered no diminution. Thus one lamp communicates light to another, without being impaired. (Origen, hom. vi.) Theodoret (q. 18,) also adds, that a person confers baptism on thousands, and yet loses no part of the grace himself. Selden (Syn. ii. 4,) shews that the Jews explain this spirit of a certain emanation of divine light, or inspiration, which causes the prophets to speak. They have not in general, a distinct belief of the blessed Trinity. "I will make an increase of the spirit, which is upon thee, and will place it upon them." (Chaldean; ver. 25.)

Ver. 18. Sanctified. Prepare yourselves to receive flesh. The word is often used in this sense, Jeremias vi. 4, &c. (Onkelos) --- Cease to murmur, and bewail your sin. (Calmet)

Ver. 20. Of days complete. So two years of days, means two full years. (1 Machabees i. 30.) --- Loathsome to you. "Indigestible," Symmachus. "Bilious," Septuagint. "Till it become loathsome to you, and a source of scandal, (Chaldean) or of dispersion, as some translate the Hebrew.

Ver. 21. People, able to bear arms. (Haydock) --- In all there were above two millions. (Calmet)

Ver. 22. Fishes. Moses does not distinguish them from flesh, no more than St. Paul does, 1 Corinthians xv. 39. Fish was not formerly allowed on fasting days. (Calmet)

Ver. 23. Unable: Hebrew, "shortened." Septuagint, "insufficient." Moses had expressed his astonishment, not his doubts; though the words might convey the latter idea to us more than his behaviour in chap. xx. 10. But God sees the heart. --- To pass. Hebrew may be also, "hath called thee;" (Calmet) Septuagint, "shall come upon thee," and execute the thing, as soon as thou shalt promise it. (Haydock)

Ver. 25. Afterwards. Some give a contrary meaning to the Hebrew, with the Septuagint, Syriac, &c.: "They prophesied, (on that occasion) but they did not continue" to do so; except when they were favoured with the influence of the spirit. When it was requisite, they were enabled to declare God's will and his praise to the people. (Calmet) --- Saul is said to have prophesied when he praised God, 1 Kings x. 5, 10. (Menochius)

Ver. 26. Forth, being lawfully hindered, (Calmet) or out of humility. (St. Jerome, ep. 127.)

Ver. 27. Man. The Rabbins say, without proof, that he was Gersom, the son of Moses, and that the two prophets were half-brothers of the lawgiver, and foretold his death and the persecutions of Gog, &c. (Calmet) --- Hermas (11. 2.) refers to some of their predictions: "The Lord is nigh to those who are converts." See Psalm xxxiii. 19. (Haydock) --- But they prophesied probably, by announcing only as men inspired, the praises of God and sentiments of piety, without diving into futurity. (Calmet) --- Theodoret (q. 21,) thinks they were not of the 70 judges, but equal in dignity to them. (Cotelier.)

Ver. 28. Chosen among the seventy, and designed, from his youth, to be the general, and successor of Moses; the Hebrew may be understood in all these senses. See Exodus xvii. 10. (Calmet) --- Josue was afraid lest they had assumed this air of authority in opposition to Moses. St. John addressed our Saviour, under the same impressions of zeal, Luke ix. 49.

Ver. 30. Camp of the people, from the tabernacle, which was in the midst of it. (Haydock)

Ver. 31. Sea; the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The wind blew from the south-west to the west with respect to Moses, or from the south with respect to Jerusalem, Psalm lxxvii. 26. Many quails are found about Rinocorura, and some have imagined that these had continued during winter at the bottom of the waters, as they say swallows do. (Bochart, i. 15.) God had sent the Hebrews a similar provision, for one day, about the same season of the year, Exodus xvi. 13. --- Flew. The Hebrew says simply, "as it were two cubits upon the earth;" whether they were heaped one upon another to that height, or, as it is more probable, (Calmet) they flew only so much above the ground, and might easily be killed. (Haydock) --- The Septuagint call them ortygometra, the leader, or the largest sort of quails. Suppose twenty of these filled a bushel, or the thirtieth part of a corus, each person would have at least 6,000 quails; and if there were three million people, they must have had 18,000 million such birds. (Menochius) --- Philo takes notice, that the Jews were very fond of this food; and Aristotle (Anim., viii. 12,) says, their flesh is as good as that of woodcocks. (Tirinus)

Ver. 32. Cores. Hebrew, "Chomarim," each of contained 100 gomers. One gomer was the daily allowance of manna for each person, and of course there must have been sufficient quails for one hundred days. But Moses tells us that each one collected at least ten times that quantity, or as much has he could eat for 1,000 days. Bochart therefore supposes, that only each family, of ten people, gathered so much: or the Hebrew should be rendered heaps, as the core, or chomer, is not a proper measure for birds, but for corn and liquors. The Septuagint, Syriac, &c., have "heaps." We need not have recourse to a new creation of these birds, as their numbers are very surprising. (Pliny, [Natural History?] x. 23.) In Italy above 100,000 have been caught in one day, within the space of 5,000 paces. (Blond.) The Psalmist compares the numbers brought on this occasion, to the dust, or to the sand of the sea-shore, Psalm lxxvii. 27. --- Dried them in the sun, having first salted them, as the Egyptians did. (Calmet) (Athenæus.) --- Many quails are found in Egypt, and around the Arabian Gulf. (Josephus, [Antiquities?] iii.) (Du Hamel)

Ver. 33. Plague of fire, ver. 3, Psalm lxxvii. 21. (Cornelius a Lapide) --- Failed, after the month was expired. (Menochius) --- They had been accustomed to live upon manna, which was a light food, during the space of a year; and now eating greedily of this flesh, their stomachs were overcharged, and they died of an indigestion. (Calmet) --- The Rabbins say, God punished their gluttony by death, and obliged the rest of the Hebrews to abstain from all flesh, except from that of the peace-offerings, till they entered the promised land. (Selden, Syn. 2, 4.)

Ver. 34. The graves of lust; or the sepulchres of concupiscence: so called from their irregular desire of flesh. In Hebrew Kibroth Hattaavah. (Challoner) --- Hence St. Augustine observes that, "it is not a matter of so much moment to be heard by God. For some he hears in his wrath, granting their requests, while he refuses to comply with some petitions of his friends." (Du Hamel)


Bible Text & Cross-references:

The people murmur, and are punished with fire. God appointeth seventy ancients for assistants to Moses. They prophesy. The people have their fill of flesh, but forthwith many die of the plague.

1 In the mean time* there arose a **murmuring of the people against the Lord, as it were repining at their fatigue. And when the Lord heard it he was angry. ***And the fire of the Lord being kindled against them, devoured them that were at the uttermost part of the camp.

2 And when the people cried to Moses, Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire was swallowed up.

3 And he called the name of that place, The burning: for that the fire of the Lord had been kindled against them.

4 For a mixt multitude of people, that came up with them, burned with desire, sitting and weeping, the children of Israel also being joined with them, and said: *Who shall give us flesh to eat?

5 We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free-cost: the cucumbers come into our mind, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.

6 Our soul is dry, our eyes behold nothing else but manna.

7 *Now the manna was like coriander-seed, of the colour of bdellium.

8 And the people went about, and gathering it, ground it in a mill, or beat it in a mortar, and boiled it in a pot, and made cakes thereof, of the taste of bread tempered with oil.

9 And when the dew fell in the night upon the camp, the manna also fell with it.

10 Now Moses heard the people weeping by their families, every one at the door of his tent. And the wrath of the Lord was exceedingly enkindled: to Moses also the thing seemed insupportable.

11 And he said to the Lord: Why hast thou afflicted thy servant? wherefore do I not find favour before thee? and why hast thou laid the weight of all this people upon me?

12 Have I conceived all this multitude, or begotten them, that thou shouldst say to me: Carry them in thy bosom, as the nurse is wont to carry the little infant, and bear them into the land, for which thou hast sworn to their fathers?

13 Whence should I have flesh to give to so great a multitude? they weep against me, saying: Give us flesh that we may eat.

14 I am not able alone to bear all this people, because it is too heavy for me.

15 But if it seem unto thee otherwise, I beseech thee to kill me, and let me find grace in thy eyes, that I be not afflicted with so great evils.

16 And the Lord said to Moses: Gather unto me seventy men of the ancients of Israel, whom thou knowest to be ancients and masters of the people: and thou shalt bring them to the door of the tabernacle of the covenant, and shalt make them stand there with thee,

17 That I may come down and speak with thee: and I will take of thy spirit, and will give to them, that they may bear with thee the burden of the people, and thou mayst not be burthened alone.

18 And thou shalt say to the people: Be ye sanctified: to-morrow you shall eat flesh: for I have heard you say; who will give us flesh to eat? it was well with us in Egypt. That the Lord may give you flesh, and you may eat:

19 Not for one day, nor two, nor five, nor ten, no nor for twenty.

20 But even for a month of days, till it come out at your nostrils, and become loathsome to you, because you have cast off the Lord, who is in the midst of you, and have wept before him, saying: Why came we out of Egypt?

21 And Moses said: There are six hundred thousand footmen of this people, and sayest thou: I will give them flesh to eat a whole month?

22 *Shall then a multitude of sheep and oxen be killed, that it may suffice for their food? or shall the fishes of the sea be gathered together to fill them?

23 And the Lord answered him: *Is the hand of the Lord unable? Thou shalt presently see whether my word shall come to pass or no.

24 Moses therefore came, and told the people the words of the Lord, and assembled seventy men of the ancients of Israel, and made them to stand about the tabernacle.

25 And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spoke to him, taking away of the spirit that was in Moses, and giving to the seventy men. And when the spirit had rested on them, they prophesied, nor did they cease afterwards.

26 Now there remained in the camp two of the men, of whom one was called Eldad, and the other Medad, upon whom the spirit rested; for they also had been enrolled, but were not gone forth to the tabernacle.

27 And when they prophesied in the camp, there ran a young man, and told Moses, saying: Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp.

28 Forthwith Josue the son of Nun, the minister of Moses, and chosen out of many, said: My lord Moses, forbid them.

29 But he said: Why hast thou emulation for me? O that all the people might prophesy, and that the Lord would give them his spirit?

30 And Moses returned, with the ancients of Israel, into the camp.

31 *And a wind going out from the Lord, taking quails up beyond the sea brought them, and cast them into the camp for the space of one day's journey, on every side of the camp round about, and they flew in the air two cubits high above the ground.

32 The people therefore rising up all that day, and night, and the next day, gathered together of quails, he that did least, ten cores: and they dried them round about the camp.

33 *As yet the flesh was between their teeth, neither had that kind of meat failed: when behold, the wrath of the Lord being provoked against the people, struck them with an exceeding great plague.

34 And that place was called The graves of lust: for there they buried the people that had lusted. And departing from the graves of lust, they came unto Haseroth, and abode there.



1: Year of the World 2514. --- ** Numbers xxxiii. 16.; Psalm lxxvii. 19.; 1 Corinthians x. 10. --- *** Psalm lxxvii. 21.

4: 1 Corinthians x. 3.

7: Exodus xvi. 14.; Psalm lxxvii. 24.; Wisdom xvi. 20.; John vi. 31.

22: John vi. 10.

23: Isaias lix. 1.

31: Psalm lxxvii. 26. and 27.

33: Psalm lxxvii. 30.