Lord Displeased

And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.
~ 2 Samuel 11:27

And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.
~ Numbers 11:33

Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
~ Acts 8:24

And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibrothhattaavah, ye provoked the LORD to wrath.
~ Deuteronomy 9:22

And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.
~ Exodus 34:9

A Commentary on Numbers 11:1-3, by John Calvin. The following contains an excerpt from his work.

And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched. And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.
~ Numbers 11:1-3

1. And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord. (11) The ambiguous signification of the participle (12) causes the translators to twist this passage into a variety of meanings. Since the Hebrew root ‘vn, aven, is sometimes trouble and labor, sometimes fatigue, sometimes iniquity, sometimes falsehood, some translate it, “The people were, as it were, complaining or murmuring.” Others (though this seems to be more beside the mark) insert the adverb unjustly; as if Moses said, that their complaint was unjust, when they expostulated with God. Others render it, “being sick, (nauseantes,”) but this savors too much of affectation; others, “lying, or dealing treacherously.” Some derive it from the root tv’nh, thonah, and thus explain it, “seeking occasion,” which I reject as far fetched. To me the word fainting (fatiscendi) seems to suit best; for they failed, as if broken down with weariness. It is probable that no other crime is alleged against them than that, abandoning the desire to proceed, they fell into supineness and inactivity, which was to turn their back upon God, and repudiate the promised inheritance. This sense will suit very well, and thus the proper meaning of the word will be retained. Thus, Ezekiel calls by the name t’nym, theunim, those fatigues, whereby men destroy and overwhelm themselves through undertaking too much work. Still, I do not deny that, when they lay in a state of despondency, they uttered words of reproach against God; especially since Moses says that this displeased the ears of God, and not His eyes; yet the origin of the evil was, as I have stated, that they fainted with weariness, so as to refuse to follow God any further.

And the Lord heard it. He more plainly declares that the people broke forth into open complaints; and it is probable that they even east reproaches upon God, as we infer from the heaviness of this punishment. Although some understand the word fire metaphorically for vengeance, it is more correct to take it simply according to the natural meaning of the word, i.e., that a part of the camp burnt with a conflagration sent from God. Still a question arises, what was that part or extremity of the camp which the fire seized upon? for some think that the punishment began with the leaders themselves, whose crime was the more atrocious. Others suppose that the fire raged among the common people, from the midst of whom the murmuring arose. But I rather conjecture, as in a matter of uncertainty, that God kindled the fire in some extreme part, so as to awaken their terror, in order that there might be room for pardon; since it is presently added, that tie was content with the punishment of a few. It must, however, be remarked, that because the people were conscious of their sin, the door was shut against their prayers. Hence it is, that they cry to Moses rather than to God; and we may infer that, being devoid of repentance and faith, they dreaded to look upon God. This is the reward of a bad conscience, to seek for rest in our disquietude, and still to fly from God, who alone can allay our trouble and alarm. From the fact that God is appeased at the intercession of Moses, we gather that temporal punishment is often remitted to the wicked, although they still remain exposed to the judgment of God. When he says that the fire of the Lord was sunk down, (13) for this is the proper signification of the word sq, shakang, he designates the way in which it was put out, and in which God’s mercy openly manifested itself; as also, on the other hand. it is called the fire of God, as having been plainly kindled by Him, lest any should suppose that it was an accidental conflagration. A name also was imposed on the place, which might be a memorial to posterity both of the crime and its punishment; for Tabera is a burning, or combustion.

4. And the mixed multitude that was among them. A new murmuring of the people is here recorded: for we gather from many circumstances that this relation is different from that which precedes: although, as evil begets evil, it is probable that after they had begun to be affected by the disease of impatience, they spitefully invented grounds for increased tedium and annoyance. Yet there was something monstrous in this madness, that, when they had just been so severely chastised, and part of’ the camp was even yet almost smoking, and when God was hardly appeased, they should have given way to the indulgence of lust, whereby they brought upon themselves a still more severe punishment. Unquestionably, when they again provoked God by their iniquity, the remains of the fire were still before their eyes; whence it appears how greatly they were blinded by their obstinate wickedness. He states, indeed, that the murmuring first began among the strangers, or mixed multitude, who had mingled themselves with the Israelites, as we have seen elsewhere; but he adds that the whole people also were led into imitation of their ungodly complainings. Hence we are taught, that the wicked and sinful should be avoided, lest they should corrupt us by their bad example; since the contagion of vice easily spreads. At the same time also, we are warned, that it does not at all avail to excuse us, that others are the instigators of our sin; since it by no means profited the Israelites, that they fell through the influence of others, inasmuch as it was their own lust; which carried them away. In the first place, therefore, we must beware that our corrupt desires do not tempt us, and we must put a restraint upon ourselves; and then that the profane despisers of God do not add fuel to the fire.

A question here occurs, whether it is sinful to long for flesh; for if so, all our appetites must. likewise be condemned. I answer, that God was not wroth because the desire of flesh affected the Israelites; but, first, their disobedience displeased Him, because they longed to eat; flesh, as it were, against His will, when He would have them content with the manna alone; and then their intemperance and violent passion. For this reason Moses says that they “lusted a lust,” (14) indicating that they abandoned all self-control, so as to go beyond all bounds. In the third place, their ingratitude displeased Him, which is here adverted to, but openly condemned in the Psalm, where the Prophet reproves them, for that God “had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,” so as to supply them with the “corn of heaven,” and the bread “of angels,” (Psalm 78:23-25;) and yet, even so they were not restrained from despising so excellent a benefit, and abandoning themselves to lawless intemperance. The rule of moderation, and of a sober and frugal life, which Paul prescribes, is well known; that we should

“know both how to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Philippians 4:12.)

Well known, too, is his admonition, that we should

“make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:14.)

All improper longing is, therefore, to be repressed, so that we should desire nothing which is not lawful; and, secondly, that our appetites should not be excessive. Hence, when he refers elsewhere to this occurrence, (1 Corinthians 10:6,)he warns us to fear the judgment of God; “to the intent we should not lust after evil things,” thus distinguishing wild and uncontrolled appetites from such as are moderate and well regulated.

When they ask, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” they seek to have it elsewhere than from God, who abundantly supplied them with food, though it was of a different kind. We see, then, that they rebelled with a brutal and blind impetuosity; for necessity was laid upon them by God, that they should eat nothing but manna; against this they struggled like fierce and stubborn beasts, as if they would make God the servant of their lust.

5. We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt. By this comparison with the former mode of living, they depreciate the present grace of God: and yet they enumerate no delicacies, when they speak of leeks, and onions, and garlic. Some, therefore, thus explain it, When such great abundance and variety was commonly to be met with, how painful and grievous must it be to us to be deprived of greater delicacies! My own opinion is, that these lowly people, who had been used to live on humble fare, praised their accustomed food, as if they had been the greatest luxuries. Surely rustics and artisans value as much their pork and beef, their cheese and curds, their onions and cabbage, as most of the rich do their sumptuous fare. Scornfully, therefore, do the Israelites magnify things which, in themselves, are but of little value, in order the more to stimulate their depraved appetite, already sufficiently excited. Still there is no doubt but that those who had been accustomed to a diet of herbs and fish, would think themselves happy with that kind of food. Moreover, to make the matter more invidious, they say in general, that they ate gratis (15) of that, which cost them but little: although such a phrase is common in all languages. For even profane writers testify that all that sea-shore abounds with fish. (16) The fisheries of the Nile also are very productive, and a part: of the wealth of Egypt: whilst the country is so well watered, that it produces abundance of vegetables and fruits. (17)

6. But now our soul is dried away. They complain that they are almost wasted away with famine and hunger, whilst they are abundantly supplied with manna; in the same way as they had just been loudly declaring that they had lived in Egypt for a very little money; as if they were affected by a great dearth of provisions, when, by the pure liberality of God, a kind of food was provided for them, more easy to prepare than any other, and so actually prepared without trouble or cost. But such is the malignity and ingratitude of men, that they count all God’s bounty for nothing, whilst they are brooding over their own importunate lusts. Many in their gluttony consume, and bring to naught whatever God bestows upon them: others, in their avarice, dry up the fountain of His liberality, which else would be inexhaustible. But these, in the midst of their abundance, say that they are dry, because insatiable cupidity inflames them, so that God’s blessing, however ample, cannot satisfy them. Thus the rain, washing the hard rock, wets it not within, neither tempers its dryness by its moisture. Since, therefore, a contempt of God’s blessings withers them all, like a hot blast, let us learn to assign them their due honor, that they may be supplied to us in sufficiency. Thus will be fulfilled in our ease:

“The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.” (Psalm 92:12-14.)

For Scripture does not so often declare in vain that God satisfies the longing souls, and filleth the hungry with food. They complain that there is nothing before their eyes but manna: as if their loathing of this one excellent and abundant kind of food was actual famine.

7. And the manna was as coriander seed. Moses had already adverted to this in Exodus 16; (18) but 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, (19) a 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.

Footnotes:

(11) Lat., “And the people was, as it were, fainting (fatiscentes,) if, was displeasing in the ears of Jehovah.” Fr. “Apres il adveint que le peuple fut comme gens discouragez, (margin, despitez,) ce que despleut aux aureilles de l’Eternel;” afterwards it came to pass that the people were as persons discouraged (or fretted) which displeased the ears of God.

(12) mt’nnym. Prof. Robertson and Simon agree in referring this participle Hithpahel to the root ‘nn he groaned heavily, rather than to ‘vn C., as usual, has given some of the Rabbinical expositions which he saw in S.M. t’nh occurs in Judges 14:4., where A.V. has occasion; t’nym in Ezekiel 24:12, where Simon’s Lexicon notices it as meaning wearinesses, placing this word under the root ‘vn. — W.

(13) Lat., “fuisse demersum.” A.V. “quenched.” Margin, “Heb. sunk.” “sq, Submergi; In profundum deprimi, comprimi, reprimi.” — Buxtorf.

(14) See Margin A.V.

(15) A. V., “freely.” Ainsworth, “for nought;” this (he adds) may be referred to the fish which they had for nought, without price, getting them out of the rivers freely; or for nought, that is, for very little, very cheap. It may also have reference to the former, We remember for nought, i.e., in vain; so the Hebrew Chinnam, and the Greek dorean, sometimes signifieth a thing done or spoken in vain, and without effect; as Proverbs 1:17; Ezekiel 6:10; Galatians 2:21.” Geneva Version, “for nought, i.e., for a small price, or good cheep.”

(16) Herod., 2:93, describes the abundance of the fish in Egypt, and their migrations for the deposition of their spawn: and states that the inhabitants of the marshes, some of them, “live on nothing but fish.” — Ibid. 92.

(17) Raphelius has a striking note on this passage from Herod. “The herbs (onions and garlic) were ordinarily given to laborers in Egypt. Whence also this was the food of the Israelites, whose labors the Egyptians used, or rather abused, in making bricks. Herod. 2:125. “It is declared by certain Egyptian inscriptions on the Pyramid itself, how much was paid to the workmen, es te surmaien, kai krommua kai skoroda, for radishes, onions, and garlic.” — Raphel., in loco.

(18) See ante, (3)vol. 1:275.

(19) A. V., “bdellium;” Hebrew vdlhbedolach,. “The bdellium of the sacred writer was in all probability the pearl, as the Arabic version has rendered it.” — Illustr. Comment. on Genesis 2:12

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