Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 3. We may. The Latin manuscripts and Bibles before Sixtus V read, “in Egypt, and not in this,” &c. But the present translation agrees with the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Chaldean. (Calmet) — They obtained what they said they wished for, ver. 28; chap. xiv. 29; xxvi. 64. (Worthington) — And that. Hebrew, &c., “and wherefore hath God brought us into this land, that we may fall,” &c. In a rage they attribute a malicious design to God. (Calmet) — Better. And who would have given them food in the wilderness? (Menochius)
Ver. 4. Captain, instead of Moses, whom they could not bring over to their criminal design, no more than Aaron, Josue, Caleb, &c. (Haydock) — Some imagine the rebels wanted to choose themselves a king, (Calmet) or even another god. (Drusius) — Every community acknowledges the necessity of having one at the head. (Worthington)
Ver. 5. Israel; begging that God would not destroy them, as he had done their brethren, chap. xi. (Menochius)
Ver. 6. Garments, in testimony of their disapprobation and zeal; to make these insolent people reflect upon the evils into which they are throwing themselves. (Calmet)
Ver. 9. To eat, or consume them, as easily as we devour a piece of bread. The expression is proverbial, Psalm xiii. 4. — All aid. Hebrew, “their shadow,” which is taken in the same sense. Septuagint, “their time or opportunity is gone.” The Rabbins refer this to holy Job, who, they say, died at this time. (Cornelius a Lapide) — He dwelt near the Jordan. (Pineda in Job.) (Chap. i. 1, and 27.
Ver. 10. Cried out, &c. Hebrew, “said stone them.”
Ver. 11. Detract. Hebrew, “despise, irritate, or blaspheme.” God is incapable of anger, says Origen; he only foretells what will come to pass.
Ver. 13. That the. The sentence is left imperfect, to signify the agitation and distress with which Moses was oppressed, as if he had said, Thou wilt thus afford a pretext, that the Egyptians and Chanaanites may say to one another, that thou couldst not perform what thou hadst promised; and therefore, that in vexation thou hadst destroyed thy people. (Haydock) — Hebrew, “Then the Egyptians shall hear it….and will tell it to the inhabitants of this land….because the Lord could not,” &c., ver. 16. (Calmet) — Thus they will blaspheme thy holy name. (Menochius)
Ver. 15. One man. All at once, (Calmet) entirely, without sparing so much as one. (Vatable)
Ver. 16. Sworn. God swore to give this land to the Hebrews, but not to this particular generation. His oath would be equally fulfilled by raising posterity to Moses, ver. 13. But, at his entreaty, he spared the descendants of this people, and gave the land to their children under Josue. (Haydock)
Ver. 17. Lord, in overcoming all difficulties, raised either by the enemy, or by thy rebellious people.
Ver. 18. Mercy. Septuagint, “merciful and true,” as Exodus xxxiv. 6, 7. On that occasion, it is not written that God swore. (Haydock) — But equal credit is to be given to his word, as to an oath. (Menochius) — Clear, or, as St. Jerome expresses it in Exodus, and no man of himself is innocent before thee. (Calmet) — By these titles God will be addressed; and therefore Moses mentions them all, though some of them might seem to obstruct his petition of pardon. (Menochius) — He knew that none of God’s perfections were contrary to one another, or to his nature of consummate goodness; and he sued for the pardon of his people, with all due submission to the dictates of his justice. (Haydock)
Ver. 20. Forgiven the sins to those who repent; but the punishment due to them must be undergone, though not so soon as I had threatened, ver. 12, 19. How happy is that nation, which has one like Moses to intercede for them! (Haydock)
Ver. 21. Lord. I will surely punish the guilty; and all the earth shall know that their own crimes, and not my imbecility, prevented their taking possession of Chanaan. My glory shall shine both in my long-suffering, and in the effects of my justice. Let me pass for a dead god, like the idols, if I do not perform what I say.
Ver. 22. The men, above 20 years of age, ver. 29. — Majesty, manifested by the signs, &c. (Haydock) — Ten times; very often. It is not necessary to specify the number of the rebellions, as some have done, placing the first on the other side of the Red Sea, (Exodus xiv. 11,) and the tenth here. The expression is often used to express a great but indefinite number. (Ecclesiastes vii. 20.) (Calmet)
Ver. 23. It. None of those who murmured ever entered the land of promise. Origen (hom. 27,) believes that the Levites behaved with fidelity, and were not comprised in the punishment. In effect, Eleazar certainly entered Chanaan, Josue xiv. 1. Salmon also, who espoused Rahab, had seen the wonders of God, but had not joined with the rest; so that, when it is said (ver. 2,) that all murmured, we must explain it by St. Jerome’s rule, of the greatest part; as, no doubt, many would abhor the conduct of the seditious. (Calmet) — Omnia non ad totum referenda esse sed ad partem maximam. (St. Jerome, ep. 146. ad Dam.)
Ver. 24. Spirit. The spirit of obedience and of courage. (Menochius) — Followed me, as a guide, and hath fulfilled all my desires. (Vatable) — This he was enabled to do by God’s free grace. But his co-operation merited a reward. See St. Augustine, de Grat. &. Lib. vi.) (Worthington)
Ver. 25. For. Hebrew, “Now,” &c. The enemy is ready to attack you in the defiles, and I will not expose you at present to their fury, as you shall not enter the land for many years. Wherefore to-morrow, &c. (Haydock) — It seems they complied reluctantly, for they probably encamped in that neighbourhood about a year. (Calmet)
Ver. 30. Hand, the posture of one taking an oath, Genesis xv. 18.
Ver. 33. Years. Within five days from the departure out of Egypt, (Menochius) and above 38 from this time. Hebrew, “they shall be shepherds,” without any fixed dwelling, like the shepherds of that country. — Consumed. They had complained that Chanaan consumed or devoured its inhabitants. (Calmet) — Their children underwent a temporal, but salutary, punishment for their sin. (St. Augustine, ep. 75.) (Worthington)
Ver. 34. Revenge. Hebrew, “my breach of promise, or if my threats be vain,” &c. Septuagint, “you shall know the fury of my anger.” (Calmet) — I will convince you by the severity with which I shall execute this sentence, that you had no reason to distrust my former promises. St. Jerome (in Ezec. xx.) entertains hopes of the eternal salvation of many of these Hebrews, who had time to do penance for their sins.
Ver. 37. Lord, by pestilence, (ver. 12; Philo,) or by the exterminating angel, 1 Corinthians x. 10. They were burnt to death before the tabernacle, or at least died suddenly. (Jansenius) The Jews have appointed a fast on the 7th of the 6th month, to bewail this event, ver. 39. (Calmet)
Ver. 41. Which conduct shall not, &c. They had been ordered to return: now they will advance, and, though admonished that the Lord will not assist them, they depend upon their own efforts, being ever full of themselves, and distrustful of God, the two sources of all spiritual misfortunes. (Haydock)
Ver. 44. Blinded, with presumption, as the Hebrew yahpilu, insinuates. “Their heart was puffed up with pride, and they ascended,” Deuteronomy i. 43. (Calmet) — The enemy was ready to receive them, and easily routed this rabble, abandoned by God, and by Moses, Aaron and his sons, Josue, and other men of virtue and sense. They who before lay lurking in the valleys, (ver. 25,) assume fresh courage, when they become the executioners of God’s vengeance, and come pouring down from their mountains, with irresistible fury; nor do they stop till they had made a dreadful carnage of the Hebrews. The same place was again deluged with blood, (chap. xxi. 3,) and was called Horma, or “the Curse.” The Samaritan and Septuagint add, and they returned into the camp. Thus, by their own woeful experience, they began to feel that God would keep his word in punishing the common people, as well as the leaders, ver. 37. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The people murmur. God threateneth to destroy them. He is appeased by Moses, yet so as to exclude the murmurers from entering the promised land. The authors of the sedition are struck dead. The rest going to fight against the will of God are beaten.
1 Therefore the whole multitude crying, wept that night,
2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying:
3 Would God that we had died in Egypt: and would God we may die in this vast wilderness, and that the Lord may not bring us into this land, lest we fall by the sword, and our wives and children be led away captives. Is it not better to return into Egypt?
4 And they said one to another: Let us appoint us a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
5 And when Moses and Aaron heard this, they fell down flat upon the ground before the multitude of the children of Israel.
6 *But Josue the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephone, who themselves also had viewed the land, rent their garments,
7 And said to all the multitude of the children of Israel: The land, which we have gone round, is very good:
8 If the Lord be favourable, he will bring us into it, and give us a land flowing with milk and honey.
9 Be not rebellious against the Lord: and fear ye not the people of this land, for we are able to eat them up as bread. All aid is gone from them: the Lord is with us, fear ye not.
10 And when all the multitude cried out, and would have stoned them, the glory of the Lord appeared over the tabernacle of the covenant to all the children of Israel.
11 And the Lord said to Moses: How long will this people detract me? how long will they not believe me for all the signs that I have wrought before them?
12 I will strike them therefore with pestilence, and will consume them: but thee I will make a ruler over a great nation, and a mightier than this is.
13 And Moses said to the Lord: That the Egyptians, from the midst of whom thou hast brought forth this people,
14 And the inhabitants of this land, (who have heard that thou, O Lord, art among this people, and art seen face to face, *and thy cloud protecteth them, and thou goest before them in a pillar of a cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night,)
15 May hear that thou hast killed so great a multitude, as it were one man, and may say:
16 He could not bring the people into the land for which he had sworn, *therefore did he kill them in the wilderness.
17 Let then the strength of the Lord be magnified, as thou hast sworn, saying:
18 *The Lord is patient and full of mercy **taking away iniquity and wickedness, and leaving no man clear, *who visitest the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
19 Forgive, I beseech thee, the sins of this people, according to the greatness of thy mercy, as thou hast been merciful to them from their going out of Egypt unto this place.
20 And the Lord said: I have forgiven according to thy word,
21 As I live: and the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
22 But yet all the men that have seen my majesty, and the signs that I have done in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now ten times, and have not obeyed my voice,
23 *Shall not see the land for which I swore to their fathers, neither shall any one of them that hath detracted me behold it.
24 *My servant Caleb, who being full of another spirit hath followed me, I will bring into this land, which he hath gone round: and his seed shall possess it.
25 For the Amalecite and the Chanaanite dwell in the valleys. To-morrow remove the camp, and return into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.
26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:
27 How long doth this wicked multitude murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel.
28 Say therefore to them: As I live, saith the Lord: According as you have spoken in my hearing, so will I do to you.
29 *In the wilderness shall your carcasses lie. All you that were numbered from twenty years old and upward, and have murmured against me,
30 *Shall not enter into the land, over which I lifted up my hand to make you dwell therein, except Caleb the son of Jephone, and Josue the son of Nun.
31 But your children, of whom you said, that they should be a prey to the enemies, will I bring in: that they may see the land which you have despised.
32 Your carcasses shall lie in the wilderness.
33 Your children shall wander in the desert forty years, and shall bear your fornication, until the carcasses of their fathers be consumed in the desert,
34 According to the number of the forty days, wherein you viewed the land: *a year shall be counted for a day. **And forty years you shall receive your iniquities, and shall know my revenge:
35 For as I have spoken, so will I do to all this wicked multitude, that hath risen up together against me: in this wilderness shall it faint away and die.
36 *Therefore all the men, whom Moses had sent to view the land, and who at their return had made the whole multitude to murmur against him, speaking ill of the land that it was naught,
37 Died and were struck in the sight of the Lord.
38 But Josue the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephone lived, of all them that had gone to view the land.
39 And Moses spoke all these words to all the children of Israel, and the people mourned exceedingly.
40 And behold, rising up very early in the morning, they went up to the top of the mountain, and said: We are ready to go up to the place, of which the Lord hath spoken: for we have sinned.
41 And Moses said to them: Why transgress you the word of the Lord, which shall not succeed prosperously with you?
42 *Go not up, for the Lord is not with you: lest you fall before your enemies.
43 The Amalecite and the Chanaanite are before you, and by their sword you shall fall, because you would not consent to the Lord, neither will the Lord be with you.
44 But they being blinded went up to the top of the mountain. But the ark of the testament of the Lord, and Moses, departed not from the camp.
45 And the Amalecite came down, and the Chanaanite, that dwelt in the mountain: and smiting and slaying them, pursued them as far as Horma.
6: Ecclesiasticus xlvi. 9.; 1 Machabees ii. 55. and 56.
14: Exodus xiii. 21.
16: Exodus xxxii. 28.
18: Psalm cii. 8. — ** Exodus xxxiv. 7. — *** Exodus xx. 5.
23: Deuteronomy i. 35.
24: Josue xiv. 6.
29: Psalm cv. 26.
30: Deuteronomy i. 35.
34: Ezechiel iv. 6. — ** Psalm xciv. 10.
36: Judith viii. 24.; 1 Corinthians x. 10.; Hebrews iii. 17.; Jude i. 5.
42: Deuteronomy i. 42.