Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, by Matthew Henry, at sacred-texts.com
(Num 11:1-3) The burning at Taberah.
(Num 11:4-9) The people lust for flesh, and loathe the manna.
(Num 11:10-15) Moses complains of his charge.
(Num 11:16-23) Elders appointed to divide the charge. Flesh meat promised.
(Num 11:24-30) The Spirit rests on the elders.
(Num 11:31-35) Quails are given.
Here is the people's sin; they complained. See the sinfulness of sin, which takes occasion from the commandment to be provoking. The weakness of the law discovered sin, but could not destroy it; checked, but could not conquer it. They complained. Those who are of a discontented spirit, will always find something to quarrel or fret about, though the circumstances of their outward condition be ever so favourable. The Lord heard it, though Moses did not. God knows the secret frettings and murmurings of the heart, though concealed from men. What he noticed, he was much displeased with, and he chastised them for this sin. The fire of their wrath against God burned in their minds; justly did the fire of God's wrath fasten on their bodies; but God's judgments came on them gradually, that they might take warning. It appeared that God delights not in punishing; when he begins, he is soon prevailed with to let it fall.
Man, having forsaken his proper rest, feels uneasy and wretched, though prosperous. They were weary of the provision God had made for them, although wholesome food and nourishing. It cost no money or care, and the labour of gathering it was very little indeed; yet they talked of Egypt's cheapness, and the fish they ate there freely; as if that cost them nothing, when they paid dearly for it with hard service! While they lived on manna, they seemed exempt from the curse sin has brought on man, that in the sweat of his face he should eat bread; yet they speak of it with scorn. Peevish, discontented minds will find fault with that which has no fault in it, but that it is too good for them. Those who might be happy, often make themselves miserable by discontent. They could not be satisfied unless they had flesh to eat. It is evidence of the dominion of the carnal mind, when we want to have the delights and satisfaction of sense. We should not indulge in any desire which we cannot in faith turn into prayer, as we cannot when we ask meat for our lust. What is lawful of itself becomes evil, when God does not allot it to us, yet we desire it.
The provocation was very great; yet Moses expressed himself otherwise than became him. He undervalued the honour God had put upon him. He magnified his own performances, while he had the Divine wisdom to direct him, and Almighty power to dispense rewards and punishments. He speaks distrustfully of the Divine grace. Had the work been much less he could not have gone through it in his own strength; but had it been much greater, through God strengthening him, he might have done it. Let us pray, Lord, lead us not into temptation.
Moses is to choose such as he knew to be elders, that is, wise and experienced men. God promises to qualify them. If they were not found fit for the employ, they should be made fit. Even the discontented people shall be gratified too, that every mouth may be stopped. See here, I. The vanity of all the delights of sense; they will cloy, but they will not satisfy. Spiritual pleasures alone will satisfy and last. As the world passes away, so do the lusts of it. 2. What brutish sins gluttony and drunkenness are! they make that to hurt the body which should be its health. Moses objects. Even true and great believers sometimes find it hard to trust God under the discouragements of second causes, and against hope to believe in hope. God here brings Moses to this point, The Lord God is Almighty; and puts the proof upon the issue, Thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass or not. If he speaks, it is done.
We have here the fulfilment of God's word to Moses, that he should have help in the government of Israel. He gave of his Spirit to the seventy elders. They discoursed to the people of the things of God, so that all who heard them might say, that God was with them of a truth. Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, went not out unto the tabernacle, as the rest, being sensible of their own weakness and unworthiness. But the Spirit of God found them in the camp, and there they exercised their gift of praying, preaching, and praising God; they spake as moved by the Holy Ghost. The Spirit of God is not confined to the tabernacle, but, like the wind, blows where He listeth. And they that humble themselves shall be exalted; and those who are most fit for government, are least ambitious of it. Joshua does not desire that they should be punished, but only restrained for the future. This motion he made out of zeal for what he thought to be the unity of the church. He would have them silenced, lest they should occasion a schism, or should rival Moses; but Moses was not afraid of any such effects from that Spirit which God had put upon them. Shall we reject those whom Christ has owned, or restrain any from doing good, because they are not in every thing of our mind? Moses wishes all the Lord's people were prophets, that he would put his Spirit upon all of them. Let the testimony of Moses be believed by those who desire to be in power; that government is a burden. It is a burden of care and trouble to those who make conscience of the duty of it; and to those who do not, it will prove a heavier burden in the day of account. Let the example of Moses be followed by those in power; let them not despise the advice and assistance of others, but desire it, and be thankful for it. If all the present number of the Lord's people were rendered prophets, or ministers, by the Spirit of Christ, though not all agreed in outward matters, there is work enough for all, in calling sinners to repentance, and faith in our Lord Jesus.
God performed his promise to the people, in giving them flesh. How much more diligent men are in collecting the meat that perishes, than in labouring for meat which endures to everlasting life! We are quick-sighted in the affairs of time; but stupidity blinds us as to the concerns of eternity. To pursue worldly advantages, we need no arguments; but when we are to secure the true riches, then we are all forgetfulness. Those who are under the power of a carnal mind, will have their lusts fulfilled, though it be to the certain damage and ruin of their precious souls. They paid dearly for their feasts. God often grants the desires of sinners in wrath, while he denies the desires of his own people in love. What we unduly desire, if we obtain it, we have reason to fear, will be some way or other a grief and cross to us. And what multitudes there are in all places, who shorten their lives by excess of one kind or other! Let us seek for those pleasures which satisfy, but never surfeit; and which will endure for evermore.