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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 16–23
Verses 16–23

We have here God’s gracious answer to both the foregoing complaints, wherein his goodness takes occasion from man’s badness to appear so much the more illustrious.

I. Provision is made for the redress of the grievances Moses complains of. If he find the weight of government lie too heavy upon him, though he was a little too passionate in his remonstrance, yet he shall be eased, not by being discarded from the government himself, as he justly might have been if God had been extreme to mark what he said amiss, but by having assistants appointed him, who should be, as the apostle speaks (1 Cor. 12:28), helps, governments (that is, helps in government), not at all to lesson or eclipse his honour, but to make the work more easy to him, and to bear the burden of the people with him. And that this provision might be both agreeable and really serviceable,

1. Moses is directed to nominate the persons, Num. 11:16. The people were too hot and heady and tumultuous to be entrusted with the election; Moses must please himself in the choice, that he may not afterwards complain. The number he is to choose is seventy men, according to the number of the souls that went down into Egypt. He must choose such as he knew to be elders, that is, wise and experienced men. Those that had acquitted themselves best, as rulers of thousands and hundreds (Exod. 18:25), purchase to themselves now this good degree. “Choose such as thou knowest to be elders indeed, and not in name only, officers that execute their office.” We read of the same number of elders (Exod. 24:1) that went up with Moses to Mount Sinai, but they were distinguished only for that occasion, these for a perpetuity; and, according to this constitution, the Sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews, which in after ages sat at Jerusalem, and was the highest court of judgment among them, consisted of seventy men. Our Saviour seems to have had an eye to it in the choice of seventy disciples, who were to be assistants to the apostles, Luke 10:1-24

2. God promises to qualify them. If they were not found fit for the employ, they should be made fit, else they might prove more a hindrance than a help to Moses, Num. 11:17. Though Moses had talked too boldly with God, yet God does not therefore break off communion with him; he bears a great deal with us, and we must with one another: I will come down (said God) and talk with thee, when thou art more calm and composed; and I will take of the same spirit of wisdom, and piety, and courage, that is upon thee, and put it upon them. Not that Moses had the less of the Spirit for their sharing, nor that they were hereby made equal with him; Moses was still unequalled (Deut. 34:10), but they were clothed with a spirit of government proportionable to their place, and with a spirit of prophecy to prove their divine call to it, the government being a Theocracy. Note, (1.) Those whom God employs in any service he qualifies for it, and those that are not in some measure qualified cannot think themselves duly called. (2.) All good qualifications are from God; every perfect gift is from the Father of lights.

II. Even the humour of the discontented people shall be gratified too, that every mouth may be stopped. They are ordered to sanctify themselves (Num. 11:18), that is, to put themselves into a posture to receive such a proof of God’s power as should be a token both of mercy and judgment. Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel, Amos 4:12.

1. God promises (shall I say?)--he threatens rather, that they shall have their fill of flesh, that for a month together they shall not only be fed, but feasted, with flesh, besides their daily manna; and, if they have not a better government of their appetites than now it 59ab appears they have they shall be surfeited with it (Num. 11:19; 20): You shall eat till it come out at your nostrils, and become loathsome to you. See here, (1.) The vanity of all the delights of sense; they will cloy, but not satisfy: spiritual pleasures are the contrary. As the world passes away, so do the lusts of it, 1 John 2:17. What was greedily coveted in a little time comes to be nauseated. (2.) What brutish sins (and worse than brutish) gluttony and drunkenness are; they put a force upon nature, and make that the sickness of the body which should be its health; they are sins that are their own punishments, and yet not the worst that attend them. (3.) What a righteous thing it is with God to make that loathsome to men which they have inordinately lusted after. God could make them despise flesh as much as they had despised manna.

2. Moses objects the improbability of making good this word, Num. 11:21; 22. It is an objection like that which the disciples made, Mark 8:4; Whence can a man satisfy these men? Some excuse Moses here, and construe what he says as only a modest enquiry which way the supply must be expected; but it savours too much of diffidence and distrust of God to be justified. He objects the number of the people, as if he that provided bread for them all could not, by the same unlimited power, provide flesh too. He reckons it must be the flesh either of beasts or fishes, because they are the most bulky animals, little thinking that the flesh of birds, little birds, should serve the purpose. God sees not as man sees, but his thoughts are above ours. He objects the greediness of the people’s desires in that word, to suffice them. Note, 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. Moses himself could scarcely forbear saying, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? when this had become the common cry. No doubt this was his infirmity.

3. God gives a short but sufficient answer to the objection in that question, Has the Lord’s hand waxed short? Num. 11:23. If Moses had remembered the years of the right hand of the Most High, he would not have started all these difficulties; therefore God reminds him of them, intimating that this objection reflected upon the divine power, of which he himself had been so often, not only the witness, but the instrument. Had he forgotten what wonders the divine power had wrought for that people, when it inflicted the plagues of Egypt, divided the sea, broached the rock, and rained bread from heaven? Had that power abated? Was God weaker than he used to be? Or was he tired with what he had done? Whatever our unbelieving hearts may suggest to the contrary, it is certain, (1.) That God’s hand is not short; his power cannot be restrained in the exerting of itself by any thing but his own will; with him nothing is impossible. That hand is not short which measures the waters, metes out the heavens (Isa. 40:12), and grasps the winds, Prov. 30:4. (2.) That it has not waxed short. He is as strong as ever he was, fainteth not, neither is weary. And this is sufficient to silence all our distrusts when means fail us, Isa. any thing too hard for the Lord? God here brings Moses to this first principle, sets him back in his lesson, to learn the ancient name of God, The Lord God Almighty, and puts the proof upon the issue: Thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass or not. This magnifies God’s word above all his name, that his works never come short of it. If he speaks, it is done.