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Large quantities of livestock (bulls, lambs, goats) were required to be used as sacrifices as specified by their Law, both ceremonial and for atonements. I believe that if they had used the animals for food, it would have overcome the replenishment rate. Giving up the food you want to eat is truly a "sacrifice".
[Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness!] If every idle word is to be judged (Mt. 12:36), idle prayers will be doubly judged for they enter a sacred and supernatural realm, calling on God to share in their excesses. Solomon calls the prayers of the wicked "an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 15:8). Israel certainly had this prayer answered, for all the old generation, except Joshua and Caleb, died over a period of forty years, beginning at once (Num. 14:23-37). [Then] Before this Caleb and Moses tried to bring Israel to obedience, but failed (Num. 13:30; Dt. 1:29). Verse 5 The only thing to do now was to seek God's intervention. Note the acts of the four men: 1. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly 2. Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and pleaded with Israel to believe the wonderful report about the land, assuring them that God would give them victory in conquering the inhabitants of Canaan (Num. 14:6-9) Verse 8 [delight in us] This is the secret of all blessing from God: He blesses the people in whom He delights. Verse 9 [they are bread for us] Meaning, "we will swallow them up." A figurative expression for utterly defeating another. It alludes to manna which melted when the sun rose and became hot (Ex. 16:21). Likewise, the inhabitants would melt when Israel attacked them, not having God for their shadow or defense (Ex. 15:15; Josh. 2:9,11; Isa. 13:7; 19:1; Ezek. 21:7). [defense] Hebrew: tsel (HSN-), shadow; shade; defense. It speaks of their protection or support being taken away. Verse 10 [all the congregation bade stone them with stones] This was the climax of their present rebellion. If God had not intervened, the people would have killed their leaders and started back to Egypt, only to perish along the way. Verse 11 [how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?] This could be asked of so many today who constantly question the fulfillment of God's promises. It could have applied to the apostles themselves, for they saw many signs and wonders for over three years, then had to be rebuked by Christ for their unbelief and hardness of heart (Mk. 16:14; Lk. 24:25). Verse 12 [I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.] God again threatened to destroy the whole nation, as He did in Ex. 32:10-14. Moses was offered the chance to become the progenitor of a greater nation, but declined because of his love for Israel and concern for God's reputation (Num. 14:12-20). Verse 13 [Then the Egyptians shall hear it] Moses used the same tactics in prayer that proved successful the last time God threatened to destroy Israel. He pleaded for God's honor to be upheld in fulfilling before all other nations those things He had promised regarding Israel (Num. 14:13-20 with Ex. 32:10-14). What others would think of God if He failed to do what He had vowed was a powerful argument. On the other hand, God's promises, covenants, and dealings with men are based on obedience, and He is free to curse for disobedience as well as bless for obedience, regardless of what others think. Verse 18 [forgiving iniquity and transgression] With atonement made God forgives when sin is confessed and repented of; but all His longsuffering, love, and mercy will not permit Him to bless people while they continue in sin and rebellion (1Jn. 1:9). [by no means clearing the guilty] This is equivalent to the unalterable fact that "whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book" (Ex. 32:33). God will not clear the guilty as long as he remains guilty -- refusing to repent and accept God's means of salvation. Until they turn to Him, God must punish people accordingly for their sins (Ezek. 18:4,20-24; Lk. 13:1-5; Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10; 1Jn. 1:9).
As slaves in Egypt the Israelites would not have been able to accumulate much wealth in the form of flocks and herds. Only those in favor with the Egyptians would have had this opportunity. So it is a mistake to think all the Israelites had sufficient herds or flocks to exist on in the wilderness. Many of them probably had no animals to take with them. Another factor is that the herds and flocks could not have found enough food in the wilderness for large numbers of animals (or it would not be called a wilderness). So it would be to the Israelites advantage to slaughter their animals more quickly than normal before they suffered the full effects of starvation, or trade them with travelling merchants for animals more desirable for sacrifice (cattle traded for sheep and goats, for example). Since, generally speaking, there was little, if any, food for human beings found in the wilderness, the manna was critical in preventing any Israelite individual or family from inadvertently suffering from malnutrition or starvation, even though some may have had food due to their animals. I believe that the further they went into their 40-year sojourn the more the Israelites relied exclusively on manna.
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