Chapter 11

NUMBERS CHAPTER 11

Complaints about Hardship

    • The Israelites began complaining openly about hardship and when He heard them, He became very angry. The Lord sent a blazing fire among them burning up the outskirts of the camp. The people cried to Moses. He prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. Because of this incident, this place was named Taberah, which means “burning.”

      • HCSB commentary notes, “These verses set forth the complaint pattern typical of subsequent narratives (chapters 11-25), and found also in Exodus 16:2-16. The structure consists of (1) complaint, (2) divine punishment, (3) naming the place of the event after some aspect of the event.”

      • Guzik discusses Israel’s error in terms we can all identify with and on which we can personally reflect for application in our own lives. How often have we been guilty of the same? He writes, “Israel, having been ordered, organized, cleansed, separated, blessed, taught how to give, reminded of God’s deliverance, given God’s presence, and the tools to advance to the Promised Land, is now on the march to Canaan – and immediately, the people complained…This was a simple case of cause-and-effect. Our complaining hearts displease God, because it shows so little gratitude for what He has done in the past, and faith for what He can do right now…We aren’t even told here exactly what Israel was complaining about. Perhaps here, it is because their complaining is just that generally dissatisfied heart – complaining not for any one great reason, but because that is where their hearts are.”

Complaints about Food

    • Some of the non-Israelites who had left Egypt with and were traveling among the Israelites began to crave other food and the Israelites complained again, “Who will give us meat to eat? Remember all the free fish we used to get in Egypt? We had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted! Now we don’t even have an appetite because all we get to eat is this manna!” The manna looked like small coriander seeds, and yellowish/transparent in color. It fell on the camp with the evening dew. They would gather it, grind it with stones or crush it with a mortar, then boil it and make it into cakes. These cakes tasted like fine pastry made with olive oil.

      • Guzik reminds us, “Exodus 12:38 says that a mixed multitude went out of Egypt. This means that not all of those who came out of Egypt with Moses were ethnically Israelites; many Egyptians (and perhaps other foreigners) went with them, because they were fellows slaves in Egypt, and because the God of Israel has shown Himself more powerful than the gods of the Egyptians.” He then continues by making a very important point, “There is a sense also in which Israel was a mixed multitude spiritually – not all had a genuine, real relationship with God. This is true of the visible church as well, which Jesus said would contain good and bad until the final harvest (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).

      • On this intense craving described in the passage Guzik notes, “The Hebrew word here is ta’avah; it is also used in passages like Genesis 3:6, 1 Samuel 2:16, Job 33:20, Psalm 10:3 for the strong desire for something pleasant, but perhaps sinful (though not always)…Israel had to yield to this intense craving; it would not be fulfilled unless they cooperated with it. James 1:14 says But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed; the attraction to sin is present within us, yet we must still yield to it in choosing to sin.”

      • The people’s needs are both physical and spiritual. The Hebrew nephesh refers to both body and soul, as in verse 6 (‘our appetite is gone’ lit. ‘our soul withers’). They complain that they are tired of the monotonous diet of manna, God’s special provision, and crave the luxury of the produce of Egypt. To have that, they would return to slavery and oppression. Insatiable human craving leads to a life of bondage.” (HCSB commentary) (emphasis mine)

      • Some individuals seek naturalistic explanations for Biblical miracles such as God’s provision of manna. While God certainly does use naturalistic methods to accomplish some miracles (such as the quail that get directed to the Israelite camp), He also performs some miracles completely outside of the laws of nature. This reluctance to accept Biblical miracles (both Old and New Testament) while simultaneously embracing the ultimate miraculous and wholly unnatural event which our entire faith and eternal hope is based on- the resurrection of Christ- quite frankly perplexes me. However, for debates’ sake we’ll consider the question: Could God’s provision of manna be explained naturally?

        • On manna, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible states, “Its precise identification with known agricultural products of ancient or modern times is somewhat tentative… ‘manna’ may refer to a variety of small seeds produced by desert plants. Generally manna has been associated with the byproduct of the tamarisk tree found in northern Arabia…” However the following must be conceded, “…this material is only available for a few months of the year and only where Tamarisk trees are present; further, the yield of this product is far lower than the half pound per person per day reported in the text….To date no ‘natural’ explanation has been identified and perhaps never will be.”

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible acknowledges- no matter how you slice it, manna’s “quantity and duration were miraculous.”

    • Moses heard all the families wailing in their tents. Both he and the Lord were very angry and Moses asked Him, “Why have you brought this trouble on me? Why are you so angry with me that You would make me responsible for these burdensome people? Am I their father? Did I bring them into this world, that I would have to care for them as a nursing mother with a baby, while leading them to this land that You swore to give their fathers? How am I supposed to find meat to feed these people? They are crying to me: “Give us meat!” It’s too much for me and I can’t do it by myself. If this is how You intend to treat me, just kill me now. But, if You are happy with me, please spare me from this misery.”

      • Guzik makes the following points, “Moses responded to God the way many of us do in a time of trial. He essentially said, ‘God, here I am serving You. Why did You bring this upon me?’ It’s easy to say God did not bring this upon Moses – a carnal and ungrateful people did. Yet, though God did not directly afflict Moses with this, He ultimately allowed it….God allowed this for the same reason God allows any affliction in our lives – to compel us to trust in Him all the more, to partner with Him in overcoming obstacles, and to love and praise Him all the more through our increased dependence on Him and the greater deliverance He brings…When Moses likened himself to a mother and the children of Israel as his children, he used a fitting figure of speech – because Israel was in fact acting like a bunch of babies. When Moses said, ‘For they weep all over me’ it showed that Israel cried childish tears from a temper-tantrum…Moses was extremely frustrated. He poured out an emotional, pained, fed-up, ‘I’m sick and tired of this’ heart to the Lord. ‘If You really love me Lord, kill me right now’ is not a correct prayer from the head, but it is a honest prayer from the heart…God will not answer Moses’ request; but He will answer the prayer of his heart. When we are overwhelmed with such feelings, it is good for us to take them to the Lord, and let go of them, rather than brooding on them ourselves.”

Seventy Elders Anointed

    • The Lord told Moses to gather together 70 men recognized as elders and officers of Israel at the Tabernacle. The Lord said that He would come down and speak to Moses there, and that He would take some of the Spirit who is on him (Moses) and place the Spirit on these men so that they could help Moses carry the burden.

      • HCSB commentary adds, “The term for ‘officers’ (Hebrew shoterim) also denotes scribes, perhaps responsible for writing and collecting of documents that would eventually compose Numbers and the Pentateuch early in Israel’s history- not centuries later as some critics would assert.”

      • The work of the Spirit of God here is to enable the elders and officers to carry out the task of teaching, judging, and leading the Israelites through wilderness experiences. Moses gathers and appoints the 70 elders at the Lord’s instruction, and then God ratifies those registered by sending His Spirit upon them…” (HCSB commentary)

    • The Lord told Moses to tell the people to prepare for the next day by purifying themselves. Since they have cried out for meat and rejected God by wishing they were back in Egypt where they claim they were better off, He is going to give them meat for a month. So much meat that it comes out their noses and the sight of it makes them sick.

      • Guzik writes, “This was not a blessing. God promised to answer the desire of Israel’s heart; but not in a way that would be a blessing to Israel. Sometimes the Lord chastises us by giving us what we ask for – what our intense craving cries out for.”

    • Moses responded, “How can You say You will give them meat for a month? There are 600,000 soldiers here! Even if we slaughtered all our flocks and herds would that be enough? Would they be satisfied even if we caught all the fish in the sea?”

    • The Lord said, “Does My power have limits? You’ll see if what I have promised occurs.”

    • Moses told the Israelites what the Lord had said and he called the 70 men to the Tabernacle. The Lord came down and spoke to Moses, then He put His Spirit on the 70 men. When these men received the Spirit, they prophesied, but never again after this. Two of the men who were supposed to come to the Tabernacle, Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp and they also prophesied in the camp when the Spirit came upon them. A young man ran to Moses to tell him about the two men prophesying in the camp. Joshua (son of Nun), who had been Moses’ assistant since he was a boy said, “Moses! Make them stop!” But Moses said to Joshua, “Are you jealous for me? I wish all the Lord’s people had His Spirit and prophesied.” Then Moses and the elders went back to camp.

Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp
      • Joshua’s zealous protest was prompted by his jealousy in a worthy but immature desire to safeguard his master’s status. Moses was humble (Numbers 12:3) and was not threatened…Instead, he was magnanimous about sharing the spotlight and happy to learn that God was working through others in such special ways.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

Quail in the Camp

    • The Lord sent a wind that blew in quail from the sea and they fell all around the camp three feet deep and the length of a day’s journey in all directions. The people gathered quail all that day, that night, and all the next day too. No one gathered less than 33 bushels and they spread them out around the camp to dry.

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible documents the following, “Writers through history have described the movement of quail (genus coturnix coturnix or coturnix vulgaris) across the Sinai, generally northward in the spring (as here) and southward in the fall. Fowling using low-slung nets is known from several Egyptian tomb murals, including those of Kagemmi at Saqqarah dating to the Sixth Dynasty (twenty-fourth- twenty-second century BC). Israelite fowling with nets is mentioned in Hosea 7:12. The fourteenth century Arab writer Al-Qazwini described the fowling activity of the people El-Arish in the north coast of Sinai. Arabs are known to have caught between one and two million quail in the autumn migration of these small birds. The extraordinary quantity of quail in the Biblical account is swept in ‘from the sea’ (probably from the Gulf of Aqaba if the wind is from the east), and then downward toward the encampment of Israel…Some of the birds are eaten right away, while most of them are spread out around the camp, presumably for drying the meat in the hot sun after cleaning and salting them.”

A Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) caught in a trapper’s net along the Egyptian Mediterranean coast, autumn 2012. Photo by Holger Schulz/NABU
      • HCSB commentary notes, “Here the miracle involved a divinely ordained wind at the appropriate time…which brought the quail into the Israelite camp in astonishing abundance.”

    • In His anger, while the people were still eating the meat, the Lord struck them with a terrible plague and all the people who had craved the meat died and were buried here. Because of this incident, the people named this place Kibroth-hattaavah, which means “Graves of Craving.”

      • Guzik asks, “How many have had their cravings be their grave? How many have lived in spiritual death because they yielded to their cravings, and never found victory over their lusts?”

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