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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 1


‘The people complained.’

Numbers 11:1

I. We cannot wonder at the people murmuring, as they were unaccustomed to the fatigues of the desert, and it seemed so far to the land of rest; but, perhaps, we have never realised how great a sin is querulous complaining in the sight of God. Let us beware of it! Let us also guard against mingling ourselves with those who are not like-minded with ourselves: ‘the mixed multitude’ was largely composed of Egyptians from whom the evil example spread to Israel. When our religious life is low, we tire of angels’ food, and our hearts turn back to the world we had left.

II. Moses’ complaint.—How marvellously accurate is the Bible in its delineation of the character and failure of its noblest men! What an evidence of its truthfulness! The eye of Moses had turned from God to self; or he would not have spoken as if the duty of providing flesh were his. God never imposes a burden for which He does not give sufficient strength; but we must not look at the burden apart from Him. As the day, so the strength. He can make all grace abound.

III. Divine relief came in the appointment temporarily of seventy men to help him.—But what a pity it was that he did not claim strength enough for his needs! And yet how tender was God’s considerateness of His overwearied servant! (Cf. 1 Kings 19:4-5.) The Jews say this body of elders afterwards constituted the Sanhedrim.


(1) ‘What was the special sin of the Israelites while in the wilderness? It was the sin of discontent. Is that a great sin? Yes, it is, because it shows that we do not trust in God as we should. We can always find something to grumble at, if we look for it. The people of Israel were always murmuring and grumbling about something or other.’

(2) ‘This was ingratitude of the basest and meanest sort. These Israelites had short memories. They forgot all about God’s deliverances in Egypt; all about His wonderful intervention at the Red Sea; all about the way in which He had brought water from the rock and given them angels’ food to eat. A little physical discomfort obliterated the memory of God’s goodness.’

(3) ‘Surely it is a terrible picture, and yet I cannot but believe, alas! that it is a picture of the great majority of professing Christians, who, after conversion, and after a certain study of God’s holy Word, by which they learn His will concerning His people; after a charge from God to go forward into the land of blessing and victory; and after the opening out, as it were, of the way into a life of privilege and power, and the possibility of glorifying God in the sight of the heathen, and bringing Him great honour and praise—begin to complain, begin again to lust after the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, and the onions which they had in Egypt, and which they find a pleasure to the flesh. And back goes the heart of the people of God into the old life, and all they care for is the appetites of the body, the indulgence of the flesh, the satisfaction of the natural tastes and appetites engendered by the flesh, and which are not really Divine.’

Verse 29


‘And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets!’

Numbers 11:29

Eldad and Medad seem instances of unlicensed preaching and prophesying; and this, at a time of scanty knowledge and rare spiritual illumination, was not without its dangers. So thought Joshua, and, jealous for Moses’ supremacy, besought him to rebuke them. But the great prophet, wholly wanting in the thought of self, rebuked Joshua instead. ‘Enviest thou,’ he said, ‘for my sake?’ and then added, in words of noble hyperbole, ‘Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets!’

I. The first thought that occurs to us in reading this scene is the good, felt by the greatest, of zeal and enthusiasm.—And the second is, how to discover it, how to encourage it in God’s service. But then comes the further question, Have these men the prophet’s capacity? Have they that primary want, the prophet’s faith? Have they fire, perseverance, and courage? (1) The prophet’s faith. Take away from the prophet this faith in the living God, speaking to him, teaching him, encouraging him, in the midst of life’s sorrows and temptations, and he is nothing. Give him that belief, and his confidence, his courage, is unshaken. (2) There is the prophet’s belief in the moral order underlying the established order of things, as the only safe and sure foundation on which peace and prosperity in a nation can be built.

II. The prophetic message, however varied its tone, however startling its communication, is always in substance, as of old, the same: ‘He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’

III. ‘Would that the people of the Lord were all prophets!’—Would that we had all more of the fire of enthusiasm, leading us to go forth and act, and learn in acting, not waiting till we have solved all doubts or perfected some scheme of action!

IV. Zeal may often make mistakes, but it is better than no zeal.—Truth is not merely correctness, accuracy, the absence of error, nor even the knowledge of the laws of nature. It is also the recognition of the moral and spiritual bases of life, and the desire to promote and teach these among men.

Rev. A. G. Butler.


(1) ‘Though man breaks down under the weight of responsibility, God does not. He bore Moses and the people in his strong loving arms, and carried them all in the days of old. He supplied them with the food they craved, and touched with a Divine fire the men whom He had chosen to aid his servant. Oh, that that sacred fire might again descend, not only on those who gather for special service, but on those who remain in the camp of the home or the daily business, that so all the Lord’s servants might be prophets! No man of God, who was truly such, could be other than glad if that were so.’

(2) ‘God knew how broken Moses was in body and spirit—what had been the strain of the last two years. He had no word of rebuke for His complaining, fainting servant. He saw he needed human support and sympathy, as well as Divine, and so appointed and equipped the seventy Elders as his assistants. Faithful but lonely and downcast heart, tell Him all—all thy complaint. He is most gracious and tender, and will not fail to understand and help.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 11". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/numbers-11.html. 1876.
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