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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-3


Verses 1-3:

"When" does not occur in the original text.

"Complained," anan, "to sigh habitually."

"Displeased," raa be-oznayim, "to be evil in the ears."

A translation: "The people complained and sighed habitually, and it was evil in the ears of the Lord."

The precise nature of the "fire" which burned among Israel because of their complaining is not known. It was not likely a flame from the Tabernacle such as devoured Nadab and Abhiu, Le 10:2, because it was on the outskirts, toward the rear of the encampment. It may have been a brush fire, started by some natural means, but which became God’s instrument of chastening.

Scripture does not record the number of casualties which resulted from this burning.

The people cried out to Moses to intervene on their behalf, as he had done on previous occasions, Ex 15:24; 32:30-35. This he did, and the fire was quenched.

"Taberah," literally, a "place of feeding." The site of this event was about three days’ journey from Sinai. This name does not occur in the list of Israel’s encampments. In Nu 33:16, the next stop after the departure from Sinai is Kibroth-hattavah, which name means "the graves of lust." The inference is that Taberah was later known by this latter name.

Verses 4-9

Verses 4-9:

"Mixed multitude," ha saphsuph, "the gathered," mentioned only here and in Ex 12:38. The identity of this group is uncertain. It is likely they were like the man of Le 24:10, the son of an Israeli woman and an Egyptian man. They were riffraff, the rabble and, hangers-on who accompanied Israel out of Egypt, but who had no real commitment to Jehovah and His Covenant. The absence of any reference to this "mixed multitude" in later years suggests they may have returned to Egypt, or that they may have died out, or that they may have joined with the tribes who lived in the Sinai Peninsula.

The carnality of this mixed multitude had a devastating effect upon Israel, causing them to "weep again." This refers to the complaining for which the judgment of burning had so recently fallen, at Taberah.

The rigors of Egyptian slavery had faded from Israel’s mind. They remembered only the plentiful and tasty food they had enjoyed in Egypt. The Nile teemed with fish, so plentiful that they were virtually free. The fertile soil produced the vegetables and fruits which they enjoyed. The memory of these delicacies were enhanced by distance, and by the sharp contrast with the supply of manna which was their daily diet, Ex 16:14-36, q.v.

"Cucumbers," qishshuim. The succulent cucumbers of Egypt were famous to all who traveled that land.

"Melons," abattichim, water-melons, enjoyed alike by the rich and the poor.

"Leeks," chatsir, translated by the Septuagint as to prasa, chives.

"Onions," betsel, a staple of Oriental diet.

`Garlic," shum, according to Herodotus, a staple in the diet of the pyramid workers. Garlic is still an important part of the diet of Mediterranean peoples.

Israel’s complaint is typical of today’s attitude among many, who long for the ways of the world when they have at their disposal the best God has to offer, 1Jo 2:17-19.

Verses 10-15

Verses 10-15:

The complaining was not confined to one particular segment of Israel, but it pervaded the entire camp. Its public display implies that it was pre-arranged. This indicates that the people were acting like spoiled children, attempting to get their way by their loud and incessant clamor and weeping.

Moses realized the anger of Jehovah with Israel, and he was filled with despair. He was ready to quit, for he considered the burden of leadership of such a fickle people was more than he could bear alone.

Moses’ attitude was also wrong in this matter. God had not given him the sole responsibility of providing Israel’s food. He did not expect Moses to be a father to all Israel. In his helplessness, Moses asked God to kill him rather than to permit him to be a total failure.

Moses’ attitude reflects that of spiritual leaders today, who look to their own limitations, and try to take on responsibility God does not intend they should assume. Peter’s instructions to spiritual leaders are relevant to this, 1Pe 5:1-8.

Verses 16-23

Verses 16-23:

Moses limited his own usefulness by his lack of faith. God had promised to be everything he would need in his leadership role, Ex Nu 3, 4. But Moses’ lack of faith and fear of failure resulted in God’s giving part of his ministry to others; this in turn limited Moses’ own usefulness.

The first provision God made in response to Moses’ plea was to instruct him to appoint seventy elders to assist him in matters of judgment. These may have been chosen from those appointed at Jethro’s suggestion, see Ex 18:21.

Next, God promised that Israel would indeed have flesh to eat -not enough for just one day, or two days, or a week, but for an entire month. Their greed and selfishness would cause them to gorge themselves to the point of revulsion.

Moses found it difficult to believe that God could provide enough meat to feed the thousands of Israel for an entire month. His faith was insufficient at this point to accept the limitless power of God. God’s people today often fail to comprehend this vital truth, Php 4:19.

Verses 24-26

Verses 24-26:

Moses summoned the seventy elders, and arranged them about the Tabernacle, as God had instructed. God then endorsed them as aides to Moses, to assist him in his role as Israel’s mediator and leader. The cloud which was a symbol of God’s presence came down from its hovering above the Tabernacle, and filled the sanctuary, in the same manner as when it was first dedicated, Ex 40:35.

The Spirit of God energized the seventy, and gave them special insight to determine God’s will in matters which would come before them. This confirmed to the people that they were indeed chosen of God to this ministry. The seventy prophesied, in the same manner that Saul and those with him did after his selection as Israel’s king, 1Sa 10:9-13. This was likely an ecstatic utterance, rather than the calm manner in which Isaac and Jacob prophesied of things to come, Ge 27:29; 39:28 et.al.

"Did not cease," literally, "did not add or repeat." There is no record that this manifestation of the Spirit ever reappeared upon the seventy.

The context implies that the ministry of the seventy was not to be exercised independent of Moses.

The experience of the seventy may parallel the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, on Pentecost, Acts 2. He came to empower the Church to carry out the Great Commission, Ac 1:8. This phenomenon has never been repeated, nor need it be.

Verses 27-30

Verses 27-30:

The text implies that a number of young men served as Moses’ aides. One of these brought a report that two men, Eldad and Medad, who were included in the list of the seventy did not appear with the others before the Tabernacle. Yet, these two men were prophesying in another area of the camp. It may have appeared to this young man that they were attempting to set up a rival authority to Moses.

Joshua was Moses’ chief aide, Ex 17:9. He urged Moses to forbid these two men to prophesy. Joshua’s zeal was for Moses’ reputation, rather than for the fact that Jehovah was glorified by the manifestation of the Spirit. Moses rebuked him for this. He evidenced his spirit of meekness, and his own lack of personal ambition. Moses’ chief concern was for the reputation and honor of Jehovah God. It mattered not the human source of this honor.

Verses 31-35

Verses 31-35:

Two and a half months after Israel left Egypt, God sent a miraculous provision of quails for their food supply, Ex 16:11-13. This phenomenon had not been repeated, until the time of the present text. History records that in the Spring, quails migrate in huge numbers northward through this region. On this occasion, the Lord sent a wind, likely from the east (Ps 78:26), which deposited the quails in immense quantities over Israel’s camp and for a considerable distance on either side. The quantity of quails was so great that in places they piled into drifts three feet (two cubits) deep.

This miraculous supply of quails excited the greed of the people, and they feverishly worked all day and through the night, gathering all they could of these birds. The quantities stagger the mind: the least amount of quails scooped up was "ten homers." An "homer," chomer, is thought to be equivalent to about 6.25 bushels. This means that the minimum quantity gathered was about sixty-two and a half bushels. No estimate is given as to the maximum.

It was physically impossible that such quantity of meat could be eaten on one day. The people dressed the birds, and spread them about to dry in the hot sun, after the manner of the Egyptians. Meat so prepared has no need for further preservatives.

The text implies that after the meat was prepared for drying, the people began to gorge themselves. But the Lord sent a "very great plague" as suddenly as the supply of quails, and the people choked on the flesh before they could swallow it. Scripture does not give the nature of this plague, but it was quick and deadly.

Israel named this place "Kibroth- hattaavah," meaning "graves of lust," for there they buried those who died in the plague.

Ps 78:25-31 describes this debacle. Ps 106:15 sums it up: "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." This illustrates that God may at times let people have what their lusts desire, but this may be fatal to them.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 11". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-11.html. 1985.
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