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The Burning at Taberah
v. 1. And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; literally, "when the people were voicing their complaints over evil in the ears of Jehovah"; for the discomforts and inconveniences of even these three days of desert journey caused them to groan and to murmur. And the Lord heard it, although at this time it was still done more in secret, Psalms 78:18; and His anger was kindled, like a fire that flares up suddenly; and the fire of the Lord, sent in a supernatural way as a punishment upon them, burned among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp, probably in the same manner as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10:2. The mysterious, consuming fire started at the edges of the encampment and was threatening to devour all the people.
v. 2. And the people cried unto Moses, their terror made them turn to the one man who had shown himself their ready champion at all times; and when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire was quenched, it sank down and went out, the purpose of the Lord in filling the people with a wholesome fear having been accomplished.
v. 3. And he (Moses) called the name of the place Taberah, that is, burning, or, place of burning, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. This was only one part, or section, of the camp, but it lived in the memory of the people, Deuteronomy 9:22. When the children of the Lord murmur against His dispensations, He finds it necessary occasionally to visit them with severe punishments; but if they then cry to Him with sorrowful and repentant hearts, He turns to them again with the fullness of His grace and mercy.
The People Lust for Flesh
v. 4. And the mixed multitude that was among them, the camp-followers, the rabble that had joined the host of Israel when the Lord led His people forth, fell a-lusting, was seized with a violent longing for some of the sensual delights that lay behind them; and the children of Israel, to whom the dissatisfied feeling soon spread, also wept again, remarked with reference to Exodus 16:3, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? They still had their herds and flocks, but the consumption of meat from these animals had to be reduced in the wilderness; moreover, their appetite was whetted for other delicacies.
v. 5. We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely, for nothing, as they state in dissatisfied exaggeration; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic, the form of the enumeration showing with what a longing they thought of these delights of the stomach;
v. 6. but now our soul is dried away, an expression intended to convey the utmost disgust and loathing; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. Their lustful desire demanded rich and appetizing foods and a more frequent change in the bill of fare.
v. 7. And the manna was as coriander seed, and the color thereof as the color of bdellium.
v. 8. And the people went about and gathered it, and ground it in mills, in the small hand-mills such as were in use in the Orient, Matthew 24:41, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil, like choice pastry made with oil.
v. 9. And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it. Cf Exodus 16:14-Ezra :; Exodus 16:31. This notice concerning the manna as a very acceptable, delicious food is here inserted by Moses to show the base ingratitude of the people. It is equally base and damnable ingratitude, if Christians become tired of the food of the Gospel and express their loathing by word or deed.
Moses is Given Assistants
v. 10. Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent, for the contagion of dissatisfaction had spread throughout the camp like a virulent pestilence; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased. With this second outbreak of dissatisfaction, Moses felt the whole wrath of God in his inmost soul, and he feared that his entire mission was a failure.
v. 11. And Moses said unto the Lord, in his deep grief at the turn of events. Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant? And wherefore have I not found favor in Thy sight that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? He felt that the care of the entire people in governing and leading them was so grievous as to seem an unmerciful treatment on the part of God. This was the language of despondency, not of the kind that murmurs against the Lord in secret, but of that which seeks help and strength from Him alone. It is the complaint of weakness, but not the grumbling of unbelief.
v. 12. Have I conceived all this people, have I begotten them, that Thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, the nurse taking care of the helpless infant, unto the land which Thou swarest unto their fathers? It was not natural, it was not meet that Moses should bear the responsibility for the entire people alone; he meant to imply that God, as the Creator and Father of Israel, Exodus 4:22; Isaiah 63:16, should make some provision by which he, a poor weak man, might be relieved of his great burden.
v. 13. Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? For they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh that we may eat. They behaved like screaming, self-willed infants, who will not listen to reason.
v. 14. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me; his feeble strength could not hold up the burden which had been laid upon him.
v. 15. And if Thou deal thus with me, if the Lord really intended that he should continue bearing the burden, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand, at once, without further torture, if I have found favor in Thy sight, for death would be a merciful deliverance in the circumstances; and let me not see my wretchedness, this great misfortune, which would surely kill him by inches. The experience of Moses and his manner of acting is that of many spiritual leaders of the people to this day, if all their efforts in behalf of the souls entrusted to them meet with little or no appreciation. Fortunate is the man who at that time turns to the Lord, even with an importunate prayer, and lays the matter entirely in the hands of Him who rules all things.
v. 16. And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them, men who had held these offices by virtue of the arrangement in force at that time, Exodus 18:13-Ezekiel :; and bring them unto the Tabernacle of the Congregation that they may stand there with thee.
v. 17. And I will come down and talk with thee there; and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee and will put it upon them, not that Moses would possess so much less of the spirit of wisdom, but that they would all be kindled with the flame of the same understanding; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee that thou bear it not thyself alone.
v. 18. And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, and ye shall eat flesh, they would have their longing satisfied; for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt; therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. It was a command rather than a concession, as here made.
v. 19. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;
v. 20. but even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you, until the very thought of flesh would nauseate them; because that ye have despised the Lord, which is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt? The very tone in which the request of the people was granted should have sounded a warning to them and called them to true repentance.
v. 21. And Moses said, The people among whom I am are six hundred thousand footmen, so many able-bodied men alone; and Thou hast said, I will give them flesh that they may eat a whole month. This was apparently not doubt on the part of Moses, but an expression of surprise and a hint that he would like to know in what way this would be accomplished.
v. 22. Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them to suffice them? Would that be enough to satisfy this demand? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them to suffice them?
v. 23. And the Lord said unto Moses, Is the Lord's hand waxed short, shorter than it has been, in not being able to reach the people and in helping them in their real needs? Thou shalt see now whether My word shall come to pass unto thee or not. Jehovah refused Moses an explanation as to the form of the intended miracle; He demanded of His servant unconditional faith in His almighty power and in the efficacy of His promises. And Moses believed and obeyed.
v. 24. And Moses went out, namely, from the Tabernacle, where he had brought his complaint before the Lord, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them. round about the Tabernacle, probably in a semicircle, on the side facing the east.
v. 25. And the Lord came down in a cloud and spake unto him, the cloud, which ordinarily stood still above the tent, sank down to its door, and Jehovah addressed His servant, and took of the Spirit that was upon him and gave it unto the seventy elders, filled them with the same wisdom and understanding which characterized Moses, though not in the same degree. And it came to pass that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied and did not cease; for that one time they were filled with a peculiar ecstasy wrought by the Holy Spirit, which caused them to utter inspired messages.
v. 26. But there remained two of the men in the camp, of the elders who should have been at the Tabernacle; the name of the one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad; and the Spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, their names were included in the list made by Moses, but went not out unto the Tabernacle; and they prophesied in the camp.
v. 27. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp; it was such an unusual occurrence that he thought a report should be made.
v. 28. And Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. He believed that the prophesying done by these men was a presumptuous act on their part. But Moses quenched his mistaken zeal, as the Lord did upon a similar occasion. Mark 9:38-Malachi :.
v. 29. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them! As a true servant of God, who was not jealous for his own honor, but desired only the extension of God's influence and power, Moses wished only for a further extension of the Lord's gift of grace. A little more of this same Spirit in our days would help to solve many of the problems of the Church.
v. 30. And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel; they all returned to their own tents, which were at some distance from the Tabernacle. Moses had his assistants, and he felt the relief. At present the Lord also gives understanding and wisdom to the men that are holding various offices in the Church, if they but use proper meekness in their work.
Quails are sent
v. 31. And there went forth a wind from the Lord, a miraculous wind from the southeast, Psalms 78:26, and brought quails from the sea, from the Elanitic Gulf, the eastern branch of the Red Sea, and let them fall by the camp, caused them to alight in helpless confusion, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, in an area which was about a day's journey square, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high (about 42 inches) upon the face of the earth. This, of course, exceeded any amount which an ordinary spring migration might have brought up from the south; it was a miracle of the Lord.
v. 32. And the people stood up all that day and all that night and all the next day, and they gathered the quails; he that gathered least gathered ten homers (more than eighty bushels). And they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp, namely, to dry them in the sun and thus to get their fill of flesh food for which they had been longing.
v. 33. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, before the meal was finished, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague, by an unusual and very severe judgment, which struck down a great multitude.
v. 34. And he (Moses) called the name of that place, not only of one section, but of the entire encampment, Kibroth-hattaavah (graves of lust); because there they buried the people that lusted.
v. 35. And the people journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth, spent some time at this station. To this day it arouses the anger of God if men abuse His gifts merely for the purpose of gratifying their sensual lusts. We should not lust as the Israelites lusted, for the same punishment may come upon us, 1 Corinthians 10:6.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 11". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29