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the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-35



Israel had reason for profound thanksgiving to the Lord, as believers certainly have today. Yet now they complained (v.1) without any reason for it. It is sad when one becomes a chronic complainer, but it is the very character of people generally, and believers too often resemble the ungodly world in this way. Because Israel had no definite occasion for this discontent, God sent fire among them in the outskirts of the camp. It does not appear that any person was burned, but the fire was intended to frighten them sufficiently that they would judge their complaining. The people appealed to Moses, who prayed again as an effective intercessor, and the Lord quenched the fire (v.2). The place was named Taberah, meaning "you may burn," which was therefore a warning to Israel (v.3).



Following this, however, "the mixed multitude" found an occasion for which they complained (v.4). The mixed multitude were those who had attached themselves to Israel though not actually Israelites. They are similar therefore to mere professors of Christianity, not born again, and who therefore to mere professors of Christianity, not born again, and who therefore do not find pleasure in Christ, of whom the manna speaks. They lust after the things of the world. It was not that they lacked food, but the manna did not satisfy them.

The children of Israel however then took up the same complaint, for believers are always too ready to copy the selfishness of unbelievers. They remember that in Egypt they ate fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (v.5). But they forgot that this was connected with intolerable bondage! This is the reason for all departure from God's path. If we do not enjoy feeding on Christ we will crave the things of the flesh, things once enjoyed in a world that leaves God out.

We are told now that the manna was like coriander seed, and the people ground or beat it, then cooked it, making cakes of it. In Exodus 16:31 it was said to taste like wafers made with honey, while here we read its taste was like pastry prepared with oil (v.8). Do these things describe the way Israel perceived it at first, then the way it seemed to them later? If so, this is a lesson for us as to how we perceive the goodness that is in the Lord Jesus. Never is it true that Christ changes, but our appreciation of Him may too easily change, and we want something else besides Him. We are reminded again too that the manna fell when the dew first fell. So it was typically a provision of the Spirit of God (the dew). Of course God knew it possessed sufficient good nourishment to sustain the Israelites without any additional diet.

But the discontent spread like wildfire among the people, and they all wept, so that the anger of the Lord was greatly aroused and Moses also was displeased with them (v.10). However, in a state of discouragement Moses pleads with the Lord as to why He had made Moses a leader of such a rebellious people. He speaks of the Lord laying the burden of all this people on his shoulders (v.11), and asks, "Why?" Was he responsible for their birth? And where could he find meat with which to supply their demands? (vs.12-13).



In gracious compassion toward Moses, the Lord asked him to gather seventy elders of Israel whom Moses knew to be reliable men, and the Lord would then take of the Spirit that was upon Moses and place this upon the elders that they might share in bearing the responsibility of the people's welfare (vs.16-17). We may well ask, would there now be more power for maintaining order than before? Not at all, for whether on one man or on many, it was the same Spirit of God, only that seventy-one were now sharing that power. If God intended Moses to do the work alone, He would give him grace and strength for it, yet He does show compassion for Moses' weakness.

As to the people's complaints, the Lord tells Moses He will give them meat, but that they would eat it, not only for a few days, but for a whole month, until it became loathsome to them (vs.18-20). Thus it is when we want our own way: God will allow us to have it until we feel the painful results of such selfish desires.

Moses protested to God that to provide meat for a month for 600,000 men besides women and children would require all the fish of the sea: he saw no possibility of supplying what God promised. Had Moses forgotten God's giving Israel the quails in Exodus 16:13, and also that God had been giving them sufficient manna for well over a year? No wonder the Lord answers, "Has the Lord's arm been shortened?" (v.23).

Before giving them meat, however, the Lord had Moses gather the seventy elders of Israel around the tabernacle, and He came down and took the Spirit that was upon Moses and placed the same Spirit on the seventy elders (vs.24-25). In demonstration of this the elders prophesied at the time, but only then.

When God had given His Spirit to the 70 elders of Israel, the elders had prophesied at the tabernacle. However, two of these men had not come to the tabernacle, yet the Spirit came on them and they prophesied in the camp. When someone told Moses of this, Joshua the assistant of Moses, urged Moses to forbid them to do this. He evidently felt they were infringing on Moses' rights, but Moses firmly reproved Joshua, asking if he was envious simply for Moses' sake. Moses was a man not interested in taking advantage of his rights as leader of Israel, but expressed the genuine wish that all the Lord's people were prophets by the Lord's giving them His Spirit. This humble attitude of Moses indicates why he was qualified for the work God gave him, though we know he did not himself choose that work.



How astounding it must have been to Israel to see millions of quails brought by a strong wind to fall on both sides of the camp of Israel for a matter of miles and to a depth of three feet! Certainly God could have done this at any time, but it was an object lesson that ought to have profoundly humbled them in judging their unbelieving, complaining attitude.

However, it appears that rather than first humbly thanking God, the people immediately applied themselves to gathering the quails, and while the meat was still between their teeth, not even chewed or digested, the Lord struck them with a great plague that caused the death of those whose greed had activated them. If they had first been subdued to thank the Lord for this food, would He have brought this infliction? We may be sure He would not, for food is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4). There at Kibroth Hattaavah these offenders were buried. Then Israel moved to Hazeroth (vs.34-35).

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 11". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/numbers-11.html. 1897-1910.
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