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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-20

Troubles and Testings by the Way

Numbers 11:1-20


Our last study was a study of Numbers 9:1-23 . We are skipping over the 10th chapter and preparing to consider chapter 11. There are, however, hid away, in chapter 10, several very vital things which we will seek to present.

1. The story of the silver trumpets. This begins in chapter 10, with Numbers 10:2 . There were to be two trumpets of silver made under special directions. These trumpets were used for the calling of the Assembly and for the journeyings of the camps. When the trumpets blew, all the Assembly were to assemble themselves under Moses at the door of the Tabernacle. If but one trumpet was blown, then the princes who were the head of the thousands of Israel were to come together under Moses. When the trumpets were blown a second time, that was the sign of an alarm and meant that the time for journeyings had come.

So far down as Numbers 10:10 , we read that the trumpets were to be blown over the burnt offerings, and peace offerings, that they might be for a memorial unto God.

Relative to these trumpets we merely suggest three things:

The first is this: when God gives His call for us to assemble unto Him, we should immediately obey. The assembling of saints is very vital to the Christian life. There is a verse in Hebrews where it says, "Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is." Then the Spirit adds, "And so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

The second thing we should not neglect is to move out and to begin our journeyings as the Lord may command, the moment we hear the trumpet of alarm. To delay is fraught with danger both to ourselves as well as to others. When God says, "Go," we must not stop to reason why. When the Lord spoke to Philip and said, "Go * * unto the way * * which is desert," Philip immediately arose and went.

The third thing which we suggest is that every offering whether it be of our lips or our lives in devoted service, should be accompanied, as it were, with the blowing of trumpets as a memorial before God. We are not worshiping the Lord as man pleases or as courting the way of men. Our one consuming passion should be to please the Lord.

2. The plea of Moses to his father-in-law (Numbers 10:29 ). He was in the camp on an evident visitation. When God commanded the Children of Israel to set forth on their journeyings, Moses said unto Hobab, "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel." There are many lessons here for us all.

First of all, we should leave our country and our father's house to journey with the Lord and with His people.

Secondly, when we do journey with the Lord, we will usually find that He will smile upon us and bless us.

Thirdly, we should always seek to share our blessings with any or all who are willing to join us in our travelings. Every Christian should be on the alert to invite not only members of their own family but all others to journey with them.

Fourthly, it is not the journeying, so much as is the climax and the conclusion of the journey, which brings blessing. Moses said, "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you." There is a place also which the Lord has in store for us, and we are journeying looking toward a city whose Builder and Maker is God.

3. Moses' words. Chapter 10 concludes with the words which Moses was accustomed to speak, as the cloud moved, and the Children of Israel took up camp to journey forward. Here are the words: "Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee."

First, these words gave a recognition of the fact that the Lord was with the people.

Secondly, these words assure us that since the Lord was with the people and journeyed with them, therefore no enemy could hinder their march. It is true, today, that wherever we go, if the Lord be with us we go in victory.

The second word which Moses spoke was the word which he gave when the camp rested. Then Moses would say, "Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel." So it is, that whether we are traveling away from home, or whether we are resting under our own roof, the Lord will be with us.

I. MURMURING (Numbers 11:1-2 )

Our Scripture text tells us of how the people complained, and of how it displeased the Lord. Then "the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp." There is a tremendous lesson for all of us in these murmurings of the Children of Israel. Surely we have read in 1 Corinthians 10:1-33 , of how the Lord said, "Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer."

1. Murmuring and complaining is the result of discontent. Has God not written that we should be content with such things as we have? Indeed, "having food and raiment let us be therewith content." So many of us look about us and see the abundance of others and begin to complain because we do not have everything that they have.

In the 73d Psalm, Israel's great choir leader said, "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." It is true that sometimes the people of this world seem to prosper far more than the children of God. "Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish." "Pride compasseth them about as a chain." Shall we, however, murmur? Let us rather trust in the Lord and do good.

2. Murmuring and complaining is the result of lack of faith. If we believed God, and had perfect confidence and trust in Him, we would know that whatsoever He doeth is for the best. We would know that all things are working for our good, even for those who are led to God. To believe in the Lord, with perfect faith, is to rest in the Lord and to fret not. Whatsoever is not of faith breeds murmuring and discontent and makes us to stumble,

3. Murmuring and complaining is the result of a self-centered life. When we can truly say, "For me to live is Christ," we will not be dissatisfied with our place or sphere in life. We will be so consumed in Him that we will forget the things which pamper the self-life. You remember that Paul said gladly, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ."

II. LUSTING (Numbers 11:4-5 )

Our key verse tells us that there was a mixed multitude in Israel and that they fell a lusting, and the Children of Israel wept for flesh to eat. They said: "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick."

1. The coveting of the flesh. We all know of what the works of the flesh consist. We know how unclean are those works. Shall we, therefore, covet them, to fall a lusting after carnalities, and to permit yearnings after fleshly lusts? This is very grievous unto God. The New Testament, speaking of Israel says, "These thing's were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted."

2. The backward look. The Children of Israel began to talk about their past life, and to tell of Egypt, where they ate freely of cucumbers, melons, leeks, etc. There are some people who are forever talking about the good times they used to have when they were sinners. They seem to forget that he that walks after the flesh, walks unto death. They seem to forget that when they lived in Egypt, that is, in the world, they were harassed with taskmasters, with arduous toil, with troubles which made them weep and wail before the Lord. Shall we seek to be entangled again in the yoke of bondage? Shall we desire to revel once more in the works of the flesh? Do we not know that if we sow to the flesh, we will of the flesh reap corruption?

God has called His children out of the world. He has commanded that we "put off * * the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." He has told us "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth"; that we should deny "ungodliness and worldly lust."

3. Limiting of God. In Numbers 11:4 , Israel cried, "Who shall give us flesh to eat?" They seem to have come to the conclusion that God could not supply their needs. The Lord never forgot this sin upon the part of Israel. In the Psalms we read that "they sinned yet more against Him by provoking the Most High." They tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Then we also read "they turned back and * * limited the Holy One of Israel." How strange it is that Israel would not believe that God could give them flesh, when, before their very eyes God had dried up the Red Sea, and had led them out with a miraculous deliverance. Shall we, too, turn back and tempt God or shall we believe that He is able?

III. LOATHING OF THE MANNA (Numbers 11:6-8 )

1. The manna described. In Numbers 11:7 it is stated that "the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium." The manna which came down from Heaven, and the manna which lay on the ground is spoken of this way: And "man did eat angels' food."

However, the people soon wearied of the manna. They turned their eyes back to the leeks and the onions and the garlick of Egypt, in preference to the manna that came down from Heaven. What a sad and yet striking lesson there is in all of this. Alas, when people prefer the works of the flesh, and the things of the world to the things of the Spirit Is it not true that many will follow after fornication, and lasciviousness, and idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, avarice, and wrath, envyings, murders, drunkenness, and revelings, in preference to the fruit of the Spirit? They prefer anger to love, hatred to joy, strife to peace. The fruit of the Spirit they spurn. They even loathe spiritual blessings that they may obtain carnal and temporal things.

2. The manna prepared. Numbers 11:8 tells us that "the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, 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." Thus did the Lord God feed them. We wonder how many of us are gathering up the good things of God, how many of us are grinding them in our mills, baking them in our pans, that we may eat thereof? God has said, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." God has said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, * * but * * treasures in Heaven." God has said, "Look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." God has said, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world," but, "set your affection on things above."


We leave for a moment the story of the 11th chapter of Numbers that we may catch the spiritual message concerning the manna, which is set down in the 6th of John.

1. In John 6:31 is the statement, "Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from Heaven to eat." We are quite sure that the Children of Israel did not know of what they complained, and what they thrust aside when they refused the Heavenly Manna. They were only writing ahead of time the story of their own people in a future generation when they would set aside the Son of God, and refuse the only One of Israel.

2. In John 6:32 and John 6:33 the Lord. Jesus referred to the manna which Moses gave, as the bread from Heaven. Then, he said, "But My Father giveth you the True Bread from Heaven. For the Bread of God is He which cometh down from Heaven, and giveth life unto the world." The people cried "Evermore give us this Bread."

At first we are cheered, thinking that perhaps the Israel of Christ's day was better than was the Israel of Moses' day.

Jesus, however, said unto them, "I am the Bread of Life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst." As the Lord went on and told the people that He was the Living Bread, and that He had come down from Heaven; that the bread which He gave, was His own flesh which was given for the life of the world; then, it was that the people began to rise up against Him. Christ said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you." He also said, "For My flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed."

In the old days, Israel murmured, so also did the Israel of Christ's day murmur, and "from that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him." The story of one age had written the story of another; and, the story of that age in which Christ moved, has written the story of the age in which we ourselves are moving. The people today will not eat of the Life Bread.

V. MOSES' CRY (Numbers 11:10-15 )

As the people murmured and complained and loathed the Heavenly Manna, Moses was greatly vexed.

1. His confession of inability. Moses said unto the Lord, "Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant? * * that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me." Then he cried, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me." This is the cry of many a man of God. He has found Christ as the "One altogether lovely." He has proved Christ as the One for every trust. When, however, he sees that the flock of his pasture have turned against his Lord and have gone a lusting, he too cries out in anguish that the burden is too great for him,

2. Human helplessness is ever manifest. We too have long since reached the end of our own strength and perhaps it is better so. God has written, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds."

3. Ready to die. In Numbers 11:15 , Moses went so far as to say, "kill me, I pray Thee." Did you ever get discouraged? Were you ever ready to give up? Did you ever despair of success in carrying out God's call, and in fulfilling His purpose? You did not doubt God, but you were overburdened with the perfidy of man. Beloved, let us not be as Moses was in this story, and let us not be as Elijah was when he ran from Jezebel, and wanted to die. Let us not be as Jeremiah was when he said, "I will speak no more in His Name." God grant that we may press our way on through fire and flood, through trial and testings, through every discouragement on, and on, to perfect victory.

VI. THE SEVENTY APPOINTED (Numbers 11:16-17 )

In answer to Moses' cry, the Lord God gave him seventy men of the Elders of Israel, to be his comrades in helping to bear the burdens of the people. It was not but that God could have given Moses strength for the task. It was, however, that God gladly gave Moses comradeship, when He saw that his burdens were pressing too heavily upon his shoulders.

1. The joy of Christian fellowship. We remember how Christ sent them out two by two. To be sure we do not lean as upon each other, but jointly we lean upon God. It is most heartsome to feel that there is another hand with yours. When Moses grew weary lifting up his hands on the mount, God sent Aaron and Hur to assist him and to hold up his hands lest Israel, who fighting in the valley below, should meet defeat.

2. The joy of fellowship with men separated unto God. The seventy men who were chosen were called out from among the people. They were brought into the Tabernacle of the Congregation and they stood there before God. No man can truly serve the Lord, until he is separated unto the Lord.

3. The joy of fellowship with men filled with, the Holy Ghost. In Numbers 11:17 the Lord said, "I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them." Spirit-filling is a prerequisite to Spirit-serving. Did not the Lord say, "Look ye out among you seven men * * full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom"? When God told Ananias that He had sent Saul to preach His Gospel far hence, He said to Ananias that he should go and anoint Saul's eyes that he might see, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. No man is prepared to serve Christ acceptably until he has received that definite anointing of the Spirit. It is written, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you."

VII. THE QUAILS SENT FORTH (Numbers 11:18-20 )

1. God is able. When the people cried for flesh, God said, "I shall give them flesh." Even Moses said, "The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and Thou hast said, I give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month."

The enormity of the thing staggered Moses. He did not see how the men alone, not including the women and children, could be fed. As Moses thought of it, he thought that all of their flocks and herds though slain, would not suffice them. He even suggested that all the fish of the sea might be gathered for them, and hardly be enough.

Then God said to Moses: "Is the Lord's hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether My Word shall come to pass unto thee or not." Beloved, who are we that we should doubt God? Is there anything too hard for the Lord? When He stretches forth His hand, who can draw it back? Our minds go to the feeding of the four thousand, and to the five thousand a few loaves and fishes with God's blessing sufficed. The multitude ate and the fragments left over filled many baskets full. Truly, power belongeth unto God.

2. God's permissive will. They asked for flesh and God gave it to them, but He sent leanness into their souls. They asked for flesh and God gave it to them, while His wrath waxed hot against them. This is what we call "God's permissive will." God offers them first things, but to those who refuse His best, He gives His second, His third, or His fourth choice.

3. God's judgment. As the chapter we have studied closes, we read how the quails came "as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth." The people stood up all that day and all that night and all the next day and they gathered the quails. However, when they went to eat the flesh of the quails, while it was yet between their teeth ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. Beloved, we may hesitate and think that the Lord deals harshly with His own. Let us remember, however, that "whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." Did not the Lord say, "Oh that My people had hearkened unto Me * * I * * should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat."


The Rev. H. W. Pope tells the story of a Christian blacksmith who had a good deal of affliction and was challenged by an unbeliever to account for it. This was his explanation. "You know I am a blacksmith, and often take a piece of iron and put it into the fire and bring it to a white heat Then I put it on the anvil and strike it once or twice to see if it will take a temper. If I think it will, I plunge it into the water and suddenly change the temperature. Then I put it into the fire again, and again plunge it into the water. This I repeat several times. Then I put it on the anvil, and hammer it, and bend it, and rasp it, and file it, and it makes some useful article which I put into a carriage, where it will do good service for twenty-five years. If, however, when I first strike it on the anvil I think it will not take temper, I throw it into the scrap heap and sell it at half a penny a pound. Now I believe that my Heavenly Father has been testing me to see if I take a temper. He has put me into the fire and into the water. I have tried to bear it just as patiently as I could, and my daily prayer has been, Lord, put me into the fire if You will, put me into the water if You think I need it; do anything You please, O Lord, only don't throw me into the scrap heap." Philip F. Schneider.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Numbers 11". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/numbers-11.html.
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