Book of Numbers Chapter Eleven Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Faith Or Complaints
Does the Lord have emotions? Some doubt that such things are possible, but Verses 1-2 suggest otherwise: "Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out." The whole of life for humanity, which of course includes you and me, was created by God for His purposes, not merely ours. Life is not unlike a classroom, though instead of math and the arts, we are learning faith, hope and love. Our faith is in the Lord, our hope is in Him, and we receive love from the throne of God. Israel at that moment had comparatively little adversity because the Lord had delivered them from abject slavery, and yet they complained instead of trusting in Him. Is God angry when we complain to others instead of trusting in Him? Yes He is, underscored by Verse 3: "So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them." The word "Taberah" simply meant "burning."
You'd think we all would learn from the fires of Verses 1-3, that faith is better than complaining, but the complaints continued into Verses 4-6, not unlike the dissatisfaction of many today: "The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, 'Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.'" What do you remember fondly from the past? We tend to regret the past and fear the future, but all we really have is today. And when we choose to trust in the Lord today, He becomes ours, the One who forgives the past and is our certain hope for the future.
Verses 7-9: "Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it." This "manna," a term that essentially meant, "What is it?" was seen and described in Exodus 16. It was tasty, nutritious like nothing we have today; it appeared each morning, six days a week, and it was free. You didn't have to hunt for it or buy it, it was just there! It could be prepared in a number of ways, and best of all, it was God's gift. God has freely given His Son to you and me—do we take Him for granted?
Verses 10-15: "Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, 'Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? 12 Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, 'Give us meat that we may eat!' 14 I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. 15 So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.'" Isn't it interesting that God chose a people who were to demonstrate His grace to the world, His unmerited favor, and yet most of those chosen did not trust in Him or His goodness. You have to wonder about what WE lack in life. Our lacks can be a test, a mid-term exam of our willingness to trust Him, even when things don't look so good. And we should like Moses' response here—he couldn't do it! He was like many others—called to lead, yet insufficient—and he knew it! In Acts 7:22-25, we find this same Moses at 40 years old, convinced he could deliver God's people. But he failed then and 40-years later he felt like a failure again. Years before and right at that minute, Moses faced a people who did not even WANT his leadership, and yet God had called him to be their human leader. It was for him as it is for us: Only God in and through us can accomplish what He has called us to do.
Verses 16-17: "The Lord therefore said to Moses, 'Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone." Have you come to a place where you just can't do it anymore, like Moses in the preceding verses? We all reach exhaustion, and we must do what Moses did—tell the Lord what He already knows! The people were complaining to each other but Moses told God, even admitting his desire to DIE—right now! God fully responded to Moses' need and we do well to remember the Lord's words in Matthew 11:28-30—"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest..."
Verses 18-20: "Say to the people, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, 'Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.' Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. 19 You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, 'Why did we ever leave Egypt?'" Have you ever had too much of what seemed initially to be a good thing? That was about to happen to Israel, as a weary Moses continued to hear the Lord. We have to notice in these verses that God is not pleased with our complaints and gossip. And if our troubles continue, we should ask Him if there is something in us that He intends to change. God heard the people's concerns, but they were not addressing Him.
Verses 21-22: "But Moses said, 'The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet You have said, 'I will give them meat, so that they may eat for a whole month.' 22 Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?'" Moses was allowed to say anything he wanted to the Lord. He could complain, ask for things, hope to die, and the Lord not only heard the man, but also answered. The "600,000" of this verse were men-at-arms, citizen-soldiers, and the encampment also included innumerable women and children as well. The exhausted Moses fell before the Lord and essentially cried out: "I can't do it!" And he couldn't... None of us can. And so the Lord asked a rhetorical question in Verse 23: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.'" The Lord will show us the truth of His Word.
Verses 24-25: "So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again." Moses must have felt both weariness and growing excitement as he went to the elders of the various tribes and took seventy of them back to the wilderness Tabernacle. And in this moment, Moses did not lose something of the Holy Spirit that was given to others, it was instead like one candle lighting another. These men prophesied, but their call was to become national leaders, not prophets, and so they "prophesied (as a visible sign of God's call on their lives). But they did not do it again."
Verses 26-30: "But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. 27 So a young man ran and told Moses and said, 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.' 28 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, 'Moses, my lord, restrain them.' 29 But Moses said to him, 'Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!' 30 Then Moses returned to the camp, both he and the elders of Israel." For some reason, two of the seventy elders stayed where they were instead of flocking to the Tabernacle with the other elders. We don't know why but they did not go, and yet the Lord blessed them anyway. I like it because it means that you and I can respond to God and trust in His call with good hearts, but not quite get it right, and yet He blesses us anyway. Joshua was a younger man who was Moses' assistant, his amanuensis, who would one day lead the nation, and right now he was reasonably concerned. Yet where the Spirit of God is, that place, that person, is holy to the Lord. "You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you" (Romans 8:9). We who have faith in the Lord are His, whether at the Tabernacle or in the camp. We are His.
Verses 31-34: "Now there went forth a wind from the Lord and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground. 32 The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. 34 So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy." Now came a flood of the "meat" that God had promised in Verses 18-20. But along with it came a plague from God that killed the greediest among them, and the name of that place became known by a phrase that translates, "graves of lust." We should all let the words of 1 Timothy 6:6 prayerfully enter our hearts: "Godliness with contentment is great gain." We might live a little longer with godly contentment, and even better, we will please our Lord who truly loves us.
The cloud over the Tabernacle now moved, and the people, who had seen many die in a very short time, moved with the cloud in Verse 35: "From Kibroth-hattaavah the people set out for Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth," a place where they had a lot to think about. We have a lot to think about, too, and each of us does well to wonder, "Am I faithful to the Lord, or am I a complainer." Let's ask Him:
Dear God, have I complained all too often instead of simply having faith in You? Lord, You are good, holy, just, and full of love, and I come to You, for You are worthy of all my trust. I believe, Lord—help Thou my unbelief. Please forgive my sins and make me clean in Your sight. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.