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Deeper Commentary


Num 11:1 The people started complaining in the ears of Yahweh-
They doubtless grumbled amongst themselves. But what we say secretly, as we think, to ourselves and to each other is spoke right into the ears of God Himself.

When Yahweh heard it, His anger was kindled; and Yahweh’s fire burnt among them, and consumed some of those in the outskirts of the camp-
The implication could be that it was those who camped furthest away from the tabernacle who complained. An encampment of very many people (:21) would’ve been large, and for them to walk to the tabernacle would’ve been quite a journey. If we are wholeheartedly devoted to God, we won’t want to be on the edge of God’s people, just peripherally associated with the things of God.

Num 11:2 The people cried to Moses, and Moses prayed to Yahweh, and the fire abated-
 The people cried... Moses prayed
- And the Divine plague ceased. This is exactly the sequence of activity during the plagues- Moses had learnt previously about such intercession for others suffering the result of sin, and now that lesson was being used in the personal growth plan God had for Moses. We too find that situations are arranged by providence to test what we learnt at some earlier point. In this case, however, the people of the Lord were acting the same as Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The thoughtful Israelite would've perceived this, and realized that Israel's salvation was grace indeed, seeing that they were behaving in the same way as the Egypt which they had been saved out of.

Num 11:3 The name of that place was called Taberah, because Yahweh’s fire burnt among them.
Num 11:4 The mixed multitude that was among them lusted exceedingly; and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who will give us flesh to eat?-
 The mixed multitude
- This group are spoken of as if they were separate from "Israel". The Israelites camped according to their tribes, and therefore this group perhaps camped and travelled separately. But their attitude rubbed off upon the main Israelite group.

Lusted- But this incident is spoken of as the lust of Israel (Ps. 78:30). The lusts [Heb. 'coveting'] of others became the lusts of Israel. And we see a clear bridge over the centuries to our own day, where the fads and passions of our fellows so easily come to be ours.


Num 11:5 We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing-
It was only free because they were given it to eat in their slave camps whilst doing brutal labour. This is as bizarre as a concentration survivor remembering the 'free' food they were given whilst incarcerated. Truly, human beings tend to focus on one aspect and forget the rest.

The cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;-
See on 2 Pet. 2:1. They forgot their misery in the slave camps of Egypt, and imagined life had been much better there than it was. In our weakness, there are times on our wilderness journey towards the Kingdom when we look back to this world and think it was all far better than it was. The Passover was to be eaten with bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of Egypt / the world. But because they weren't living in the spirit of the Passover, they liked to imagine that Egypt had in fact not been bitter but instead spicey and sweet.

The illogicality of going back to the world is brought out by the illogicality of Israel's rejection of Moses. Israel rejected Moses because it was easier to stay where they were. Such is the strength of conservatism in human nature; such is our innate weakness of will and resolve. They rejected the idea of leaving Egypt because they thought it was better than it was, they failed to face up to how much they were suffering (Num. 11:5). And our apathy in responding to Christ's redemptive plan for us is rooted in the same problem; we fail to appreciate the seriousness of sin, the extent to which we are in slavery to sin- even though the evidence for this is all around us.


Num 11:6 but now we have lost our appetite. There is nothing at all except this manna to look at-
In the same way as Israel became ungrateful for the manna and became bored with it, so we can become bored with God’s word in Christ which it represents (Jn. 6:63 and context). It all can become the same old scene- unless we remember the daily miracle God is performing in giving us His word and guiding us as Israel were daily guided by the fire and cloud, with His presence clearly amongst them. These things were soon taken for granted by them. We at times long for a more visible declaration of God’s presence in our lives; but Israel had this daily, and yet it didn’t result in their faith remaining. For faith isn’t related to what we can see with our eyes (Heb. 11:1,2).

"Manna", literally "What is it?", suggests they never really grasped what it was. It was the revelation of Yahweh's grace to them, in that despite their deep apostacy and unbelief, He was daily feeding and saving them. And so the Lord Jesus likens Himself to the manna in Jn. 6, seeing that He was likewise not comprehended by Israel. 

Num 11:7 The manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like the appearance of bdellium.
Num 11:8 The people went around, gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and boiled it in pots, and made cakes of it. Its taste was like the taste of fresh oil-

The freshness of the taste was to demonstrate that it had been created specifically for them every morning.

Num 11:9 When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it.
Num 11:10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent; and the anger of Yahweh was kindled greatly; and Moses was displeased-
The time of Num. 10 and 11 was a spiritually low period for Moses. Consider Num. 10:30; 11:11-13,22,23. Yet in these very chapters there seems almost an emphasis on the fact that God was manifest in Moses: “Moses heard the people weep”; but they wept in the ears of Yahweh (Num. 11:10,18); “it displeased the Lord; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased” (11:1,10) shows the connection between them; God has asked Moses to carry Israel “as a nursing father... unto the land” (11:12), although Yahweh was their father who would carry them to the land (Dt. 32:6; Hos. 11:1). That Yahweh is manifest in His servants even in their times of weakness is both comforting and sobering. It is because of this principle that an apostate Israel caused Yahweh’s Name which they carried to be mocked in the Gentile world (Ez. 20:39; 36:20; 39:7; 43:8). Yahweh did not take that Name aways from them the moment they sinned. Having been baptized into the Name, our behaviour in the world, whether they appreciate it or not, is therefore a constant exhibition of the Name.    


Num 11:11 Moses said to Yahweh, Why have You dealt with Your servant so badly? Why haven’t I found grace in Your sight- for You lay the burden of all this people on me?-
Moses argues that because God had laid the burden of His people on his shoulders, this was such a curse as to disprove God's claim to have lavished grace upon Moses (Num. 11:11). But the language of God's people being laid upon a man's shoulders as a burden is in fact the language of the cross. Moses was therefore rejecting the cross. He bitterly complains that the people are God's, not his, and therefore it is unreasonable for God to expect Moses to carry them and feed them (:11-13). He didn't want to manifest God, nor do the work of Messiah (Is. 40:11), even though he was intended to be the prophet like unto Messiah (Dt. 18:18).

Moses earlier had had the same doubt, as to whether he had really found grace in God’s sight; and God had magnificently assured Moses that indeed he had (Ex. 33:13-17). Yet Moses still struggled to accept this; the complex difficulties of his life coupled with what appears to have been some form of depression led him to again doubt it. We too struggle with accepting our salvation by pure grace; one moment we may grasp it, but life’s difficulties trigger again the old doubt. Only perhaps at the day of judgment, as he see ourselves as it were from outside of ourselves, standing in the promised land of God’s Kingdom, shall we finally realize that all is ultimately OK, His grace to me is for real.


Num 11:12 Have I conceived all this people? Have I brought them forth, that You should tell me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing infant’, to the land which You swore to their fathers?-
Moses is depressed by Israel complaining at how boring the manna was. He doubts God's earlier promises to him: "Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight (God said he had, in Ex. 33:17)... have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto them, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child unto the land which thou swearest unto their fathers (not "our"- notice the uncharacteristic separation between Moses and Israel). Whence should I give flesh unto all this people... if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in the sight (as God had earlier promised him that he had)" (Num. 11:12). God was the father and conceiver of Israel, the one who would carry them to the land (Ex. 19:4; 33:15; Dt. 32:11,12; Hos. 11:1); it is as if Moses is saying: They're your children, you look after them, don't dump them on me. Although compare this with his earlier love for them, willing to sacrifice himself for them. God then says that He will provide more food for Israel. But Moses almost mocks God: "Shall the flocks and herds be slain for them, to suffice them?". And the Angel angrily replied: "Is the Lord's hand waxed short? thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not". If he had faith, Moses surely would have realised that if God could provide manna, he could provide any food. Moses seems to have suffered from fits of depression and also high spirituality.

Num 11:13 From where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they weep to me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat’-
The disciples had the same question- from where to find food to feed a great multitude in the desert (Mk. 8:4). If their minds had been more spiritually attune, they would have perceived that they were in essence in the same situation as Moses- and God would likewise provide. The more we are familiar with Scripture, the more we will realize that our life situations and the crises we face have in fact been faced and overcome, in essence, in previous Biblical situations.

Num 11:14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me-
This complaint of Moses had supposedly been answered by Jethro's suggestion to appoint elders "to share the load with you" (Ex. 18:22); and I suggested that Ex. 18 is out of chronological sequence, and should be inserted between Num 10:10 and Num. 10:11 (see note there). But in reality, Jethro's secular advice hadn't worked.  

Num 11:15 If You treat me this way, please kill me right now, if I have indeed found grace in Your sight; and don’t let me see my wretchedness-
Here we surely have Moses in depression; but God doesn’t seem to rebuke him (although He does rebuke him for other failures at other times). He recognizes our humanity with incredible sensitivity; and depression isn’t sin.

Num 11:16 Yahweh said to Moses, Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you.
Num 11:17 I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit which is on you, and will put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you not bear it yourself alone-
In Rom. 8:26, Paul writes of how the Spirit “helps our infirmities”. The Greek word for “helps” occurs in the LXX of Ex. 18:22 and Num. 11:17, where Moses is the one helped. Paul is suggesting that each believer can rise up to the pattern of Moses; he was no longer to be seen by Jewish believers as some distant, untouchable, stellar example of devotion. He was a pattern that through the Spirit could be realistically attained; although the point is being cleverly made that he too had weakness that needed Divine help.

When we read that God will not place too great a burden upon us, but will provide a way of escape so that we are able to bear the burden (1 Cor. 10:13), the allusion is clearly to Num. 11:17 LXX, where Moses is provided with helpers so that he will be able to bear the burden of the people.

Num 11:18 Say to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, and you will eat flesh; for you have wept in the ears of Yahweh, saying, Who will give us flesh to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt. Therefore Yahweh will give you flesh, and you will eat.
Num 11:19 You will not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days,
Num 11:20 but a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it is loathsome to you; because that you have rejected Yahweh Who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, Why did we come out of Egypt?’
Num 11:21 Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand men on foot; and you have said, ‘I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month’.
Num 11:22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?-

Moses almost mocks God: "Shall the flocks and herds be slain for them, to suffice them?". And the Angel angrily replied: "Is the Lord's hand waxed short? thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not" . If he had faith, Moses surely would have realised that if God could provide manna, he could provide any food. Moses seems to have suffered from fits of depression and also high spirituality.

Num 11:23 Yahweh said to Moses, Has Yahweh’s hand grown short? Now you will see whether My word will happen to you or not.
Num 11:24 Moses went out, and told the people the words of Yahweh; and he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them around the Tent.
Num 11:25 Yahweh came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was on him, and put it on the seventy elders: and it happened that when the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did so no more-

God Himself is spoken of as coming, descending etc. when He ‘preaches’ to humanity (e.g. Gen. 11:5; Ex. 19:20; Num. 11:25; 2 Sam. 22:10). In Jer. 39:16, the imprisoned Jeremiah is told to "go, tell Ebed-melech..." a word from the Lord about him. Jeremiah couldn't have literally left prison to do so- but the idea is that a person encountering the Lord's word has as it were experienced the Lord 'going' to him or her. And in this sense the message of the Lord Jesus (in its essence) could 'go' to persons without Him physically going anywhere or even existing consciously at the time (1 Pet. 3:18-21).


Num 11:26 But two men remained in the camp. The name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the Spirit rested on them; and they were of those who were written, but had not gone out to the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp.
Num 11:27 A young man ran, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!-

Joshua appears to have been only one of a group of Moses' "young men", who moved around the camp running his errands (Ex. 24:5; Num. 11:27,28); as a similar group did for Nehemiah and Paul years later. The young men of the New Testament were also characterized by their love of the word (1 Jn. 2:14). Moses would have had a special fondness for this generation who were to enter the land. A large part of the Law was concerned with Israel's behaviour after they had settled in the land; these would only have been relevant to that younger generation. It is fitting that both Moses and Caleb (and Joshua?) maintained their youthful vigour right up to their death (Dt. 34:7; Josh. 14:11).  

Num 11:28 Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his chosen men, answered, My lord Moses, forbid them!-
Joshua urged Moses to “forbid” or [Heb.] ‘imprison’ Eldad and Medad for prophesying (Num. 11:28). He fell into the mistake so many have done; shut up or silence a genuine man of God, for fear that the institution, the existing administration, would be undermined. Perhaps they were prophesying of Moses’ death? Whatever, Moses’ refusal to shut them up seems to indicate an openness to God’s Spirit and way of working, even if it threatened to undermine his authority. He shows such a genuine spirit when he replies that he wished that all God’s people were the spiritual leaders.

Num 11:29 Moses said to him, Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all Yahweh’s people were prophets, that Yahweh would put His Spirit on them!-
This incident has similarities with the disciples asking Jesus to forbid the disciples of John the Baptist from using the Spirit (Mk. 9:40). Because other believers aren’t with us or in our group, we aren’t to forbid them. This isn’t to say that unity amongst God’s people isn’t important; but where there is fracture amongst them, this doesn’t mean that God only works with one of the groups.

Num 11:30 Moses went into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.

Num 11:31 A wind from Yahweh went out and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, about a day’s journey on this side, and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp-
"The quail was among the ancient Egyptians the emblem of safety and security". In which case we marvel at God's grace; assuring His rebellious people of their security at the very point of their rebellion against Him. Ps. 78:28 stresses that God thoughtfully made the birds settle immediately around their tents- as if delivering food to their door, showing such grace at the very time of their murmuring against Him.

We have noted how Angel-winds had brought the plagues and driven back and forth the waters of the Red Sea. They were being taught how the essence of God's previous work for them (at their deliverance from the world and Red Sea baptism) was continuing for them.

And about two cubits above the surface of the earth-
The idea may be that they were two cubits apart from each other, which apparently is how flocks of quail are when they land on the ground.
Num 11:32 The people rose up all that day, and all the night, and all the next day, and gathered the quails. He who gathered least gathered ten homers, and they spread them all abroad for themselves around the camp.
Num 11:33 While the flesh was yet between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of Yahweh was kindled against the people, and Yahweh struck the people with a very great plague-
Ps. 78:31 adds the detail that those who were killed were the “fattest”- those who weren’t really hungry, but simply wanted a better life in the wilderness with the delicacies of Egypt, rather than the basic provision of daily food which God had faithfully promised His people. This attitude can easily happen amongst us- discontent because we seek both eternity in the future, and the life of Egypt right now too. Jesus clearly teaches that we must carry the cross in this life before we can enter the eternal joys of His future Kingdom.


Num 11:34 The name of that place was called Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who lusted.
Num 11:35 From Kibroth Hattaavah the people travelled to Hazeroth, and they stayed at Hazeroth.