New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Num 11:1 The people started complaining in the ears of Yahweh-
The phrase "the people" is almost always used about Israel in their weak sinfulness. This is a classic example. Which highlights God's grace in telling Pharaoh "Let My people go... he did / did not let the people go". Weak as they were, God was still intent on delivering them.

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. What they said is recorded in Ps. 78:19,20, although this is probably the record of how God interpreted their thoughts, rather than their actual words, which is what He does to us to, looking to the implication of our positions: "They spoke against God. They said, Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock, so that waters gushed out, and streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Will He provide flesh for His people?". For sure they didn't think they were whispering this in God's ears. You speak in another's ear when you are privately whispering. They whispered to each other in their "murmuring in their tents", but God saw this as whispering in His ear. This is how closely God listens to every conversation and secret thought. This lack of ultimate privacy is a great comfort to the spiritual person. We have His ear, we have the intimacy of someone who knows another well enough to whisper a private thought into their ear.

Their complaint was that they had no meat. But this is related to their wilful memory that they had eaten flesh to the full by the flesh pots of Egypt. Their complaint wasn't so much that they wanted a more varied diet, but that they wanted the life and food of Egypt (:20), and were looking for any excuse to legitimize the fact that they had in their hearts returned to Egypt.

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. The fire represented their own lust. They were consumed with their lusts, and their consumption by Divine fire mirrored that.

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.

AV "the fire was quenched". Fire which is not quenched represents total destruction in condemnation (Is. 66:24; Jer. 17:27; Mk. 9:43). The idea therefore is that thanks to Moses' intercession, these people were saved from what would otherwise have been eternal condemnation. Those whose faith is commended for quenching fire (Heb. 11:34) are those who quenched what would otherwise have been permanent condemnation of others. We therefore conclude that to some extent, some can be saved from a condemnation they would otherwise experience- by the intercession of others (Jude 23). It was because of the faith of the friends that the paralyzed man was forgiven his sins (Mk. 2:5). In some cases, we can play the critical factor in saving a person from eternal condemnation as Moses did here.

Num 11:3 The name of that place was called Taberah, because Yahweh’s fire burnt among them-
As explained on :2, the burning of Yahweh's fire represented condemnation. And third parties can save others from this- in some cases, by Yahweh's grace.

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?-
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. For 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. The essence of their complaint was seen as effectively saying "Why did we leave Egypt?" (:20). Their complaint about a boring diet was essentially a desire to return to Egypt. And in any case, they are recorded as having huge herds when they left Egypt (Ex. 12:38; 17:3) and also when they entered the land (Num. 32:1). At Sinai they were warned not to let their herds come near the mountain (Ex. 19:13; 34:3). They had meat to eat. But they were saying they expected it from God. They were making an excuse to return to Egypt.

Num 11:5 We remember the fish-
"Remember" is nearly always used of remembering Yahweh and His work in Egypt, and of His remembrance of Israel. But memory is selective, and they preferred to "remember the fish", one of the few good experiences out of a host of awful experiences in Egypt. They were commanded instead to "remember" their affliction in Egypt (s.w. Dt. 5:15; 7:18; 8:2; 15:15; 16:3). But out of that mass of memories, they chose to "remember" the fish and they forgot their God. Perceptions are selective, and those who turn away from God do so because they focus upon one small aspect of experience or memory, and ignore the vast majority of the data. God's commandments to "remember" their affliction rather than "the fish" indicates that we are not powerless in the formation of memory and understanding. We can play a conscious role in the formation of our own memory and understanding- if we have a heart for God and His ways rather than for Egypt.

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. They weren't even given straw to make bricks, so it was only a highly selective memory that focused on some occasion when they got free fish in Egypt. The only other reference to fish in Egypt is when the river stunk with dead fish at the time of the plague of Ex. 7:17. Maybe the Hebrews ate them. But this is how wrong and faithless narratives are constructed in the human mind- focusing upon a single incident and extrapolating it to be a general rule of how things were or how a person was. Again, the Bible's psychological credibility and reality is remarkable.

We noted on :4 that the attitude of the "mixed multitude" spread to the Israelites. Perhaps it has been "well" for them in Egypt, and perhaps indeed they had eaten fish for free. But that wasn't the case for the Hebrews. But the Hebrews had adopted the narrative of the freeborn Egyptians as their own, because it was convenient for them and their own agenda of returning to Egypt. Again we see the psychological credibility of the text. For we see all around us individuals absorbing the narrative of others, and making it their own. Rather than facting their own actual historical narrative in the context of their relationship with their loving God.

The cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;-
Their argument was that they missed the diversity of diet in Egypt. The singular "manna" stands in contrast to the diversity they liked to imagine they had experienced in Egypt. The argument for diversity is so often from the flesh- e.g. rather than monogamous marriage, the flesh argues for diversity of sexual experience. Rather than God's word being our ultimate standard of truth, the flesh wants a wide variety of 'truths'. 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 spicy 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-
This is typical whining. They had lost their appetite, and yet they considered the food of Egypt to be so desirable. They were insatiable, as spoilt children. AV "our soul is dried away" could imply the manna was dry. But this was just their pouting complaint, for it tasted creamy, like fresh oil (:8).

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). 

Num 11:7 The manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like the appearance of bdellium-
This description of the manna is an answer to their complaint that the manna was dry and not appealing visually (:6). It was moist, tasting like cream with fresh oil, and had a wonderful appearance. The idea may be that it was like a crystal, hard on the outside; but in fact soft inside (:8). The manna represents both the Lord Jesus and God's word; apparently hard on the outside to the eyes of the cynic, but in fact fresh oil within (:8). "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. The colour would have been as GNB "whitish yellow".

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. This is in commentary upon their complaint in :6 AV "our soul is dried away", which could imply the manna was dry. But this was just their pouting complaint, for it tasted creamy, like fresh oil.

Num 11:9 When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it-
The word for "fell" is that used of God Himself coming down (Num. 11:17,25; 12:5). They were rejecting God's coming down to them through His daily provision. To reject the manna was to reject God. "Fell on" is the idea used by the Lord Jesus when He speaks of how as the manna came down from Heaven, so did He. But just as the manna "fell [down]", so did the dew. And dew doesn't float down from Heaven, it is formed upon earth. So it was with the manna, and so also with the Lord Jesus. He was "from" Heaven in that He was sent from God, but He didn't personally pre-exist, and His 'coming down from Heaven' like the manna doesn't at all imply that He personally floated down from Heaven, nor that He existed physically before His birth.

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 idea is as in GNB "Moses heard all the people complaining as they stood around in groups at the entrances of their tents. He was distressed because the LORD had become angry with them"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 away 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.

Earlier, Moses had complained about this burden, and the answer had been to follow Jethro's advice in appointing a huge number of elders and judges. The same word for "burden" is used in Dt. 1:12: "How can I myself alone bear your encumbrance and your burden and your strife?". He had felt in Dt. 1:9 that "I am not able to bear you myself alone. And so Jethro had advised Moses to appoint elders so that "they shall bear the burden with you" (s.w. Ex. 18:22).

Jethro had observed how stressed Moses was with the burdens of the people, and we get the sense that they were at constant strife amongst themselves. Moses' sense of inability to bear the effects of the sins of the people could be read as a desire for the Messianic figure who would bear those sins and their effects; which was to come to full term in the sin carrying of the Lord Jesus on the cross. For the "burden" was of sin (s.w. Ps. 38:4). These feelings of Moses were not of themselves to be read as frustration or weakness; for the same words are used of how God Himself was weary of bearing the "encumbrance" of His people (s.w. Is. 1:14). Moses was sharing God's feelings.

But Moses didn't respond to this burden as he might have done; for now in frustration he asks God to slay him, as he just couldn't bear the "burden" of the people (s.w. Num. 11:11). God responded at that point by giving 70 Spirit endowed elders to assist Moses (Num. 11:16), and we can assume this was because the sharing of the "burden" with a system of many elders (as suggested by Jethro and as described in Dt. 1:13-16) hadn't worked. Because those men were themselves weak and unspiritual.

Moses had asked the same question in Ex. 5:22. He struggled with God not doing what He promised straight away. He wanted it right away, and failed to see that any delay which allowed evil to continue could be legitimate. This question lurked within Moses, and it seems at times he only wanted to be part of God's plan if it was going to work out when and how he expected and assumed. This is why Israel rejected a suffering Messiah, and why so many stumble at God today. Because they lack the humility to trust in God and accept their own assumptions of how things should be may be very wrong and short termist.  

We note the continued complaint about "all this people". Moses uses the term in :11,12,13 and :14. He is again repeating the words of Jethro in Ex. 18:23, who urged Moses to appoint many judges so that "all this people" could have peace. But Jethro's advice was wrong and didn't work. Jethro had told Moses that he couldn't do it and would wear away... and now Moses feels like this. He allowed Jethro's perception of him to become reality, just as so many people do. In his maturity in Dt. 1:12 [see comments there], Moses accepts he had made the mistake of absorbing Jethro's view that he could not carry the people alone, and had become suicidal about it [as recorded here in Num. 11]. But later in Dt. 1 he glories in the way that God had "carried" the people. He ought to have trusted in him, rather than the impractical advice of his father in law. We note he likewise wanted Jethro to lead Israel through the desert and to be to them "instead of eyes"; when the Angel eyes of Yahweh were to guide them through the desert. He was clearly wrong influenced by this mere man, just as many are, and come to see themselves as others see them.

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?-
This very much sounds as if Moses sees himself as a childminder who is being unreasonably asked to bear with a difficult child. And he is handing back the child to the parent, as if to say "You get on with it, I'm done". Clearly he has the sense that Yahweh has been unreasonable in His expectations of Moses; and yet the next chapter will tell us Moses was earth's humblest man, or made humble, through such struggles with depression. His distancing from the people contrasts with how when God decides to disown His people, it is Moses who offers his own salvation for the people in order to change God's desire to destroy them. We see here the amazing mutuality between God and Moses. They each get to a point where they want to disown Israel and give up, and at that point they encourage each other to endure.

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.

We note the alternative reading of the LXX, quoted in Acts 13:18: "as a nursing father He [God] carried them in the wilderness". It was God who carried the people, but Moses had been trying to do it in his own strength, without sharing it fully with God. We note how God is likened to a woman, a nursing mother, of a very difficult infant child; although as God He is presented as a "father". In those days it was common for a wealthy woman to employ another woman to be a 'nursing mother' for her infant child. But God likens Himself to such a woman, or to a poor woman who couldn't afford to hire such a woman.  

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. Moses accepts Jethro's advice on the basis that he will "surely wear away"; even though his natural strength never abated (Dt. 34:7), and God surely would not have asked him to do the impossible. So Jethro is presented as wrong on this point, and perhaps Moses need not have taken his advice. Jethro at this time seems to have seen Yahweh as only one of many gods; he was a pagan priest. He prophesied that if Moses followed his advice, "all this people shall go to their place in peace"(Ex. 18:23)- which they didn't. 

Depression is not a sin. Moses was depressed and suicidal in Num. 11:14,17 but there is no word of rebuke from God. He saw why Moses was like that- because of an over-extension of himself in doing his Father's work. Depression may bring about an inability to feel, which makes the prayers of David seem so far removed from us. Yet again, depression isn't a sin. It's how we are at some times. It shouldn't be allowed to hinder us from praying.

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-
If You..." definitely uses the female rather than male form of "You", as the rabbinic commentaries note often. It seems Moses is saying that God has given birth to Israel, so He as their mother should carry them and not palm off the work onto Moses. To use the female form for God in this context is therefore highly sarcastic if not blasphemous. 

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. Despite Moses' anger with God- GNB "so that I won't have to endure your cruelty any longer". God likewise overlooked similar statements by Job. We also need to cut folk some slack when they come out with such statements under duress. 

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-
The Hebrew officers of Ex. 5:15 refused to beat their brethren and so were beaten. In Num. 11:16, a point soon after the time of the exodus in Ex. 5:15, there is the assumption that there was already a group of 70 elders or officers over Israel. Presumably these 70 were the 70 Hebrew officers who were placed over the Israeli team slaves. So their taking beating for their brethren became the qualification for eldership in the new Israel who emerged from the Red Sea. This is the real qualification for leadership...

Possession of the Spirit did not mean that someone was necessarily acceptable in God’s sight, e.g. Saul possessed it for a time (1 Sam. 10:10) as did the judges of Israel (Num. 11:17) although they were not righteous; they did not believe the report of Joshua and Caleb and therefore were condemned to die like the other Israelites, despite their having the Spirit - Psalm 82:1-7 says as much.

The system proposed by Jethro didn't really work, because Moses again felt the burden was too great for him (see on Num. 11:11), and so these 70 Spirit filled elders were appointed (Num. 11:16). But this too didn't really work; because in Dt. 17:11; 21:5 we seem to read of the priests effectively being the judges, under the direct control of Moses and Aaron.

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-
This command to sanctify themselves may be somehow sarcastic. Because the flesh they were being given to eat was effectively their condemnation. They were given flesh to eat as they desired, and it was to be their destruction. This is typical of how God condemns people- He gives them what they themselves desire, so that they condemn themselves. For His focus is upon saving and not condemning. The Lord Jesus may allude here in saying that He was offering His flesh to eat, and through absorbing Him, there would be no hunger nor desire to please the flesh.

"It was well with us"- in a land where they been abused, raped and murdered. Here we see how human memory is so biased. We create narratives about the past, our own past and that of others, even a very recent past as in this example, which may be absolutely untrue. Yet we are utterly convinced of them. Moses has just stated that God intends to do "good", s.w. "well", to Israel (Num. 10:29,32). But they were perhaps sarcastically rebuffing the promise of the "good land" of Canaan, instead wanting to see Egypt as the "good" land. Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses urges them to see the land as "good" and God's intentions for them as "good"; whereas their Egyptian past was not "good" or "well". They were doing what many do today- despising their redemption. We noted on :4 that the attitude of the "mixed multitude" spread to the Israelites. Perhaps it has been "well" for them in Egypt, and perhaps indeed they had eaten fish for free. But that wasn't the case for the Hebrews. But the Hebrews had adopted the narrative of the freeborn Egyptians as their own, because it was convenient for them and their own agenda of returning to Egypt.

Num 11:19 You will not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days-
This could be an idiom, for each figure is double that of the previous number. God would as it were add on continually, until they were overcome with this meat. But if we add up 30 [a month] +20 +10 +5 +2 we come to 67, the number of feast days in the sacred calendar of Israel, including the Sabbaths. "You will not eat one day" would then refer to the Day of Atonement, when they fasted. They ought to have eaten meat or special food sparingly and in order to celebrate on special occasions. But God gave them all that meat on consecutive days and it was finally nauseous to them (:20). If we constantly over indulge, then there is no sense of special celebration.

Num 11:20 but a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it is loathsome to you-
The idea is that the very smell of meat would make them nauseous. The implication of :33 is that immediately the people ate the flesh of the quails, they were smitten. This would mean that the intended period of one month eating quail was either figurative; or God cut short that particular plan and instead operated according to a different one, which was to slay them immediately. This would explain also why the people didn't apparently stay long at this place, but instead moved on quickly instead of being there for at least a month as required by a literal reading of :20. 

Another idea may be that the plague caused by the quail meat resulted in chronic vomiting, so strong that vomit was ejected through the nose. "Loathsome" is translated "nauseating" in some versions e.g. NEB, GNB. This is how strongly they would come to hate that which they once lusted after. Hating the object of lust is absolutely psychologically credible, and we see it in the behaviour of Amnon, Potiphar's wife, Judas  despitefully throwing down his silver pieces etc. It will be seen in the rejected of the last days, hating the objects of their materialism, casting their idols to the bats, which they now see had precluded them from salvation.

Because that you have rejected Yahweh Who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, Why did we come out of Egypt?’-
GNB presents their words as more than a question: "This will happen because you have rejected the LORD who is here among you and have complained to him that you should never have left Egypt". Yahweh who was among refers to the Angel of the presence, whom Moses had begged to go "among them". Indeed God had originally said that the Angel of the Presence should not go amongst them exactly because of their provocative behaviour; and it was Moses who had begged for Yahweh's presence "among them". We see therefore that God was almost as it were persuaded against His own will and better knowledge, rather like the Father in the parable of the prodigal. 

Their rejection of the manna was effectively their rejection of Yahweh. The essence of their problem was the essence of so many such cries today- that God's provision for us in this wilderness journey isn't enough and is not to our taste.

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’-
The Hebrew word translated as "thousand" can mean a family, or some other administrative division. Many of the 'number problems' in the Hebrew Bible are only really resoluble using this approach. And that may be in view in the census of Israel taken in Num. 1, and in the statement that six hundred 'thousands' of footmen left Egypt (Ex. 12:37). The census of Num. 1 gives figures such as those in Num. 1:21 for Reuben, which could be rendered: "forty six families ['thousands'] and five hundred (men)". Although a "hundred" might also refer to an administrative division. The total in Num. 1 would then be 598 families with a total of 5550 men. The sum given in the second census in Num. 26 comes out as roughly the same, with 596 families amounting to 5730 men. On this basis, the total population (including women and children) would be anything between 20,000 to 40,000. This would enable us to make better sense of the statements that Israel were the smallest numerically of all the surrounding peoples (Dt. 7:1,7; 11:23; 20:1). If we insist upon taking "thousand" literally in Ex. 12:37, then 600,000 male foot soldiers would imply a total population of between two and six million. The population density would have been intense, and far greater than that of many modern nations. Estimates of global population at the time suggest it was only about 40 million, and the population of Egypt was a maximum of three million (probably far less). If the Israelites were smaller than the other nations, and they numbered say 5 million, then the total population of the seven peoples of Canaan would have been at least 40 million. The territory of Canaan could not have supported such numbers. Only 70 Israelites came into Egypt with Jacob. Expansion over 430 years to several million is not realistic. This approach helps us better understand how all the men of war marched around Jericho (Josh. 6:3). If there were literally 600,000 men then the city would have had to be many kilometers in circumference for them all to march around it seven times in one day. Archaeological evidence from Jericho simply doesn't support the idea of such a vast city. If Israel numbered say 5 million people, and recall there was also a "mixed multitude" with them, then if they marched 10 abreast this would require a column stretching around 1000 kilometers. Ex. 13:18 seems to say they marched five abreast. Their promises to Edom and the Amorites to march only along a highway and not spill over it (Num. 20:17; 21:22) is unrealistic if they had such huge numbers. A figure of 600 family units leaving Egypt is more realistic; otherwise we start to wonder how ever all the Israelites, millions of them, came to be in one place at one time on Passover night.  This would then make better sense of Ex. 23:30 GNB: "I will drive them out little by little, until there are enough of you to take possession of the land". This indeed sounds as if Israel were the smallest of the nations, and not a huge nation comprising several million people.

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 grown 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. But he was perhaps thereby made the humblest man on earth through his struggles with depression. There are similarities with the anger of the disciples with the Lord Jesus when He suggested feeding the crowd. This anger is because faith had been challenged; and we can find ourselves reacting likewise.

Moses may have been saying that even if they were given all possible meat, they would still not be "sufficed", their lust was such that it wouldn't be satisfied. Because their real agenda wasn't what was on the menu, but to return to Egypt. And a later Psalm confirms this, by noting that despite being fed with so much flesh, "they were not estranged from their lust".

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-
The idea is that God's ability to act is somehow limited. The same phrase was used to the exiles (Is. 50:2; 59:1) who likewise disbelieved that God could bring about the salvation of Israel and bring them in to the promised land and Kingdom. Any disbelief that we will actually be brought into God's Kingdom is really a belief that God's hand is limited. Our lack of faith is not just a failure within our own minds; it is saying and implying something about God personally.

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-
Moses went out of the tabernacle, where this discussion had been happening. Presumably he went out when the cloud ascended; for the Angel in the cloud descends again in :25.

Num 11:25 Yahweh came down in the cloud, and spoke to him-
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).

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-
This was presumably done in some visible way. They prophesied briefly as an external witness to the fact that they now had the Spirit. Such brief supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit are recorded several times in the New Testament, where again they are evidences of the receipt of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is essentially an internal gift. Just as here, the Spirit given to the elders was to empower them in their minds to be able to lead the people and assist Moses in practically guide the people to Canaan.

We read no more of these 70 elders, although Judaism has laid great store on them. It appears to have been a one time event, because there is no mechanism for the 70 to pass on the Spirit to successors. They prophesied at this point and "did so no more" (:25; AV "and did not cease" is quite wrong here). I wonder if they were given to Moses in the same spirit as the quail were- Israel like Moses were given what they lusted after, but that wasn't actually the answer. The gift of quail was in fact together with Divine judgment. Trust in God and acceptance of His provision was the answer. We note the parallel- some of the 72 prophesied "in the camp" and others outside the camp, just as the quail fell both in the camp (Ps. 78:27) and outside it (Num. 11:31), if we compare the Numbers and Psalms comments. Both 'gifts' come from the ruach , the wind [for the quails], and the wind / Spirit [s.w.] for the 70 elders. The record of the gift of quail and of the 70 elders is absolutely interwoven. Just as Israel were given their lust in abundance, with heaps of quails, so Moses was given his desire- 70 "helpers" who I suggest didn't help at all to carry Israel through the desert. Moses in maturity in Dt. 1 reflects that he indeed could not bear / carry the people- but God did. Not the 70 elders. And in any case, the system of Levites and priests was God's answer to administrative issues, not these 70 elders. The point is, that sometimes we are given what we crave, so that we might learn that it is not the answer. As Israel were "not estranged from their lust" by gorging on the flesh. Giving in to lust isn't the path. We see in these things part of a major Biblical theme- that God in fact gives man what he wants, what is his heart's desire. The prodigal received what he asked for, Adam and Eve had their eyes opened. But often it is to man's curse. If our core heart desire is for the Kingdom, that likewise will be answered.

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-
Perhaps this incident happen to confirm Moses' desire expressed in :29 that all Israel would have the gift of the Spirit. He wanted to see the whole camp and not just the tabernacle area filled with the Spirit in people; and the fact two of them prophesied in the camp rather than in the holy space around the tabernacle was therefore indicative of what was potentially possible for all the people. "Eldad", 'loved by God', was perhaps to represent all the people. The concern of the young man in :27 was that in addition to the 70, now another two were prophesying. If God had given the Spirit to 70, then surely these other two were fake; they were "in the camp" and not where the Spirit had apparently been given to the other 70. But their prophesying was legitimate and they were counted amongst the prophets even though they received the Spirit differently. Their names alone are recorded. It's as if Israel were being taught that relationship with Him and receipt of His Spirit directly, and not just part of Moses' spirit, was possible. And possible outside the apparently 'religious' set up. They represented the possibility for all Israel, as Moses says in :29. We note the same confusion of 70 and 72 in the NT texts of the numbers of apostles sent out by the Lord Jesus.

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). But it was particularly young men who were stricken down at this time because of their unbridled lust (Ps. 78:30). These young men contrast with those of :33. The lesson for youth is that you have to watch your friends, even amongst the people of God.  

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. We see something similar in Mk. 8:38,39. 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?-
GNB "Are you concerned about my interests?". Joshua wanted Moses to be the sole channel of the Spirit and to have no rival; but Moses in his great humility wanted the Spirit to be shared as widely as possible. These other two men had received the Spirit directly from God, whereas the 70 had received part of Moses' spirit. Joshua was concerned that Moses was being bypassed as a mediator, but Moses in typical humility realizes that he is not indispensable, but others can have direct connection with God apart from through him and without him as their spiritual mentor. A lesson that many authoritarian Christians need to learn.

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-
They would obviously have done this anyway at some point. So it is recorded intentionally, and as discussed on :26 it could be that the idea is that Moses and the now Spirit filled elders walked around the camp demonstrating their Spirit given authority. And perhaps as an advertisement for the fact that actually anyone could be filled with the Spirit if they wished.

Num 11:31 A wind from Yahweh went out and brought quails from the sea-
Ps. 78:26 adds: "He caused the east wind to blow in the sky, by His power He guided the south wind". The idea may be that the quails were blown in by a south easterly wind. He had likewise caused the east wind to operate in bringing locusts upon Egypt and in causing the miracle at the Red Sea. The Hebrew idea of "spirit" and "wind" is connected, and God makes His Angels winds (Ps. 104:4). Clearly He was using Angels to bring about these miracles with winds; and the food is called the bread of Angels in Ps. 78:23.

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, interpreting "By the camp" as "in the midst of the camp"- 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. GNB: "flying three feet above the ground", as if they flew literally into the outstretched hands of the people. They didn't have to even bend down to pick them up.

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-
GNB "They spread them out to dry all around the camp". We get the impression of a mad abandon in amassing as much meat as possible. It was perhaps because of this unbridled lust that God decided to immediately judge them rather than after 30 days; see on :33. His intention had been that seeing so much meat would 'estrange' them from their lust (Ps. 78:30); but it didn't.

Num 11:33 While the flesh was yet between their teeth, before it was chewed-
The implication of :33 is that immediately the people ate the flesh of the quails, they were smitten. This would mean that the intended period of one month eating quail was either figurative; or God cut short that particular plan and instead operated according to a different one, which was to slay them immediately. This would explain also why the people didn't apparently stay long at this place, but instead moved on quickly instead of being there for at least a month as required by a literal reading of :20. 

Some have suggested the translation "before it ran out" instead of "before it was chewed". This enables us to stick with the idea that they ate for a month but before the quail supply was exhausted, they were struck down.

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. It was particularly young men who were stricken down at this time because of their unbridled lust (Ps. 78:30). These young men contrast with those of :27. The lesson for youth is that you have to watch your friends, even amongst the people of God.

We note the goodness and severity of God. His grace [in judging them immediately rather than after 30 days as planned] was displayed at the same time as His wrath. But in the end, as we see in Hosea, His grace triumphs over His necessary wrath. Notice how His wrath is expressed at the very same time as His grace. Human wrath is typically expressed just as wrath; any amelioration of it, any apology, any rectification of the outburst of anger typically comes at a later point. But with God, His wrath and saving grace are fused perfectly together within the very texture of His being and personality. Exactly as expressed in the meaning of the Yahweh Name given in Ex. 34. We have another example of this in Num. 12:10.


Num 11:34 The name of that place was called Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who lusted-
1 Cor. 10:6 is clear that this speaks to us, that we should not lust after evil things as they lusted. It is a theme of the Bible that in essence, God gives men their own desires, just as the prodigal son was given what he wrongfully demanded. Here, Israel lusted (s.w. Ps. 78:29) and God gave them what they lusted after. Those who lusted for meat were given it; yet “they were not estranged from their lust” (Ps. 78:30 AV). Sin never satisfies. Giving in to temptation will not lead to the craving being permanently resolved. This is to point up the huge importance of our innermost desires, our heart, our dominant passions- being upon the things of God and His Kingdom. David could say that all his desire was for the things of God (s.w. Ps. 38:9; Is. 26:8). More than anything else we should desire to please Him and be in His Kingdom. And all who thus love the Lord's appearing will be eternally with Him (2 Tim. 4:8).

Num 11:35 From Kibroth Hattaavah the people travelled to Hazeroth, and they stayed at Hazeroth-
I suggested on :33 that they did not in fact stay as long in the area as originally planned, but God moved them on quicker. The resumed journey from Hazeroth is picked up in Num. 12:16, so this 'staying at Hazeroth' will now be explained in Num. 12 as relating to the time needed to disciple Miriam. The delays in their wilderness journey were all related to their own sins, as in our own.