Numbers 11


‘Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them.’ Numbers 11:1-3

Fire From The LORD

If we know anything about the Israelites, it’s simply this, they were complainers, Exodus 14:11-12 / Exodus 15:24-25. Here they are complaining about the hardships they were going through, but God wants them to stop complaining and start being obedient to Him and trust Him.

It appears that the only way they were going to start trusting God was with the use of fire, Psalms 78:21. Notice that their punishment for not trusting God stopped only when Moses intervened on Israel’s behalf. It also appears that Moses was totally aware if he didn’t intervene, then Israel would have been destroyed by the Lord.

Quail From The LORD

‘The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.’ Numbers 11:4-9

After everything which God done for Israel in bringing them out of Egyptian slavery, we would think that going back to Egypt would be the last thing on their minds.

However, the rabble among them, Exodus 12:38, desired to have some meat to eat, and it appears to remind them of all the lovely food they enjoyed whilst they were slaves in Egypt.

The manna didn’t seem to fulfil their desire for meat, Exodus 16:14-36, and despite the miraculous presence of the manna, they still didn’t understand that God was with them and taking care of their physical needs.

The feeding of the manna should have increased their faith in God, but here it appears to have the opposite effect, James 1:14.

The bread from heaven as like coriander seed, about the size of a sesame seed, and sweet like honey, Exodus 16:31. It was the colour of bdellium, a pear-like colour, Numbers 11:7, and it was either baked or boiled, Exodus 16:23.

What did manna taste like?

Jewish legends have their own spin. ‘One only had to desire a certain dish, and no sooner had he thought of it, then manna had the flavour of the dish desired. The same food had a different taste to everyone who partook of it, according to his age, to the little children, it tasted like milk, to the strong youths like bread, to the old men like honey, to the sick like barley steeped in oil and honey.’

Ginzberg says, they also say that manna was bitter in the mouth of Gentiles.

What was this bread from heaven?

Many have sought to identify with what the Arabs today call ‘mana’, which is formed when ‘a tiny insect punctures the bark of the tamarisk tree, drinks the sap, and exudes a clear liquid that solidifies as a sugary globule when it hits the ground. When the sun comes up, it melts quickly and disappears.’ Buckingham.

Though the bread from heaven may have been similar to the modern day mana in the Sinai Peninsula, it wasn’t the same thing. The modern day mana never appears in great quantities, it doesn’t last year-round, and it is confined to a small geographic region.

The purpose for giving the bread from heaven was not only to provide for the material needs of Israel but to teach them eternal lessons of dependence on God, Deuteronomy 8:3. When God puts us in a place of need, He wants us to do more than meet the need, He wants to teach an eternal lesson.

Feeding Israel through the bread from heaven was an example of God’s way of cooperating with man. Israel could not bring the manna, and God would not gather it for them, each had to do their part.

The people call the bread from heaven manna, Exodus 16:15 and the name manna means ‘what’s that?’ Exodus 16:31. When God’s provision comes, we often do not recognise it God as promised to meet our needs, not our expectations.

The instructions on the gathering of bread from heaven are found in, Exodus 16:16-19. An omer could be as much as a gallon, but early, it may have meant only a ‘cupful’, an imprecise measure.

God commands some bread from heaven be set aside as a testimony to His provision, Exodus 16:31-36. This pot full of the bread from heaven was later put into the ark of the covenant, referred to here as the Testimony, Hebrews 9:4.

‘Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favour in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.’ Numbers 11:10-17

Notice that the fire which came down from heaven didn’t stop their complaining, here we read that the people were organised in their protest in that every man wept at the door of his tent, Zechariah 12:12.

God is really angry with His people and Moses is deeply troubled, I’m sure he thought that he has a failure in terms of being Israel’s leader.

Moses appears to complain to God for giving him the leadership position among God’s people, and it appears that it has become too much for him, 1 Thessalonians 3:3.

I guess Moses needed to learn not to rely on his own leadership skills and God was teaching him that he needs to trust in God to help him lead His people, 2 Corinthians 12:9.

In the midst of Moses’ despair, he asks God just to go ahead and kill him, Jonah 4:1-3, which tells us how much strain Moses was under trying to lead God’s people.

Notice, however, what God did, in order to remove some of the burden from his leadership, He chooses seventy elders to share the responsibilities, Exodus 3:16 / Exodus 5:6 / Exodus 24:1 / Exodus 24:9.

If we remember this has happened before, as a result of Jethro’s counsel, Exodus 18:17-26. However, in this case the emphasis is on the spiritual leadership of the people.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Seventy is accordingly the number of colleagues assigned to Moses to share his burden with him. To it, the Jews trace the origin of the Sanhedrim. Subsequent notices Numbers 16:25 / Joshua 7:6 / Joshua 8:10 / Joshua 8:33 / Joshua 9:11 / Joshua 23:2 / Joshua 24:1 / Joshua 24:31, so connect the elders with the government of Israel as to point to the fact that the appointment now made was not a merely temporary one, though it would seem to have soon fallen into desuetude. We find no traces of it in the days of the Judges and the Kings.’

‘Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’ But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” Numbers 11:18-23

God asks the people to consecrate themselves in preparation for what is coming up. God is going to provide the meat they desire in the form of quail. They followed their lusts for the pleasures of Egypt rather than the will of the Lord. They wanted to trust in the security of their life in Egypt, rather than put their faith in God.

Notice, though, that there is some punishment in the giving of the quail in that the people would initially be overwhelmed by one month’s quail in one day. The people couldn’t eat their own flocks and herds which were meant for sacrifices and daily milk.

The mercy of God is displayed large, instead of answering their complaints with judgement or discipline. God gives them what they need instead.

One might think God would be afraid of rewarding their complaining hearts, yet He knows He has plenty of ways to teach them, now, they need food! In this case, it was quail, Exodus 16:9-14.

While Moses asks God all these questions, God asks him, if His arms to too short? And so, to prove that God can absolutely care for His people, He produced a months’ worth of quail for the people.

‘So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.’ Numbers 11:24-30

Notice the Holy Spirit came on the elders as He was upon Moses. Their inspired praises of God and prophesying the will of God was a witness to the faithfulness and presence of God and it was through these things that the Israelites became encouraged by the presence of God.

The text doesn’t tells us if Eldad and Medad, the two elders were present at the tabernacle but the Lord still poured our His Spirit on them. Joshua recommended that they shouldn’t be allowed to prophesy, Moses counselled that regardless of where they were, they were to be allowed to do the work of God, Luke 9:49-50.

We see in Moses’s response to Joshua, that he acknowledged that it would be good that everyone speak the praises of God and prophesy His will. We see in this act of prophesying that God wanted His prophets not to isolate their work for themselves, but that they prophesy the wonderful works of God to the nations.

‘Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp. But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food. From Kibroth Hattaavah the people travelled to Hazeroth and stayed there.’ Numbers 11:31-35

Notice it was the Lord who provided the wind and drove the quail in from the sea, Exodus 16:13.

Cole, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The quails mentioned here ‘migrate regularly between south Europe and Arabia across the Sinai Peninsula. They are small, bullet-headed birds, with a strong but low flight, usually roosting on the ground or in the low bushes at nightfall. When exhausted, they would be unable to take off again. The birds are good eating and were a favourite delicacy of the Egyptians’.’

The quail could easily be caught, so the one who caught the least caught ten homers, which is around 65 bushels, Leviticus 27:16 /  Psalm 78:27-31.

Notice, however, that the blessing was also a curse, Psalm 106:13-15. They were given quail because of their complaining but it was given in such a way that it made the people sick and as a result many died. In other words, they reaped the result of their sin of desiring the material security of Egypt, over trust in the Lord.

The place they named Kibroth Hattaavah, means ‘Graves of Craving’.

Go To Numbers 12


"I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

Philippians 4:13