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Chapter 11 plus introduction to Numbers

Next Section - Chapter 12

ch. 11:1-3   ch. 11:4-35

My Commentary On the Book Of Numbers




This commentary is based on the 1984 edition of the New International Bible.  All section titles are taken from the NIV Bible to make for easy study purposes. 


I will only comment on the history chapters in this commentary.  I will not comment on the chapters concerning the Law of Moses.


Most all conservative Bible scholars state that Moses wrote the book of Numbers, although most likely edited by someone else later on.  Many people suggest that Ezra who was both a scribe and a prophet, could have been the editor.  


The book of Numbers was not written in any specific chronological order.  It's a compilation of different aspects of the Law of Moses and some history of Israel which can also be seen in other parts of the first five books of the Bible.  


Fire From The Lord (ch. 11:1 - 3)


In verses 1 through 3 of chapter 11 we see that God gets angry.  In today's world, many people don't really believe that God can be angry.  They see Him being loving and tolerant of all we do.  Some say that the God we see in the Old Testament has changed when it comes to the New Testament.  That's not true.  There are a number of places in the New Testament where we see God being angry.  The book of Revelation is full of the wrath of God.  Even in the book of Acts, where we see lots of power and love from God, we see God killing Ananias and Sapphira for their deceptive way of living. (Acts 5)


At this point I will make the distinction between anger and wrath.  This is especially seen in the New Testament.  Anger is anger as you and I would know it.  Wrath is not anger.  Wrath is uncontrolled anger.  In the book of Revelation, God pours out His wrath on the nations of the world.  Wrath is actually an explosion of anger from God's heart.  Anger is controllable, but when God's anger can no longer be controlled it explodes into wrath.  You might wonder how could God not control His anger?  Well, He is long suffering.  He puts up with a lot from us, and more than we think, but the time does come when God can no longer put up with us, and at that point His anger explodes.  At that point, God's anger becomes God's wrath. 


Israel was complaining that their life was not as nice as they wanted.  It is clear that God does not like His people complaining.  He certainly did not like Israel complaining, and so He sent fire into their midst and burned the fringe area of their camp. 


I believe the reason why God does not like complaining is because it shows a lack of trust on the part of the complainer.  If the one complaining really trusted God for His life, then I don't believe he would complain, because He would know His Lord is in charge.  If we really trust God, we will rest in Him and take in stride what comes our way.


Quail From The Lord (ch. 11:4 - 35)


In verses 4 to 6 we see Israel complaining again.  This time it is over food.  The Lord had been providing manna for these people in a miraculous way, but they wanted meat and other food.  They were getting tired of God's miracle manna.  I can understand why people would get tired of eating the same food every day.  You and I would get tired of that too.  That being said, again, this does show a lack of trust in God.  If God wants you to eat just manna, you obey and you don't complain.  Not liking God's provision is one thing, but complaining is taking a step beyond not liking. 


The bad part of Israel 's complaining is that they were looking back to Egypt.  They remembered the good food they used to eat in Egypt.  This is not the first time these people looked back to their lives of slavery as being better than what they were presently experiencing. This is a sin that Israel often committed.  Their lack of trust in God in their present circumstances led to glorify their past which was far from their glory years.


We do the same today.  When things get tough, we look back to the past.  Many times our past is not really good, but the present distresses or dissatisfaction distorts our thinking so we forget what the past was really like.  We thus have an unrealistic view of the passed based on our present situation.  Again, it all comes down to a lack of trust in our God for the situation we find ourselves in.


In verse 4 we see the word "rabble".  These were the complainers. Some Bible teachers say that these were the non-Jews who lived among the Jews.  That may be debatable.    


People often wonder what his manna was like.  Here in verse 7 we have a bit of a hint to what it was like.  The text says that it was like "coriander seeds."   Coriander seed comes from a carrot like plant.  It had a very nice smell to it, and would have been used much like sesame or poppy seeds are used today.  Verse 7 says it looked like resin, which is gum like droplets.


In verses 8 through 10 we see what Israel did with this manna.  Sometimes they cooked it, and sometimes they just ground it down and ate it.  There were a variety of ways they could cook or eat manna. Still they wanted other food too.


Verse 11 shows us how these people were complaining.  They were actually wailing at the front of their tents.  Their complaining was more than words.  They were quite upset, and the Lord got upset with them for wailing.  Again, the Lord God is not happy with our complaining.  I really don't think we understand this truth.


In verses 11 to 15 we see how depressed Moses has become.  He feels like He is a parent to the Israelis, and at this point there were a couple million of them, all wailing and complaining.  Moses could no longer take it.  He asks God a number of questions.  He wondered what he did wrong to inherit such a job.  Moses was so depressed that he asked God to kill him.


The great apostle Paul felt the same way at times.  If you read 2 Corinthians you will see how depressed he was at times.  At one point he wanted to die as well. 


Both Moses and Paul demonstrate the fact that doing God's will, performing the job He has for us, is not always easy, and sometimes it's extremely hard.  We often think that when things get rough, we must be out of God's will.  That's how Moses felt here, but that isn't always true.  Moses was in the place  where God wanted him.  It was just a very hard place.  The same goes true for us.  Just because we are in God's will does not mean all things will go well for us.  Some people measure the success of their ministry by how well things are going for them, or how big their church is, or how popular they are.  All these things do not measure success in the eyes of the Lord.  Life is not always easy in this present age.  Measuring success in this way is the way the world measures success.  Copying the world is not New Testament thinking, but much of the church does just that.  


In verse 16 God tells Moses to bring Him seventy of Israel's best elders.  It is uncertain to me if Israel had seventy elders or if they had more.  This verse seems to suggest that they had more than seventy elders, but God just wanted to see the best seventy.  This seems to be the case in other parts of the Pentateuch.  We do know that the number seventy did become important to Israel.  In the Sanhedrin in Jesus' day on earth, there were seventy men that made up that leadership group.


Verse 17 tells us what God's plan was when the seventy elders came before the Lord.  The verse says that God would take the Spirit that was on Moses and give Him to the seventy elders so Moses would not have to shoulder the burden alone.  I don't believe God was taking the Holy Spirit from Moses and giving Him to the elders.  I think the text means, although it doesn't say it clearly, that the same Spirit of God that was on Moses would now be on the seventy elders.


Note the Spirit of God was "on" Moses, not "in" him.  The Holy Spirit only came to live in people on the Day of Pentecost and after, thus one of the main differences between the Old and New Testament.


Another thing to note concerns the idea that Moses is a type of Jesus.  You will note in Acts 2 that the Holy Spirit was given by Jesus to the one hundred and twenty people in the upper room.  The Holy Spirit came from both Moses and Jesus and was given to others.   


In verses 18 to 20 we see that God concedes to Israel's complaining.  He gives them meat to eat.  He will give them so much meat that as He says, "it will come out of their nostrils".   Of course that is just a idiom, a figure of speech.  We would say today, "they will eat the meat until it comes out of their ears".  The point here is that if meat is what Israel wants, meat they will get until they get sick of it.  God will do this at times to His people who complain.  Psalms 106:15  says that God gave them the desire of their heart but added leanness to their souls.  If we complain long enough, God might just give us what we want, but in the long run we will suffer.  Our souls will be lean. 


Note what verse 20 says. It is important.  It shows us how God feels about his people complaining.  He says that because Israel "rejected" Him, He will give them what they want.  God interpreted their complaint as "rejection".  You ask, "why?"  As I've said before, when we complain, we are not trusting God.  We are not trusting that the place where He has put us is good for us.  God interprets this lack of trust as rejection.  This is something we all need to understand, and I really mean understand, because we as the church, or we as individuals, are not any different than Israel.


In verses 21 and 22 Moses replies.  It sounds a bit complicated in the NIV, but I believe Moses is simply asking, "why can't the men just kill some livestock for meat?"  Killing their livestock while on the move in the wilderness was probably not possible.  They would not have had things set up to kill, clean, and dispose of the parts of the animals that were left over.  That could only take place in a situation where they were settled into a farm-life situation.   


In verse 23 the Lord answered Moses by saying, is my "arm too short."  I believe the Lord was implying that He could do miracles and help Israel.  Moses was being practical by saying they could just kill some cattle for meat.  God said that He wanted to miraculously give them the food to eat.  This might well be the reason why Israel was not killing animals for meat.  God then tells Moses to just wait and see what He would do.  Again, this is a matter of trust.  Can Israel actually trust their God?


You might remember that when Israel was leaving Egypt, God told Moses to "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord."  It appears that God wanted to be heavily involved in the daily affairs of Israel, even to the point of supplying food for them in a miraculous way.  I believe He wants to be heavily involved in our lives as Christians as well. 


In verses 24 and 25 we see that Moses called seventy of the elders together.  The NIV suggests that Moses called seventy of more than seventy elders.  This is not the first time that the NIV has put it this way.  The question is thus asked, "did Israel have seventy elders, or did they have more than seventy?"  I can't answer this question for sure.  I do know that centuries later when the Sanhedrin came into existence, there were seventy men in the Sanhedrin.  It does appear though that the ordaining of these seventy elders is the beginning of the tradition of Israel having seventy elders.


Once the seventy elders were gathered, the Holy Spirit came on them and they prophesied.  You see this a lot in the New Testament.  When the Holy Spirit comes on people, things happen.  In the New Testament, people spoke in tongues, they prophesied, they performed miracles, buildings shook, and many other things happened. This tells us, even in Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit was vital in doing God's will.


You will see that in verses 26 and 27 that two elders did not join with Moses at the tent of the Meeting.  Even though they weren't there, the Holy Spirit came on them and they also prophesied.  It is obvious that the Lord wanted all the elders to experience this outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  No elder should be missed. 


Because these two men weren't part of the rest of the elders, Joshua, in verse 28, asked Moses to tell them to stop prophesying.  I guess he felt they were out of order.


Concerning the Holy Spirit coming on people, you will note that every place in the Bible where this happened, something dramatic happened.  In this case, the elders prophesied.   


In verse 29 Moses said that he wouldn't stop them and that he wished all of Israel were prophets, and further more that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on everyone.   Again, we see the desire of Moses for God's people.  All the way through the story of Moses, we see his heart for God's people.  Now he wished that all Israelis could have the Spirit of God on them.  Well, his wish came true.  On the Day of Pentecost, not only did the Holy Spirit just come on one hundred and twenty Jews, He went into them and lived inside of them. 


From here to the end of this chapter we note that God gave them quail, all the quail they could eat and more. 


In verse 33 we see God was once again angry, or possibly still angry.   Because they wanted more food than what He had already provided, he struck them with a plague that killed many of them.  The thing to note here is that God had already miraculously provided for Israel but they were not satisfied with His provision.  They wanted more.  For this reason God was angry.  I suggest that Christians aren't all that different today.  God does provide for us, but we still complain and want more.  We're not content, or at least most of us aren't. 


We don't know what this plague was, but my guess it had something to do with the quail.  Maybe they were diseased birds that caused them to get sick.


You might ask why God doesn't strike us with a plague. God does judge people and nations today.  Sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it isn't so obvious.  To the natural mind, you won't see the judgment.  Also, I believe the more God blesses us, and especially so with miracles such as Israel experienced, when we reject his blessing, the worse the judgment will be.  God's judgment was severe on Israel because they had just experienced many powerful and miraculous things by the hand of God, and now they reject Him by complaining and wanting more.


Concerning complaining which we see in this chapter, I have written the following article.


Have you ever wondered how the Lord feels when we complain?  Well, there's one little verse tucked away in part of the Bible that most of us don't read.  Sometimes you discover some real gems of truth hidden in those hard to read passages.  Way back in Numbers 11:20 God makes it clear how He feels about His people complaining. 


Yahweh Elohim, the God of Israel, supernaturally delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and provided miraculous manna for them to eat on their way to the promised land.  Israel became discontented with this miracle food.  They wanted to eat meat, so they went on a complaining binge as seen in Numbers 11.     


When we complain, we demonstrate discontent, which I think shows a lack of trust in the Lord Jesus.  If we trusted Jesus more, we'd be more content, and complain less.  The apostle Paul learned to be content in every situation, whether good or bad (Philippians 4:11).  If anyone had reason to complain it would have been Paul.  He spent lots of time in prison.  He experienced ship wrecks, a stoning, famine, and much more.  He never  complained about what came his way because no matter what happened to him, he had trusted his life with Jesus.  If we trusted Jesus for the thing we complain about, I don't think we'd complain either.  That's how I think.  The question is, "how does God think about this"?    


Since Israel complained so much about not having meat to eat, God gave them all the meat they could stuff into their mouths.  Here's how Numbers 11:18 20 reads.  "The Lord will give you meat ... until it comes out of your nostrils because you have rejected the Lord and have wailed (complained) before Him "  What a picture.  Meat coming out of  their nostrils.  Of course that is a figure of speech.  The thing to note here is how God felt about Israel complaining.  He viewed "complaining" as "rejection".  Why would that be so?   When we complain we tell Jesus that we aren't content with how He is handing our lives.  This lack of contentment occurs because we fail to trust Jesus in the situation we're complaining about.  When we  don't trust Him, especially after we've given our lives to Him, God interprets that as "rejection", and so it is.  We are rejecting God's provision in the matter we are complaining about.  That sure puts a different light on complaining, don't you think?  


Paul tells us to "let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly" (Colossians 3:16).  If we let Numbers 11:20 dwell in us richly, that should put a dint in our complaining.  Of course, you have to read and study the Bible sufficiently enough to even know this Scripture exists and how God thinks on this issue.                  

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