Study Notes

Numbers 11:1-35


The people of Israel have had their ups and downs in walking with God. Recently, we've seen obedience - after the golden calf fiasco, it's been a blessing to see them following God's commands. But now, as we begin chapter 11, we see that the people are quickly falling into the behavior that we typically associate with the Jews in the wilderness wandering.

11:1-3 Complaining

If you're not reading the NASB, you'll find a difference in your Bible translation in verse 1. The true Hebrew meaning comes through accurately in the New American Standard. Literally it is, "And the people were as complainers evil in the ears of the Lord."

We should recognize this - they were like those who complain of adversity - they themselves were not in adversity. They were being led and provided for by God, and yet they were complaining.

In the book of Nehemiah, the Levites prayed,

Neh. 9:18-21 "Even when they made for themselves A calf of molten metal And said, 'This is your God Who brought you up from Egypt,' And committed great blasphemies, Thou, in Thy great compassion, Didst not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. And Thou didst give Thy good Spirit to instruct them, Thy manna Thou didst not withhold from their mouth, And Thou didst give them water for their thirst. Indeed, forty years Thou didst provide for them in the wilderness {and} they were not in want; Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell.

God had been, and would continue to, take care of them. But all they could do was complain, as if they were in some terrible adversity. So God became angry and began to judge the complainers.

The Fire Of The Lord

We read that the judgment was "the fire of the Lord" burning and consuming many of them on the outskirts of the camp. What is the fire of the Lord? Exactly what it sounds like - fire from God. The same fire that consumed Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. The same fire that consumed Elijah's sacrifice before the prophets of Baal in 1Kings 18. God's judging, consuming fire. Now, what exactly it was is a mystery. Did God use lightning? Literal fire from the sky? Lava boiling up from the ground? I do not know. I do know that when it quits, it says literally in Hebrew that the fire "sank down."

When it's all over, because of the firey judgment, they called the place Tab-ay-RAW, which means, "burning."


Notice that the fire didn't quit until Moses interceded in prayer. Moses had an awesome ministry of intercession between God and the Israelites. Every time you turn around, Moses is having to pray to God not to give the Israelites what they deserve.

What an example for us! We are continually told in Scripture to appeal to the mercy of God - for those that don't deserve it. That is in fact the definition of mercy - not getting what you deserve. Thus, Jesus told us,

Matt. 5:44 "...I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you"

What a difficult but necessary lesson. What a godly example Moses shows us!

11:4-9 The Greedy Rabble

The Rabble is mentioned here - this is the mixed multitude that we discussed in our study of Exodus. They are non-Jews that followed the Israelites out of Egypt.

Exod. 12:37-38 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.

Both this mixed multitude and the Israelites complained about the food. "We're sick of manna! Remember the great food there was back in Egypt?"

This is a dangerous thing - looking back fondly on the days of slavery. Sometimes, I look back, and begin to remember the fun that I had doing this or that drug. The popularity I found in the rock and roll world. It is a deceptive lure of the enemy, who somehow manages to give us selective memory, remembering the pleasure of sin for a season, yet forgetting the destruction it wreaked in our lives.

We need to do as Jude warned us:

Jude 23 ...hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

We should look back at our pre-Christian lives, our character, our condition, and hate it. How far we were from God! How destructive we were to ourselves and others! How close we came to an eternity in hell! When I find my mind wandering, saying, "Remember how good it was in Egypt," I do what Paul taught,

2Cor. 10:5 ...taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ

Remembering the "good old bad old days" can be dangerous to your spiritual health, as it was for the Israelites' physical health!

11:10-15 What Am I To Do?

God's upset, Moses is upset. The people are whining and complaining. Moses has had just about all he can take. "God, these aren't my kids. They're yours. I'm not able to provide them with what they need. I can't carry all these babies. So here's the deal: if you expect me to carry and provide for them, just kill me now!"

I like Moses' honesty here. He doesn't quit. He doesn't blame God. But he does express his heart. We need to learn that it is okay to go to the Lord when we're feeling like, "God, I just don't understand what's going on - I can't handle this much longer!"

Moses entrusts himself to God, knowing that everything that happens is totally up to God. Yes, he's frustrated, but I don't see him sinning here.

11:16-17 Seventy Elders To Share The Burden

God promises Moses that he'll provide a support staff of elders. Seventy men who will help Moses bear the burden of the ministry.

But notice this: Moses was to hand-pick them. They weren't to hold elections. They didn't rotate them every year. These were men that Moses could entrust portions of the ministry to. The same is true in the church today. Paul told Pastor Timothy,

Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you

It is the shepherd that God appoints for the people that is to be appointing the elders that will assist him in leading the people. They are to multiply the ministry of the leader, essentially duplicating him to make ministry happen in greater degree.

The Same Spirit

Notice that God was going to take of the Spirit who was upon Moses and put Him upon each of the elders. This is such an important principle - leadership with the same Spirit.

Too often, we've seen church leadership fighting. Assistant pastors drawing away disciples after themselves. Worship leaders divided with the pastor over this or that. Elder boards voting to fire the pastor that they're supposed to be supporting in ministry. God-driven leadership is like-minded with the shepherd that God has raised up.

Now, God blesses Moses with support, but He is also going to curse the people for their dissatisfaction.

11:18-20 They Shall Eat Meat

A month of meat. The people will eat meat until it comes out their nostrils. This will be a curse of abundance. Sometimes, when we bug God enough, He will give us what we want to our own demise. A single woman begs and begs God to marry some unsaved guy. He allows it happen, knowing how devastating it is. We push and push for a job. We say, "God, I'm going to keep pushing until you lock the door." But God won't violate your free will. In exasperation, He says, "fine, take this job you want so much - but you're really going to regret it."

I think of Balaam the prophet. "God, these guys want me to go curse Israel - can I go?" "No, of course you can't go," God says. "But God, they want to give me bunches of money. Can't I just go and not curse them?" No, you can't go." "But God..." "Fine, go. But whatever happens to you is going to be on your head." In the same way, God here is saying, "you want meat? Fine, you'll have meat till it's coming out your nose."

Now this will be the punishment for their rejection of God. When did they reject God? When they complained about God's provision. When they said that what they had in Egypt in slavery was better than the freedom they had following God. Complaining about the lot in life God's given you is equivalent to rejecting Him. Ouch!

11:21-23 How Will You Provide?

Moses doesn't quite get it. There's 600,000 men, plus their wives and children! "How are they going to eat meat for a month? Should we eat the flocks we keep for sacrifices? Does the sea even hold enough fish to feed 3 million people for a month," Moses wonders.

But the Lord says, "Mo, I'm God, remember? My power is unlimited. Wait and see what I'm going to do."

11:24-25 Prophecying

When the Spirit came upon each of the elders, they prophecied. Remember that although we often think of prophecy as foretelling the future, it is actually forth-telling the Word of God. Sometimes that is related to the future, but often it is speaking the Scriptures as well.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

1Cor. 14:3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.

The gift of prophecy brings three things: Edification - building up people. Exhortation - strongly encouraging them to love, good works, and holiness. Consolation - a reassurance from God.

So the elders all began to prophecy when the Spirit came upon them.

11:26 Elders In The Camp

Two of the elders that Moses had chosen, El-DAD and May-DAWD, had remained in the camp, rather than gathering around the tent of meeting as the others had. We're not told why, but the point is that they weren't with the group.

I want us to notice something here. Receiving a filling and gift of the Holy Spirit can be done in a large group of people, but it is not always necessarily so. Many groups get hyped up and worked up into a frenzy, and people have strange things happen to them that they believe is the Holy Spirit. But God doesn't need the emotions of a large group getting worked up to fill people with His Spirit. Eldad and Madad were filled with the Spirit and prophecied when they were all by themselves in the camp.

11:27-30 Would That All Were Prophets

A young guy came and told Moses what had happened. Joshua interjects, saying, "Moses, tell them to knock it off! They're not part of the group!" But Moses praises God, saying, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if everyone got filled with the Spirit?"

Often, we fall into Joshua's thinking - "If they're not part of our group, then they're not of God!" But believe it or not, there are more people saved in your city than the ones that go to your church! Jude wrote to Christians everywhere,

Jude 3 ...I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation...

Our flesh doesn't like the concept of a common salvation. We like to believe that only in our denomination can be found true salvation. That those crazies in the church down the street swinging from the chandeliers aren't really saved. That those guys in suits at that "dead" church don't really know Christ. But I believe that we're going to be surprised at the diversity of people we see in heaven. Remember Paul writing to the Ephesians said, "Show...

Eph. 4:2-6 ...forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Even if they're not in "our group," we should praise God that He has blessed others with His Spirit and gifts.

11:31-32 Lots Of Quail

All around the camp was a massive flock of quail - three foot deep! (The people probably took baseball bats and whacked the birds - that's why he who gathered least gathered ten homers!) Meat! Finally, there was meat to eat!

But the people began hoarding the quail. They were greedy, collecting all they could for a full day and night. God had promised to feed them meat for a month, but they took it into their own hands to store it up. God wasn't too pleased with that...

11:33-35 The Plague Of Abundance

Those who had been greedy about gathering the quail were unpleasantly surprised - God judged them with a deadly plague.

They called the place Kib-ROTH Hat-tah-av-AW, which means, "graves of lust." Those who lusted with greed were buried in that place.

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