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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-35

This time let's turn to Numbers chapter eleven.

In reading Numbers eleven through twenty, I see a pattern emerging, a pattern of chronic complaining, as the people are now complaining against the Lord. Inasmuch as God is in control of the circumstances of our lives, any complaining against the circumstances of our lives is complaint against the Lord. If I'm a child and been called, according to God's purpose, then I must believe that all things are working together for good because I love God and He promised me and He told me that "all things are working together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose" ( Romans 8:28 ).

So, if I start murmuring and complaining about the things that are transpiring around my life, I'm really murmuring and complaining about those that God has brought into my life, and thus, murmuring and complaining is really against the Lord and God looks upon it as such. He looks upon it as a complaint against Him. And thus, as the children of Israel would murmur and complain, God would become angry with them. And on several occasions is ready to obliterate them. And we find Moses coming in and interceding again, always falling on his face before the Lord pleading, "God don't destroy them" and God's abundant grace being demonstrated, His forgiveness over and over again.

We are certainly taught through these passages the long suffering of God. And that is one of God's characteristics that's part of His nature, which is actually a characteristic of love. In its true sense the agape love suffers long and is kind and it is demonstrated no better place than God's dealing with the nation Israel, the patience and the longsuffering of God with these people. They can be thankful I'm not God. I surely wouldn't have the patience and the longsuffering with them that God did have.

Now as we go through these chapters, again, it is important that we keep in mind that God is sovereign and He is over all of the circumstances. And there seems to be points where God is just wanting to wipe the people out and Moses is reasoning with God and comes up with good reasons that causes God to change his mind and not wipe them out. As you read the text that seems to be what is happening. That seems to be the obvious kind of thing. God says, "Stand back and I'll wipe them out. I'll create another nation" and all. And Moses says, "Lord, if you wipe them out then all of the Egyptians are gonna say look what kind of a God they have. Took them out in the wilderness and wiped them all out. And the people are gonna think that You're a horrible God. So don't wipe them out, Lord". And so the Lord says, "All right", you know, and He doesn't wipe them out.

Now, I must believe that one of God's characteristics as being God and being divine is that of his immutability, which means that God doesn't change. Now this is a characteristic of God's nature that is taught in the scriptures. God said to the prophet, "Behold, I am the Lord God; I change not" ( Malachi 3:6 ). Again, we read that "God is not a man, that he should lie nor the son of man that he should repent. Hath he not spoken and shall he not make it good?" ( Numbers 23:19 ).

So we know from the scripture that God doesn't change. We know from the scriptures that God doesn't repent, which means to change, a change of heart, a change of mind. Therefore, in the reading of these passages where there is an apparent change in God's attitude towards the people, we must realize that in these senses God is not the bad guy and Moses the good guy and God is wanting to wipe them out and Moses intercedes as the good guy.

True prayer always begins in the heart of God. And God touches my heart with his purpose and with his desires. And as I begin to understand the purposes and the desires of God, I begin to express them in prayers. You see, this world is in rebellion against God, the world's system is in rebellion against God. The whole universe is in obedience to God except for one little part; this little planet swinging around the sun down here in the corner of the Milky Way Galaxy. And this planet is in rebellion against God, but God is seeking to bring the planet back into harmony with Him that he might bless it and do for it what He's been wanting to do.

And in order to bring this planet back into harmony with Him, God has captured certain lives, brought them into fellowship and into a relationship with Him and seeks through those lives to touch other lives. In other words, your life becomes God's bridgehold in this rebellious planet. And now God is seeking through you to reach out and to touch other lives. And so he lays upon your heart His will, His purpose, which you expressed to Him in prayer, which opens the door for Him to do the things that He is wanting to do but will not do in violation of our free will, which He respects.

So actually the inspiration for Moses' prayer came from God. That intercession of Moses, that whole inspiration behind it was that of God. And it allows then God-in justice He should have wiped them out; they deserved it, but He wanted to show His mercy and His grace and He needed that excuse. And thus He lays upon the heart of Moses the intercession which opens the door and gives God the opportunity to be gracious, to demonstrate his longsuffering and His love.

So, chapter eleven begins with a cycle that we're gonna be repeating through the next few chapters.

AND when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched. And he called the name of the place [burning] Taberah: [which means burning] because the fire of the LORD burnt among them ( Numbers 11:1-3 ).

All right, you think they learned their lesson; wouldn't ya? They complained. God's fire burns among them. Some of them are destroyed. They cry unto Moses. He prays and God quenches the fire and now surely you'll learn not to complain. Nope.

And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: But now our soul is dried away: and there is nothing at all, besides this manna, before our eyes ( Numbers 11:4-6 ).

And so the mixed multitude that came with him out of Egypt began lusting, desiring after the things of Egypt, after the old life. The mixed multitude were not really full covenant people of God; part Egyptian, part Israeli; not a real commitment to the purposes of God, not a total commitment but actually coming along for the ride, coming along for the adventure, the excitement. As so many people, or something happening then, they'll just jump in to become a part of it, sort of on the bandwagon kind of a thing.

And now they begin to remember Egypt; "Oh we had so much fish and those cucumbers and melons and leaks and the onions and the garlic. I'm getting so tired of this bland diet of manna. It tastes the same." And he goes ahead and describes what the manna was like here, like a coriander seed and the color of the bdellium. And they would grind it up and make little wafers out of it and it had an oily taste to it, no doubt extremely nutritious but very bland to eat.

And they began to desire after the things of Egypt; the appetite of Egypt was still in their heart. Now, Egypt represents the world; the life of the flesh which always leads to bondage. And so you remember the bondage that they had in Egypt, the horrible taskmasters that were over them, the tremendous burdens that were laid upon them, their backs were bent continually under the load. In fact, one of the things God said when he brought them out, "You're no longer be bent over but you're gonna stand up straight" because they have been bent over with the labors of Egypt. Many of the great monuments in Egypt were built by slave labor.

And so, they forgot the horrors of slavery and they were remembered, the excitement of their flesh being satisfied; the fish, melons, cucumbers. The taste of Egypt was still in their mouth. There are some people who have come to Jesus Christ but they have what is classified by Christ as a lukewarm relationship, which is the same as the mixed multitude, for lukewarmness is actually an add-mixture of hot and cold.

People who still, though, after they had come to Christ have the taste of the world in their lives, longing still for some of the things of the flesh. They have not yet denied themselves, taking up their cross to follow Jesus. They are seeking to follow Jesus apart from the cross, apart from self-denial. And yet there's so much of Jesus in their lives that they can't be fully happy in the world and too much of the world in their lives to be fully satisfied in Jesus. A mixed multitude in the church with a nominal commitment, a surface commitment to the Lord and yet within their hearts the taste for the world.

I always worry when a person testifies of the world, his past life, the things he used to do within the world. And there's a sort of smack of the lips, there's sort of a-well, you can just tell by the way they're testifying; they're relishing the memory of the things that they did rather than looking upon them with horror and abhorring the things of the flesh and the old flesh life. There's still sort of a desire. Jesus said, "I would that you're hot or cold but because you're lukewarm, I'm gonna spew you out of my mouth"( Revelation 3:16 ). I can't stand lukewarmness.

He doesn't want your life to be in a mixture. He wants your life to be fully committed to Him. And "Ye which are his have crucified the flesh with the desires, the lust thereof. Know ye not that the old man was crucified with Christ?" ( Romans 6:6 ). Paul tells us that we've been redeemed and therefore we are not our own, we're to glorify God in our body and our spirits which are His. And yet so many Christians, still the taste of the world within their mouth and the desire for the things of the world are still there, and there hasn't been that total complete commitment of your life to Jesus Christ.

The mixed multitude fell a lusting of the things of Egypt and they began to spread their discontent among the camp of God. It's amazing how the carnal Christian can spread discontent in the whole body of Christ. No longer are they satisfied with just the Word of God. Jesus Christ sent bread from heaven, now they want more entertainment within the church. And it's tragic the things that the churches are doing today to entertain people, appealing to their flesh; the very thing that God abhors, my old flesh nature, my old flesh life.

And as they spread the discontent among the camp of Israel all of the Israelites began to stand in the tent doors weeping, as Moses passed through, heard all this wailing and weeping by these people. And Moses came in before the Lord and he was-he was really upset.

Moses heard the people [verse ten] weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; and Moses also was displeased. And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all these people upon me? Have I conceived all these people? have I begotten them, that thou should say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father bears a sucking child, into the land which you swear to their fathers? Where am I gonna get flesh to give to all these people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. [Lord I can't take it,] I'm not able to bear all this people alone, it's too heavy for me. And if your gonna deal thus with me, just kill me, [Wipe me out, Lord. I'm through; I've had it. I'd rather be dead] ( Numbers 11:10-15 )

Man, he really was at the end of his rope. But imagine walking through the camp and the people cry there, "Give us flesh to eat." Moses said, "Where am I gonna get flesh to feed them? Ridiculous people. Lord, I can't take it. I can't stand it anymore. They're not my kids. I didn't conceive them. Why are you laying them on me? The burden's too heavy, Lord. I can't carry it anymore. I'm through. If this is what you want then wipe me out, I've had it".

And so the LORD said unto Moses, Gather 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 unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that you no bear it thyself alone. And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, and ye shall eat flesh: and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. But you'll not eat for one day, or two, or five, or ten, or twenty; but flesh for thirty days, until it comes out of your nostrils, [until it comes out of your ears,] until it becomes loathsome to you ( Numbers 11:16-20 ):

My wife thinks that God might be a choleric in his reaction to the people's desire for flesh here. Awe, you want flesh, all right.

And Moses said, "Lord, how in the world are we gonna give them that much flesh to eat? Shall we-do you want us to kill all of the cattle and all of the flocks to feed these people. Lord, are you gonna just empty the sea of fish and lay them all here? How are you gonna do that, Lord? Why should I go tell them that? How are you gonna do it?

And the LORD said, Hey, is the LORD'S arm waxed short? ( Numbers 11:23 )

Hey, that's a good question. Is the Lord's arm waxed short? How big is your God? Isn't it interesting that so many times we do limit God to our own mental capacities? I'm always trying to help God figure out his program so that I can advise him on the best way to do things. And so often I know what God wants to do overall. How's he gonna do it? Well, I don't know. Well, if he did this and this and this then it could happen, maybe. So I got it all figured out now in my mind how God ought to work. So my prayers now become direction prayers instead of direct prayers. And I'm giving God directions on how to do His business.

But the problem is He doesn't always follow my directions and then I get upset and I say, "Lord, what's the matter here? Can't ya see that's the wrong way to do it? Why aren't you listening to me, Lord?" And he responds, "My ways are not your ways saith the Lord, my ways are beyond your finding out"( Isaiah 55:9 ). And yet I'm always trying to find them out and always seeking to know the unknowable. Always try to figure out how God can do His business because as long as I can figure out God can do His business, I can rest fairly comfortable.

It's only when I can't figure out how God's gonna do His business anymore that I really get shook. If I can't figure it out, how can God. "I don't see any way it can ever happen" you know, and I get despairing and discouraged and you know "I'm through. I've had it. I don't see how it could ever happen". Well, it isn't necessary that I see how it can happen. It's only necessary that I know it's gonna happen because God said it's gonna happen and His word can't fail. But how is he gonna do it? I don't know. If I could only realize that that's not my problem; I don't always realize that though, and thus, I carry this burden of trying to figure out the ways of God.

God said, "Hey, is my hand waxed short Moses? I said I'm going to do it now you go out and tell them I'm going to do it. Don't have to worry about the processes. Is my hand waxed short?" Is the arm of the Lord waxed short? No way.

So Moses gathered together the seventy men of the elders of Israel, and they gathered into the tabernacle. And the spirit of the LORD came upon these seventy men: and they began to prophesy ( Numbers 11:24-25 ).

That is, they began to speak forth the word of the Lord. Prophecy is not always predictive. The New Testament gift of prophecy is not necessarily predictive; it can be predictive but for the most part, it is just speaking forth the word of the Lord to the church for edification, for comfort, for exhortation. It can have a predictive element to it as Agabus took his, took Paul's girdle and bound himself and so is, said "so is the man that owns this girdle be bound when he goes to Jerusalem"( Acts 21:11 ); predictive element.

And whenever God speaks there always can be a predictive element because God does know the future. And in those prophecies where there is a predictive element, it's an easy way to test the prophecy to find out if it were really from God, because if it comes to pass then it was God speaking. If it doesn't come to pass then God didn't speak. But it is speaking forth God's word and so these men began to prophesy.

Now, there were two of the elders who did not come into the tabernacle. They were still out in the camp but the spirit of God came out on them out in the camp and they began to prophesy in the camp. And some young fellow came running into Moses and said "Eldad and Medad are out there in the camp prophesying." They're not in the tabernacle here. And Joshua said unto Moses in verse twenty-nine, or in verse twenty-eight he said,

For My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said, Are you enviest for my sake? Hey, I wish that every one of them were prophets, and the spirit of God were upon them all! ( Numbers 11:28-29 )

Oh, he would like to see God's spirit fall on the entire camp of Israel. It would make his job so much easier if they were all walking in the spirit. He could foresee how glorious it would be if the whole company of God were walking in the spirit. Now, the prophets did foresee that day. "It shall come to pass saith the Lord, in the last days I'll pour out my spirit upon all flesh"( Joel 2:28 ). In the Old Testament it was limited. Certain men at certain times had the anointing of the spirit upon their lives but in the camp of Israel it was limited to the seventy men. Would that God-His spirit where upon them all.

In the Old Testament period of God was with them but Jesus said, "Thou pray the Father, he'll give you another comforter even the spirit of truth that he may abide with you forever with whom the world cannot receive for he seeth not neither knoweth him but you know him for he dwells with you and shall be in you"( John 14:16-17 ).

There's coming a day when the spirit's going to dwell within you. When the day of Pentecost was fully come and the spirit descended upon the church and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And Peter said, "This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel when he said, In the last days, saith the Lord, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, the young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams; and upon my servants and handmaidens will I pour out of my spirit in that day, saith the Lord"( Acts 2:16-18 ).

Moses could foresee how glorious that day would be. He didn't see the day, he could only conceive of how glorious that day would be. How glorious the church when all the people are walking in the spirit? Man, how few the problems if we all just walked in the spirit all the time. Wouldn't it be fabulous? If we all just walked in the spirit of love, in every situation, at all times we walked in the spirit. So, Moses could foresee the advantage of such a thing and he did not forbid them.

Actually, there are people who like to pattern God and to confine the way that God is going to work. "You know God only works in the sanctuary, God only works through ordained ministers. You've gotta be ordained to serve communion, you gotta be ordained to be baptized or"-men like to make rules but God likes to break man's rules. He likes to show that He isn't subject to man's rules; He can work however He wants, whenever He wants, through whomever He wants and you don't have to be an anointed apostle or anything else to be used of God in mighty work.

Paul the apostle was baptized by some guy by the name of Ananias and whoever he was we don't even know. He was just a member of the body of Christ in Damascus. And it was through him that he laid his hands upon Paul that Paul might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized Paul. Some unknown brother in the church in Damascus. Oh, but who authorized him to do that? Jesus Christ.

A lot of people, you know, are still like the Pharisees, "Who gave you authority?" They said that to John the Baptist, you know. "Who gave you the authority to baptize?" They said to Jesus, "Who gave you the authority to do these things?" And they still coming around today, "Who gave you the authority?" A bunch of Pharisees still existing because they'd like to confine it to their own little group. We're the only ones with real authority. It's glorious to have the authority of the Lord, the same one who authorized Paul, and the same one who authorized John and the rest of them have authorized us.

So, there came forth the wind and it started bringing in the quail about three feet high. And the children of Israel went out and they began to knock these quail out of the air, covey after covey after covey of quail flying in. And all day long, all night long, all the next day they were batting these quail out of the air. Until those families that gathered the least amount had gathered about eight hundred and fifty gallons of quail, killed them, plucked them, spread them out on the ground to dry and began to just indulge their flesh.

And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague. And he called the name of the place Kibrothhattaavah: because there he buried the people that lusted ( Numbers 11:33-34 ).

Kibrothhattaavah is the grave of lust. And how many people have been buried in the graves of lust? What an ugly sight it is, people giving themselves over to unbridled lust. The ugly sight in Israel, as the people were giving themselves over to unbridled lust. Now this is what the scripture spoke about in Psalms 103:1-22 where it speaks of the experience in the wilderness "he gave them the desire of their hearts but leanness of soul." They desired flesh, He gave them the flesh but there was a leanness in their experience. This is what Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 10:1-33 , when he said, "These things all happen to them as examples unto us that we would learn not to lust after evil things, after the old life, after the things of Egypt", that we would learn not to lust after the things of the life of bondage and sin.


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Numbers 11". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/numbers-11.html. 2014.
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