Numbers 11:1-35 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What is Israel’s complaint? See Numbers 11:4-9 (printed below)

The foreigners who were among them had great cravings for different foods, and also the children of Israel wept again and said, Who will give us meat to eat? (5) We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. (6) But now our spirit languishes, we never see anything except this manna. (7) Now the manna was like coriander seed and it looked like bdellium. (8) The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They boiled it in pots or made it into cakes. It tasted like cakes baked with fresh olive oil. (9) When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna would come with it. (Numbers 11:4-9)

Numbers 11:4b tells us that the people of Israel developed a craving for meat: “Who will give us meat to eat?” They began to think back to “the good old days” in Egypt where they ate an abundance of fish, as well as cucumbers, melons and onions (verse 5). As they dwelt upon their desire for meat and recalled the variety of food they had back in Egypt, they became dissatisfied with the Lord’s present provision for them; they lost their taste for the manna, even though it was nourishing and in ample quantity and very good (verses 6-9).

2. Who stimulated this dissatisfaction on the part of Israel? See Numbers 11:4 (printed below) What lesson might we as Christians learn from this?

The foreigners who were among them had great cravings for different foods, and also the children of Israel wept again and said, Who will give us meat to eat? (Numbers 11:4)

Verse 4 indicates that this dissatisfaction on the part of Israel was stimulated by “the foreigners who were among them.” Apparently there were some Egyptians or, possibly, some other foreign peoples who likewise had been under Egyptian subjugation, who attached themselves to Israel at the time of the Exodus (note Exodus 12:38; “Many other people went up with them” out of Egypt). These people now begin to yearn for what they had in Egypt and they stimulate Israel to adopt a spirit of self-pity and complaint: “the children of Israel wept again” (verse 4). Scripture cautions us that it is possible for Christian people to be incited to self-pity and complaint by observing the world around us (note Psalm 73:2-6,12-13)

3. In response to the peoples’ complaint, what does Moses say the Lord will do and why? See Numbers 11:18-20 (printed below)

Say to the people: Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. You have wailed in the ears of Jehovah, crying, Who will give us meat to eat? We were better off in Egypt! Therefore, Jehovah will give you meat, and you will eat it. (19) You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, (20) but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and it becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected Jehovah who is present with you and have wailed in his presence, saying, Why did we ever leave Egypt? (Numbers 11:18-20)

In response to the people’s complaint and demand for meat, Moses informs the people that the Lord will grant their desire: “Jehovah will give you meat, and you will eat it” (verse 18). But He will not allow them to enjoy their desire with His blessing: He will give them so much of what they want that they will become sick of it. Moses testifies that the Lord will do so “because you have rejected (the Hebrew verb means “to lightly esteem, to hold in contempt, to disregard”) Jehovah who is present with you.” That is to say, they did not appreciate the Lord’s presence with them and the provision He thought best for them. Rather than appreciating what they had and recognizing it as having been provided for them by the Lord their God, they complained about what they did not have. Note: the Lord was leading them into the Promised Land of Canaan where they were to enjoy an abundance of all good things with His blessing.

4. Numbers 11:4-6 (printed above under question #1) records Israel’s complaint concerning a lack of meat. What happened on a previous occasion when they had voiced other complaints? See Numbers 11:1-3 (printed below)

Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of Jehovah, and when Jehovah heard it his anger was aroused. Then fire from Jehovah burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. (2) When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to Jehovah and the fire died out. (3) So that place was called Taberah, because of the fire from Jehovah that burned among them. (Numbers 11:1-3)

On an earlier occasion, immediately preceding this present episode, the people had complained and were rebuked by the fire of the Lord that struck the rearmost section of the camp (verses 1-3). Rather than learn the lesson: complaining against the Lord’s direction and provision for your life is answered with His displeasure and rebuke, they became even more obstinate as is seen by their behavior recorded in verses 4-6.

5. In contrast to the way He responds to the peoples’ complaint, how does the Lord respond to Moses’ “complaint?” See Numbers 11:11-15,21-22 (printed below) Why? See Numbers 11:16-17,23 (printed below)

Then Moses asked Jehovah, Why have you brought this trouble upon your servant? What have I done to displease you that you have put the burden of all these people upon me? (12) Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, so that you say to me, Carry them in your arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you pledged to their forefathers? (13) Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, Give us meat to eat! (14) I am not able to carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. (15) If this is how you are going to treat me, I beg you, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me suffer in my wretchedness…(21) … Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand in number, yet you have said, I will give them meat so that they may eat for a whole month. (22) Shall the flocks and herds be slaughtered for them in order to satisfy them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered for them in order that they may have a sufficient amount of meat? (Numbers 11:11-15,21-22)

Then Jehovah said to Moses, Bring before me seventy of the elders of Israel, men whom you know to be leaders and rulers over the people. Bring them to the Tent of Meeting, so that they may stand there with you. (17) I will come down and speak with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and put him upon them; then they will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone… (23) Jehovah answered, Has Jehovah’s ability become limited? Now you will see whether or not my word shall be fulfilled. (Numbers 11:16-17,23)

Whereas the Lord was angered by the peoples’ complaint, He graciously answers Moses’ concerns. In response to Moses’ protest that he is not able to cope with the task of caring for this vast multitude of people, the Lord promises to supply him with fellow-workers whom He will anoint with His Holy Spirit (verses 16-17). In response to Moses’ legitimate question as to how the people shall be supplied with sufficient meat, the Lord assures Moses that He is able (verse 23). Why does the Lord respond in a completely different way towards Moses than He did with regard to the people of Israel? The people were dissatisfied with the Lord’s provision and stubbornly were insisting on their own way, determined to whine and nag and cry until they got what they wanted. Moses is desperately trying to gain support in accepting God’s will and carrying out His will and he is trying to understand what God is doing.