Chapters eleven and twelve record three specific events during which a complain arose in Israel. While they were at Sinai, things were good, but as soon as they began to move, discontentment set in and the complaints began. The first complaint was general. Although this first leg was only three days (Numbers 10:33), it wore on them quickly, and they began to grumble (Numbers 11:1-3). God gave a warning in the form of supernatural fire outside of the camp that burnt up something. They repented, Moses interceded, and they were spared.
When Israel left Egypt, many non-Israelites came with them, which Exodus 12:38 calls “a mixed multitude.” Although this term is used again in English in Numbers 11:4, the Hebrew term is used only here in the entire Old Testament and probably refers to a subset of them. Many translations describe them as “rabble” (NASB, NLT, NIV, ESV). It was this group that began to long for home and the finer foods they missed (Numbers 11:4-9). God had provided them with manna, which was versatile and tasty, yet it was not enough for them. They whipped the people into such an emotional frenzy that Moses could hear entire families crying in their tents about it (Numbers 11:10-15). He was both grieved and infuriated, asking God why he had given him such a great responsibility, when he had been reluctant at the beginning. Much like Jonah centuries later, Moses thought it was better to die than to suffer through this role.
God had two parts to his solution for this problem. First, he had Moses gather the seventy elders that Moses had appointed in Exodus 18 at the recommendation of his father-in-law (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-30). Although Moses had selected them to help him, it seems that God had not officially commissioned them yet. So they gathered with Moses at the tabernacle to meet with God. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began to prophesy (a singular event, not repeated), displaying God’s approval of them. In an interesting story, even two of the men who had not gathered with the rest received the Spirit and began prophesying in the camp, much to Joshua’s dismay. When he told Moses about it, he was graciously rebuked for his misplaced loyalty to Moses instead of to God. 1
God’s second solution was to give them more meat that they knew what to do with (Numbers 11:18-23, 31-34). A year earlier, in Exodus 16, God provided quail for them to eat in the evening. This was apparently not normal. Manna was their typical provision, but God had already proven that he could provide quail, and he did so again at this point. However, as soon at the rebels bit into the meat, “before they chewed it,” God killed them with a plague, displaying both supernatural (and unprecedented) provision and judgment at the same time.
- This theme reoccurs both in Jesus’ ministry (Luke 9:49-50) and in Paul’s (Philippians 1:15-18). ↩