Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.II. THE JOURNEY STARTED: ISRAEL’S UNBELIEF, FAILURE AND PUNISHMENT
1. The Departure and the First Failure
1. The cloud moves (Numbers 10:11-13)
2. The standard of the camp of Judah (Numbers 10:14-17)
3. The standard of the camp of Reuben (Numbers 10:18-21)
4. The standard of the camp of Ephraim (Numbers 10:22-24)
5. The standard of the camp of Dan (Numbers 10:25-28)
6.The first failure (Numbers 10:29-32)
7. The cloud leading (Numbers 10:33-36)
It was on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle and the signal was given for the camp to break up. The wilderness journey begins and we shall soon be face to face with the sad story of Israel’s failure, a failure which is repeated in the history of Christendom. What a magnificent spectacle it must have been when the camp of Israel moved for the first time in its divinely arranged order! No pen can describe the scene. The cloud moved and advanced towards the wilderness of Paran. Judah with his flowing standard led by Nahshon comes first. Then the tabernacle was taken down and the sons of Gershon and Merari set forward carrying the different parts of the tabernacle. In the second chapter instruction was given that the tabernacle was to set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp. Here the order is changed. We shall find later the reason for this. Then the Other camps followed, all in perfect order with Dan the rear guard of all the camps. Was it possible that one not an eye-witness could have given such a remarkable and minute description of all this? Only the person who was actually there and saw it with his own eyes could have written this account. No compiler living a few hundred years later could have produced such a work.
How beautiful the order in the camp! What a contrast with the disorder and concision which followed so soon! And this has all been repeated in Christendom.
The incident between Moses and Hobab is significant. The first failure is recorded and it is on the side of Moses. He turned to his father-in-law, a man who knew the wilderness well, and said, “Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes.” Criticism has pointed this out as one of the marks of imperfection in this book and calls it a contradiction. It is a contradiction, but not in the sense as infidelity takes it. It gives a perfect picture of what the human heart is, and therefore is a mark of the perfection of this record. Jehovah had offered Himself as the leader of His people. He was to be eyes for them. And Moses as the human leader of the host of Israel, knowing Jehovah and His promise, turns to a poor Midianite and expects guidance and directions of him! How true it is what one has said, “We find it hard to lean upon an unseen arm. A Hobab that we can see inspires us with more confidence than the living God whom we cannot see. We move on with comfort and satisfaction when we possess the countenance and help of some poor fellow-mortal, but we hesitate, falter and quail when called to move on in naked faith in God.” Every Christian believer knows this tendency of the heart. Every failure begins with leaning on the arm of flesh and leaving out the Lord. And now we understand why the tabernacle was taken to the front and out of the place in the middle of the camps. Jehovah anticipated this failure and graciously, not in judgment, He acts towards His people. “The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days journey to search out a resting place for them.” They wanted to find a resting place through Hobab’s guiding eye for the tabernacle and the camp, and now Jehovah in unspeakable condescension and marvellous patience proceeds to search out a resting place for His people. Thus while we fail, He never fails His people. “Oh! for faith to trust Him more.”
2. At Taberah and Kibroth-Hattaavah
1. The first complaint and the punishment (Numbers 11:1)
2. The first prayer and the answer (Numbers 11:2-3)
3. The manna rejected (Numbers 11:4-9)
4. Moses’ complaint and request (Numbers 11:10-15)
5. The institution of the seventy elders (Numbers 1:16-30)
6. The quails given and the wrath of Jehovah (Numbers 11:31-35)
They were now facing the land which was only a short distance away. The ark had sought out a resting place for them. Jehovah had graciously made all provision for their need and comfort. If enemies came victory was on their side, for with the setting forward of the ark Moses said, “Arise Jehovah and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.” No hardships whatever they had encountered. What else was necessary but to trust Jehovah, praise His Name and possess the land which He had promised to them. Instead of acting thus they complained. It is the first complaint after the camp had been set in order. Their murmuring must have been on account of the journey, which after the long repose at Sinai seemed hard to them. It shows what man is with an evil, stubborn heart. Failure is stamped on man’s history everywhere. It can be traced throughout the Word of God. Every age has this mark. Judgment fell as the result of this murmuring upon those in the uttermost parts of the camp. Most likely those who complained fell behind and expressed a desire not to go forward. Among these the fire burned; no record, however, is given of the first judgment. It must have been tempered with mercy. And the people did not turn to Jehovah in this hour of punishment, but cried to Moses. When he prayed the fire was quenched and the name of the place was called Taberah, which means “burning.”
Alas! they did not profit by the chastening. The second murmuring is more pronounced and more definite. The mixed multitude were a large number who had joined the exodus. They did not know the reality of redemption as Israel did, because they were Egyptians, most likely the so-called “Fellahs.” This multitude fell a lusting and infected the children of Israel. They wept and spoke lightly of the bread from heaven. Such a mixed multitude without the knowledge of redemption is found in the professing church. They have crept in unawares and have been and still are a fearful detriment to the people of God. No unregenerated person has a place in the church of God. They cannot eat and enjoy the manna God has given, but constantly lust after the food of Egypt. (Compare Numbers 11:4-5 with Deuteronomy 8:8. Egypt’s food consisted in six things. Seven things are mentioned as food in the land.) in connection with the despised manna we find a description of that God-given food. It is, as we learned from Exodus, the type of Christ, the food God has given to His people. And how often that food is neglected and Egypt’s food preferred to the Word of God!
Moses’ complaint follows. He seems discouraged and downcast as he looks over the vast camp and sees everybody weeping. It was failure in Moses also, who did not fully trust Jehovah that He could take care of His people and endow him, the leader of His people, with His own strength. The Lord met his weak and discouraged servant and told him to call the elders, seventy of them, and the Spirit, who was upon Moses, was to be put upon them. They were to share the burden with him. But while this delivered him from some of the care it also lost him dignity. Again Moses addressed Jehovah and expressed doubt about the feeding of the six hundred thousand footmen. “Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them to suffice them? or shall all the fish in the sea be gathered together for them to suffice them?” And the Lord rebuked him. The elders who received the Spirit prophesied and did not cease. What they prophesied is not revealed in the record. They uttered the words of God, exhorting the people in their increasing departure from Jehovah. Prophecy is always put into the foreground in the days of failure and apostasy. Here we also learn that prophecy is a gift. While Moses failed, Joshua also made a failure in being envious because Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp. He was jealous not for Jehovah, but for Moses. “And Moses said unto him, enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them.” This wish of Moses’ is realized in the church, for all His believing people now have the gift of the Spirit. And the remnant of God’s earthly people will yet be prophets upon whom the Spirit of God is poured out. This will be accomplished in the future when the Lord has come.
The end of the chapter shows Jehovah’s bountiful provision in sending the flesh they had desired. But the wrath of the Lord was kindled against them, and while they were eating a great plague broke out. There was no repentance. Greedily they fell upon what God had provided. It was only to satisfy their lust; the giver they did not see behind the gift. The rebellious, stubborn heart, unrepenting, was there, making use for their own destruction what the Lord had given. Hence the severe judgment. The quails typify Christ. Professing Christendom speaks of Christ, but there is no repentance, no self-judgment, only the form of godliness, but the power is denied. The judgment of God must rest upon such. Kibroth-Hattaavah means “graves of lust.”