James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
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.Numbers 11:1-12:16
MURMURING AND SEDITION
A COMPLAINING PEOPLE (Numbers 11:1-3)
Fatigue of travel, desolate physical surroundings, disappointment at the length of the journey and other things brought about discontent. The Revised Version says the people began to speak “evil in the ears of the Lord.”
What is represented as the effect on the Lord (Numbers 11:1)? How was it expressed by Him? What shows the locality in which this murmuring chiefly occurred? The nature of the fire is not stated, and there is some question whether it was an external burning, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, or an internal one in the nature of a consuming fever, though the circumstances favor the first view. The allusion to the extremities of the camp, put with that to the “mixed multitude” of Numbers 11:4, indicates to some that the discontent originated among the Egyptian followers of Israel, however it may have been participated in by the latter ultimately (Numbers 11:4). In their distress to whom did the people resort, and with what result (Numbers 11:2)?
HEAVENLY PROVISION (Numbers 11:4-9)
For what did the people long (Numbers 11:5), and what did they loathe (Numbers 11:6)? How is it described, and how prepared or used (Numbers 11:7-9)? The resemblance of the manna to coriander seed was not in the color but in the size and figure; and from its comparison to bdellium, which is either a drop of white gum or a white pear, we are enabled to form a better idea of it. Moreover, it is evident, from the process of baking into cakes, that it could not have been the natural manna of the Arabian desert, for that is too gummy to admit of
being ground into meal. In taste it is said (Exodus 16:31) to have been like ‘wafers made with honey, and here to have the taste of fresh oil. The discrepancy in these statements is only apparent; for in the former the manna is described in its raw state; in the latter after it was ground or baked. The minute description given here of its nature and use was designed to show the great sinfulness of the people in being dissatisfied with such excellent food, furnished so plentifully and gratuitously.
AID FOR MOSES (11:10-30)
Who now is complaining and why (Numbers 11:11-15)? We can sympathize with Moses, but can we justify him? How does God answer him (Numbers 11:16-17)? The Jews believe this to be the origin of the Sanhedrin, the highest court in Israel, so often named in the New Testament, and yet it may have been only a temporary expedient.
When God said, “I will come down,” He doubtless meant not by a visible local descent, but by the tokens of His divine operations (Numbers 11:17). By “Spirit” is meant the Holy Spirit, only His person is not referred to but His gifts or influences (Joel 2:28, John 7:39). Some of the heavenly bestowed qualities of leadership which had been given Moses would in like manner be distributed to them.
What relief is promised the people (Numbers 11:18)? How does the language show that the blessing would turn into a curse (Numbers 11:19-20). How does even Moses show incredulity in this (Numbers 11:21-22)? And how is he rebuked (Numbers 11:23)?
THE PLAGUE OF QUAILS (11:31-34)
These quails (Numbers 11:31) were on their migratory way from Egypt when the wind drove them into the camp. When the text says they fell over the camp “about a day’s journey,” it means that there was a countless number of them. When it says they fell about “two cubits high,” the statement is that the level of their flight was two cubits above the earth. Being exhausted with their journey they could fly no higher, and so were easily caught.
How swiftly did the punishment fall on the people (Numbers 11:33)? The probability is that their stomachs, having been long inured to manna (a light food) were not prepared for so sudden a change of regimen of which they seem to have partaken to so intemperate a degree as to produce a general surfeit.
On a former occasion their murmurs for flesh were raised (Exodus 16) because they were in want of food. Here they proceeded, not from necessity, but lustful desire; and their sin, in the righteous judgment of God, was made to carry its own punishment.
Kibroth-hattaavah means, “the grave of lust” (see margin), which indicates that the deaths were confined to those who indulged immoderately.
MIRIAM AND AARON’S SEDITION (Numbers 12)
What was the occasion of this sedition (Numbers 12:1)? Judging by the order of the names, who may have been the leader in it? What testimony is borne to Moses (Numbers 12:3)? May this observation have been made because Moses took no notice of the reproaches of his relatives, leaving his vindication to God? Have we any other instance of an inspired penman eulogizing himself when circumstances seemed to demand it (2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:11-12)?
What shows that the divine interposition on Moses’ behalf was open as well as immediate (Numbers 12:4-5)? How does God indicate a difference of degree in the gifts and authority of His servants (Numbers 12:6-8). “Mouth to mouth” means without an interpreter or visionary symbols and “dark speeches,” without parables or similitude. The “similitude” of the Lord cannot mean His face or essence (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; Colossians 1:15) but some evidence of His presence of another character (Exodus 33:2; Exodus 34:5).
What punishment fell on Miriam (Numbers 12:10)? Why not on Aaron? Perhaps because his offense was not so great, or because leprosy would have interrupted or dishonored the holy service he performed.
How did Aaron express penitence (Numbers 12:11)? How did Moses show a conciliatory spirit (Numbers 12:13)? Nevertheless what continued humiliation must his sister endure (Numbers 12:14-15)?
1. In what two ways may the fire of Numbers 11:1 be interpreted?
2. What shows the supernatural character of the manna of Numbers 12:8?
3. Why was it so minutely described?
4. What deep spiritual lesson is suggested in Numbers 11:25?
5. How would you interpret the phrase “two cubits high” in Numbers 11:31?
6. What is the physical explanation of the plague, Numbers 11:33?
7. How would you harmonize Numbers 12:8 with other Scriptures?
8. Why was not Aaron punished as well as Miriam?