Numbers 11:4-15; 31-35
And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said…
This eleventh of Numbers is a chapter of complainings. First, at Taberah, vague murmurings are heard throughout the camp. Then at Kibroth-hattaavah, a stage further on, the vague murmurings take shape in bitter complaint because of the fare to which the congregation was now confined. Manna I nothing but manna! While the people were harping on this grievance Moses also lifted up his voice in complaint. "Why has the Lord dealt so hardly with him as to lay on him the burden of so great a company? Better kill him out of hand, and not let him see his wretchedness!" Consider this scene at Kibroth-hattaavah. It is not pleasant to look at, especially when one becomes aware that it is a glass in which are to be seen passages in one's own history which one would gladly forget. Scenes not pleasant may nevertheless be profitable.
I. THE COMPLAININGS OF THE PEOPLE.
1. Where the sin began. It was among "the mixed multitude." A great crowd of foreigners who had been neighbours to the Israelites in Egypt, came forth with them at the Exodus, moved some by one motive and some by another (Exodus 12:38). It is instructive to observe that these were the first to break out into rebellious murmurs; equally instructive to observe that the evil generated amongst them spread from them into the body of the people. Every community has its mixed multitude, its pariahs, its residuum. To the existence of this class men have been too willing to shut their eyes. I know no better sign of the present age than its wide-spread desire to take note of these masses, and if possible bring them to God. Were there no higher motive, self-preservation might well plead with men to labour in this work. When destitution and filth are suffered to generate typhus among the poor, the deadly infection will make its way into the palaces of the rich. So when sin is suffered to become rampant in one class the other classes will not long escape the contagion.
2. The matter of complaint was little to the credit of the complainers. So long as the congregation lay en-camped in Horeb, the fare would be occasionally diversified with herbs and the like. In the wilderness of Paran there is only the manna. Certainly no just ground of complaint. The daily miracle ought rather to have moved to daily thanksgiving. But even of manna the people wearied. They craved greater variety.
3. How the complaint is answered (verses 18-21, 31-33). The people demand flesh, and flesh is given them beyond their utmost thought. They get their desire, but not God's blessing with it. So it becomes to them a curse in the end. Such a plague followed the "shower of flesh" that the place has ever since borne the ghastly name of Kibroth-hattaavah, the graves of lust. It is an admonition to us not to give way to impatience on account of real or imagined hardships in our lot; above all, not to let our impatience hurry us into rebellious demands for a change. Many a time such demands are granted to the confusion of those who made them. Before leaving this story of the people's sin at Kibroth-hattaavah, let me caution you against supposing that it is a mere parable, a late fiction, not the history of a real transaction. It is at present the fashion in some quarters to get rid of the miracles of the Exodus and of the forty years in the wilderness, by denying the historical truth of the Pentateuch, and interpreting it as at best an allegory or parable. But the Spirit of God has been careful to leave on the narrative indubitable marks of historical verity to confound such interpretations. For example, in this narrative
(1) observe the terms in which the people utter their complaint. "We remember the fish... cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic." Egypt all over I These are precisely the articles of food which were distinctively Egyptian. No one writing in Judah or Ephraim would ever have thought of putting such a bill of fare into the mouths of the complainers.
(2) Observe the nature of the miracle by which the people were fed. A shower of quails. This is as characteristic of the Sinaitic peninsula as the bill of fare was of Egypt. It was spring when the congregation arrived at Kibroth-hattaavah; at this season the quails "are annually in the habit of crossing the desert in countless myriads, flying very low, and often in the morning so utterly exhausted by their night's flight that they are slaughtered by the thousand" (Tristram). This chapter is history, not fable.
II. Moses, TOO, WAS A COMPLAINER AT KIBROTH-HATTAAVAH (read verses 11-15). His words are sufficiently bitter and impatient There is in them no little sin; yet they are not resented as the people's were. Moses is not taken at his word and smitten with a plague. On the contrary, the Lord comforts him with cheering words, and grants him a council of elders to alleviate the burden. This is the more worthy of notice, because it is by no means singular (see 1 Kings 19:4). Do you ask, What can be the reason of this? Why deal so gently with the complaints of Moses and Elijah, when the complaints of the congregation are so sharply punished? The difference can be explained. Observe where and to whom Moses expressed the grief and weariness of his heart. It was not to the Egyptians from whom they had come out; nor was it to the congregation of Israel. It was in the ear of God himself; he complains not of the Lord, but to the Lord - two very different sorts of complaint. A dutiful son may remonstrate with his father when the two are alone, but he will not cry out against his father to strangers. When the child of God has a complaint to make, it is to God he carries it. And complaints carried to God, even although there should be much impatience and unbelief at the root of them, will be listened to very graciously. The Lord, so great is his condescending love, would rather that we should pour out the griefs - even the unreasonable griefs - of our hearts, than that we should let them rankle in our bosoms. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the mixt 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?