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Numbers 11

Fire From the Lord (11:1–3)

10–15 The rejecting of God’s manna was, in effect, the same as rejecting God Himself (see verse 20); and so God became exceedingly angry.37 Moses himself was troubled (verse 10). He saw an angry God on one side and a rebelling people on the other, and he was in the middle. He felt he could no longer bear the responsibility for leading such people, and he asked that he might die. Moses was coming close to rejecting God himself.

Though we may sympathize with Moses, he too was showing a lack of faith in God. God had been helping him up to that point; was He going to stop helping now? Even great leaders like Moses have moments of weakness when they succumb to doubt and disbelief.

16–17 God did not remove the responsibility He had given to Moses, but He did provide Moses with some relief in the form of seventy elders. Moses already had appointed judges over the people to help in settling disputes (Exodus 18:24–26); now he would have additional assistance from these “elders,” who were leading men among the people. In particular, God would equip these elders for leadership by putting the Spirit on them (verse 17), the same Holy Spirit who had been enabling Moses to lead the people. This did not mean that Moses would now have less of the Spirit; the Holy Spirit, being God, is infinite.

18–20 The Lord responded not only to Moses’ need for help but also to the people’s craving for meat. The Lord instructed Moses to tell the people that they would get meat—all the meat they could eat and then some! The meat would indeed become a curse to them, because they had rejected the LORD (verse 20).

21–23 The Lord had told Moses that the people would eat meat for a month. Like Jesus’ disciples (Mark8:4), Moses was probably thinking: “Where am I going to get a month’s worth of meat for two million people out here in this desert?” He didn’t have the advantage we have in knowing that Jesus fed thousands of people with a few loaves and a few fish (Mark 6:32–44; 8:1–10); for God anything is possible (Mark 10:27).

Is the LORD’s arm too short?” God asked Moses (verse 23). “Is my power not sufficient to carry out what I say?” God’s power is most clearly demonstrated when things are humanly impossible.

24–25 The Lord then came down in the cloud and put the Spirit on the seventy elders whom Moses had selected. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. This could mean that they spoke intelligible words of godly wisdom or that they spoke in tongues—or perhaps both (1 Samuel 10:6; Joel 2:28; 1 Corinthians 12:10). This event reminds Christians of the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ disciples and they spoke in other tongues (Acts 2:1–4).

In verse 25, we read that the seventy elders did not prophesy again; this was a one–time event. It was most likely given so that the people would know that these men had truly been anointed by the Spirit and equipped for leadership. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came on people for a limited time to enable them to accomplish some specific task. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit resides within believers on a permanent basis (see John 14:16–17; Ephesians 5:18).

26–30 Two of the seventy elders were still in the camp among the people when the Spirit came on them and they began to prophesy. Moses’ aide Joshua38 wanted the two men to stop prophesying (verse 28).

Joshua evidently was afraid that the people might start following the two men and stop following Moses.

But Moses responded the way a true and humble leader should. He was not interested in keeping power and privilege for himself. He was happy to share the gifts of the Spirit with everyone.“I wish that all the LORD’s people were PROPHETS,” he said (verse 29). A true leader always tries to build up the people under him; his greatest success comes when he has prepared someone to take his place.

31–35 Then the Lord fulfilled His word: He provided meat for the people. He had done this once before (Exodus 16:13); this time He used the wind to blow a huge number of quail down around the Israelites’ encampment. There were so many quail that ten homers (over two kiloliters) was the least anyone gathered! (verse 32).

But the Lord’s JUIGMENT was yet to come; the people had shown no repentance, no acknowledgement of the Lord who had been providing for all their needs. While the people were still eating the quail, the Lord struck them with a severe plague, and many died (verse 33). They named that place Kibroth Hattaavah, which means “graves of craving.” Thus the first two places on the Israelites’ journey were marked by God’s judgment; what should have been a march of victory was turning instead into a march of death.

The Israelites’ unbelief led them to sin, and sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). Instead of looking to God, the Israelites were looking back to Egypt (verses 5,18) Their minds were set on satisfying the desires of their sinful nature. When they could have had life, they instead chose death. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6).

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