Numbers 11 Study Notes


11:1-3 These verses establish the complaint pattern of later narratives (chaps. 11-25): (1) complaint, (2) divine punishment, and (3) naming the place after some aspect of the event. Hence, the “fiery” judgment of God led to the place being named Taberah, or “blaze.”

11:1 The complaining Israelites and others were literally grumbling evil (Hb ra‘) in the ears of God. In his dialogue with Hobab, Moses had spoken three times about the promise of God’s goodness (Hb tov, yatav), but the people began a continuous protest against God. Good and evil are purposefully contrasted in these two chapters to begin the cycles of rebellion that dominate chaps. 11-25. This form of judgment parallels what was meted out against Nadab and Abihu (Lv 10:1-3), though that fire came from the midst of the tabernacle.


Hebrew pronunciation khah RAH
CSB translation burn, be angry
Uses in Numbers 11
Uses in the OT 93
Focus passage Numbers 11:1,10,33

Charah has ’ap (“anger, nose”) as subject 55 times so that anger burns (Jb 19:11), and people become incensed (Nm 22:22), enraged (Ex 32:19), or infuriated (2Sm 12:5). God’s anger burns and he sends literal fire (Nm 11:1). Charah alone denotes be angry or incensed (Gn 18:30; 31:36). This anger can be against someone (1Ch 13:10). Charah connotes burning with anxiety, being agitated (Ps 37:1) or worrying (Pr 24:19). People burn with zeal when competing or excelling (Jr 12:5; 22:15). Once charah appears as diligently to modify another verb (Neh 3:20). Charah in Scripture most often refers to God who is angry at human sins. Charon (41x) occurs thirty-four times with ’ap as burning anger (Nm 25:4). Charon suggests wrath (Ezk 7:12), burning (Ps 58:9), anger, fury, and burning wrath. Choriy (6x) with ’ap suggests outburst of (fierce, burning) anger (Dt 29:24; Is 7:4; Lm 2:3).

11:4 The riffraff refers to a mixed crowd of Israelites including descendants of Jacob as well as others who had left Egypt in the exodus. The text contrasts with two parallel events in Ex 16:1-36 and 18:13-27, drawing new perspectives on the themes of God’s provision for the people and the matter of leadership on the human level. The human response factor has deteriorated in the current context. In Ex 16 God supplied needed food, but in Nm 11 the people complained about God’s provision.

11:5-6 The people’s complaint is summarized in the words, We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt. This amounted to calling the evil of the Egyptian oppression “good” and God’s good provision in the wilderness “evil.” Insatiable human lust, whatever the object of desire, will lead to a life of bondage.

11:7-9 The phrase the manna resembled coriander seed is one of the few descriptions of the wilderness diet. This description was inserted to refute the people’s complaints. Precise identification of manna is somewhat tentative. But manna’s association with coriander seed is probably an indicator of its taste, since the seed was used for flavoring. The comparison of manna to bdellium indicates a yellow-white aromatic resin similar to a by-product of the tamarisk tree found in northern Arabia.

11:10-15 The effect of the discontentment throughout the camp drew the attention of Moses and God. Though he was angry with the people, Moses approached God with respect, asserting that he could not carry all these people by myself. Moses also declared, If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now. The words of his misery-filled complaint bordered on rebellion, as this section prepares the reader for the rebellion of Moses and Aaron in chap. 20. Moses is the focal person in the first cycle of rebellion (chaps. 11-15); Aaron is the main leader in the second cycle; and in the third cycle, both men rebel, leaving God to raise up a new temporary spokesman, Balaam.

11:16 The term for “officers” (Hb shoterim) also denotes scribes, whom R. K. Harrison has suggested were responsible for the writing and collecting of documents that would eventually become the Pentateuch. The tent of meeting was the place of revelation and mediation, two aspects of the relationship between God and his people.

11:17 The possession of the Spirit of God that had been exclusively on Moses would now be distributed to the seventy elders, giving them a spiritual dimension that would set them apart from the administrative and judicial appointees of Ex 18:25-26. The work of the Spirit of God would enable the elders and officers to carry out the tasks of teaching, judging, and leading the Israelites through the wilderness. God ratified the seventy registered elders by placing his Spirit on them, even two who had remained in the camp. Later in Numbers, Balaam also received the Spirit of prophecy from God (24:2).

11:18 Consecrate yourselves refers to the process of purification through the washing of body and clothes to prepare people to receive a theophany—a manifestation of God’s presence.

11:19-20 God declared to the Israelites that they would eat . . . for a whole month. The supply of quail in Ex 16:13 was in response to a need for food in the first wilderness journey before reaching Mount Sinai. This request arose out of rebellious discontentment with the continuous provision of manna that God had made.

11:21-23 Moses forgot for a moment that the Lord is the leader of this people rather than Moses.

11:24-25 That God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed it on the Israelite elders did not diminish the Spirit that was on Moses. This miracle provided the necessary power and wisdom to those who functioned on behalf of God and under the direction of Moses.

11:26-30 Two elders, Eldad and Medad, who had not attended the presentation ceremony, prophesied in the same manner as the other elders, demonstrating that God’s Spirit cannot be confined to any space or time. Joshua saw the actions of Eldad and Medad as a challenge to Moses’s leadership. Moses is apparently now glad to share his responsibilities.

11:31-32 In a manner similar to the wind that blew back the waters of the Red Sea in the exodus event, a divinely driven wind brought a large quantity of quail across the camp. Arabs in the early twentieth century are known to have captured between one and two million quail during the autumn bird migration. The extraordinary quantity of quail was swept in from the sea, probably from the Gulf of Aqaba (Elath) if the wind were from the east, and then northwest toward the encampment of Israel.

11:33 The severe plague sent upon the people might have been food poisoning due to the time the quail meat remained in the sun without proper processing and drying. Even if there are natural explanations, the ultimate cause was the Lord’s anger.

11:34 The blessing turned to craving, and the craving to disease and death, leading to the naming of the location Kibroth-hattaavah (“Graves of Craving”).