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Numbers 11-13 Listen
1 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.
2 And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched.
3 And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.
After ten chapters of wilderness preparation, Israel finally packed up and moved out toward Canaan in Numbers 10 (see notes). The people are excited (after 13 months or so) to finally be on the march toward their new home, but then something goes dreadfully wrong. We're only given three verses here to describe the incident. Here's all we know: The people of Israel complained, and God sent a destructive fire to the outermost part of their encampment. When the people cried out to Moses, Moses prayed and the fire stopped. Moses subsequently named the place "Taberah," a name derived from the Hebrew word for "fire." And why did it happen? Complaining! Now, we might not give very much attention at all to this incident were it not for the fact that nearly 39 years later it is mentioned again as one of three significant occasions when Israel provoked God to wrath in Deuteronomy 9:22 (see notes), "And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibrothhattaavah, ye provoked the LORD to wrath." As a matter of fact, the quail incident in the following verses (see below) happened at Kibrothhattaavah. "Massah" is a reference to the water-from-the-rock incident in Exodus 17:6-7 (see notes). That means that, as the Israelites were preparing to enter into Canaan in Deuteronomy 9 (see notes), their three most notable rebellious uprisings were in the first two years of their departure from Egypt.
4 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?
5 We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:
6 But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
7 And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium.
8 And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.
9 And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.
10 Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased.
11 And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?
12 Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?
13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.
14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.
15 And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.
Just doing what they do best - complain. But this time the instigators are the "mixt multitude" traveling along with them. That Hebrew word (as-pes-oof´) means "rabble," a word which accurately describes trouble makers. We actually find a reference to "mixed multitude" two other places in the Old Testament, Exodus 12:38 (see notes) and Nehemiah 13:3 (see notes). But in those verses a different Hebrew word is used, "arab" - a word used to identify the people of that continent who were not Hebrews, but who lived among the Hebrews. But here we're talking about the attendants, etc. that traveled with the Hebrews out of Egypt who likewise were not Hebrews themselves - obviously reluctant companions. These non Hebrews cause the Hebrews to become dissatisfied, and they begin complaining as they reflect back on the good ol' days back in Egypt - lots of good food. They ask, "Who shall give us flesh to eat?" in verse 4. But notice their description of these fine meals of Egypt in verse 5, "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:" That's fine dining? And...pardon me for asking, but WHERE'S THE BEEF? The only meat product they mention is fish. Yet, this caused the Hebrews themselves to become disgruntled as well. They were just sick, sick, sick of their all-manna diet.
So, what was the result of this complaining? Notice verse 10, "...the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased." Now there are two whom you don't want to get upset with you! Too late! Moses gives his why-me speech before God in verses 11-15 when he appeals to God for some relief. Moses had a pretty bold conversational relationship with God as seen in verses 14-15 where he says, in essence, "God...either help me out here with the people or just go on and kill me."
Incidentally this complaining episode takes place at Kibrothhattaavah and is referred to 38 years later in Deuteronomy 9:22 (see notes), "And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibrothhattaavah, ye provoked the LORD to wrath." This incident and the fire in verses 1-3 (see above) are listed as two of the three most significant occasions when Israel "provoked the LORD to wrath."
16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.
17 And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.
18 And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.
19 Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;
20 But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the LORD which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?
21 And Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month.
22 Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?
23 And the LORD said unto Moses, Is the LORD’S hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.
24 And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle.
25 And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
26 But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.
27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.
28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.
29 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!
30 And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.
31 And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on this side, and as it were a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.
32 And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.
33 And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.
34 And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted.
35 And the people journeyed from Kibrothhattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth.
Some Bible accounts just ooze with fascination; this is one of those. Keep in mind: the people have herds of cattle, but they only eat those on special occasions. Those circumstances are explained in Leviticus 17 (see notes). Besides, if they eat them while journeying, they won't have any left (notice that allusion in verse 22). And you'll notice from verse 5 (see above) that they did not expect to eat from the herds. They reflected back on fish. Well, how about some quail. Correction: not "some" quail, but rather massive quantities of quail...for a whole month. How much quail? Verse 20 says, "...until it come out at your nostrils." How many ways can you think of to cook quail and manna - fried quail with manna biscuits, baked quail with manna rolls, steamed quail on manna croissants. I'm outta ideas already.
Moses does get some administrative help here. God actually speaks to the elders in addition to Moses. These elders had been appointed at the suggestion of Moses' father-in-law in Exodus 18 (see notes). We're not given a lot of detail regarding their role here. They were positioned around the tabernacle (verse 24), and after God spoke to Moses, they began to prophesy (verse 25). This apparently established their credibility among the people of Israel so that they might share in the burden of leadership with Moses. When two men took their prophesying with them from around the tabernacle in among the people, Joshua seemed to panic. Moses doesn't seem to see that as a problem (verse 29). Now he has help from God in bearing the burden of leadership as God vindicated the leadership of these elders.
How much quail did God send for those 30 days? It was so much that the ground was covered with them for a full day's journey in either direction. However, notice verse 33, "And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague." For many of them, this was their last meal. Here's another one; how about quail pot pie. Incidentally, as mentioned above, the incident took place at Kibrothhattaavah (referenced in Deuteronomy 9:22, see notes).
One more thing, this is the second time God sent them quail to eat. It had previously happened in Exodus 16 (see notes). That chapter also records the first appearance of manna.
1 And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.
2 And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it.
3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)
4 And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.
5 And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.
6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.
8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.
10 And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
11 And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.
12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.
13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.
14 And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.
15 And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.
16 And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.
Are those wedding bells I hear? Moses has just taken another bride. She's an Ethiopian or, as transliterated from the Hebrew, a "Cushi." That's a descendant of Noah's son Ham rather than a descendant of Noah's son Japheth from whom their Hebrew ancestors were descended. Aaron and Miriam (Moses' sister) aren't happy. What follows can be misunderstood if not read carefully. Look at Numbers 12:2, "And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it." They are questioning the judgment of Moses and suggesting that they are discerners of God's will as much so as Moses himself. Incidentally, notice the description of Moses' demeanor in verse 3, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." I'm guessing that "meek" is not the impression you may have had of Moses up to this point. Anyway, God takes exception to that we-are-prophets-too assumption and speaks to the three of them regarding that fallacy at the site of the tabernacle from the pillar of smoke (i.e. Shekinah Glory, see notes). When the smoke clears (pun intended), Miriam has leprosy...and she would keep that leprosy for a period of seven days as a lesson to Aaron and herself. Let's face it, Moses was the undisputed single leader of the Hebrews and not even his sister would be permitted to challenge that leadership.
And, by the way, we see a significant God-given distinction regarding Moses in verses 6-8: Moses, unlike anyone else, can speak to God directly, in live dialogue rather than in dreams or visions. It is true, however, that Miriam was considered a prophetess, according to Exodus 15:20 (see notes). However, the distinction made here between her prophetic abilities and those of Moses should serve to settle any future prophetic rivalries. The Hebrews had witnessed Moses communicating with God in such a fashion back in Exodus 33:7-23 (see notes).
Incidentally, while Abraham desired to see his son, Isaac, marry someone who was ethnically compatible (Genesis 24, see notes), so did Isaac and Rebekah regarding their son, Jacob, in Genesis 27:41-46 (see notes). Later, however, we know that two of Jacob's sons, Judah (Genesis 38:2, see notes) and Simeon (Genesis 46:10, see notes) had taken wives from among the Canaanites. Of course we know that Joseph's two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were descendants of Joseph's Egyptian wife, and Moses' first wife was a Midianite. Furthermore, in all the occurrences of lists of marriages forbidden to the Hebrews under Moses, only Canaanite tribes are mentioned as taboo. Canaanites were descendants of Ham's son, Canaan (Genesis 9:18-29, see notes). Now, here in Numbers 12, Moses takes another non-Hebrew wife. These facts, coupled with the reference to the "mixt multitude" we see in Numbers 11, one might very well deduct that a significant number of Hebrew men had taken non-Hebrew women as their wives over the period of their Egyptian captivity. Furthermore, the fact that the men of Israel (the 12 sons of Jacob) grew from 12 to 603,550 over the period of Egyptian captivity, makes it certainly seem likely that a significant number of these post-captivity Hebrews had a mixture of non-Hebrew blood flowing through their veins. However, remember, you were a naturally-born Hebrew if your Daddy was a Hebrew.
Some have suggested that Miriam is referring to Moses' Midianite wife, Zipporah. She very well may have looked like a Cushite (Ethiopian), thus lending to the speculation of some that Miriam was simply making a non-factual disparaging comment about Zipporah's Midianite heritage. However, the statement of fact at the end of verse 1 should dispel that notion when it says, "for he had married an Ethiopian woman." We have no additional details about this marriage, nor do we know whether or not Zipporah had passed away before this marriage.
Now, why do you suppose only Miriam received God's judgment here...and not Aaron also. In actuality, the Hebrew of verse 1 begins with a feminine verb which would be translated as follows: "And Miriam spake, and Aaron..." That would indicate that Miriam was the leader of the two in this rebuke-Moses venture. They waited for the seven days while Miriam endured her leprosy before they pulled up stakes from their encampment in Hazeroth and moved to the wilderness of Paran. Hmmm...isn't it interesting that Hebrew wedding feasts typically lasted for seven days. That's seven days of marital bliss without one's sister around to criticize. Significant? You make the call!
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.
3 And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.
4 And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.
5 Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori.
6 Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
7 Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.
8 Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun.
9 Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu.
10 Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi.
11 Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.
12 Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli.
13 Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.
14 Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi.
15 Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.
16 These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua.
17 And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain:
18 And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;
19 And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds;
20 And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes.
21 So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath.
22 And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)
23 And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.
24 The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.
25 And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.
26 And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land.
27 And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.
28 Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.
29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.
30 And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
31 But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
33 And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
Here's the big break for which Israel has been waiting. This is the mother of all real estate offers, and 12 influential ("rulers") men (one from each tribe) were selected to go on a spy mission. These are listed by name in verses 4-15. Moses commissions a name change in verse 16 ("Oshea" the son of Nun becomes "Jehoshua" aka "Joshua"). In the Old Testament, a theophoric name was one which had Jehovah's special name integrated into it, often with the "y-e-h" letters set as a prefix. That appears to be the intent here with regard to Joshua, which in Hebrew is actually pronounced, "yeh-ho-shoo´-ah." After all, Joshua had been at Moses' side during some of the most significant events of Israel's existence. As a matter of fact, Joshua was Moses' servant and even accompanied him when he received the Law upon Mount Sinai beginning in Exodus 24:12-18 (see notes).
The team of spies get their commission in verses 17-20: You 12 guys go up into Canaan, the land God has promised, and bring back a report on your findings. Gone for forty days touring Canaan, the 12 spies return in verse 26. So, guys, what's the word? We have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news: great land - very nice place to live. Bad news: big, bad people already live there...I mean huge people. You gotta love verse 33, "...we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." Now that's huge! They are referring to the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites and the Canaanites. These "giants" were descendants of Anak. As it turns out, God sends them across the Jordan River in Deuteronomy 9 (see notes) to take on these "giant" people...and the Hebrews win. However, those victors are the children of these cowards.
So, 10 out of 12 of the spies say in Numbers 13:31 "We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we." Oooooo! Wrong answer! However, no harm so far - it's going to depend on how the people of Israel respond to this report. Caleb was bold in Numbers 13:30, "And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." So...whose recommendation will the people follow? We'll see it in Numbers 14 (see notes).
There's a little more to this story than we find here in Numbers 13. We find it in Deuteronomy 1 (see notes) as Moses recounts the events of this day. Let's look particularly at three verses from that chapter:
Deuteronomy 1:21 Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.
Deuteronomy 1:22 And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.
Deuteronomy 1:23 And the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you, one of a tribe:
So we get a little extra background information from Moses as he recaps these events to the next generation nearly 39 years later. We see that Moses had instructed the people to go on into the land and possess it, but the men of Israel negotiated with Moses a deal to send spies in instead. This turns out to be the "straw that broke the camel's back" (so to speak). The rebellion of the people against God and Moses at the return of these spies causes Israel to spend an additional 38+ years of wandering before they would go in to possess Canaan.
This is the most significant wilderness experience for the Hebrews. The fallout continues into Numbers 14 (see notes).