Scripture reading – Numbers 11-12
Israel’s journey to the Promised Land began, and the people “departed from the mount of the Lord [Mount Sinai where they had received the Law and Commandments] three days’ journey: and the ark of the covenant of the Lord [a symbol of God’s throne] went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them. 34 And the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp.” (10:33-34)
Numbers 11 – The Complainers, and God’s Judgment
Israel, having accepted the terms of their covenant with God, had observed the Passover, and set out on their journey in the manner the LORD had ordained. After only three days, the people began to complain, and “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 [outskirts] of the camp” (11:1).
How swift the judgment of the LORD fell upon the people! Why? What did their complaints reveal that the LORD’S “anger was kindled?” (11:1) Their complaints revealed their disloyalty to the LORD, and ingratitude for all He had provided (Psalm 106:6-14). The people cried out to Moses, and he “prayed unto the Lord, [and] the fire was quenched” (11:2).
Notice where the fire of God’s judgment began: “in the uttermost parts [outskirts] of the camp” (11:1). Those people were as far away from the Tabernacle, and the Ark as possible. Numbers 11:4 reveals the nature and character of those upon whom the fire fell: “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?” (11:4)
This “mixt multitude” were those who left Egypt with Israel, but they were not numbered or named among the Hebrews (11:4). They had taken opportunity to escape Egypt, but they had no inheritance with God’s people.
They had introduced a contentious spirit in the camp. They asked, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” (11:4), and lusted for the foods of Egypt (11:5). They had come to despise the manna God provided, and in so doing rejected not only the provision, but the provider Himself (11:7-9, 20).
Hearing the complaints, and the people weeping (11:10), Moses moaned to the LORD in a series of self-focused questions (11:11-13). Exasperated, overwhelmed, and despairing, he cried to the LORD, “14I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me” (11:14).
With loving compassion, the LORD directed Moses to choose seventy leaders from among the Twelve Tribes who would share his burdens (11:16). The LORD “came down in a cloud, and spake unto [Moses], and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders” (11:25a).
Provoked by bitter complaints, the LORD determined to give the people the meat they demanded (11:18-23). On the next day, He took away the manna, and for thirty days they had nothing but meat to eat (11:18-21). In their lust for meat, they gorged themselves and became sick, and “the LORD smote [them] with a very great plague” (11:31-33).
Numbers 12 – A Leader’s Response to Criticism
While the complaints in Numbers 11 caused Moses to despair of life (11:11-15), the criticism in Numbers 12was the most grievous of all. Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ own sister and brother, spoke against their brother (12:1). Miriam was the eldest, and she appeared to be the principal antagonist, since she bore the consequences of murmuring against God’s leader (12:10).
I have learned that minor disputes are often the cover for deeper sins, and this was especially true with Miriam and Aaron. The initial challenge was concerning an Ethiopian woman whom Moses married (12:1). We do not know why they objected to the Ethiopian woman [although it was a violation of the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, Genesis 2:24].
In the next verse we discover the core issue of their reproach of Moses when they ask, “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it.” (12:2). They were jealous of their brother’s position, and challenged his authority, but “the Lord heard it” (12:2c).
Moses was “very meek [not weak, but a strength under control], above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (12:3); however, the LORD did not allow their complaint to go unchecked. Suddenly the LORD spoke “unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation” (12:4).
Imagine that moment! Summoned by the voice of the LORD who “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” (12:5). Leaving no doubt who His prophet was, the LORD fortified Moses (12:7), and His anger “was kindled against them” (12:9). As the LORD departed, He struck Miriam with leprosy (12:10) as a visible sign of His displeasure, and she “became leprous, white as snow” (12:10). Aaron cried out to Moses for his sister (12:11), and Moses “cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee” (12:13).
The LORD heard Moses’ plea, but He reasoned that Miriam’s sin was a cause for shame, and she would bear the reproach of leprosy for seven days, outside the camp (12:14). Seven days passed, “and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again” and was restored to the fellowship (12:15).
Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith