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Scripture reading – Numbers 11-12
Israel’s journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land began. The people “departed from the mount of the Lord[where they 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).
Complainers and God’s Judgment (Numbers 11:1-3)
Having accepted the terms of their covenant with the LORD, Israel observed the Passover (9:4-5) and then set out on their journey. But, unbelievably, the people began to complain after only three days! 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 provided (Psalm 106:6-14). So then, the people cried out to Moses, and he “prayed unto the Lord, [and] the fire was quenched” (11:2).
The Murmuring of the “Mixt Multitude” (Numbers 11:4-10)
Where did the fire of God’s judgment begin? “In the uttermost parts [outskirts] of the camp” (11:1). Those murmurers and complainers were far from the Tabernacle and the Ark of the LORD. They were “the mixt multitude” and were guilty of “lusting” (11:4). After what were they lusting and longing? Discontent with the LORD’s daily provision, they longed, complained, and demanded: “flesh to eat” (11:4).
Who were the “mixt multitude?” No doubt, they were the mixed marriages of Hebrews with the Egyptians and Egyptians who had faith to place the blood on their doorposts (Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 38). Indeed, many of Israel were in their number, for they had been estranged from the Lord. The Hebrews nearly lost their identity as God’s people during their extended stay in Egypt. Sadly, the “mixt multitude” were much like the mixed multitude in our churches today—living for self and despising the provision of the LORD.
They introduced a contentious spirit in the camp. They demanded, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” (11:4), and lusted for the foods of Egypt (11:5). They despised the manna God provided (Exodus 16:15) and rejected not only the provision but also the provider Himself (11:7-9, 20).
Moses’ Exasperation (Numbers 11:10-15)
Hearing the complaints and the people weeping (11:10), Moses moaned to the LORD in a series of self-focused questions (11:11-13). Finally, exasperated and overwhelmed, he cried to the LORD, “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me” (11:14).
The LORD’s Intervention (Numbers 11:16-33)
With loving compassion, the LORD directed Moses to choose seventy leaders from among the Twelve Tribes who would share his burdens (11:16). Then, 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 flesh, 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
The Affront of Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:1-2)
While the complaints in Numbers 11 caused Moses to despair of life (11:11-15), the criticism in Numbers 12 was the most grievous. Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother, spoke against him (12:1). Miriam was the eldest. She appeared to be the principal antagonist since she bore the consequences of murmuring against God’s leader (12:10).
The initial challenge concerned an Ethiopian woman whom Moses had married (12:1). Why they objected to him marrying an Ethiopian woman was not revealed [It may be that Zipporah, his wife was dead, Exodus 2:21. If not, Moses would have violated the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, Genesis 2:24].
The following verses revealed the principal dispute Miriam and Aaron had with Moses. They asked, “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it.” (12:2). Provoked by jealousy, they challenged his authority, and “the Lord heard it” (12:2c).
The Affirmation of Moses (Numbers 12:3)
Although he was a powerful and influential man in Israel, the Scriptures described Moses as “very meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (12:3). [Unlike the concept of meekness in our world, the essence of a meek man is not weakness, but strength under control.]
The Accounting of God’s Displeasure (Numbers 12:4-14)
Though Moses’ response was meekness, the LORD did not allow Miriam and Aaron’s challenge to go unchecked. Suddenly He spoke to the three siblings and said, “Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation”(12:4).
Imagine that moment! The LORD summoned them and “came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle” (12:5). He left no doubt that Moses was His prophet (12:7). His anger “was kindled against” Miriam and Aaron (12:9). As the LORD departed, He struck Miriam with leprosy that served as a visible sign of His displeasure. She “became leprous, white as snow” (12:10). Aaron, seeing the state of his sister, cried to Moses (12:11-12). Moses then “cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee” (12:13).
The LORD acknowledged Moses’ plea; nevertheless, He reasoned that Miriam’s sin was a cause for shame. Therefore, she would bear the reproach of leprosy for seven days and be put outside the camp (12:14). Seven days passed, “and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again” and restored to the fellowship (12:15).
Questions to consider:
1) Who stirred up the children of Israel to complain? (Numbers 11:4)
2) For what did the people long? (Numbers 11:5)
3) What had the people come to despise? (Numbers 11:6-8)
4) What was Miriam and Aaron’s complaint? (Numbers 12:2)
5) What disease did Miriam suffer as a sign of the LORD’s displeasure? (Numbers 12:9-10)
Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith
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