Numbers 11:1. And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD:
Interpreters cannot make out what they had to complain of. The curse of labour had been removed; they did not earn their bread with the sweat of their face, for it fell from heaven every day. They were at no expense for clothing; and though they journeyed, their feet did not swell. I suppose that they complained of the weather. It was too cold; it was too hot; it was too wet; it was too dry. They complained when they stood still; they were much too long in a place. They complained when they marched; they moved too often. In fact, they were very like ourselves; they often complained most when they had least to complain of. Discontent is chronic to our humanity; and I do not believe that the poorest are the most discontented. It is often the very reverse. When a man is put in a place where be has nothing to complain of, especially if he is an Englishman, he feels quite out of place. He must have something to grumble at, something or other to be a grievance, or else he is not happy. “When the people complained, it displeased the Lord.”
Numbers 11:1. 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.
He could hear their first murmurings, as they were new to the wilderness, they were hungry, they were thirsty, and the Lord pitied them. But now, when there was no reason for their complaining, his fire in terrible judgment visited his people, on account of their rebellion and murmuring against the goodness of God.
Numbers 11:2-4. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched. And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them. And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting:
All evil seems to begin there, among “the mixt multitude”, as it does among those church members who are unconverted, and among those people who try to hold with the hare and run with the hounds, those who want to be Christians and worldlings, too.
Numbers 11:4. And the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?
Even the true people of God caught the infection of the scum that was mixed with them, and they fell weeping, and said, —
Numbers 11:5. 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:
Fine stuff that to recollect! “Why!” say you, “you have read before something very much like that.” I am reading another record; but there is no originality in grumbling; it is always the same old thing over again. You might well suppose that I was reading in the Book of Exodus, but I am not; there are many years in between. He who sitteth down with a discontented hand to paint a picture will paint the same picture that he painted before. There is no originality in the murmuring, although they put in a few new touches. Before, it was the flesh pots that they remembered; now, in addition to the flesh, there are these savoury vegetables, “the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick.”
Numbers 11:6. But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
Here they pour contempt upon the bread of angels, upon the food of heaven, upon the benison of God. Oh, what will men not complain of?
Numbers 11:7. And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium.
A fine white colour, like a pearl.
Numbers 11:8. 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.
At first they thought it was like wafers made with honey. Getting more used to it, they, perhaps, described it quite as accurately, but not quite so sweetly; they said it was like fresh oil, and there is no better taste than that. Oil, by the time it comes to us, has usually a rank and rancid taste; but in the oil countries it is delicious; and he who has bread and a drop or two of oil, will find himself not ill supplied with a dinner. “The taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.”
Numbers 11:9. And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.
God took care to preserve his precious gift, encasing each single particle of it within a drop of dew, which gave it freshness. And when truth comes to us encased in the dew of the Spirit, how sweet is its taste! May it be so to us whenever we feed on Christ!
Numbers 11:10. 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.
And no wonder; meek man as he was, they vexed his gracious spirit by their perpetual murmurings. As we read this sad story, let us, as in a glass, see ourselves; and let us deeply repent of our murmuring and complaining, and henceforth sing —
“I will praise thee every day!
Now thine anger’s turn’d away.”
Perhaps our next hymn (Number 697) will help us that way.
This exposition consisted of readings from Exodus 16:1-5; Exodus 16:11-36; and Numbers 11:1-10.