The Rebellion Of The People
In Numbers, we see that virtually the first thing Israel does upon leaving Mt. Sinai is to rebel. Even Moses becomes a grumbler. Over the next 15 chapters we will have detailed for us six identifiable rebellions, and every one of them was both real and represents a “type” of rebelling against Jesus. Some of the rebellions were by the people in general, some of the tribal leaders, some of the Levites, and even some by Moses.
In essence just as the seven churches of Revelation are both real and types, so does the rebellion of the people of Israel in Numbers present us with a pattern that we can expect to occur within the church.
And when I say church, don’t start thinking in terms of Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics, etc. That is, don’t picture denominations and institutions and buildings. Rather think of individual Believers and then various groups of Believers.
In a larger view, we are about to spend several weeks looking at
- Matters of human relationships,
- Human leadership,
- The limitations of men,
- The expectations and demands of God, and
- The Divine consequences for our failures.
Chapter 10 ends with this optimistic, prayerful, joyful poem, which expresses the mental and emotional state of the people of Israel as they begin to strike camp for their journey to the Promised Land:
As the Ark was carried forward, Moses cried out, “Arise, O Lord, and scatter your enemies; let them flee before you.” And when the Ark was set down he said, “Return, O Lord, to the millions of Israel.” Numbers 10:35 TLB
The very next sentence of Torah, verse 1 of Numbers 11 says this:
The people were soon complaining about all their misfortunes, and the Lord heard them. His anger flared out against them because of their complaints, so the fire of the Lord began destroying those at the far end of the camp.
How often we’ve fallen on our knees or raised our hands to the Lord in praise and adoration, and then in a matter of hours wind up flat on our faces in defeat. Should we be depressed about this and just give up? No.
In some ways, we should expect it. Not in the sense of waiting to be defeated before we ever start our journey, but in the meaning that while we do have God’s Spirit within us, we still carry around these fleshly tents AND that evil inclination that is inherent to our natures. So some amount of failure is inevitable.
That said the amount of failure is mostly connected to our will. Just how much are we willing to believe God, and put our time and energies into knowing God? How much are we willing to resist the Devil and our desires for obedience to Jesus?
There is a direct quid pro quo set up in both the OT and NT in that regard. Walk with Jesus and fail less. Walk away from Jesus, take our path, and fail more.
You see of all the myriad of reasons we MUST have Jesus. It is because humanness and failure before God go hand-in-hand.
In Leviticus, we see just how multi-faceted and inescapable sin is. How insidious uncleanness is. How hopeless is our condition without Our Savior? We WILL sin. We WILL fail.
But we can also minimize the depth of our sin and failure IF we commit ourselves to the commands of God, and to the power of the Spirit, and to the Salvation of our Messiah.
Verse 1 says that the people became a group of complainers, and we do not know what they were complaining about. We can infer that it had to do with the heavy marching they were currently enduring because the verses just preceding 11: 1 (that is the last several verses of chapter 10) are all about their marching and following the Fire-cloud.
And in all fairness the degree of difficulty they were facing was formidable. Can you imagine the amount of choking dust kicked into the air by 2 -3 million people and hundreds of thousands of animals?
They were not on some nicely groomed highway although they would have been following some known trail, where I believe they were (north of Midian in the hilly and rocky desert terrain) was very challenging to walk over.
Every family had small children. Every family had elderly and infirm. In the winter the nighttime temperatures often dropped below freezing; every day during in the extended summer season it was well over 100 degrees. And this was not, under the best of circumstances, a pleasant time.
Worse they took their complaint directly to the Lord. The result of this unbelievably brazen act was that God punished them with fire. What was this fire? Well, first and foremost it was divine and supernatural. It may have been lightening. It may have been similar to what the Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
Whatever it was it did NOT come from the Wilderness Tabernacle that was in their midst, and we can know this because it says the fire broke out on the “outskirts” of the encampment.
They screamed to Moses for help, and when he prayed for them, the fire stopped. Ever after, the area was known as “The Place of Burning,” [Taberah] because the fire from the Lord burned among them there. Numbers 11:2-3 (TLB)
Moses interceded (which was his job), and God stopped the punishment. The place where they were when this happened was named Taberah; in Hebrew, Taberah means, “burning.” It was usual among the ancients (and especially so among the Hebrews) to name places after incidents that occurred there.
And so we have rebellion number one along with its consequences.
Then the Egyptians who had come with them began to long for the good things of Egypt. This added to the discontent of the people of Israel, and they wept, “Oh, for a few bites of meat! Numbers 11:4-5 (TLB)
Verse 4 elucidates the NEXT rebellion, which concerned food.
What we see begins to shape up is that there is going to be a parallel between the travel from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, and then the journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh. Here we have an example: there is a cry for meat. We saw this back in Exodus, and the Lord responded by sending them Quail to eat.
Now the first words of verse 4 indicate that it was a particular group of people who began the complaint about meat and then the complaining spread throughout the camp.
Some unbelievers had come out of Egypt with the Israelites, and this mixed multitude was a source of continual grief to the Israelites. Their disaffection spread to the Israelites, causing them to long with an intense craving for the food of Egypt and to despise the manna. The unbelievers just wanted whatever benefit they could glean from being near this favored people, but also wanted to avoid the difficulties.
Now the next verse adds an interesting twist.
Oh, that we had some of the delicious fish we enjoyed so much in Egypt, and the wonderful cucumbers and melons, leeks, onions, and garlic! Numbers 11:5 (TLB)
Why were they complaining about meat? They had herds and flocks. The meat they wanted was fish! Why fish? They wanted to have fish because that was their main diet for protein when they were slaves in Egypt.
Of course, out in the wilderness, they also could not have a garden except if they stopped for extended periods of time, which they sometimes did. So in verse 5 they also complain they’re not getting fresh fruit or vegetables.
Their staple since leaving Egypt was manna. And they were already sick to death of it. Fried manna, boiled manna, roasted manna, baked manna…RAW manna.
The manna was the size of small seeds, whitish yellow in color. The people gathered it from the ground and pounded it into flour, then boiled it, and then made pancakes from it—they tasted like pancakes fried in vegetable oil. Numbers 11:7-8 (TLB)
It apparently tasted quite good as verses 7 and 8 explain. But this is NOT a diet that they were accustomed to, nor did it provide a whole spectrum of tastes like what they were used to back in the land of Goshen.
As sick as the people were of Manna, Moses was equally tired of the people. He was exhausted and disgusted and beaten down. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad because verse 10 says:
“The Lord was angry, and Moses was distressed.”
What a mess. The completely demoralized Moses goes to the angry Lord and says: I’d rather be dead than deal with these people anymore. Moses goes on to say what did I ever do to deserve this? I didn’t create these people. I didn’t think up this grand plan. And this wasn’t MY covenant made that YOUR people should have their land. So why are they MY burden?
Moses says, where am I supposed to get all this variety of food that they’re all complaining about? How am I expected to please everyone at the same time? One wants this the other wants that. On second thoughts, just shoot me. I mean Moses was REALLY in a mood.
Interestingly after Moses blows up at God, God doesn’t chastise him for it. Rather He goes about addressing the requests. Moses had an honest relationship with God. He told God of his frustrations. He told God what was going on inside of Him. And God didn’t punish Him or say “don’t YOU ever talk to me like that.”
See the Lord isn’t insecure; He knows who He is and who you are. We’re told to approach God, pray, in spirit and truth. Well, Moses approached God in truth, even if it wasn’t in a particularly edifying spirit. We should follow that example.
So here is God’s solution to the gripes: take 70 elders (lay leaders of Israel) and bring them to the front of the Tabernacle. In other words, present them to God so they can be authorized to share the burden. Recall that God called for 70 elders to come part way up the side of Mt. Sinai, with Moses, way back in Genesis.
Understand: this was not a council designed to give Moses more advice (he already had more advice and suggestions than he could handle). Rather these men were to take on the part of the burden. They were to DO, not to suggest.
Now the next several verses speak of something that we ought to pay close attention: it talks of God’s ruach, His spirit. I’m not sure that within the Body of Believers that there is any more controversial aspect of the Godhead than the work of the Holy Spirit. But it seems to me that here is an opportunity to gain some understanding of the Spirit.
I will come down and talk with you there, and I will take of the Spirit which is on you and will put it upon them also; they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not have the task alone. Numbers 11:17 (TLB)
In verse 17 God says that He is going to anoint these 70 elders as leader-assistants for Moses. But for these 70 to be not just ordinary run-of-the-mill supervisors and accountants and judges, God was going to put upon these men the same spirit that was upon Moses. And this was the ONLY way these people would carry the authority of God, which was necessary to carry out their new duties.
Actually what it says is that God was going to SHARE or DRAW UPON the Spirit that was upon Moses, with the 70.
So is what we have here a Spirit transplant from Moses to the 70? Does the thought of a spirit transplant sound a little odd or strange to you? Well, this sort of thing is going to happen again 13 or so centuries later on Pentecost.
During the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost in Greek) immediately after Christ’s death, the same Spirit that empowered Jesus was now to be shared and bestowed among men.
It is interesting that the Spirit could not come until He was gone. Why not? Well, this is a matter that requires some speculation. Was it, possibly, that since His baptism and the Spirit of God descending upon Him, that Yeshua was the SOLE container of the Holy Spirit on Earth for a time?
Was this, perhaps, all patterned after Moses whereby for a time Moses seemed to be the ONLY human upon whom God had endowed His spirit? Therefore when it came time for Moses’ authority and duties to be shared, it had to draw FROM Moses (the single earthly container of it) onto the 70 men.
Of course, I do think that is what is happening, in some way that is almost impossible to verbalize. Our Messiah instructed us that it is the job of every Spirit-filled Believer
- To feed the flock;
- To care for the body of disciples;
- To take the HIS message to the world and
- Make new disciples.
It is the job of individual Spirit-filled Believers to lead other Believers. But we’re not to do any of it in our power…though we could succeed (at least outwardly) to some level.
And, we were to start doing this after Jesus left, and in the same power and authority that He had: the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was with us in person, He bore the burden Himself. Now WE are to share the weight with Him.
And this is what is meant by we are to pick up our OWN cross and follow Him. And this is all about burden sharing. Frankly, this whole teaching makes our general Christian passivity look pretty irresponsible, doesn’t it?
Let me be clear: it’s not that the Holy Spirit has some finite amount to Him. But there is only ONE Spirit of God. I don’t believe I can explain this much better nor do I think there is a better word picture of how the Ruach, the Holy Spirit works, than right here in Numbers with Moses and the 70. And how it was after this pattern that it’s NT version, first in Christ and then from Christ to the Believing community, would be manifest.
By the way: notice that the 70 HAD to be brought before the Lord…be brought to the Wilderness Tabernacle. Why? Because it was God doing the Spirit transplant, not Moses.
And by doing it at the Sanctuary of God, it was evident to all that it was NOT by the power of Moses it was by the power of God that the miracle of the Spirit would be attributed. It’s the same with us. We can witness to folks, and we can say we brought people to the Lord. True enough. But like Moses who led those 70 to the Tabernacle, the dwelling place of God, that’s as far as we can take them.
In a certain sense we can persuade and get them to agree to come before the Lord, but from that point forward it is strictly a miracle and work of God that the Holy Spirit be transplanted into each new Believer.
In my next blog post, we’ll continue and behold as God gives the Israelites and the foreigners meat. Quail, in fact, it was just like He did once before. But, there is going to be a significant difference. It is that the first time, He did it in His grace to provide a real and tangible need. This time, He will do it in anger, to make a point. And, there is going to be an enormous price to pay for provoking God in this manner.