Lesson: Complaints About Manna

By Rev. Leo H. McCrary II – October 3, 2021
Taught From – Numbers 11:4-6, 10-23

Introduction

Our lesson this week starts us off in the second unit of lessons for this quarter.  The second unit of lessons is titled – Seeing God’s Faithfulness.  In the first unit of lessons for this quarter, we saw the Lord’s holiness and how we should treat His holiness.  So, in this month of lessons, the goal is for us to learn about the Lord’s faithfulness towards us.  This week’s lesson will be taught from Numbers 11:4-6, 10-23.

The Lord’s Providence

We are going to take a look at how the Lord faithfully provides for us in our lesson this week, even when we are filled with grumbling and complaints towards Him as the children of Israel in this week’s passage of scripture.

As we last saw, the children of Israel are still wandering to the Promised Land.  From the prior chapter, we will see that the children of Israel have journeyed from the Wilderness of Sinai and are now camping in the Wilderness of Paran (Num. 10:11-13).  An interesting tidbit here from those three verses is that we see that the children of Israel actually camped in the Wilderness of Sinai for a full year.  

We are told specifically that it was on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year that the cloud of God lifted up from the tabernacle and guided them to Paran.  This was the first time the children of Israel had moved the camp after receiving the commandments and the law.  Just wanted to share that interesting bit of information since we rarely consider how long the children of Israel were in the Sinai wilderness.

Complaints and grumbling from the camp

Our lesson opens with some grumbling and complaining coming from within the camp of Israel (vss. 4-6).  We are told that the complaining began with the “mixed multitude” that was within the camp.  As we saw in our lesson last week, the children of Israel did not leave Egypt alone but there were others who went with the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt (Ex. 12:38).  

We also saw in our lesson last week that an Israelite woman had a child whose dad was Egyptian.  I believe we could consider that she was not the only Israelite woman who mothered a child whose dad was Egyptian.  So, this mixed multitude was essentially made up, potentially, of Gentiles or those that could possibly be considered a child of Israel if one of their parents were an Israelite.  That line about whether they could be considered a child of Israel is somewhat blurry but in later years, those that could trace their lineage to connect to Israel, they would be considered an Israelite.

Complaints against God

Now, we see in these few verses that the complaining of the mixed multitude influenced the children of Israel to do the same.  As I mentioned last week, if this mixed multitude indeed was made up of gentile nations, then it is very likely that they had their own religious beliefs and gods that they worshiped.  The feeling to me is that every time they groaned and complained, their groaning was a sign that they believed their gods could do better for them.  So, it feels like their groaning and complaining was against the Lord.

Let us consider that up to this point in time, the Lord had been providing a source of food to the camp – manna (Ex. 16:11-14, 31).  So, for a full year, the camp has been dining on manna that the Lord had been providing.  I believe we can actually understand their point of view here because I believe all of us would be exhausted from eating the same thing repeatedly.  In their complaints, we see the people thinking about the times when they believed they were dining well in Egypt.  

We see them say, “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”  The irony of this statement is the idea that they believed they ate freely while they were actually in bondage in Egypt.  Are they really considering that things were better while they were in bondage in Egypt?  Yes they are!  

Oddly enough, there are times when we have prayed for the Lord to move us from a bad situation that we will begin to complain when the Lord does so and things don’t start out the way we dreamed.  So, like the children of Israel, we will groan and complain about our position when the Lord has begun to do what we prayed for.  It would seem that we would need to learn patience while the Lord is working and be thankful that He has answered our prayers.  This was a lesson that the children of Israel would need to learn as well.

Moses’ plea to the Lord

As we move forward in our lesson, we will see that God became greatly aroused at the groaning and complaining of the camp (v. 10).  We could imagine how the Lord would feel after delivering the children of Israel from bondage, watching over and keeping them while they were in the wilderness, and then also providing for them as they camped and journeyed.  The people certainly don’t seem grateful for the Lord’s guidance, care, and protection.

In that same verse, we see that Moses also heard the complaints coming from the camp and he was displeased and frustrated as well.  We see over the next few verses that the Lord begins to speak from this place of hurt to the Lord (vss. 11-15).  Now, what I want to make clear here is that while the people were groaning and complaining, Moses was not doing as them.  I believe Moses was frustrated, and I certainly believe he was hurting in his soul as well, but unlike the rest of the camp, Moses spoke to the Lord.

We see that Moses wondered whether or not he had truly found favor in the Lord’s eyes because he felt so burdened by having to lead and watch over the entire camp of Israel.  Moses says to the Lord, “I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me.”  I believe all of us wonder this about the Lord when we are going through things, right?  We often begin to wonder when things get so tough for us whether or not God truly loves us.  

Let us remember what Jesus said about our burdens and what we should do with them.  Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).”  Jesus will handle your burdens!  Peter wrote in his first letter that we should cast our cares upon the Lord because the Lord cares for us (loves us) (1 Pet. 5:7).  God does not want to see you down and burdened!

The Lord sends Moses some help

So, because Moses felt that this task was too much on his soul, we see that the Lord was going to provide him with some help (vss. 16-17).  God directs Moses to gather together 70 men of the elders to Him.  These men were to be men who were elders and were also officers over the people as well.  So, these men were people who already had some type of position of leadership among the camp.  Let’s remember that each tribe had their own elders and officers over them.

Moses was to bring these men to the courtyard of the tabernacle where the Lord would come down and talk to Moses.  There in the courtyard, we are told by the Lord that He was going to put on these 70 men the same Spirit that was put on Moses.  Let us note that the Spirit that the Lord was speaking of here was and is of God – the Holy Spirit.  It is often said by people that the Holy Spirit was not present in the Old Testament but I would tell you otherwise.

People like Moses, David, and Elijah certainly had a different quality about themselves compared to others.  I preached about Elisha in a sermon a couple of months back, and you may recall how Elisha desired the same spirit that Elijah had.  I believe that the Holy Spirit worked with those men to be guides and leaders among the people.  The 70 men who would be chosen to help Moses were being imbued with the same Spirit as Moses so that they could help with guiding the people.  This was the Lord’s answer to Moses’ burden in his soul.  Just like them, we are imbued with the same Spirit today and we ought to bear one another burdens as well (Gal. 6:2; Jas. 5:16).

God provides food to the camp

After tending to Moses’ need, we see the Lord turn His attention to tending to the complaints of the people.  The people were to consecrate themselves before the Lord would provide them with meat to eat (v. 18).  Why did they need to consecrate themselves?  

Well, the Lord actually gives us an answer to that question – the people had been complaining and asking who was going to provide them with meat when the Lord was already providing them with sustenance.  This was something they needed to cleanse themselves of!  Our groaning and complaining about how the Lord works and what He gives to us is not right.  We should think of that as a sign and also consecrate ourselves – make atonement – when we do that.

Though they groaned and complained, we see that after they would consecrate themselves, God was still going to provide for the camp.  The Lord specifically states, “You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you (vss. 18-20).”  

They had complained about not having “real food” so much that God was going to over flood them with so much food that they were going to hate eating it just as they had began to hate eating the manna that He provided to them!  The Lord said that He was going to do this because they despised Him – specifically they despised the bread from heaven that He was providing.  When we despise a blessing that comes from God, let us understand that we are despising Him – that is a sin and, again, the reason they needed to consecrate themselves.

When Moses heard what God had planned for the camp, he even questioned how he (Moses) was going to be able to provide that much food (vss. 21-22).  Moses didn’t believe they had enough cattle to slaughter or fish to feed the 600,000+ they had in camp. In a way, Moses was questioning what the Lord could do and to this God asked Moses, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened (v. 23)?”  This, the Lord asked Moses to see if Moses was doubting His power.  Instead of allowing Moses to answer the question, we see the Lord essentially say to Moses, “watch and see.”  The Lord specifically said, “Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.”

God is a provider – His power and what He provides to us has no limits.  Even our groaning and complaining cannot limit the Lord.  When we are lacking in faith, even that does not limit the Lord and what He can/will do.  God is faithful to us even when we doubt and complain.  The Lord is faithful to us because He loves us.