Christian Churches of God

No. CB45




Complaining and Rebellion


(Edition 2.0 20050122-20061125)

Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord and when he heard them his anger was aroused. This paper has been adapted from Chapter 37 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and covers Numbers chapters 11 and 12 in the Bible.


Christian Churches of God





(Copyright ã 2005, 2006 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)


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Complaining and Rebellion

We continue here from the paper Reward and Punishment (No. CB44).

Fire from the Lord

As usual, there were people who began to complain about their hardship. By the end of the third day from Sinai, there were many who were loudly voicing their grievances to those about them. When God heard this, His anger was aroused. Then fire from His Angel burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp (Num. 11:1).

God meant business

Complaining about how God directs His servants is rebellion against the Government of God.

A cry of horror and grief went up from the people of Israel. God’s sudden, awful punishment reminded them of the manner in which the Creator had struck during the time of the Passover one year previously. On that occasion the victims had been Egyptians. This time there also were Egyptians, because Egyptians who had come in as part of the mixed multitude with the Israelites and were partly to blame. But a large number of the offenders now were Israelites.

When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to God and the fire died down (v. 2). God’s wrath had such a deep effect on many of the people that they named the area Taberah, which meant, a burning (v. 3).

But in spite of this terrible warning to complainers, many of the people then began complaining about their diet. The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat" (v. 4).

The main food of the people was still manna, a wonderful, energizing food direct from God. So manna became a subject of these complainers who thought that manna was a poor substitute for the food they had enjoyed in Egypt. In all of this they forgot about the hardships they endured in Egypt and from which the Lord delivered them.

Mankind then, as now, was very prone to the power of suggestion. Such foolish remarks caused an increasing number of Israelites to doubt that manna was anything more than what was required to barely keep people alive. At the same time, the complainers kept reminding others of the wonderful foods they had enjoyed in the past. "We remember the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic we liked so well and ate in Egypt. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna" (vv. 5-6).

Bitterness grows

Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. He knew that some of the people would always complain, regardless of what the conditions were. The Angel of the Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.

"What have I done," he asked God, "to cause this trouble to come on me? How can I be a father to all these thousands of unruly people? Must I try to carry them, like babies, to the land You have promised them? How can I stop their growing demand for other kinds of food?"

"Do you feel," God asked Moses through His Angel, "that this task I have given you is too great?"

"I only know," Moses replied, "that the wild demands of thousands of people are too much for me. I can’t see any way of taking care of what they ask for, or of handling them while they are in such an extreme state of mind. If I fail to give them the foods they are demanding, they are likely to get entirely out of control. If You allow that to happen, then please take my life now. I don’t want to be here to witness such a rebellion" (vv. 10-15).

God said to Moses: "Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. My Angel will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone" (vv. 16-17).

Moses was told to advise the people to stop their complaining and prepare for a feast of flesh. "Tell them that this feast won’t last just one day, two days, five days or twenty days. Tell them it will last a whole month, and that they shall have so much flesh to eat that it will become sickening to them. Tell them that they have complained so much because of not having anything but manna, they won’t be able to hold the flesh on their stomachs."

"But how can you provide meat for over two million people for a whole month?" Moses inquired. "Must all our flocks and herds be slaughtered to take care of the appetites of the people for flesh? Or do you have some way of bringing a huge amount of fish from the Red Sea?"

"Why do you seem to doubt that I have power to take care of these matters?" the Lord demanded through His Angel. "Go and do as I have commanded, and you shall soon witness what I have planned" (vv. 18-23).

Moses went out and told the people that the Lord had been greatly moved by their complaints, and would send them so much flesh that they would wish they had never asked for it.

No doubt this news brought great excitement to the camps. Most of the people were interested only in God’s promising them meat for a whole month. Very few seemed to be concerned by His remark that they would regret asking for it.

Seventy elders chosen

Meanwhile, Moses brought together the seventy elders and had them stand around the Tent. Then the Angel of the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and he took of the Spirit that was on Moses and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again (vv. 24-25).

The seventy elders of Israel eventually became the Sanhedrin or governing council. The seventy were given the same Spirit that rested on Moses and that pointed towards the time when Messiah appointed seventy of the elect who became the new elders of Israel. They were sent out two by two (Lk. 10:1), as were the twelve apostles (Mk. 6:7).

However, two men whose names were Eldad and Medad, who were listed among the elders chosen by Moses had remained in the camp. They did not go to the Tent, but the Spirit rested on them at the same time as the others and they prophesied in the camp. They were given special understanding that was a gift from God. A young man ran and told Moses (Num. 11:26-27).

We should remember that God does nothing except that He speaks through his servants the prophets, who are those He himself chooses from among His people.

Months previously, when Moses had earnestly prayed for the Israelites to win in a long battle with attacking Amalekites, a young man by the name of Joshua had led the Israelite army into battle while Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands as Moses prayed (Ex. 17:8-13). Joshua was present at this time and told Moses to stop Eldad and Medad from speaking to the people. He probably felt that two young men making such an impression on the people might cause the Israelites to seek a new leader.

Moses wasn’t worried, however. He realized that this was a case of God having given Eldad and Medad special understanding along with the other elders who had been chosen to help bear a part of Moses’ responsibility.

Although God’s Holy Spirit was not made available until Pentecost in 30 CE (Acts 2:1-4), He did give His Spirit to the prophets and certain others that He needed to lead His people. See the paper What is the Holy Spirit? (No. CB3).

Moses said to Joshua, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them" (Num. 11:27-30).

The quail arrive

After the elders had returned to their camps and Moses had gone to his tent, a strong wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to a depth of about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they distributed them all around the camp.

Finally Moses knew how God was going to supply the meat the Israelites had been demanding. He also remembered how God had sent flocks of quails (Ex. 16:11-13) when the people had first complained about constantly having to eat manna.

After months of existing mostly on manna, the Israelites were no doubt excited because of receiving meat and they probably ate the flesh of the birds as though they had been starved.

But perhaps it wasn’t quite as wonderful as many had expected. When one builds up a lustful, consuming desire for something, it often turns out to be more desirable in one’s imagination than it does as a reality. Thus it was with so many of the Israelites.

As for God’s promise to supply the Israelites with meat for a whole month, He more than kept His word. The huge numbers of birds bagged by the Israelites, if properly preserved, would have lasted more than a month—even if greedily eaten by the more ravenous of the Israelites.

The punishment comes

But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. People were greedy and the meat was too strong for them. Many began to get sick and death soon followed. Their digestive systems, used to the mild manna for so long, were heavily over-taxed by the flesh that had been swallowed.

By the time the self-inflicted plague had come to a halt, an area close to the camps had become a vast graveyard. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, which means graves of lust in the Hebrew language, because there they buried the people who had lusted after other food (Num. 11:33-34).

God fed Israel as they were able to be fed, that is, He gave them soft things to eat (manna). Some of them died because their systems could not tolerate the meat when they gorged themselves on the quail. Only when people are strong enough, does He gives the "strong" meat and feeds us through His Holy Spirit.  The strong meat is the understanding of the Mysteries of God.

At times God gives us what we ask for even though He knows that it is not in our best interest, so we can learn from the outcome. We are to give thanks for all things that God has given us. Desiring things that others have that we don’t, or lusting after things that we consider are better than what we already have, does not please God.

God knows what our needs are and He has catered for all things in His Plan. The children of Israel were given manna so that their bread and water would be sure, which is God’s promise to us in the last days in the wilderness (Ps. 37:25; Isa. 33:16).

Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses

According to Josephus (The Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. II, Ch. X) Moses had married an Ethiopian woman as part of the war against Ethiopia and their surrender terms, over forty years before the Exodus. Moses, being a prince of the royal house of Egypt, was Captain-General of the Egyptian army and his wife was the daughter of a king of the Ethiopians. She is recorded as persuading her father to surrender the fortress on the Upper Nile if she could marry Moses. It appears that she may have joined the Israelites on the Exodus.

Whatever the reason, there developed a strong feeling of envy and resentment in Miriam, the sister of Moses, and in Aaron. Miriam tried to attack Moses and denigrate his position and she used this situation with the Ethiopian princess as grounds for attack.

Although he realised that Miriam was wrong in being envious and critical, and that she was attempting to exert far too much authority, Aaron was inclined to agree that Moses shouldn’t have made any great decisions without taking at least some of the matters up with him and his sister. But he was for letting the matter drop right there and discussing it in private with Moses, however, Miriam had no intention of doing that.

Miriam went on, "Surely God is inspiring you and me as to what should be done. But Moses acts as though he is the only one in touch with God. Unless he’s stopped, he’ll take all authority to himself and do just as he pleases with the people."

"Perhaps you’re night," Aaron mused. "The feeling of too much authority could have a bad effect on any man—even our brother Moses."

It is of interest here to remember other instances of sibling rivalry and jealousy in the Bible. Cain slew his brother Abel, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, Jacob stole his brother Esau’s birthright and there was jealousy between sisters Rachel and Leah. We should remember to obey God and try not to cause problems in our families or with each other by wrong attitudes.

Nothing in this world has ever been done, or thought, or spoken without God knowing about it. Although Aaron and Miriam were chosen servants of their Creator, they displeased Him by their critical, envious and unkind remarks about another chosen servant who was above them in authority.

And the Angel of the Lord heard all this. At once he said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "Come out of the Tent of Meeting, all of you." So the three of them came out (Num. 12:4).

Aaron and Miriam summoned

Then the Angel came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance of the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam.

Then the Angel, speaking on behalf of God said, "Now listen to me. Lest there be any doubt as to the one through whom I choose to speak and direct in these times, be assured that Moses is the servant who is to bear the greatest responsibility. Let it be known that I speak to him directly as one being to another, and not in some mysterious manner, or in dreams and visions, as I speak to ordinary prophets. Why, then, were you so foolish as to speak against Moses, my chosen servant?" (vv. 5-8).

God’s anger burned against them (v. 9). Moses was both embarrassed and angry to learn that he had been the object of nasty remarks by his brother and sister. Nevertheless, he felt a little sorry for them because he knew that God often acted with terrible swiftness when His intended punishing anyone.

Miriam and Aaron were relieved when the cloud lifted from above the Tent. Aaron turned to look at Miriam and he drew back in horror. The flesh on his sister’s face, neck, arms and hands had suddenly taken on a sickly white hue. Aaron shuddered as he tore his eyes from her ghastly face. He knew that she had suddenly become a leper (v. 10).

"Moses!" Aaron called in a frightened voice.

Why God rebuked Miriam and Aaron

Moses was slowly walking away at that moment. He turned and came back because he sensed the sadness and concern in Aaron’s tone. When he saw Miriam’s condition, he was very upset. For the first time Miriam noticed her hands. She gave a shriek and collapsed on the ground. Aaron quickly knelt down beside her and looked pleadingly up at Moses and said:

"Please, my Lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Don’t let God take her by this terrible disease," he begged. "Ask Him to forgive our foolish sin and heal her" (vv. 11-12).

Moses knelt down, leaned over with his face to the ground and called out to God.

"Please heal her", Moses cried out to the God. "Be merciful and forgive her and Aaron of their sins. Please remove this awful disease from my sister now" (v. 13).

Then God suddenly answered Moses: "Because of her disrespect for authority, Miriam must be shut out of the camp and be away from My Presence for seven days."

To her horror and disgrace, Miriam was led to a distant spot far outside the camp, there to sit and loathe herself in utter misery.

Meanwhile, the Israelites were prepared to start out again. But the cloud didn’t move forward, and this obviously meant that God was delaying the march until Miriam would be brought back healed into camp (vv. 14-15).

After a week had passed, she was brought back into her tent. God had answered Moses’ prayers and had healed her. She and Moses and Aaron were very thankful. At the same time, Miriam was sorry for having spoken out so boldly and wrongly against Moses. If she had failed to repent, God would have refused to take away her terrible leprosy, and it would slowly have caused her death alone and away from the main body of her people.

Miriam learned the lesson that all should learn—that speaking evil of the servants God has chosen to work for or represent Him is indirectly speaking evil of the One who created the whole universe and every one of us. God tells us that wisdom begins with respect for Him (Ps. 111:10 and Pro. 9:10).

After Miriam had been brought back into the camp at Hazeroth, the people moved northward for several days. Although it was late summer, they journeyed on through the hot desert country to Paran, eventually coming to a secluded oasis area called Kadesh or Kadesh-barnea (Num. 12:16 and 13:26).

It was on the border of the Promised Land of Canaan. At Kadesh the cloud came to a halt for more than a night. The people found several wells and springs in that region, and there was enough grass for their animals. It was evident that God meant the Israelites to camp at that place for at least several days. The Tabernacle was erected just as it had been at Sinai, and the various tribes set up their camps in their designated positions.

(The New International Study Bible was used as a source of reference in various places in this paper.)