God heard and answered the prayer of those weeping Israelites. For that is what their crying for flesh was—a prayer, “And the Lord said unto Moses, . . . .say unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, and ye shall eat flesh; for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.”
Truly, they had prayed; but their prayer was a taunt, which, though not directed to God, was nevertheless meant for God’s ears. They had wailed, mark you, not, “0 God, we pray thee, give us flesh,” but “Who shall give us flesh to eat”. Their reasoning is clear, “Woe unto us for we are famished, there being nothing for us to eat except this manna—a food upon which no man can thrive. The pitiableness of our plight! We are starving! Who, o who is there to give us flesh! There is no one to give. Our plight is hopeless. We are doomed to perish of hunger.” Such is the thrust of the speech they sobbed out in God’s ears. This is the language in which they couched their prayer for flesh. What they meant to say to God is, “O God, our souls are wasted away.” Yet rather than give us flesh, change our diet, thou wouldst see us perish.” And God? He had heard. They had cried for flesh. It is well. He will give them what they demand. He will give them flesh. He will answer their vile prayer, but—to their own hurt and destruction. “Therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it come out of your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?”
They had despised the manna, the heavenly, life with God in Canaan. Thus they had despised, rejected the Lord. Despising Him, they had, as to their intention, returned to Egypt and her fleshpots. They had said that they loathed the manna. They had meant that it was making them physically ill, so that they could no longer eat of it. But they had lied. So He ceased sending them manna for a whole month and simultaneously brought them quails from the sea, by a wind that went forth from the Lord. And “he let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on this side, and as it were a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits on the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers (approximately a hundred bushels): and they spread them ah abroad for themselves round about the camp. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.”
The plague began immediately, right in the beginning of the period of their eating flesh. In all likelihood it continued only a few days, and must have taken a great toll of lives. Those that died not of the plague were smitten with nausea followed perhaps by vomiting. This in all likelihood is the thought conveyed by the language, “Ye shall eat. . . . even a whole month, until it come out of your nostrils, and it he loathsome to you.” Yet they had to eat the flesh the whole month, because there was during this time nothing else for them to eat. They had said that the manna had been making them ill, so that they could no longer eat of it. But they had lied. They were now actually nauseated every time they ate of the flesh. So was their prayer answered -but to their own great discomfort and destruction.
To seek in (prayer not God, but ourselves, to have in prayer our affections set not upon His will but upon our own, to cry in His ears for the earthy instead of for the heavenly, for the things below instead of for the things above, is extremely dangerous. God might answer that prayer—to our own hurt and perhaps to our eternal doom.
“And he called the name of that place Kibroth Hataavah (meaning, graves of lust) because there they buried the people that lusted.”
The people did not die because the flesh of the quail was unfit for human consumption. The plague was worked immediately by God. The evidence of this is that it began to riot ere lit was chewed and thus ere any of it had been eaten or even any of its juices had entered their stomachs. So did the Lord provide the people with the unmistakable proof that the plague was of Him. And through His waiting with smiting them until the flesh was between their teeth, He established before their consciousness a certain connection between their lusting and the plague.
The plague must have done its work swiftly, so that soon there were few tents not housing a corpse. The people, it must be imagined, were panic-stricken and cried, as they were wont to do in such crisis, to Moses to pray for them, so that the plague was soon stayed. With the encampment suddenly -being converted into a morgue, the living, in their consternation, must have flung the meat from them, resolved not to eat off it, lest they be overtaken by a like fate. But the Lord had said, “Ye shall eat. . . . not ten, nor twenty but thirty days.” So for want of other food, they were driven to eat of the flesh, until it came out of their nostrils.
The plague was doubly deserved. For before it was sent and even before the wind had dropped the quails about the camp, the Lord pointed out to them their great sin and called them to repentance. “Ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.” So the Lord had spoken by the mouth of Moses. To this He had added, Ye shall eat flesh until it come out of your nostrils. Hearing this, the people should have considered. They should have feared and cried to the Lord for mercy and pardon. But they did not. Instead of repenting of their sin, they hardened their hearts. They kept silence, and through there silence, continued to demand flesh. And when they sighted the quails, they stood up and seemingly without any compunction of conscience, went forth to gather, for two whole days and a night, and so persisted in showing their contempt for the manna.
Having set before our minds the vile reactions of those weeping Israelites at Kibroth Hataavah, let us not say that if we were to fall into temptations similar to those into which they had been led, we would make a different, a much better showing than they did. For then we speak the language of pride. With their sins before our mind, let us rather cry out, “O, the hardness of the human heart, of their hearts, of our hearts! These things were written that we might know show vile we are. And if we may be enduring, let us ascribe it only to God’s mercy, and praise Him.
The reactions of Moses.
The people wept in the door of their tent. Purposely were they making an open show of their tears, so that Moses could see as well as hear them weep. He knew the cause of their agitation. The notice that the anger of the Lord was greatly kindled is immediately followed by the statement, “and it was evil in the eyes of Moses.” So the text reads in the original. This raises the question what Moses regarded as evil, the kindling of the Lord’s anger or the carrying-on of the people? The latter certainly. The madness of the people drove Moses to distraction, as is evident from the language that he allowed to pass over his lips in addressing the Lord, “Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favor in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me ? Have I conceived all this people? Have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the suckling child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? For they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.”
This language forms a prayer, but a prayer that was sinful. Let us consider the facts in the case. It was as Moses said. The Lord had laid the burden of all this people upon him. That Moses was not exaggerating is plain from the Lord’s reply, “And they (the seventy men of the elders of Israel) shall bear the burden of the people with thee.” Here the Lord indirectly declares that He indeed had laid upon Moses the burden of “this people”.
And now every man stood in the door of his tent wailing in his ears for flesh. Their demand impressed him as being amazingly stupid and unreasonable. Were they utterly unwilling to consider that they were demanding of him the impossible? “Whence should I have flesh to give to all the people”, he asked. What has come over them? Were they seeking occasion against him? It seemed not to occur to him that with God all things are possible.
Their doing formed for Moses a most severe trial did he endure? Not as he should have. It was a sinful speech that he poured in God’s ears. He said to God in effect, “When thou placed this people in my care, thou didst me evil. Thy doing betokened that thou wert ill-pleased with me and wert bent on afflicting my soul. Take back this people, I implore thee. They belong not to me but to thee. For thou didst conceive and beget them, not I. Was it then right of thee to place them in my bosom? Take back what is thine. The weight of it—the burden of this people—is crushing me. If the only condition on which thou wilt prolong my life is that I continue to father this people, then kill me, I beseech thee.” Such is the thrust of his complaint. The shepherd disowns his sheep, the father his children. How plain that Moses as mediator was but a type, a shadow.
Moses was in a sinful mood. And in this mood he despised his calling and reproached God for having sent him. So bitter was he at that juncture that he preferred death above life. Such was the effect of their vile doing upon his soul. Such was his reaction to their doing. And this reaction was sinful. It betokened carnal anger, yet not anger so much as profound disgust, unspeakable anguish of soul, utter depression bordering on despair. What was he to do with such a people—a people so unreasonable, so contrary, so impudent, so stiff-necked. What to do? Love them, bless them, and pray for them. But of this he was incapable at that juncture, as he stood not in his faith. Their perversity of mind and heart had thrown him off spiritual balance, so that he had lost his equilibrium. He was not weighing words, while sobbing out his heart to God. He could not. The emotional strain under which he labored was too great. But this did not excuse that speech of his. Yet the people had greater sin. Their wicked and senseless complaining had confused his soul and completely disordered his reason.
And the Lord? Without in the least condoning the sin of His servant, He pitied him in his anguish and bore with his weakness.
In countering the riotings of sin in himself and in others, the believer, who stands in his faith, groans in his spirit and is troubled. Troubled is he out of love of God, on account of the consideration that all sin is a transgression of God’s holy will. But a man may also groan merely on account of the consideration that wrongdoing in others disadvantages him and forms an attack upon his person. All such groaning is not in the spirit but in the flesh. What then was the character of Moses’ anguish of soul, of his perturbance? Though there must have been an element of true goodness in it, yet it was largely sinful. “Have I conceived all this people. . . . that thou shouldest say to me, Carry them in thy bosom ? . . . .And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee.” This certainly is not the language of true love but of carnal self-pity. Moses’ great grief was that the people could be so unreasonable as to be wailing in his ears for flesh. And when the Lord let it be known that He would answer their cry, Moses replied, “The people among whom I am are six hundred thousand footman; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month. Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?’ This is not the language of faith but of skepticism. The task of providing all those wailing Israelites with flesh seemed to Moses to be one too great even for God. Moses had again uttered words that merited censure. This time he had almost spoken profanely. Attend to the Lord’s reply, “Is the Lords hand waxed short? Thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.”
Moses, it is plain, had been sinfully perturbed by their murmurings. It shows, that, however high the spiritual level upon which he dwelt might have been—and this level was high—and however close his fellowship with God, he too had daily to contend with the flesh and its works. And how could it be otherwise if even the holiest of men—and such a man was Moses—have in this life only a small principle of true obedience and thus continue to lie in the midst of death until the moment of their translation.
However, we must be more definite in explaining how Moses could be so thoroughly upset, so perturbed —sinfully perturbed—by their complainings. Mention has already been made of the burden of the people, by which is to be understood the aggregate of all the people’s spiritual and physical needs and requirements in the wilderness. The people had to be fed and clothed, instructed in the law of Jehovah their God, trained to walk in the way of His precepts, encouraged when disheartened, comforted when depressed in spirit, admonished and rebuked when dissatisfied and complaining because of their trials, shielded against the wrath of God that they might not be destroyed when corrupting their way before Him, led thru the wilderness, given the victory over their adversaries, and safely brought to the promised land of their abode. This was the burden of the people. And it included their rebellions and murmurings, in a word, all the expressions of their carnality. What a burden! And the whole of it the Lord had laid upon Moses. He had actually placed this people in his bosom that he might carry it as a nursing father beareth a suckling child. By this burden Moses, such was his complaint, was being crushed. What was the reason? He failed to cast his burden upon the Lord as he should.
Let us try and understand Moses’ shortcomings. The Lord had actually laid “this people’ in his bosom. But as lying there, they were still reposing in the ever- lasting arms of Jehovah their God. It was He who was caring for them. He gave them bread, caused the rocks of the wilderness to yield their water, that they might drink; preserved their raiment, so that it waxed not old upon them; kept their foot, so that it did not swell (Deut. 8); created in His chosen ones a new spirit, so that they feared Him; binded His laws upon their hearts, so that they walked in the way of His precepts. It was He who was leading them to their destination and sustaining them in the way. It was His Angel who was encamped around about them. It was He who was their sun and their shield. These were works which He only could perform. For Moses to cast his burden upon the Lord was for him to acknowledge, to confess as moved by faith that these works formed a burden that the Lord alone could bear. And he did acknowledge this, to be sure. Yet the way he reasoned, while the people were crying for flesh, betokens that the thought had taken root in his soul that it was for him to answer that cry. “Whence,” said he, “should I,” mark you, “I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.” True, the people wept unto him. But why should that have so disquieted him? Was there no God in Israel? Moses fault was that for the moment he had assigned to himself a task that was not meant for him, that he imagined that his carrying “this people” in his bosom was supposed to consist in his doing the Lord’s work. So realizing his human limitations, the cry of the people completely upset him.
But what was properly Moses’ burden? Whet was his task? To intercede for “this people” in love, bear them on the wings of prayer, to stand in the breach, give them Gods word, and continually sanctify God before their eyes. This was Moses’ calling. It constituted his burden in the proper sense. Now it was a stiff-necked people, whom he was called upon to carry in his bosom, that is, to love, cherish, shield with his prayers, instruct and lead. And he, himself, was a sinful man, by nature devoid of love, thus altogether incapable of bearing with them in their sins and weaknesses. His casting his burden upon the Lord would then have to consist in his realizing and confessing that, whereas it is God who worketh in His servants both to will and to do, his, Moses’ burden was properly God’s, and that therefore God would have to sustain him by His grace continually, if he, Moses, was to stand up under his burden. It is apparent, however, that at the time of their wailing for flesh, Moses was not mindful as he should have been of his need of the sustaining power of God. For the murmuring of the people so aggravated his soul that, instead of interceding for the people, he, in his great vexation of spirit, actually cast them from him in his mind and thereupon besought the Lord to free him through death of his responsibilities. It is clear that he had not braced himself in the Lord for this crisis. So, when it came, it found him not as prepared as he should have been. The result was that his soul was thrown into confusion. Great was his anguish. And it was this anguish, this perturbation, and thus not properly his burden that formed his affliction and that was crushing him. When faith flowers, God’s burden does not oppress. It is only when faith weakens, that this burden of His takes on weight and becomes unbearable.
The Lord, as was said, bore with the weakness of His servant. He placed at Moses’ side seventy assistants. He instructed Moses to gather to Him seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom he, Moses, knew to be elders of and officers over the people; and to bring them to the tabernacle of the congregation, that they might .stand there with him, adding that He would come down and talk with Moses and would take of His Spirit and put it upon them, that they might bear the burden of the people with him. When the Spirit rested upon the elders, they prophesied, and did not cease. By Spirit is certainly to be understood the Holy Spirit, thus the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of zeal of God’s house, of holy ecstasy, of love of God and His word and promises, of patience, of meekness, of power to endure and to bear the reproach of Christ. This Spirit was put upon them. As a result, they prophesied, that is, by word of mouth praised God, declared His works, blessed His name in the audience of the people, exhorted to obedience, gloried in His promise. And they prophesied under impulses so powerful that they did not cease. So it is recorded. The meaning is, no doubt, that the prophetic gift remained with them. So were these men qualified to bear with Moses the burden of the people, which they did through the example they set, through their walk of life among the people, through their enduring with him the contradiction of sinners and in various other ways.
The sacred narrator goes on to tell that two of the seventy elders, instead of collecting with the others at the tabernacle, remained in the lamp and that also upon them the Spirit rested with the result that they prophesied in he camp. A young man, perceiving this, ran and told Moses. Joshua, the son of Nun, hearing what was reported, advises Moses to forbid the two men, who were prophesying in the camp. His concern no doubt was that these two elders would contend that, whereas they had not collected with the others at the tabernacle, they had received the Spirit independent of Moses and that, in agreement with their contention, would bring themselves forward as Moses’ equals instead of his assistants. Moses puts Joshua at ease with the words, “Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them.” Then all Moses troubles would end.