Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Numbers Table of Contents  |  Previous Section   |  Next Section  |



(MT versing)
The People Complain The People Complain Israel's Complaining in the Wilderness The Place Named Taberah Taberah
11:1-3 11:1-3 11:1-3 11:1-3 11:1-3
Moses Chooses Seventy Leaders Kibroth-hattaavah, the People Complain
11:4-6 11:4-9 11:4-6 11:4-6 11:4-6
11:7-9 11:7-9 11:7-9 11:7-9
The Complaint of Moses The Prayer of Moses
11:10-15 11:10-15 11:10-15 11:10-15 11:10-11a
Seventy Elders to Assist The Seventy Elders Yahweh Replies
11:16-23 11:16-23 11:16-23 11:16-20 11:16-17
11:21-22 11:21-23
11:23 The Spirit Given to Elders
11:24-25 11:24-25 11:24-25 11:24-25 11:24-25
11:26-30 11:26-30 11:26-30 11:26-27 11:26-30
The Quail and the Plague The Lord Sends Quail The Lord Sends Quail The Quails
11:31-35 11:31-35 11:31-35 11:31-34 11:31-33
11:35 11:35

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


1Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out. 3So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.

11:1 "those who complain" The book of Numbers could be called "the book of griping"! It is a recurrent theme (cf. Num. 14:2; 16:11,41; 17:5,10; 1 Cor. 10:10). It demonstrates a lack of faith in

  1. YHWH's presence and leadership
  2. Moses and Aaron

▣ "in the hearing of the Lord" This phrase, like v. 18 (i.e., "in the ears of the Lord"), is very anthropomorphic. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN.

One wonders if this verse implies

  1. they were grumbling in their tents (cf. Num. 11:10)
  2. they were grumbling near the Tabernacle or at a worship service

▣ "His anger. . .the fire of the Lord" This is another anthropomorphic reference. YHWH was serious about His covenant requirements. Violating His revealed will resulted in judgment (Num. 11:10,33). See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

▣ "the outskirts of the camp" Possibly "the rabble" of v. 4 lived farthest from the Tabernacle. YHWH's judgment started with this "mixed multitude" (cf. Exod. 12:38), who were probably not Israelite or perhaps only half-Israelite.

11:2 "Moses prayed to the Lord" Moses was often called on to intercede between YHWH and His disobedient covenant people. See SPECIAL TOPIC: INTERCESSORY PRAYER.

11:3 "Taberah" This place name (BDB 129) is related to the VERB "to burn" (BDB 128). It occurs only here and Deut. 9:22.

4The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, "Who will give us meat to eat? 5We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna."

11:4 "the rabble" This DESCRIPTIVE NOUN (BDB 63, very rare, only here in the OT, from the word "gather" or "assembly") describes the non-Israelite or half-Israelite people who left Egypt during the exodus (cf. Exod. 12:38). They were the source of much of Israel's problems.

NASB  "had greedy desires"
NKJV  "yielded to intense craving"
NRSV, TEV, Peshitta  "had a strong craving"
NJB  "pains of hunger"
JPSOA  "felt a gluttonous craving"
REB  "began to be greedy for better things"
LXX  "craved with desire"

The MT has a VERB and a NOUN from the same root, "desired a desire" (BDB 16, KB 20, Hithpael PERFECT).

It was not just food (cf. Num. 11:5) they desired but a return to Egypt (cf. Exod. 16:3). It was a gesture of lack of trust in YHWH!

11:6-9 "manna" See SPECIAL TOPIC: MANNA.

11:6 "our appetite is gone" This is literally "but now our soul is dried up." This is a usage of nephesh (BDB 659), used of one's appetite, because its etymology is from the word "throat."

7Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it.

10Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, "Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? 12Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers'? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, 'Give us meat that we may eat!' 14I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. 15So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness."

11:10-15 Moses grows weary of leading Israel. He appeals to YHWH for either help or death (Num. 11:15, emphatic in Hebrew). Moses reminds YHWH that the exodus was His prophecy and plan (i.e., Gen. 15:12-22).

Moses' exasperation with the people will become the source of his public disobedience to YHWH that will result in his not being allowed to enter Canaan (cf. Numbers 20; 27:14; Deut. 1:37; 3:26-27; 34).

11:11 "Your servant" This was an honorific title. See SPECIAL TOPIC: MY SERVANT.

11:12 This verse has feminine imagery to refer to YHWH (cf. Deut. 32:11,18b; Isa. 42:14; 49:15; 66:9-13; Hos. 11:4b,c, with one change in Hebrew text; see note online). See full note at Deut. 32:11 and the SPECIAL TOPIC: HUMAN SEXUALITY.

▣ "to the land which You did swear to their fathers" The first mention of this promise is to Abraham in Genesis 12 (cf. Exod. 13:5,11). See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT PROMISES TO THE PATRIARCHS.

11:13 This verse clearly states the large number of people involved in the exodus. The exact number is uncertain because of the many connotations of "thousand" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND), but it was a large number, too large for the desert/wilderness to naturally sustain.

NASB, NKJV, JPSOA  "let me not see my wickedness"
NRSV  "and do not let me see my misery"
TEV  "so that I won't have to endure your cruelty any longer"
NJB  "be spared the sight of my misery"
REB  "spare me this trouble afflicting me"
LXX  "so that I may not see my suffering"

Some scholars think that the Masoretic scholars changed this phrase from "that I may not see Your evil (i.e., judgment)." This was done because the Masoretes did not want to assert that "evil" came from YHWH. The Jerusalem Targum asserted "the evil" was not from YHWH but referred to "the evil people."

16The Lord therefore said to Moses, "Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone. 18Say to the people, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, "Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt." Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. 19You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, 20but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?"'21But Moses said, "The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet You have said, 'I will give them meat, so that they may eat for a whole month.' 22Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?" 23The Lord said to Moses, "Is the Lord's power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not."

11:16-18 YHWH provides some gifted (Num. 11:17) helpers (i.e., the seventy elders, cf. Exod. 18:25).

For the biblical use of the number 70 see SPECIAL TOPIC: SYMBOLIC NUMBERS IN SCRIPTURE, #8.

NASB, NKJV, LXX  "of the Spirit"
NRSV, TEV, NJB, REB  "of the spirit"
JPSOA  "the spirit"

This is the term ruah (see SPECIAL TOPIC: SPIRIT IN THE BIBLE), which has a wide semantical field. In the OT the term is a way of referring to YHWH's active will to accomplish His purposes. But in the NT, the full personality of the Spirit is revealed.

See Special Topics:


YHWH gifted certain artisans with the Spirit to

  1. make Aaron's priestly garments ‒ Exod. 28:3
  2. make the gold and silver pieces for the Tabernacle ‒ Exod. 31:3; 35:31
  3. Joshua's leadership ‒ Deut. 34:9
  4. military boldness ‒ Jdgs. 6:34; 11:29; 13:25

This "spirit" is described as

  1. in wisdom
  2. in understanding
  3. in knowledge
  4. in all craftsmanship

Obviously there is a spiritual giftedness involved in leadership of God's people. It is not just human talent but spiritual provision!

11:18 The particular issue of this chapter is "meat." YHWH will show His character (see SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT) VIII. B. 4).

His provision is a natural, annual occurrence (i.e., migration of quail) but with supernatural timing, intensity, and locality (see notes on the plagues of Egypt online).

▣ "For we were well-off in Egypt" This is, of course, a false statement since they were mistreated slaves in Egypt. How the mind and time do trick the mind!

It is possible that the rabble (Num. 11:4) were not poor slaves but members of Egyptian society who left Egypt with Israel for unknown reasons, possibly the miracles of the plagues.

▣ "Consecrate yourselves" This is a Hithpael IMPERATIVE (BDB 872, KB 1073). JPSOA translation footnote has "i.e., as for a sacrificial meal." This is a reverse sacrifice. Usually Israelites give YHWH sacrificial gifts (i.e., peace offering) but here YHWH gives meat to them!

11:20 YHWH was tired of their griping and bad attitude. He gave them what they wanted until they were sick (figuratively and literally) of it!

11:21 "600,000" The number seems far too large (cf. Exod. 12:37). It is not a question of God's ability but of the size of contemporary armies. If Israel was this large, why were they afraid? Most scholars attribute the number hyperbole to the term "thousand," which could denote a much smaller military unit, similar to the Roman legions, centurions. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (eleph).

11:22 Most herdsmen are very reluctant to kill their animals.

The statement about "fish" is obviously hyperbolic, for effect.

11:23 The question, "Is the Lord's power limited?" is a Hebrew anthropomorphic idiom, "Is the Lord's hand too short" (cf. Isa. 50:2; 59:1). "Hand" was used as a symbol of power. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND. Questioning the numbers of Scripture is not doubting YHWH's power but trying to address the historical setting.

This verse is relating to the month's provision of quail (i.e., Num. 11:18-20).

24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

11:25 "the Lord came down in the cloud" This special cloud was a physical symbol of YHWH's presence and guidance.

▣ "prophesied" This VERB (BDB 612, KB 659, Hithpael IMPERFECT with waw) denotes speaking under an ecstatic state.

  1. Saul ‒ 1 Sam. 10:5, 6, 10, 13
  2. Saul's messengers ‒ 1 Sam. 19:20, 21, 23, 24


NASB, NRSV  "But they did not do it again"
Targum Onkelos, Vulgate  "they did not cease to do it"
TEV  "but not for long"
NJB  "but only once"
JPSOA  "but did not continue"
REB  "for the first and only time"
LXX  "and they no longer added"
Peshitta  "and then they ceased to complain"

As you can see from the different translations, this is a difficult phrase. The REB catches the essence of the meaning. This was a one-time visible manifestation of YHWH's delegation of leadership, even to two persons outside the seventy elders.

26But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. 27So a young man ran and told Moses and said, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." 28Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, "Moses, my lord, restrain them." 29But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" 30Then Moses returned to the camp, both he and the elders of Israel.

11:26-30 These men were part of the seventy elders, yet they remained in the camp, and also manifested the same charismatic sign. Joshua was bothered by this but Moses was not.

Numbers 11:29 shows the humility and spirituality of Moses.

It has always been questioned whether Moses spoke to YHWH

  1. in front of the ark in the Tabernacle in the midst of the camp, Exod. 25:8; Num. 2:2, 17; 5:3
  2. at a special tent set up away from the camp; this option fits this context best (cf. v. 30), Exod. 33:7-11

It is never stated why these two of the seventy stayed in the camp. Obviously for whatever reason, it did not offend YHWH and they, too, participated in the blessing/responsibility of leadership.

11:29 This verse speaks to the essence of Exod. 19:5-6; Joel 2:28-32; and Eph. 5:18. All believers are meant to be God-called, God-gifted ministers (cf. Eph. 4:11-12). All humans were made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN.

31Now there went forth a wind from the Lord and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground. 32The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. 34So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy. 35From Kibroth-hattaavah the people set out for Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth.

11:31-35 These verses describe the coming of the quail and the people's gluttonous reaction. This is the second occurrence of YHWH providing quail (cf. Exodus 16; Ps. 78:20, 27; 106:13-15).

11:30 "a wind" This is one of the possible meanings of ruah (BDB 924; see SPECIAL TOPIC: SPIRIT IN THE BIBLE.

▣ "cubits" See SPECIAL TOPIC: CUBIT. There are two options:

  1. there were a lot of quail!
  2. the birds flew low to the ground and could easily be gathered (Rashi)


▣ "they spread them out for themselves all around the camp" The VERB "spread out" (BDB 1008, KB 1474) is found in this verse in both the Qal IMPERFECT and INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE. The thrust is that every person gathered far more than they needed and did not trust YHWH's word of providing the birds for a full month (cf. v. 20). They apparently plucked, gutted, and laid out the carcasses to dry all around the camp. They were attempting to preserve the meat, not trusting YHWH's daily provision, just like the gathering of the manna (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MANNA).

11:33 This verse reflects YHWH's prediction in Num. 11:20, which may refer to some kind of plague (cf. Ps. 106:13-15). They were greedy, self-seeking people.

11:34 "Kibroth-hattaavah" This is a Hebrew phrase, "the graves of desire" (BDB 869, cf. Num. 33:16, 17; Deut. 9:22).

What a tragedy; YHWH's wonderful provision turned into greed and selfishness which demanded a divine judgment. The rabble (v. 7) is being eliminated!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. How can we reconcile YHWH's love and compassion with His anger and judgment?
  2. Who were "the rabble" (v. 4)?
  3. Define "manna." What was its purpose?
  4. Explain Num. 11:15:
    1. "please kill me"
    2. "do not let me see my wretchedness"
  5. Is the Spirit of the OT the same as the Spirit of the NT? Why, why not.
  6. What is the implication of v. 20, when compared with Ps. 106:13-15?
  7. How is Num. 11:23 related to Isa. 55:9-11?
  8. Where was the tent where YHWH descended in Num. 11:25 (i.e., in the camp or outside the camp)?
  9. Define "prophesied" (v. 26). What was its purpose in this context?
  10. What is the theological implication of Num. 11:29?
  11. Why was YHWH angry about how the Israelites received His gift of meat?

Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Numbers Table of Contents  |  Previous Section   |  Next Section  |