Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29 – Crying for attention in all the wrong ways

Updated: Feb 6

The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”


Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”


So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.


So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.


Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”


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This is an optional Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 21. If chosen, it will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church by a reader on Sunday September 30, 2018. It is important because it tells how God gets angry hearing the complaints of His children when they do not get what they want. God promised to deliver what they so wanted; but before He did so He filled seventy elders with the Holy Spirit, so they prophesied the truth of the LORD. This is a lesson that confirms God hears the prayers of His believers, while also being a lesson to be careful what one asks of God.


This is a long reading selection; it is only half of a longer story. I recommend everyone read the whole chapter here. The whole story gives one a view of how God and Moses were tired of the complaining that was going on. In verse four, the translation above shows: “The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat!” The literal can also state: “And the mixed multitude who were among them had yielded to cravings — and again so wept the sons of Israel and said , who will give us to eat meat ?”


This says the “rabble” (a valid translation of “wə·hā·sap̄·sup̄”) is only part of the whole “collection” of people. As a “mixed multitude,” one can assume there were people complaining loudly in each of the twelve tribes. Not everyone was complaining, but no one could escape the cries of lament.  Whatever percentage that “rabble” amounted to be in numbers (assuming it was a minority), it was their crying and weeping that ignited all of the “sons of Israel” to follow the lead of complainers.

It was like in the nursery of a day care facility, when one baby starts crying, soon all the babies join in. They were crying to be fed; but the babies were no longer satisfied with mother’s milk (manna on the dew). They wanted meat to eat, along with fresh vegetables, which were not available in the wilderness.


In the first three verses of Numbers 11 (not read aloud), the complaints angered Yahweh so much that He burned the outskirts of the camp. This might have been because people were going beyond the boundaries where the manna fell, in search of some other type of food (including forbidden meats). It might also have been because some on the outer fringes were where some children of Israel were running away from camp, attempting to go back to Egypt. Perhaps, God was making sure the Israelites knew where the nation of Israel’s temporary border was, since the Promise of a reward seemed to be the only reason many were ‘tagging along’?  Whatever the reason for God using fire to burn the earth, this is the context from which the “rabble” was moaning and groaning more loudly.

We then read that Moses became aware of the loud cried of complaints coming from the tents of the Israelites. Here, Moses complains to God (another time of several), referring to the Israelites as infants, with him expected to be their mother. This should be read as Moses being the wife of God, with his complaints being those of a wife to a husband.  Being the only adult in a house of demanding babies was frazzling to Moses and not only did the crying become contagious but so too did the anger God felt.


When God told Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them,” this amounts to 5 or 6 elders per tribe. What is not read (from verse twenty-one) is that Moses wondered how God was going to feed six hundred thousand “men on foot,” meaning there were probably a minimum of one million total Israelites, counting men, women and children. That means seventy elders were to be chosen, where each was a leader of about ten thousand people.

The vastness of this number has to be seen in the light of God promising to answer their complaints of no meat by sending in quail, so many that every Israelite would eat meat for a whole month (a lunar month of 28 days), “until [the meat] was coming out of their nostrils, becoming loathsome to them.” (Numbers 11:20)  To gorge a million people each day, that would mean at least two million quail would fly into the wilderness camp and land, to be killed each day!  They covered the entire camp two cubits deep (three feet)!  There were so many the birds had to be taken and eaten, just to make room for more the next day!


By realizing that, the calling of seventy elders to the tent of meeting was not a ‘sweet meet’, so God could try to pep up His priests or some “hang in there,” “attaboys.”  Remember that all had agreed to the Covenant, so being in the wilderness and eating manna was part of that contract.  If you have ever heard the term used that indicates a serious discussion (a reprimand) as a “Come to Jesus meeting,” then you can grasp how God was calling for a “come to Moses meeting,” with God’s cloud of smoke billowing angrily in view.


We then read, “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to [Moses], and took some of the spirit that was on [Moses] and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.” What is not explained fully is what they prophesied, knowing that “to prophesy” means: “To reveal or foretell (something, esp a future event) by or as if by divine inspiration.” [Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014]


This was not God impressing seventy Israelite men with His powers to make one dance wildly while singing unintelligible gobbledygook, like speaking in the tongues of fools. It was God showing those leaders the future that cry babying and endless bellyaching was about to bring upon a million Israelites. Since Moses telling them not to worry was not enough, the Holy Spirit on Moses was brushed onto seventy guys so they could see the light of truth that was coming their way.

“They said we’re going the wrong way. How do they know where we are going?”


We are then told, “They did not do so again,” meaning that was the only time those straw bosses would stand in the sandals of Moses and see the responsibility that a Saint bears, as opposed to some diaper crapping baby … the one that controls the overall mood of a nursery filled with about ten thousand babies. One time seeing what was coming was all they would need. The truth they were shown coming was enough to burn an indelible mark of spiritual reckoning in their minds. Call it an epiphany, if you will.  Afterwards, they would wish never to have an ominous future be shown them again.


THAT is the true meaning of a “come to Jesus meeting” … and once is all one ever needs.


When it is written about Eldad and Medad, their names should be understood, as naming them was for that reason. The Hebrew word “eldod” means “God has loved” and “yadid” means “beloved.” Thus, two did not go to the tent of meeting as ordered, choosing instead to remain in the general camp because of “love.”  That hint should remind the reader that Numbers 11 began with the complaints of those who had “strong cravings,” having “yielded” to cravings of desire.


Those two elders were then singled out as not going to surround the tent of meeting with the other sixty-eight on the list of those summoned. Either their love of God had kept them from complaining, so they felt it was a mistake to be called to be scolded; or, they were defiant in their love of complaining to God, refusing to be told to leave the camp. Whatever the case, God chose them to scare the bejebbers out of the Israelites in the camp by prophesying among the common folk, not at the sacred place of the tabernacle and tent of meeting.


[Personally, I like to see them as like an omen of prophets who would be forced to prophesy outside the confines of Jerusalem’s Temple.  That makes them rebels with a cause for God.]


By reading, “A young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’” we see the shock and awe that their prophesying had. Those two were wildly speaking in understandable language, which the common Israelites heard and became immediately frightened to hear them.  Their message was so frightening that even Joshua was scared that two wild and crazy guys running amok and crying out what the future portends could cause a million people to stampede like wile wildebeests.


Moses seems to have gotten a chuckle out of it all, by responding to Joshua, saying “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” Moses told Joshua (then a young devotee), “Do not worry is someone else speaks prophecy as I do.  It is always a good thing when a prophet of the Lord speaks the truth.”


[It is worthwhile to remember the Gospel lesson in Mark 9, where John of Zebedee told Jesus that he and the other disciples saw someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus, so they tried to stop him, because he was not a follower.  Jesus said, “He who is not against us is for us.”  Eldad and Medad were not speaking against God.  They were His agents in camp, speaking the truth of God.]


In terms of Moses being the wife of God, with Joshua his teen son who is trying to help mom take care of the babies that are crying, Moses spoke of a relieved mother.  His words said the same as that of a satisfied wife who has spent a full day telling disorderly children.  The prophecy, “Wait until your Father comes home and gets out the belt!” had had little effect.  Now, the quails were coming home to roost (so to speak).

[For those of you who have never experienced corporal punishment, it is at the root of Proverb that says, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24)]


We do not read all the gory details of what Eldad and Medad were prophesying, but it follows that the quail came in such large numbers and the Israelites could not walk without gathering them up and preparing them to eat. The meat of the quail would get stuck in their teeth, which began a plague in the camp. That led to the deaths of those who “yielded to cravings.” The dead were then buried there. So many died and were buried that the place was named “Kibroth Hattaavah,” which means “graves of desire.”


[Please see the reason of a baby crying because it is teething.  This is a natural development in a baby’s body.  Teeth are necessary for chewing solid foods. That symbolism is why the quail meat became stuck in the teeth of the Israelites.  Their cries of desire to be fed meat would become the downfall of those who began that “teething” complaint for solid food, no longer satisfied with manna from heaven.]


As an optional Old Testament reading for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s personal ministry for the LORD should be underway – one should have grown up and learned to stop complaining about one’s desires not being met by God – the message here is that cold chill that runs down one’s back when one realizes one just made a huge mistake. There is no way out of the punishment in the future, because one has a whipping’ coming and it will not be pretty.


As I was preparing to write this, I was distracted by the atrocity that was a slanderous claim made by a questionable woman, against a Supreme Court nominee. A hearing was held that was like a three ring circus [four when you count the sexual abuse lawyer as a side act]. The woman making claims of sexual misconduct [call it whatever you will] were clearly motivated by political reasons, with no evidence produced that would ever be upheld in a court of law.  One political party approved the reputation of one man to be smeared, just to buy time, hoping the future will bring them their cravings for power returned.  They were teething for the meat of America, which comes from control of the government.

The whole affair played out like the crybaby Israelites raising a stink about wanting fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic, like they once enjoyed back in Egypt. Egypt was the warm, fuzzy feelings of a prior administration, having forgotten that service to Yahweh means getting off one’s knees and stop bowing to the leaders of a nation.  Rather than a bunch of rubes being pulled out into the wilderness by God and His wives Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, this was a bunch of crybaby Democrats who were remembering the times past, when they controlled the House and Senate.


The whole nursery was wailing!


Certainly, the government established by the Constitution of the United States of America is not to be compared with Moses and the Laws given to him by God. The people of America are not priests that have been chosen by the One God [Yahweh]; they have been promised nothing. While the Congress is an equally inept group of elders [most appearing to be over seventy years of age, judging by the wrinkles], and the citizens of the U.S. of A. are a collection of people, divided into mixed multitudes [paid by some mega-billionaire, here or there, to be called either Democrat or Republican], there is nothing about America that compares to the Israelites in the wilderness … other than their dirty diapers, red faces, crocodile tears and leather lungs of desire.


If this country were to be truly Christian [ha ha ha ha … a Theocracy!] it would have to have the same “Come to Jesus meeting” as this story tells. There would have to be leaders screaming, “We are going to die if we do not change!,” causing great fear in the populace.


Then, those one-time prophets would be judged by all the philosophers, statisticians, atheists, and Baptists as actually being true prophets, because those prophecies of coming doom and gloom would have all come true exactly as foretold. So many people would have to die to prove a Prophecy of God that they would have to rename the United States of America the “Dead Zone” or “Graveyard of Doubters.”

[Aside: The actual purpose of prophecy is to: 1.) Listen; 2.) Believe; 3.) Perform Acts of Faith to Change; 4.) Avert the Foretold Disaster; and 5.) Prophesy … that the disaster is still actively in the future, if the changes fall apart and revert to the ways that brought the first Prophet to prophesy.  Thus, a true prophet’s prophecy might not come true IF people actually follow steps 1, 2, and 3 above.]


I imagine news of those deaths befalling Americans would further embolden America’s enemies, causing them to keep piling on the death. Remember, God would not be protecting us 350-million sinners, just because we called ourselves Christian. The moral of this story in Numbers 11 is God gets angry listening to the prayers of those who say they will follow His Laws and then wallow in sin, crying, “I’m dirty again daddy!”


Watching the hearings on television today made me sick to my stomach. It is hard to defend America as a Christian nation, when a man [at least publicly professing] said to be a life-long Christian had so much filth thrown on him by politicians who want to glorify their rank with the epitaph on their tombstones that says, “I kept it legal to kill fetuses … to tear asunder what God had joined together.”


God really does not care if America is just another pagan nation, like so many others on this planet. God does not care is governments reflect the evil hearts of the people.  God has not become angered by the desires and cravings of Americans, so God has not scorched the earth on the outskirts of the United States of America as if saying, “This is My turf!  It is sacred ground.  Take off your sandals of selfishness!”  Instead, God chooses those who willfully leave that insanity behind them and submit to the Will of the Lord.  God chooses those who choose Him and understand the wilderness is symbolic of self-sacrifice.  However, I think God gets mighty angry at those who say, “I love God!” and then do nothing that bears that claim up with verifiable evidence.


It seems to me to be “Every man to himself!” Sorry ladies. Let me add, “Every woman for herself!” too. We are all about self, not self-sacrifice for a higher goal. Half the people cheer one political party, while jeering the other.  The other half does the same thing in reverse.  Where are Eldad and Medad … the lovers of God?


I am sure there are small pockets of families that try to live righteous lives, somewhere in the world; but it seems less likely that the sell-out God demands is impossible to be found in a place where an I-Pod is in every hand, chips are implanted in stiff necks, and barcodes are tattooed on the wrists of people claiming to be Christians.  Being “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a birthright of righteousness, but a mockery of God.


God help us all. The zombie reality is here.


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