Israel had camped aroung Mount Sinai for eight months without moving around, and it had been over a year since they had fled from Egypt. They had gotten used to not having to do very much, and having to move every day was a nuisance.
“And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.” (Numbers 11:1)
God had delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, overthrown the Egyptian army, divided the Red Sea for them, given victory over the Amalekites, and provided food every day for them and still they complained. It is not hard to understand his frustration. He sent a fire, probably similar to a brush fire, among them that killed some on the outskirts of the camp. Many times God uses seemingly natural events to chastise his people.
“And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched. And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.” (Numbers 11:2-3)
The people panicked when they realized they couldn’t protect themselves and turned to Moses for help. Whatever God used to start the fire, when Moses prayed, the fire went out. The called the place ‘burning’ because of the fire. Unfortunately, not everyone caught on.
“And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
A large number of non Jews had come out of Egypt along with the Israelites. Some were in-laws of the Jews, while others were people who had left Egypt in hopes of finding something better, but had no real ties to Israel. With no tradition of believing God would give them a land, leaving Sinai was probably particularly troubling. Like many others, they suddenly started remembering “the good old days,” when they had a greater variety of foods, and forgetting the other problems, such as being slaves and having their children killed.
“And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium. And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil. And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.” (Numbers 11:7-9)
The Manna was like a grain or seed that appeared when the dew came during the night. It could be used like any other grain, and all that was needed was to gather it each day. The taste resembled that of fresh olive oil, implying that it was both nutritious and tasted good. All that was required was to pick it up and prepare it each day.
Dissatisfied people tend to focus on minor issues rather than seeking the real cause of their discontent because they don‘t want to make any changes in their own lives. It was easier and more socially acceptable to complain about the food than to admit they had were only interested in wha they could get. Unfortunately discontent tends to spread rapidly.
“Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased.” (Numbers 11:10)
Several years ago, A couple came to me because the wife was very upset that her husband wasn’t providing in the manner she felt he should. She felt he should give her money to go shopping whenever she wanted to, but she insisted that if he wanted the house cleaned he should do it himself or hire someone. She refused to cook, demanding that he take her out for every meal. There was no way he could meet her demands without her getting a job and she refused to do that because “it was his responsibility to support her.” It was easy to understand the husband’s frustration.
The attitude of the people was much the same and it is easy to understand God‘s anger. It was frustrating listening to the wife’s refusal to accept any responsibility, and Moses was frustrated by the people’s complaining.
“And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour 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 sucking 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 favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:11-15)
Frustration led to Moses complaining himself. Why should he have to put up with their constant demands? How can he supply what they want? At the moment he’d rather be dead than keep dealing with their complaints. Many pastors become similarly impatient and frustrated by their people’s lack of spiritual growth. They forget that they are only dealing with the frustration at the moment, just as I only had to deal with the momentary frustration of the wife in the story refusing to listen to my advice. Like the husband, God has to deal with the refusal to do what they should every day.