Because of the complaints and disrespect for God, he had promised they would have more meat than they could eat in a month.
“And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, 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. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at 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?” (Numbers 11:18-20)
Even Moses had questioned God’s ability to fulfill that promise. After all there were more than a million and a half people total, with six hundred thousand adult men.
“And Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; 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, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?
And the LORD said unto Moses, Is the LORD'S hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.” (Numbers 11:21-23)
God had answered that he was not limited and that they would see whether God could fulfill his promise or not.
“And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and 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 high upon the face of the earth.” (Numbers 11:31)
God sent a powerful wind that swept across the sea and carried millions of quail before it. After hours of fighting to survive, when the wind died the quail dropped exhausted to the ground around the camp. It must have been some what like the huge hailstorms recently in northern Texas, that left piles of hail as much as six feet deep in places. The quail spread over an area more than a days walk on either side of the camp and in places piled up to three feet deep. Many undoubtedly died of suffocation or being crushed, and all were exhausted and disoriented.
“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: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.” (Numbers 11:32)
The people spent about thirty six hours gathering as many quail as the could, butchering them and laying them out to dry since they had no refrigeration. Even the slowest was able to get ten homers, or a little over ten barrels full. An homer was approximately fifty eight gallons of water, or six and a half bushels. It would be enough meat to sustain an individual for several months, if properly dried to prevent spoilage. Even if only the men were involved, more than six million barrels of quail were collected. There was no way to transport such a quantity of food, and much would be wasted.
“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.” (Numbers 11:33)
Such wanton greed and slaughter angered God. Clearly they were not trusting him in their efforts to hoard the food, and the wanton destruction of so many millions of quail was quite offensive. Even before they finished eating, God caused disease to break out, killing many thousands of them. It is probable that God used some natural pathogen such as E. Coli or Salmonella that careless handling allowed to multiply. God made man responsible for overseeing the world in Genesis 1:28. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” That does not give us the right to wantonly destroy it. Greed still results in serious consequences.
David described the situation in Psalms 106:13-15. “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Often getting what we want interferes with spiritual development. It may be a curse rather than a blessing. I suspect a large percentage of American Christians are in this state, having their physical demands but spiritually starving.
“And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted. And the people journeyed from Kibrothhattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth.” (Numbers 11:34-35)