Numbers 11:1
Soon the people began to complain about their hardship in the hearing of the LORD, and when He heard them, His anger was kindled, and fire from the LORD blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.
A Summary View of Sin and its RemedyE.S. Prout Numbers 11:1, 2
Against MurmuringSpurgeon, Charles HaddonNumbers 11:1-3
Complaining of Providence PunishedJ. Parker, D. D.Numbers 11:1-3
Criticising FavoursH. W. Beecher.Numbers 11:1-3
Finding Fault with GodBp. Hall.Numbers 11:1-3
Israel's SinC. Ness.Numbers 11:1-3
Losing Temper with GodF. W. Faber.Numbers 11:1-3
Murmuring Against GodWatson, ThomasNumbers 11:1-3
Murmuring Hurts not God, But Wounds UsBrookes, ThomasNumbers 11:1-3
MurmuringsW. M. Taylor, D. D.Numbers 11:1-3
Sin and PrayerHomilistNumbers 11:1-3
The Sin of ComplainingG. Wagner.Numbers 11:1-3
The Worst FireW. Seaton.Numbers 11:1-3
Ungrateful DiscontentJ. Spencer.Numbers 11:1-3
Murmuring, Lusting, and LoathingD. Young Numbers 11:1-9

I. A CHAIN OF MORAL SEQUENCES, containing the following links: -

1. The people's sin. The complaints probably various, as may be illustrated from other narratives.

2. Their sin noticed. "The Lord heard it," as he hears every idle word, and reads every sinful thought (see outline on Numbers 12:2).

3. This notice awakens God's anger. By the necessity of his nature, "God is angry with the wicked every day."

4. His anger flamed forth in visible judgments. "The fire of the Lord burned among them," for "our God is a consuming fire," either to purge us from our sins, or to destroy us in our sins.

5. These judgments are fatal, "and consumed them" (Psalm 76:7). For another chain of sequences cf. James 1:14, 15.


1. God's mercy tempers judgment. The fire only destroys "those in the utmost part of the camp" (Psalm 102:8-10).

2. The judgments inflicted humble the people, and lead them to appeal to Moses. Such judgments are blessings. Servants of God sought for by sinners, or even despisers, in the day of trouble (cf. Isaiah 70:14).

3. Moses, when appealed to, himself appeals to God. We disclaim all power as saviours, but look and point to the one Saviour (Psalm 60:11; Acts 3:12).

4. God appealed to in acceptable intercession, turns from the fierceness of his wrath (Psalm 99:6). And the High Priest of sinners, by a more costly mediation and a prevailing intercession, still interposes for sinners who "come unto God by him" (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). - P.

The people complained.

1. This we might infer from our own feelings, when dependents, children, servants, or receivers of alms are always grumbling. We grow weary of them, and angry with them.

2. In the case of men towards God it is much worse for them to murmur, since they deserve no good at His hands, but the reverse (Lamentations 3:29; Psalm 103:10).

3. In that case also it is a reflection upon the Lord's goodness, wisdom, truth, and power.

4. The evil lusting which attends the complaining proves its injurious character. We are ready for anything when we quarrel with God (1 Corinthians 10:5-12).

5. God thinks so ill of it that His wrath burns, and chastisement is not long withheld. To set an imaginary value upon that which we have not —

(1)Is foolish, childish, pettish.

(2)Is injurious to ourselves, for it prevents our enjoying what we already have.

(3)Is slanderous towards God, and ungrateful to Him.

(4)Leads to rebellion, falsehood, envy, and all manner of sins.

II. A DISSATISFIED SPIRIT FINDS NO PLEASURE FOR ITSELF EVEN WHEN ITS WISH IS FULFILLED. The Israelites had flesh in superabundance in answer to their foolish prayers, but —

1. It was attended with leanness of soul (Psalm 106:15).

2. It brought satiety (ver. 20).

3. It caused death (Psalm 78:31).

4. It thus led to mourning on all sides.

III. A DISSATISFIED SPIRIT SNOWS THAT THE MIND NEEDS REGULATING. Grace would put our desires in order, and keep our thoughts and affections in their proper places, thus —

1. Content with such things as we have (Hebrews 13:5).

2. Towards other things moderate in desire (Proverbs 30:8).

3. Concerning earthly things which may be lacking, fully resigned (Matthew 26:39).

4. First, and most eagerly, desiring God (Psalm 42:2).

5. Next coveting earnestly the best gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31)

6. Following ever in love the more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31).

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

1. Those who are merely hangers-on to a Church are usually the beginners of mischief among its members. So in the community, the men who have no stake in its welfare are always the most dangerous element of the population. They have nothing to lose in any event, and it is just possible that, in the confusion, they may gain a little. Thus they are always ready for either riot or emeute. The "mixed multitude" in our cities represents what others call the dangerous classes; and in proportion as their existence is ignored by the respectable portion of the people, and nothing is done for their education or elevation, the danger is aggravated.

2. Murmuring is invariably one-sided. These discontented Egyptians and Israelites did nothing but look back on Egypt; and even when they did that, they saw only the lights, and not the shadows. Again, in their depreciation of their present lot, they were equally one-sided. They could see in it nothing but the one fact that they had no flesh to eat. They took no notice of the manna, save to despise it; they said nothing of the water which God had provided for them; they never spoke of the daily miracle that their clothes waxed not old; they made no reference to the constance guidance and presence of Jehovah with them. Now this was flagrantly unjust; and yet in condemning that it is to be feared that we are passing judgment upon ourselves, for if we were fully to reckon up both sides of the account would there ever be any murmuring among us at all?

3. God is always considerate of His faithful servants. See how tender He was to Moses here. He saw that he needed human sympathy and support, as well as Divine, and therefore He hastened to provide him with a cordon of kindred spirits, who might act as a breakwater, and keep the waves of trouble and discontent that rose in the camp from dashing upon him. One cannot read of this without being impressed by the tenderness of God; and it is a suggestive fact that on almost every occasion on which we are told of His judgment falling upon sinners, we have in the near vicinity some manifestation of gentleness to His friends.

4. The truly great man is never envious of others. Here is a lesson for all, and especially for ministers of the gospel. How hard it is to rejoice in the excellence of another, especially if he be in the same line with ourselves l And yet the disparagement of the gifts of another is really an indication of our consciousness of the weakness of our own. The highest and the hardest cliff to climb on the mountain of holiness is humility.

5. We can set no limits to the resources of God (ver. 23).

6. It is not good for us to get everything we desire (Psalm 105:15). Prayers horn out of murmuring are always dangerous.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

I. A SADLY COMMON SIN. Murmuring. Discontent is the spirit of this wicked world.

II. A TERRIBLY SOLEMN FACT. God recognises and retributes sin.

III. A GENERAL SOCIAL TENDENCY. The wicked ever seek the good in their terror and distress.

IV. A STRIKING RESULT OF PRAYER. The breath of Moses' prayer extinguished the flame.


The people complained — and the Lord set fire to them! That seems rough judgment, for what is man's speech as set against the Divine fire? Who can defend the procedure? Who can so subordinate his reason and his sense of right as to commend the justice of this tremendous punishment? So they might say who begin their Bible reading at the eleventh chapter of Numbers. Read the Book of Exodus, notably the fourteenth and following chapters up to the time of the giving of the law, and you will find complaint following complaint; and what was the Divine answer in that succession of reproaches? Was there fire? Did the Lord shake down the clouds upon the people and utterly overwhelm them with tokens of indignation? No. The Lord is full of tenderness and compassion — yea, infinite in piteousness and love is He; but there is a point when His Spirit can no longer strive with us, and when He must displace the persuasions of love by the anger and the judgment of fire. But this is not the whole case. The people were not complaining only. The word complaint may he so construed as to have everything taken out of it except the feeblest protest and the feeblest utterance of some personal desire. But this is not the historical meaning of the word complaint as it is found here. What happened between the instances we have quoted and the instance which is immediately before us? Until that question is answered the whole case is not before the mind for opinion or criticism. What, then, had taken place? The most momentous of all incidents. God had said through Moses to the people of Israel — Will you obey the law? And they stood to their feet, as it were, and answered in one unanimous voice — We will. So the people were wedded to their Lord at that great mountain altar: words of fealty and kinship and Godhood had been exchanged, and now these people that had oft complained and had then promised obedience, and had then sworn that they would have none other gods beside Jehovah, complained — went back to their evil ways; and the Lord, who takes out His sword last and only calls upon His fire in extremity, smote them — burned them. And this will He do to us if we trifle with our oaths, if we practise bad faith towards the altar, if we are guilty of malfeasance in the very sanctuary of God. Were the people content with complaining? They passed from complaining to lusting, saying, "Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt," &c. There is a philosophy here. You cannot stop short with complaining. Wickedness never plays a negative game. The man who first complains will next erect his appetite as a hostile force against the will of God. A marvellous thing is this, to recollect our lives through the medium of our appetites, to have old relishes return to the mouth, to have the palate stimulated by remembered sensations. The devil has many ways into the soul. The recollection of evil may prompt a desire for its repetition.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

1. Israel had many impediments in their march to the Land of Promise, not only from without (Pharaoh pursuing, Amalek intercepting, &c.), but also from within, among themselves by their manifold murmurings (1 Peter 4:18).

2. God writes our sin upon our punishment. These murmurers here sinned against the "fiery law" (Deuteronomy 33:2); therefore were they punished by fire out of the pillar of fire from whence the fiery law was given and published. Their perdition is our caution (1 Corinthians 10:5, 11).

3. Evil company is infectious and catching as the plague (1 Corinthians 15:33).

4. Wherever there is sinning again on man's part, there will be punishing again on God's part (John 5:14). Here Israel sinned again with a double sin —(1) In desiring flesh which they wanted;(2) In disdaining manna which they enjoyed. The vehemence of their concupiscence was the more inflamed by remembering their former Egyptian diet, yet forgetting withal their Egyptian drudgery.

5. The people's profane deploring their penury (when they had little cause to do so, while fed with the food of angels) doth not only make God angry with them (ver. 10), but also putteth meek Moses into a pang of passion and impatience (vers. 11-15).

6. The Divine remedy to all this human malady; both as to Moses' impatience, and as to Israel's intemperance.(1) Moses must not bear the burden alone, but shall be assisted with the Sanhedrin, or great council of the Jews, consisting of seventy seniors (answerable to the seventy souls that descended with Jacob into Egypt) whereof Moses sat president, all endowed with the gifts of the spirit of Moses, who was as a candle that lighteth others, yet hath not less either heat or light than it had before (vers. 16, 17, 24, 25, 30).(2) As to the people's intemperance, as God promised and performed plenty of flesh to those fleshly-minded multitude, so He punished their impiety with a horrible plague at the close thereof (vers. 18, 19, 20, 31, 32, 33, 34).

(C. Ness.)

Observe that it does not say that the people "murmured," but "complained," or, as it is in the margin, "were as it were complainers"; by which it is evidently meant that there was a feeling in their minds of scarcely expressed dissatisfaction. There was no sudden outbreak of murmuring, but the whispers and looks of discontent. There is no special mention of any particular reason for it. It does not say that their manna failed, or that any hostile army was arrayed against them. Doubtless the journeying was always wearisome, and on its fatigues they suffered their minds to dwell, forgetful of all the mercies vouchsafed them, and "complained." Now, we must all feel that right-down murmuring is very sinful, and in its worst forms most Christians overcome it; but not so complaining, for this seems to many to be scarcely wrong, and it often grows on them so gradually that they are seldom conscious of it. The causes of complaint are manifold. Little difficulties in our circumstances — little acts of selfishness in our neighbours; but complaining is most of all a danger with persons who have weak health — for weakness of body often produces depression of spirits — and this is the soil in which a complaining spirit takes deepest root. Then, too, it often grows into a habit; a tinge of discontent settles on the countenance, and the voice assumes a tone of complaint. And though this, like most habits soon becomes unconscious, yet it is not the less mischievous on that account. It is mischievous to our own souls, for it damps the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts, and enfeebles the spiritual life. It is mischievous in its effects upon others; for when Christians complain it gives the world altogether wrong impressions of the strength and consolation which the love of Christ affords, and it frequently generates the same spirit; one complains, and another, having the same or other causes of complaint, sees no reason why he should not complain too. And this was probably its history in Israel. It is scarcely likely that all began to complain at the same moment. Doubtless there were some who set the sad example, and then the hearts of all being predisposed, it spread like an epidemic. We should settle it well in our hearts that complaining, no less than murmuring, is a fruit of the flesh. David complained in Psalm 77:3, "I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed"; but he soon felt that the root of the evil was in himself. "This," he adds (ver. 10), "is my infirmity." But no part of Scripture proves more strikingly than the events at Taberah, how displeasing to God, and how dangerous in its results, a complaining spirit is. The punishment which followed, and which gave the name to the place, proves the first point. Patient and long-suffering as God ever was with Israel, we are told (Numbers 11:1) that "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." The severity of the punishment shows that this was no little sin, encompassed as they were with mercy, and guided by Jehovah Himself through the wilderness. It was no less dangerous in its result, for the subsequent history shows how "complaining" ripened into "murmuring," and murmuring was at last the cause of Israel's final fall. Let us endeavour, then, to watch against a "complaining spirit." In heavy and stunning afflictions we glorify God, when, like Aaron, we are enabled to "hold our peace." Like David, we can say, "I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it"; or, as in Psalm 131:2. Still more if we can, through grace, rise to the elevation of the afflicted Job, and say, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord"; or, if anything, to the still higher elevation of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:11-13). In the lesser and more ordinary trials of daily life, its difficulties and its duties, we glorify Him by Christian Cheerfulness; and how can we maintain this spirit but by tracing the hand of a Father in them all, carrying them all to God in prayer, and, most of all, by looking above present things to the "everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure"? For the things which are seen, our difficulties and our trials, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, our strength and our crown, are eternal.

(G. Wagner.)

We would think that beggar intolerably impudent, that coming to our doors to ask an alms, and when we have bestowed on him some bracken bread and meat, yet (like those impudent persons the Psalmist speaks of, that grudge and grumble if they be not satisfied, if they have not their own will, and their own fill) he should not hold himself contented, unless he might have one of our best dishes from the table. But this is the case of very many amongst us. We come all as so many beggars to God's mercy-seat, and God gives us abundance of many good things, as life, liberty, health of body, &c., yet we cannot be quiet, nor think ourselves well, unless we be clothed in purple, and fare deliciously every day as such and such do, not considering in the meantime many that are below us, and above us too, wanting those things which we comfortably enjoy.

(J. Spencer.)

There are many persons who receive favours and criticise them. They make it a ground and reason of fault-finding; as in the case of the man who found a Spanish coin worth eighteen and three-quarter cents, and turned it over in his hand and said, "Well, that is just my luck. If it had been anybody else that found it, it would have been a twenty-five cent piece." He had no thanks for what it was, but grumbled because it was not more. So it is with many men in the world. They are perpetually analysing and criticising the kindnesses that are done to them. They are not right in measure, or kind, or method; they are not right somehow; and they shut off the sense of obligation and refuse to be grateful.

(H. W. Beecher.)

Murmuring is a quarrelling with God, and inveighing against Him (Numbers 21:5). The murmurer saith interpretatively that God hath not dealt well with him, and that he hath deserved better from Him. The murmurer chargeth God with folly. This is the language, or rather blasphemy, of a murmuring spirit: God might have been a wiser and a better God. The murmurer is a mutineer. The Israelites are called in the same text "murmurers" and "rebels" (Numbers 17:10); and is not rebellion as the sin of witchcraft? (1 Samuel 15:23). Thou that art a murmurer art in the account of God as a witch, a sorcerer, as one that deals with the devil. This is a sin of the first magnitude. Murmuring often ends in cursing: Micah's mother fell to cursing when the talents of silver were taken away (Judges 17:2). So doth the murmurer when a part of his estate is taken away. Our murmuring is the devil's music; this is that sin which God cannot bear (chap. Numbers 14:27). It is a sin which whets the sword against a people; it is a land-destroying sin (1 Corinthians 10:10).

( T. Watson.)

God hath much ado with us. Either we lack health, or quietness, or children, or wealth, or company, or ourselves in all these. It is a wonder the Israelites found not fault with the want of sauce to their quails, or with their old clothes, or their solitary way. Nature is moderate in her desires; but conceit is insatiable.

(Bp. Hall.)

Losing our temper with God is a more common thing in the spiritual life than many suppose.

(F. W. Faber.)

I have read of Caesar, that, having prepared a great feast for his nobles and friends, it fell out that the day appointed was so extremely foul that nothing could be done to the honour of their meeting; whereupon he was so displeased and enraged that he commanded all them that had bows to shoot up their arrows at Jupiter, their chief god, as in defiance of him for that rainy weather; which, when they did, their arrows fell short of heaven, and fell upon their own heads, so that many of them were very sorely wounded. So all our mutterings and murmurings, which are so many arrows shot at God Himself, will return upon our own pates, or hearts; they reach not Him, but they will hit us; they hurt not Him, but they will wound us; therefore it is better to be mute than to murmur; it is dangerous to contend with one who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

( Thomas Brooks..)

The fire of
Nothing but mercies had come upon the back of their complainings before. They had had water, and they had had bread; but now the Lord would send them fire. It should be the fire of the Lord, holy fire; yet not as that, which, descending from heaven upon the altar, burnt continually before the Lord in His temple, acceptable in sacrifice; but a consuming fire; the burning of His wrath. It is bad to "be saved so as by fire," to have all consumed, but ourselves, to be burnt out of house and home; yet far worse is it to be burnt out of the world. Still this might be the way to heaven for some, carried thither as in a chariot of fire. We know it was the way, the common way that martyrs went. The fire was kindled by their enemies; but it was not as the burning of Taberah; there was no ingredient of the wrath of the Almighty in the flame: but "one like unto the Son of Man" was there, to make it as the purest vestment of the soul, the involving element of love. Oh, there is a fire worse than all others, the burning of the Lord, a fire that descends to the bottomless pit, and the smoke of which has been seen. Behold it kindling in the camp of Israel. It had indignation in it; it was a consuming fire, lighted up in the righteous displeasure of heaven, its fuel the bodies of transgressors themselves. "Tile people complained." What then? "It displeased the Lord; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them in the uttermost parts of the camp." There was no flying from it, it was a city in flames from its utmost extremities. Who can run from the presence of the Lord? How affecting this? It may be conceived, kindled by lightning from the cloud that had guided them, darting in angry form, and with the voice of the Almighty, in thunders impatient to be gone. Who can stand before the indignation of the Lord? who can abide His anger when the gathering storm of His displeasure breaks forth? His favour, what man that regards his life would not entreat? His wrath, what man that fears His power would not deprecate? He is to us, as what we are to Him — sinners or saints. This judgment had in it everything awful — cut off from all share in the promises, slain by the power that had kept them alive, and left heaps of wrath in the very way to life.

(W. Seaton.)

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