In Numbers 11, we find the Israelites stuck in the wilderness because of their disobedience. In Exodus 16, God had sent manna to deliver the Israelites out of their hunger. But now they were getting tired of it.
Numbers 11:4-6 (NKJV), “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!’”
This was all said to Moses and not directly to God. The children of Israel treated Moses as a middle-man between them and God. He would plead with God on their behalf many times, God would give him the message and he would then tell the Israelites what God had told him. Think about how tiring that must have felt! Of the 2.5 (or so) million Israelites, think of how many complaints were brought to Moses daily!
In Numbers 11:11, Moses brings their nagging request back to God and asks:
“Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers?13 Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favor in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!”
Moses was pretty fed up with his flock. He was being totally honest and straightforward with God; not holding back anything. He was imploring to the very heart of God. As a father, Moses probably felt like he was also the father to 2.5 million kids who, when they didn’t get what they wanted, they cried and wept all over him as if he could push some magic button and everything would be okay.
I could imagine Moses thinking, “When will these people ever get a clue? With God’s help, they were miraculously brought out of Egypt and saw many wonders done by the hand of God. Yet here they still are grumbling and complaining; wishing they were still back in Egypt?! Under slavery?! When will this ever end?!”
Then in verse 16, God answered him. In summary, God told Moses to gather 70 elders who would be spread out among the people and hear their complaints. These men would lessen the burden so that Moses wouldn’t have to bear it alone. Then God promised Moses that the children of Israel would be provided with meat for one month. So much meat, in fact, that it would become “loathsome” to them.
Think about it for a moment. God was pretty upset with his people. He even called them a “stiff necked people” in Exodus. Part of the name Israel means struggling with God. So the Israelites really lived up to that name didn’t they? Regardless of their behavior, God never backed away from His promise to their founding father Abraham. Despite their un-thankfulness for delivering them out of hundreds of years of bondage, God remained faithful to them.
After Moses heard from God, he asked Him for specifics. In verse 22, He asked:
“Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to provide enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to provide enough for them?”
He probably imagined himself telling the Israelites that God would provide but they would want to know how exactly He would provide. What kind of meat would He send? When would it come? How much of it would there be? Would it be fish? Birds? Beasts? It was a legitimate question…one I’ve asked God on many occasions.
God could have told them that He was going to send them quail (as He did later in verse 31) but instead He answered Moses’ question with one simple line in verse 23:
Think about that for a moment and apply that to your own life. How many times have we implored and asked God for certain things…even the smallest things…and the only answer we receive is what His reply was to Moses? In that one simple line, God was saying, “Do you doubt me? Are you uncertain of whether or not I can do this? Do you question that I won’t give you exactly what you want? Has my arm been shortened? Now…do you have faith that I will do exactly what I said I would?”