Numbers 11 • I Want It My Way


It’s truthful but not a happy thing to report that the behavior of the Israelites between Egypt and Canaan is often duplicated in the congregations of today’s churches. It doesn’t matter what the pastor says or does, “something” is always “wrong” or “not quite right” with the music, the order of service, too much time on one thing and not enough on another, the color of the fabric on the chairs, and so on and so forth. When such complaints are boiled down one discovers that what is really being said is, “I want it MY way.” Not content to be in the presence of God or to participate as a member of a larger group, the complainant is upset with anything that does not focus entirely on them according to their personal preference and desire. For some it’s not enough that God provides the leadership and means because it isn’t presented in the way that they’d like. They’re obsessed with the form at the expense of the content.

Read verses 1-3

Q: What exactly does it mean when someone is “like those who complain of adversity”?

A: They have no legitimate grounds for complaint; they’re just emotionally unhappy, moody if you will. They’re the worst type of whiner and complainer: one without a justifiable cause.

Q: To get perspective on this, how far have they traveled from Sinai to arrive at Taberah?

A: About 8 miles. In other words, they haven’t even hardly BEGUN the journey. There can’t possibly be an actual hardship to this point.

Point: They’re just plain unhappy about participating, about doing anything at all. Nothing significant has been required of them yet.

Q: What is revealed by the fact that the fire of the Lord occurred at the outskirts of the camp?

A: It reveals that God hears everything. Since the Tabernacle containing God’s presence was at the center of the camp, there was a false belief that one could whisper far away out of God’s hearing.

Application: Is it “OK” to be critical as long as you’re not in the pastor’s presence or physically in a church building? How can you determine if something is deserving of complaint or not?

Read verses 4-9

Q: Who exactly were “the rabble...among them”?

A: These were those who came out of Egypt with the Israelites, Egyptians and other peoples who joined with Israel in the Exodus.

Q: What does it mean that they “had greedy desires”? What was their issue?

A: Their problem was rooted in wanting to satisfy their personal lusts for food, which were not just related to their physical appetite but spiritual. Banquets of food were an integral part of the false religious practices of Egypt that betrays their falseness by satisfying the desires of man rather than God.

Q: What is the phrase in v.6 that betrays the condition of their greed? How is it further expanded on by the description of manna in v.7-9?

A: “There is nothing at all to look at except this manna”. The first step towards pleasing the self is by seeking something that delights the eye. The ensuing description of the manna and the cakes made from it indicate it would never have the appeal of the food presented at the feasts and banquets of the false religious practices of Egypt they were so missing now.

Q: How would you describe the root problem here?

A: They’re more interested in satisfying their own will and desire than God’s.

Q: Why is this surprising in light of what occurred in v.1-3?

A: Whereas the previous group suffered judgment for unfounded complaining, this group believes it’s complaints are justified, even though the issue is completely self-centered rather than God-centered. They’re not learning the right application of the lessons of God.

Application: Is it “OK” to be critical if we feel it concerns a personal need? Do we ever consider God’s desires to be greater and therefore superseding our own?

Read verses 10-15

Q: What was the affect of the other people’s complaints on the main body of Israelites?

A: They became unhappy with their own choice of food, focusing on their own appetite and desires.

Q: How does this result in a change in Moses’ own behavior?

A: Moses begins to complain as well.

Q: But what’s the difference between them?

A: Moses’ complaints are founded on legitimate circumstances and issues:

  1. He cannot bear the whole burden of government upon himself alone.
  2. The people are taking no responsibility for themselves; they’re like an infant that can’t survive without a parent.
  3. Personally providing meat for 2-3 million people is a seemingly impossible task.

Point: The main difference between Moses’ complaint and the complaints of those before him is that Moses is concerned for the carrying out of God’s will, whereas the others are only concerned for their own will.

Read verses 16-23

Q: In this exchange between God and Moses it gets down to the real issue at the bottom of everything that’s been going on. What is it?

A: “Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not”. (v.23) The real problem is faith in believing God’s Word and following through that faith with personal obedience through the circumstances to prove that His desires are more important than their own.

Application: List all the major concerns and issues in your life right now and place them under one of two column headings: “My Wishes” and “His Will”. What will you do regarding the things that are really only about having it your own way? Are your concerns more for the kingdom of God or the comfort of your own personal kingdom?

Read verses 24-30

Q: What is the purpose of only having them prophesy for a short time? Why weren’t they continually prophesying all the time from this day forward?

A: It goes to the core issue explained in the previous section, that of taking God at His Word. God’s Spirit provides a short, visible confirmation that He is with them, but from this point on they need to operate from the Word of God already given to them. God means to reaffirm His Word already given, not replace it with a new form of communication.

Q: How is Moses’ complaint—his prayer, if you will—answered by God in this event?

A: Whereas Moses was personally overwhelmed at the prospect of shouldering the burden of government and leadership alone, he is now provided Spirit-filled assistance.

Q: What is the primary role of leaders within the church both in respect to their obligation to the congregation as well as to the pastor/overall leader?

A: To teach and uphold the Word of God.

Point: The role of prophets in the Bible only marginally involve conveying predictions of future events foretold by God; their primary and overwhelming role is to hold God’s people accountable for the degree of their obedience to His Word.

Read verses 31-35

Q: Why did God strike them with a plague at the very moment they began to eat the meat?

A: Their eagerness to consume the meat without so much as a passing acknowledgement of God condemns their desire to satisfy themselves rather than please God. They have learned nothing from any of the previous events or Word of God.

Q: What do the names “Taberah” and “Kibroth-hattaavah” mean?

A: “Burning” and “the graves of greediness”. They’re pictures of what it means to forsake God’s Word for one’s own desires.

Point: How we absorb and apply God’s answers to our requests is just as important as why and how we originally make them.

Read John 6:26-35

Q: Jesus has just fed the 5,000 and they have pursued Him across the lake. Are they seeking to satisfy God’s desire or their own?

A: They are seeking to satisfy their earthly appetite and are missing out on meeting the greater need of their spiritual appetite.

Q: How does Jesus characterize the net result of their efforts?

A: According to v.27 they are working for temporary, perishable things at the expense of the eternal. Their personal desires have a very narrow, limited scope that may bring temporary satisfaction but long-term problems.

Q: How does the question and answer in v.28-29 compare with the lesson from Numbers 11?

A: It’s not a test of knowledge, but faith. It’s not an issue of self, but selflessness.

Q: How do the people in v.30-31 show that they neither understand the true meaning of the Messiah before them nor the example of Moses and their forefathers before them?

A: They see the manna as satisfying only physical hunger; they completely overlook its greater spiritual meanings.

Q: How does Jesus explain both situations?

A: Neither bread—either by way of Moses or Christ—came except by way of the Father. It’s the “bread” of His Word, first the Law given through Moses, now through Christ the Word Himself.

Q: How are all of our desires and needs to be fulfilled?

A: (v.35) “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst”. Faith and obedience.

Overall Application

All our desires are fulfilled when we subordinate them to HIS desires and will instead of our own; when we do it HIS way, not ours.