chapter is based on Numbers 11 and 12.]
building of the tabernacle was not begun for some time after Israel
arrived at Sinai; and the sacred structure was first set up at the opening
of the second year from the Exodus. This was followed by the consecration
of the priests, the celebration of the Passover, the numbering of the
people, and the completion of various arrangements essential to their
civil or religious system, so that nearly a year was spent in the
encampment at Sinai. Here their worship had taken a more definite form,
the laws had been given for the government of the nation, and a more
efficient organization had been effected preparatory to their entrance
into the land of Canaan.
government of Israel was characterized by the most thorough organization,
wonderful alike for its completeness and its simplicity. The order so
strikingly displayed in the perfection and arrangement of all God's
created works was manifest in the Hebrew economy. God was the center of
authority and government, the sovereign of Israel. Moses stood as their
visible leader, by God's appointment, to administer the laws in His name.
From the elders of the tribes a council of seventy was afterward chosen to
assist Moses in the general affairs of the nation. Next came the priests,
who consulted the Lord in the sanctuary. Chiefs, or princes, ruled over
the tribes. Under these were "captains over thousands, and captains
over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens,"
and, lastly, officers who might be employed for special duties.
camp was arranged in exact order. It was separated into three great
divisions, each having its appointed position in the encampment. In the
center was the tabernacle, the abiding place of the invisible King. Around
it were stationed
the priests and Levites. Beyond these were encamped all
the other tribes.
Levites was committed the charge of the tabernacle and all that pertained
thereto, both in the camp and on the journey. When the camp set forward
they were to strike the sacred tent; when a halting place was reached they
were to set it up. No person of another tribe was allowed to come near, on
pain of death. The Levites were separated into three divisions, the
descendants of the three sons of Levi, and each was assigned its special
position and work. In front of the tabernacle, and nearest to it, were the
tents of Moses and Aaron. On the south were the Kohathites, whose duty it
was to care for the ark and the other furniture; on the north Merarites,
who were placed in charge of the pillars, sockets, boards, etc.; in the
rear the Gershonites, to whom the care of the curtains and hangings was
of each tribe also was specified. Each was to march and to encamp beside
its own standard, as the Lord had commanded: "Every man of the
children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of
their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation
shall they pitch." "As they encamp, so shall they set forward,
every man in his place by their standards." Numbers 2:2, 17. The
mixed multitude that had accompanied Israel from Egypt were not permitted
to occupy the same quarters with the tribes, but were to abide upon the
outskirts of the camp; and their offspring were to be excluded from the
community until the third generation. Deuteronomy 23:7, 8.
cleanliness as well as strict order throughout the encampment and its
environs was enjoined. Through sanitary regulations were enforced. Every
person who was unclean from any cause was forbidden to enter the camp.
These measures were indispensable to the preservation of health among so
vast a multitude; and it was necessary also that perfect order and purity
be maintained, that Israel might enjoy the presence of a holy God. Thus He
declared: "The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to
deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall
thy camp he holy."
In all the
journeyings of Israel, "the ark of the covenant of the Lord went
before them, . . . to search out a resting place
for them." Numbers
10:33. Borne by the sons of Kohath, the sacred chest containing God's holy
law was to lead the van. Before it went Moses and Aaron; and the priests,
bearing silver trumpets, were stationed near. These priests received
directions from Moses, which they communicated to the people by the
trumpets. It was the duty of the leaders of each company to give definite
directions concerning all the movements to be made, as indicated by the
trumpets. Whoever neglected to comply with the directions given was
punished with death.
God is a God
of order. Everything connected with heaven is in perfect order; subjection
and thorough discipline mark the movements of the angelic host. Success
can only attend order and harmonious action. God requires order and system
in His work now no less than in the days of Israel. All who are working
for Him are to labor intelligently, not in a careless, haphazard manner.
He would have his work done with faith and exactness, that He may place
the seal of His approval upon it.
directed the Israelites in all their travels. The place of their
encampment was indicated by the descent of the pillar of cloud; and so
long as they were to remain in camp, the cloud rested over the tabernacle.
When they were to continue their journey it was lifted high above the
sacred tent. A solemn invocation marked both the halt and the departure.
"It came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up,
Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that late Thee flee
before Thee. And when it rested, he said, Return, O Lord, unto the many
thousands of Israel." Numbers 10:35, 36.
A distance of
only eleven days' journey lay between Sinai and Kadesh, on the borders of
Canaan; and it was with the prospect of speedily entering the goodly land
that the hosts of Israel resumed their march when the cloud at last gave
the signal for an onward movement. Jehovah had wrought wonders in bringing
them from Egypt, and what blessings might they not expect now that they
had formally covenanted to accept Him as their Sovereign, and had been
acknowledged as the chosen people of the Most High?
Yet it was
almost with reluctance that many left the place where they had so long
encamped. They had come almost to regard it as their home. Within the
shelter of those granite walls
God had gathered His people, apart from all
other nations, to repeat to them His holy law. They loved to look upon the
sacred mount, on whose hoary peaks and barren ridges the divine glory had
so often been displayed. The scene was so closely associated with the
presence of God and holy angels that it seemed too sacred to be left
thoughtlessly, or even gladly.
At the signal
from the trumpeters, however, the entire camp set forward, the tabernacle
borne in the midst, and each tribe in its appointed position, under its
own standard. All eyes were turned anxiously to see in what direction the
cloud would lead. As it moved toward the east, where were only mountain
masses huddled together, black and desolate, a feeling of sadness and
doubt arose in many hearts.
advanced, the way became more difficult. Their route lay through stony
ravine and barren waste. All around them was the great wilderness--"a
land of deserts and of pits," "a land of drought, and of the
shadow of death," "a land that no man passed through, and where
no man dwelt." Jeremiah 2:6. The rocky gorges, far and near, were
thronged with men, women, and children, with beasts and wagons, and long
lines of flocks and herds. Their progress was necessarily slow and
toilsome; and the multitudes, after their long encampment, were not
prepared to endure the perils and discomforts of the way.
days' journey open complaints were heard. These originated with the mixed
multitude, many of whom were not fully united with Israel, and were
continually watching for some cause of censure. The complainers were not
pleased with the direction of the march, and they were continually finding
fault with the way in which Moses was leading them, though they
well knew that he, as well as they, was following the guiding cloud.
Dissatisfaction is contagious, and it soon spread in the encampment.
began to clamor for flesh to eat. Though abundantly supplied with manna,
they were not satisfied. The Israelites, during their bondage in Egypt,
had been compelled to subsist on the plainest and simplest food; but then
keen appetite induced by privation and hard labor had made it palatable.
Many of the Egyptians, however, who were now among them, had been
accustomed to a luxurious diet; and these were the
first to complain. At
the giving of the manna, just before Israel reached Sinai, the Lord had
granted them flesh in answer to their clamors; but it was furnished them
for only one day.
God might as
easily have provided them with flesh as with manna, but a restriction was
placed upon them for their good. It was His purpose to supply them with
food better suited to their wants than the feverish diet to which many had
become accustomed in Egypt. The perverted appetite was to be brought into
a more healthy state, that they might enjoy the food originally provided
for man--the fruits of the earth, which God gave to Adam and Eve in Eden.
It was for this reason that the Israelites had been deprived, in a great
measure, of animal food.
them to regard this restriction as unjust and cruel. He caused them to
lust after forbidden things, because he saw that the unrestrained
indulgence of appetite would tend to produce sensuality, and by this means
the people could be more easily brought under his control. The author of
disease and misery will assail men where he can have the greatest success.
Through temptations addressed to the appetite he has, to a large extent,
led men into sin from the time when he induced Eve to eat of the forbidden
fruit. It was by this same means that he led Israel to murmur against God.
Intemperance in eating and drinking, leading as it does to the indulgence
of the lower passions, prepares the way for men to disregard all moral
obligations. When assailed by temptation, they have little power of
the Israelites from Egypt, that He might establish them in the land of
Canaan, a pure, holy, and happy people. In the accomplishment of this
object He subjected them to a course of discipline, both for their own
good and for the good of their posterity. Had they been willing to deny
appetite, in obedience to His wise restrictions, feebleness and disease
would have been unknown among them. Their descendants would have possessed
both physical and mental strength. They would have had clear perceptions
of truth and duty, keen discrimination, and sound judgment. But their
unwillingness to submit to the restrictions and requirements of God,
prevented them, to a great extent, from reaching the high standard which
He desired them to attain, and from receiving the blessings which He was
ready to bestow upon them.
psalmist: "They tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their
lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in
the wilderness? Behold, He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and
the streams overflowed; can He give bread also? can He provide flesh for
His people? Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth." Psalm
78:18-21. Murmuring and tumults had been frequent during the journey from
the Red Sea to Sinai, but in pity for their ignorance and blindness God
had not then visited the sin with judgments. But since that time He had
revealed Himself to them at Horeb. They had received great light, as they
had been witnesses to the majesty, the power, and the mercy of God; and
their unbelief and discontent incurred the greater guilt. Furthermore,
they had covenanted to accept Jehovah as their king and to obey His
authority. Their murmuring was now rebellion, and as such it must receive
prompt and signal punishment, if Israel was to be preserved from anarchy
and ruin. "The fire of Jehovah burnt among them, and consumed them
that were in the uttermost parts of the camp." The most guilty of the
complainers were slain by lightning from the cloud.
The people in
terror besought Moses to entreat the Lord for them. He did so, and the
fire was quenched. In memory of this judgment he called the name of the
place Taberah, "a burning."
But the evil
was soon worse than before. Instead of leading the survivors to
humiliation and repentance, this fearful judgment seemed only to increase
their murmurings. In all directions the people were gathered at the door
of their tents, weeping and lamenting. "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." Thus they manifested
their discontent with the food provided for them by their Creator. Yet
they had constant evidence that it was adapted to their wants; for
notwithstanding the hardships they endured, there was not a feeble one in
all their tribes.
The heart of
Moses sank. He had pleaded that Israel should not be destroyed, even
though his own posterity might then become a great nation. In his love for
them he had prayed that his
name might be blotted from the book of life
rather than that they should be left to perish. He had imperiled all for
them, and this was their response. All their hardships, even their
imaginary sufferings, they charged upon him; and their wicked murmurings
made doubly heavy the burden of care and responsibility under which he
staggered. In his distress he was tempted even to distrust God. His prayer
was almost a complaint. "Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant?
and wherefore have I not found favor in Thy sight, that Thou layest the
burden of all this people upon me? . . . 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."
hearkened to his prayer, and directed him to summon seventy men of the
elders of Israel--men not only advanced in years, but possessing dignity,
sound judgment, and experience. "And bring them unto the tabernacle
of the congregation," He said, "that they may stand there with
thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of
the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall
bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself
permitted Moses to choose for himself the most faithful and efficient men
to share the responsibility with him. Their influence would assist in
holding in check the violence of the people, and quelling insurrection;
yet serious evils would eventually result from their promotion. They would
never have been chosen had Moses manifested faith corresponding to the
evidences he had witnessed of God's power and goodness. But he had
magnified his own burdens and services, almost losing sight of the fact
that he was only the instrument by which God had wrought. He was not
excusable in indulging, in the slightest degree, the spirit of murmuring
that was the curse of Israel. Had he relied fully upon God, the Lord would
have guided him continually and would have given him strength for every
directed to prepare the people for what God was about to do for them.
"Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, 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?"
people, among whom I am," exclaimed Moses, "are six hundred
thousand footmen; and Thou has 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
reproved for his distrust: "Is the Lord's hand waxed short? thou
shalt see now whether My word shall come to pass unto thee or not."
repeated to the congregation the words of the Lord, and announced the
appointment of the seventy elders. The great leader's charge to these
chosen men might well serve as a model of judicial integrity for the
judges and legislators of modern times: "Hear the causes between your
brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the
stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but
ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of
the face of man; for the judgment is God's." Deuteronomy 1:16, 17.
summoned the seventy to the tabernacle. "And the Lord came down in a
cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and
gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the
spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease." Like
the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, they were endued with "power
from on high." It pleased the Lord thus to prepare them for their
work, and to honor them in the presence of the congregation, that
confidence might be established in them as men divinely chosen to unite
with Moses in the government of Israel.
evidence was given of the lofty, unselfish spirit of the great leader. Two
of the seventy, humbly counting themselves unworthy of so responsible a
position, had not joined their brethren at the tabernacle; but the Spirit
of God came upon them where they were, and they, too, exercised the
prophetic gift. On being informed of this, Joshua desired to check such
irregularity, fearing that it might tend to division. Jealous for the
his master, "My lord Moses," he said, "forbid
them." The answer was, "Enviest thou for my sake? would God that
all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His
Spirit upon them."
A strong wind
blowing from the sea now brought flocks of quails, "about a day's
journey on this side, and a day's journey on the other side, round about
the camp, and about two cubits above the face of the earth." Numbers
11:31, R.V. All that day and night, and the following day, the people
labored in gathering the food miraculously provided. Immense quantities
were secured. "He that gathered least gathered ten homers." All
that was not needed for present use was preserved by drying, so that the
supply, as promised, was sufficient for a whole month.
God gave the
people that which was not for their highest good, because they persisted
in desiring it; they would not be satisfied with those things that would
prove a benefit to them. Their rebellious desires were gratified, but they
were left to suffer the result. They feasted without restraint, and their
excesses were speedily punished. "The Lord smote the people with a
very great plague." Large numbers were cut down by burning fevers,
while the most guilty among them were smitten as soon as they tasted the
food for which they had lusted.
the next encampment after leaving Taberah, a still more bitter trial
awaited Moses. Aaron and Miriam had occupied a position of high honor and
leadership in Israel. Both were endowed with the prophetic gift, and both
had been divinely associated with Moses in the deliverance of the Hebrews.
"I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam" (Micah 6:4), are
the words of the Lord by the prophet Micah. Miriam's force of character
had been early displayed when as a child she watched beside the Nile the
little basket in which was hidden the infant Moses. Her self-control and
tact God had made instrumental in preserving the deliverer of His people.
Richly endowed with the gifts of poetry and music, Miriam had led the
women of Israel in song and dance on the shore of the Red Sea. In the
affections of the people and the honor of Heaven she stood second only to
Moses and Aaron. But the same evil that first brought discord in heaven
sprang up in the heart of this woman of Israel, and she did not fail to
find a sympathizer in her dissatisfaction.
appointment of the seventy elders Miriam and Aaron
had not been consulted,
and their jealousy was excited against Moses. At the time of Jethro's
visit, while the Israelites were on the way to Sinai, the ready acceptance
by Moses of the counsel of his father-in-law had aroused in Aaron and
Miriam a fear that his influence with the great leader exceeded theirs. In
the organization of the council of elders they felt that their position
and authority had been ignored. Miriam and Aaron had never known the
weight of care and responsibility which had rested upon Moses; yet because
they had been chosen to aid him they regarded themselves as sharing
equally with him the burden of leadership, and they regarded the
appointment of further assistants as uncalled for.
the importance of the great work committed to him as no other man had ever
felt it. He realized his own weakness, and he made God his counselor.
Aaron esteemed himself more highly, and trusted less in God. He had failed
when entrusted with responsibility, giving evidence of the weakness of his
character by his base compliance in the matter of the idolatrous worship
at Sinai. But Miriam and Aaron, blinded by jealousy and ambition, lost
sight of this. Aaron had been highly honored by God in the appointment of
his family to the sacred office of the priesthood; yet even this now added
to the desire for self-exaltation. "And they said, Hath the Lord
indeed spoken only by Moses? hath He not spoken also by us?"
Regarding themselves as equally favored by God, they felt that they were
entitled to the same position and authority.
the spirit of dissatisfaction, Miriam found cause of complaint in events
that God had especially overruled. The marriage of Moses had been
displeasing to her. That he should choose a woman of another nation,
instead of taking a wife from among the Hebrews, was an offense to her
family and national pride. Zipporah was treated with ill-disguised
a "Cushite woman" (Numbers 12:1, R.V.), the wife of Moses was a
Midianite, and thus a descendant of Abraham. In personal appearance she
differed from the Hebrews in being of a somewhat darker complexion. Though
not an Israelite, Zipporah was a worshiper of the true God. She was of a
timid, retiring disposition, gentle and affectionate, and greatly
distressed at the sight of suffering; and it was for this reason that
Moses, when on the way to Egypt, had consented to her return to Midian.
desired to spare her the pain of witnessing the judgments that were to
fall on the Egyptians.
rejoined her husband in the wilderness, she saw that his burdens were
wearing away his strength, and she made known her fears to Jethro, who
suggested measures for his relief. Here was the chief reason for Miriam's
antipathy to Zipporah. Smarting under the supposed neglect shown to
herself and Aaron, she regarded the wife to Moses as the cause, concluding
that her influence had prevented him from taking them into his counsels as
formerly. Had Aaron stood up firmly for the right, he might have checked
the evil; but instead of showing Miriam the sinfulness of her conduct, he
sympathized with her, listened to her words of complaint, and thus came to
share her jealousy.
accusations were borne by Moses in uncomplaining silence. It was the
experience gained during the years of toil and waiting in Midian--the
spirit of humility and long-suffering there developed--that prepared Moses
to meet with patience the unbelief and murmuring of the people and the
pride and envy of those who should have been his unswerving helpers. Moses
"was very meek, above all he men which were upon the face of the
earth," and this is why he was granted divine wisdom and guidance
above all others. Says the Scripture, "The meek will He guide in
judgment: and the meek will He teach His way." Psalm 25:9. The meek
are guided by the Lord, because they are teachable, willing to be
instructed. They have a sincere desire to know and to do the will of God.
The Saviour's promise is, "If any man will do His will, he shall know
of the doctrine." John 7:17. And He declares by the apostle James,
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all
men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." James
1:5. But His promise is only to those who are willing to follow the Lord
wholly. God does not force the will of any; hence He cannot lead those who
are too proud to be taught, who are bent upon having their own way. Of the
double-minded man--he who seeks to follow his own will, while professing
to do the will of God--it is written, "Let not that man think that he
shall receive anything of the Lord." James 1:7.
chosen Moses, and had put His Spirit upon him; and Miriam and Aaron, by
their murmurings, were guilty of
disloyalty, not only to their appointed
leader, but to God Himself. The seditious whisperers were summoned to the
tabernacle, and brought face to face with Moses. "And Jehovah came
down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle,
and called Aaron and Miriam." Their claim to the prophetic gift was
not denied; God might have spoken to them in visions and dreams. But to
Moses, whom the Lord Himself declared "faithful in all Mine
house," a nearer communion had been granted. With him God
spake mouth to mouth. "Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak
against My servant Moses? And the anger of the Lord was kindled against
them; and He departed." The cloud disappeared from the tabernacle in
token of God's displeasure, and Miriam was smitten. She "became
leprous, white as snow." Aaron was spared, but he was severely
rebuked in Miriam's punishment. Now, their pride humbled in the dust,
Aaron confessed their sin, and entreated that his sister might not be left
to perish by that loathsome and deadly scourge. In answer to the prayers
of Moses the leprosy was cleansed. Miriam was, however, shut out of the
camp for seven days. Not until she was banished from the encampment did
the symbol of God's favor again rest upon the tabernacle. In respect for
her high position, and in grief at the blow that had fallen upon her, the
whole company abode in Hazeroth, awaiting her return.
manifestation of the Lord's displeasure was designed to be a warning to
all Israel, to check the growing spirit of discontent and insubordination.
If Miriam's envy and dissatisfaction had not been signally rebuked, it
would have resulted in great evil. Envy is one of the most satanic traits
that can exist in the human heart, and it is one of the most baleful in
its effects. Says the wise man, "Wrath is cruel, and anger is
outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" Proverbs 27:4. It
was envy that first caused discord in heaven, and its indulgence has
wrought untold evil among men. "Where envying and strife is, there is
confusion and every evil work." James 3:16.
It should not
be regarded as a light thing to speak evil of others or to make ourselves
judges of their motives or actions. "He that speaketh evil of his
brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth
the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a
judge." James 4:11. There is but one judge--He "who both will
bring to light the
hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the
counsels of the hearts." 1 Corinthians 4:5. And whoever takes it upon
himself to judge and condemn his fellow men is usurping the prerogative of
specially teaches us to beware of lightly bringing accusation against
those whom God has called to act as His ambassadors. The apostle Peter,
describing a class who are abandoned sinners, says, "Presumptuous are
they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas
angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation
against them before the Lord." 2 Peter 2:10, 11. And Paul, in his
instruction for those who are placed over the church, says, "Against
an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three
witnesses." 1 Timothy 5:19. He who has placed upon men the heavy
responsibility of leaders and teachers of His people will hold the people
accountable for the manner in which they treat His servants. We are to
honor those whom God has honored. The judgment visited upon Miriam should
be a rebuke to all who yield to jealousy, and murmur against those upon
whom God lays the burden of His work.