Numbers 9-11: Leadership and Complaining
March 5, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The Passover is celebrated (9:1-14), and is to be celebrated even by those who are ceremonially unclean (9:6-12) and by the sojourner who wishes to celebrate as well (9:14). All this is done according to the Lord ’s command (9:5), and that emphasis on following God’s Word continues with how the people moved: “At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped” (9:18, 23).
And so, chapter 10, they set out with trumpets and with a remarkable ceremonial blessing at the start of the day and then again at the end: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you” (10:35); “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel” (10:36).
The people however start to complain, chapter 11. They have had enough of the manna, and they are desperate for meat (11:4-6). They start to remember all the good food they had in Egypt (11:5)—if ever anyone saw the past through rose-tinted spectacles, they did—and it becomes so intense a regret that they are “weeping” at their tents throughout the camp (11:10). Was there ever a more testing moment for a leader? His people are not only dissatisfied with his leadership, they are not only gossiping and complaining about it, they are so upset that they are actually crying and lamenting publicly, all of them at the doorstep of their houses (11:10). It would be like going to church and finding everyone standing in the aisles weeping at how terrible the church vision was. Or like a mayor driving through his town and seeing all the people standing on their front porches weeping aloud at what a terrible situation their town was in.
Moses is understandably shaken (11:10-11): the “burden” is too heavy for him (11:14), he did not ask to lead them, he did not give them birth (11:12), and (frankly) if it really came down to it, he’d just rather God put him out of his misery so he didn’t have to think about how badly everything was going any more (11:15). God listens and has a plan.
First of all, it is delegation. Moses is to appoint seventy elders, and they are to have a portion of the same Spirit, the same inspiration, that Moses has, and so shall help bear the “burden” of the people (11:16-17, 24-25). This is a constant lesson for all leadership. Leaders need a team. Someone must lead, someone must chair, someone must initiate, but even the best of leaders—and surely Moses was one of the greatest the world has ever seen—cannot do it on their own. They need a team who are on the same page and who can share the burden together. Moses is pleased with this and is not jealous that some of these get to prophesy too: would that everyone prophesied, he said (11:29).
Then God, in a way, gave the people what they have wanted. They will have meat, so much meat that it will (in a wonderful metaphor) come out of their “nostrils” and so become “loathsome” to them (11:18-20). God is going to feed them until they barf. You want meat? I’ll give you meat. I’ll give you so much meat you’ll not want to eat any meat again for ages! It’s quite a lesson they will learn, and indeed when the quail appear, as they begin to eat, it results in a plague (11:31-34). God is teaching his people that complaining against God, whining and moaning, is a serious matter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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