Getting more than we bargained for

Series on Numbers (ch. 11:16-20, 31-34)

“The Lord therefore said to Moses, ‘Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you shall not bear it all alone. And say to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, ‘Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”’ “Now there went forth a wind from the Lord, and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground. And the people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague . . .” (11:16-20, 31-34).


Grumbling and complaining are not new attitudes. They did not originate with Israel. Yet it is a phenomenon that occurs especially in the dynamics of a group situation. Whenever external changes are introduced into the group, someone will begin to complain. God was controlling Israel’s situation; therefore, the people had no legitimate justification for complaining. We recall the many things God was doing for Israel:

  1. He had placed them in the wilderness for protection.
  2. He had organized them into an orderly camp.
  3. He was feeding them daily.
  4. Their clothing and shoes were not wearing out.
  5. The pillars of cloud and fire, from God, were guiding them day and night so they would not be lost in the wilderness.
  6. They were journeying toward a Promised Land, by God’s direction, and were a short distance from receiving that inheritance.
The spirit of complaint and dissatisfaction occurred despite all God had done. It was a spirit that was unaffected by punishment — God caused fire to break out in the camp. It was unaffected by benefits — they loathed the manna. They forgot past grievances — their slavery in Egypt. They were insensible to the purpose for which God had called them — the Promised Land.

I. The punishment of sin (11 : 18-20)

God answered Israel’s complaints by giving them more than that for which they had bargained. Because the people loathed the manna and had no meat to eat, God caused quail to fall about the camp. We sometimes use the expression, “It rained cats and dogs.” God caused it to rain quail for a range of six miles out from the camp and in some places up to three feet in depth. That is a lot of quail! As with the manna, which continued to be given, all Israel had to do was go out and gather them. However, God’s blessings caused only greed. With the quail piled as high as three feet, it must have been a sight to see those Jews, who would average about five feet in stature, wade out among those quail. They would be literally up to their chests in quail. Moses records that the least amount gathered was ten homers, which is equivalent to 110 bushels of quail! The people had forgotten God’s daily sustenance. The manna was sufficient for one day, but it was given to them every day except the Sabbath. Instead of gathering enough for only one day, Israel spent two full days gathering an abundance of quail. The text also indicates that the reason God gave them so many quail was for Israel to learn the lesson that greed brings despising. They would have so much meat and so often for a whole month (11:20), that they would be sick of it. The principle of greed continues to cause people to forget God’s daily provisions.

II. The principle of sin bringing more sin

L. Nelson Bell was quoted in Christianity Today: “God’s punishment for sin is often more sin.” This principle is found in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, in Romans 1:24f, God gave people over to an overindulgence of their own sin until society became so tired of it that they called for a change. This principle has operated throughout society for generations. Consider what has happened in our society in the last decade. Our greed in technology has allowed our environment to practically poison us. Americans have shouted so long and so loud that the whole world has become alarmed at toxic waste and ozone problems. Steps are being taken and laws are being enacted to clean up the environment. Sexual sins have run rampant throughout the world and the threat of AIDS has so stunned the world that “safe sex,” i.e., monogamous relationships, are being demanded. Sexual responsibility is the clarion call of society. The abuses to children, drug use, alcoholism, and cancer from tobacco usage also have society crying for change. The irony of all of this is that our Creator has known from the beginning what is best for His creation, but until man, himself, realizes this valuable lesson and initiates change, God cannot help us. Much like the prodigal son who finally “came to himself” in the far country of sin, God’s children often learn very painful lessons through experience. What lessons can we learn from Israel’s experience?

First, we must be careful what we ask God for because we might get it (11:20). After we get it, we may discover that it was not what we really wanted. We may want to get rid of it but cannot. This will make us wiser and more cautious as we ask God for things. It should make us always insert the phrase, “But God, only as you would will.”

Second, we must be careful what we complain to God about. He may well answer our complaint. I recall an old “Twilight Zone” episode in which an insurance accountant was disgusted with everyone in the world but himself. He went to bed wishing that everyone else would be just like him. When he woke up and went to work, everyone else did act as he did! They were rude and obnoxious bores. What he had dreamed for turned into his worst nightmare. He received his wish and was miserable.

Third, we need to always be thankful for what we have (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 4:2). Thankfulness and a remembrance of how we are already blessed by God will keep us from being complaining and bitter. Being bitter and grumbling is a spirit of the age, not of age itself. Fred Cowley, director of Pleasant Valley Retirement Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, recently said in a meeting on the myths of aging, “It is a myth that old people grow fussy and bitter. The reality is that fussy and bitter people grow old.”


In this age of selfishness and materialism, Christians must work extra hard to have Christ-like spirits rather than spirits of complaint and dissatisfaction. We must constantly remind ourselves of God’s blessings. He cared so much; He sent us Jesus. How thankful are you for Him?