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God’s Word for You

Numbers 11:31-35 Graves of the Greedy

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, August 11, 2021

31 A wind sent out from the LORD brought quail in from the sea. The wind scattered them throughout the camp (and about a day’s journey in any direction around the camp) about three feet deep on the ground. 32 All that day, all that night, and all the next day, the people got up and gathered the quail. No one gathered fewer than sixty bushels. They spread them out around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the LORD’s anger burned against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very severe plague. 34 They named that place Kibroth Hatta’avah, because there they buried the people who were overcome by their craving.

According to Psalm 78:26 this was a southeast wind. It didn’t just blow them gently from the seaside so that the birds landed here and there around the camp. It picked up, blew and threw the quail into the camp so high that in places they were three feet (2 cubits) deep, and outside the camp for a distance of a day’s walk away. For two whole days and the night between them, quail dropped and dropped and dropped everywhere in the camp. Moses stresses the amazing volume of meat by describing everyone picking up, at the very least, sixty bushels of birds. Think of a bushel as being the size of your household clothes basket. So much meat could not be eaten all at once. Moses says that they “spread them around the camp,” meaning, I suppose, that they set a lot of the meat aside to dry, preserving it like jerky by smoking it over fires or letting it dry in the sun by hanging it on make-shift racks or lines of ropes like low-level clotheslines (this was an Egyptian method for drying fish ).

They never got to enjoy it. A plague tore throughout the camp and killed those people “who were overcome by their craving.” The Psalm tells us that it was “the sturdiest among them” who were put to death (Psalm 78:31). These people didn’t die because the quail were diseased or because they overate, but on account of the Lord’s wrath over their sin of mistrust. “They did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance” (Psalm 78:22), so along with “the bread of angels” he sent them quail and punishment.

We should take care not to see the manna as gospel and the quail as law, although it would be an easy conclusion to draw. But the manna was a test, able to prolong earthly life, but with no power to grant eternal life. It was a gift, but it tested their contentment. They failed this test by demanding more, and God punished them with the sign of the quail and the judgment of the plague that accompanied the quail.

We must not demand things from God, or attempt to manipulate him, not even with vows and promises. Instead, we should be content with what we are given even though “we have been treated like the world’s garbage, like everyone’s trash, right up to the present time” (1 Corinthians 4:13). If we are scorned and despised by the world (Psalm 22:6), should that surprise us, since Christ was despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3)?

The people who died were buried there in the desert, and they called it Kibroth Hatta’avah, “Graves of the Greedy.” Perhaps something to remember as we leave this scene behind us is that Jesus teaches us to pray “Your will be done” when we ask the Lord for anything (Matthew 6:10, 26:42). God has made known to us the path to heaven, which is our resurrection in Jesus Christ (Psalm 16:10-11), and so we praise God our whole lives through (Psalm 146:2).

35 From Kibroth Hatta’avah the people traveled to Hazeroth, and they stayed at Hazeroth.

Hazeroth was the second important stop since they left Sinai (Numbers 33:16-17). The word really just means “enclosures,” and even today some Bedouins use the hillsides with shallow caves or inlets for temporary shelters along the eastern Sinai peninsula. Since ancient times, small circles of uncut stones are scattered around the region and get mentioned by almost everyone who travels there. These stone circles appear defensive rather than sacred, and they are “nearly always placed upon rising ground, often upon the tops of the most prominent hills” (Henry Field, The Faiyum, Sinai, Sudan, Kenya, 1952, p. 85). “About 25 miles south of Kadesh these stone circles are innumerable, and cover the whole Valley of Mayin. Close to this, in another valley, are later ruins, belonging doubtless to one of the unidentified cities of Southern Judah, now called Lussan”  (Henry Baker Tristram, Topography of the Holy Land, 1871, page 4). The Israelites had arrived safely at a new location, away from the Graves of the Greedy, under the watchful eye of God.

“Let us be on guard so we do not follow their evil examples of skepticism and discontent, so we do not grumble on the journey to our promised land as they did on the journey to theirs. God is feeding our bodies with daily bread and our souls with the Bread of Life. With that let us not only be content—let us rejoice.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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