Numbers 11:4-6

Sermon preached on September 8, 2013 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

On June 15, 2011 there was an riot in Vancouver, Canada that is known as the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot. That evening the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the hockey playoffs and won the Stanley Cup. After the riot Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson attributed the riot to 'a small group of troublemakers'. Vancouver Police Department chief Jim Chu said that the instigators came equipped with eye protection, gasoline and other tools. He called them 'criminals and anarchists' who disguised themselves as fans. Some people dispute his claim but the fact is that a small group of people started the riot. An eyewitness claimed that they were shouting, "Let's go riot, let's go riot" as early as the first period of the game. They were the same people who were responsible for flipping the first car.

A few people started the riot and soon many others, including people who had no criminal background and were normally law abiding citizens, joined in. We know that many of the rioters were ordinary people because after the riot, citizens who had pictures of the rioters sent them to the police and the police published them on their web site so that people could identify the rioters. Some of the identifications were easy because some of the rioters had actually posed for photographers. Others were foolish enough to post incriminating photos of themselves on social media sites. Others were identified when acquaintances recognized them. Hundreds were identified. It was later revealed that the vast majority of them had never been in trouble or had been arrested before.

They got caught up in the evil. The mob mentality affected them. We see the same thing in our text. We read,

"The rabble with them
began to crave other food,
and again the Israelites started wailing
and said, 'If only we had meat to eat!
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt
at no cost—also the cucumbers,
melons, leeks, onions and garlic.
But now we have lost our appetite;
we never see anything but this manna!"

The rabble with them began to complain. Who were these people? We're not sure. The NIV says the rabble 'with them' complained. It could also be translated, the rabble, 'among them'. (ESV and Holman CSV) They were either the worst of the Israelites or more likely, non-Israelites. Timothy R. Ashley writes, (Numbers, NICOT; p. 207-208)

"This group seems to be set over against the children of Israel… and thus probably refers to the non-Israelite element that came out of Egypt with the Hebrews."

Exodus 12:38 tells us that when the Israelites left Egypt,

"Many other people went up with them,
as well as large droves of livestock,
both flocks and herds."

It could be that those who started complaining were foreigners who had left Egypt with the Israelites. But what we see is that this complaining spread to the whole community. Verse 10 tells us that Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent.

There are important lessons for us here.

First, we need to make sure we aren't influenced by evil people.

It's remarkable how the complaining spread. It quickly went from the rabble to the whole people. Matthew Henry writes,

"A few factious, discontented, ill-natured people, may do a great deal of mischief in the best societies, if great care be not taken to discountenance them.""These were the scabbed sheep that infected the flock, the leaven that leavened the whole lump."

The Bible warns us in many places about not letting others lead us into evil. It tells us to be on our guard against it. For example in 1 Corinthians 15:33 the apostle Paul wrote,

"Do not be misled:
'Bad company corrupts good character.'"

Paul saw this in the Galatian church. In chapter 5:7-10 he said to them,

"You were running a good race.
Who cut in on you and kept you
from obeying the truth?
That kind of persuasion does not come
from the one who calls you.'
A little yeast works through
the whole batch of dough.'
I am confident in the Lord that you
will take no other view.
The one who is throwing you
into confusion will pay the penalty,
whoever he may be."

Error and evil spread so easily. We really need to be on our guard that other people don't influence us for evil. In Galatians the apostle Paul also told us how Peter and Barnabas were influenced by error in certain people. He wrote about Peter, (Galatians 2:12–13)

"Before certain men came from James,
he used to eat with the Gentiles.
But when they arrived, he began to draw
back and separate himself
from the Gentiles because he was afraid
of those who belonged
to the circumcision group.
The other Jews joined him in his
hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy
even Barnabas was led astray."

The error spread like wildfire. The truth of 1 Corinthians 5:6 has been proven time and again. It says,

"Don't you know that a little yeast
works through the whole batch of dough?"

Jesus told His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Error and evil can spread so easily. Paul had to rebuke Peter in front of everyone in order to correct the situation.

It's easy to get caught up in complaints or error, to let the crowd sway you.

So I ask you—who influences you for evil? Think about this. Who is a bad influence on you? What are you doing about it? Are you guarding yourself against that influence? Or are you letting that corrupting yeast have an impact on your life?

The second thing that this passage teaches us is that

we need to think whenever we hear a complaint and evaluate it to see if it's true or if it's deceptive.

It's important to note that the complaint was basically bogus. It was deceptive. It contained part of the truth, but it mixed falsehood with it. Timothy R. Ashley writes, (Numbers, NICOT; p. 208)

"The act of looking back and remembering the good old days had one major flaw. The people remembered eating, but it was hardly for free. In fact, the cost of that plenty had been slavery…"

The rabble said that they ate fish in Egypt at no cost! In Egypt they had been slaves. They had no freedom. The people here seem to be saying that they'd trade their freedom for food. They're like Esau, only worse. Esau sold his birthright for food. The people were are forgetting that God was bringing them to a land flowing with milk and honey. They were complaining that they were not willing to put up with a little temporary hardship.

Christians, one of the most important things you need to do in this world is to think. We need to think biblically and analyze things correctly.

One of the great characteristics of our present society is that, despite all its intelligence, in certain respects it's an unthinking society.

There are people that don't want you to think. All this about political correctness—it's not about rationally analyzing a situation and making an informed decision about it. They want you to blindly accept what they tell you to believe. And people can accept the most absurd things.

I'll give you one example. College students are intelligent, aren't they? They think things through, don't they? Not always. The pressure to fit in and conform is enormous. This past week I read some articles on the news that was, I thought, unbelievable. At St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia the 2
nd through 4th year students organized some Frosh week activities. At one of them there was an activity that took place to the chanting of a song. Someone posted a YouTube video of it. The song is about as bad as it could be. It's about sexual violence against underage females. The song celebrated it! It is a perverse and thoroughly offensive song. The video showed the Frosh leaders, clapping as they sang the song. There were young women clapping as it was sung. How could they do that? How could they sing that? How could these young students clap as it was sung?

Of course once it hit YouTube the game was up. Seventy or so leaders of Frosh Week were reprimanded. The president of the student association resigned. The vice president for student life resigned as well. When some of the frosh leaders were asked about it one of the excuses one young man gave was that the song was sung every year during Frosh Week.

What were they thinking? The answer is that they weren't thinking at all. These young men and women were the brightest and most intelligent of their classes. But the desire to fit it, peer pressure, made the vast majority of them accept that song. They weren't thinking, they blindly accepted that chant.

Our society is very much like that today. My example was an extreme example but it is just one of many that could be used. If something is politically correct they don't want you to think about it or question it.

As Christians you need to think. You need to think biblically. Consider the thinking of the Israelites in our text. Their thinking was very defective. At first glance we might think,

"But all they wanted was a little variety. What was so wrong with that?"

There was a lot more going on than that. Their complaint reveals that the lack of variety was the tip of the iceberg. Their complaint shows that they were disgruntled with God and were rebelling against Him.

Let's consider their complaint.

First, it shows that they despised their life-bread.

In verse 6 they said,

"we have lost our appetite;
we never see anything but this manna!"

Manna was what kept the Israelites alive in the wilderness. Without God's miraculous provision in giving it to them they would have perished because there wasn't nearly enough food in the wilderness to feed all of the Israelites. (Exodus 16:2-3) Joshua 5:12 tells us that when they arrived in the promised land, as soon as other food was available, the manna ceased.

Yet here we have the Israelites despising their life‑bread. It's like biting the hand that feeds you. How rational was that?

Secondly, they despised what was exceedingly special food.

Verses 7-9 tell us how special the manna was. It tells us that the manna was like coriander seed and that it tasted like something made with olive oil. The NIV dictionary describes the manna this way,

"It was white, of delicious flavor, and resembled seed of the coriander, a plant of the eastern Mediterranean area that was both tasty and nourishing."

Psalm 78:24 called manna the 'grain from heaven', Psalm 105:40 called it, 'bread from heaven'. Psalm 78:25 refers to manna and says that,

"Men ate the bread of angels; he sent
them all the food they could eat."

God gave His people this precious food and they despised it. How rational was that?

Thirdly, the manna had a spiritual significance and they greatly sinned by despising the manna.

Where does our life come from? Does it come from mere bread. Is that what sustains us and gives us life? No. Jesus gives us life. He upholds and sustains us. He gives us every breath we take. (Acts 17) Our life, our being, our existence, comes from Him. In John 6:31-33 Jesus told us that the manna pointed to Him being the bread of life. The Jews asked for a miraculous sign and said to Jesus,

"Our forefathers ate the manna
in the desert; as it is written:
'He gave them bread from heaven to eat."

Jesus replied,

"I tell you the truth, it is not Moses
who has given you the bread from heaven,
but it is my Father who gives you
the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is he
who comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world."

The ancient Israelites despising the manna showed their lack of faith and trust in God. They did not seem to know that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The whole episode shows their lack of faith, that there was something wrong with them. There was nothing wrong with God and His dealings with them. They were supposed to rejoice in the manna because it was how God gave them life.

The manna pointed them to the fact that they were to trust in God, in His will, in His commandments for the regulation of their lives. God was their life. When Jesus was tempted by Satan He wouldn't stop trusting His Father. Satan urged Him to use His own power to turn the stones into bread. He was telling Jesus that He had to take things into His own hands or He was going to die. Jesus refuted His argument by quoting from Deuteronomy 8. In that chapter Moses urged the people to carefully follow every command of God. He said to them, (verses 2–3)

"Remember how the LORD your God
led you all the way in the desert
these forty years, to humble you and
to test you in order to know
what was in your heart,
whether or not you would
keep his commands.
He humbled you,
causing you to hunger and
then feeding you with manna, which
neither you nor your fathers had known,
to teach you that man does not live
on bread alone but on every word
that comes from the mouth of the LORD."

The Israelites complained that they ate for free in Egypt. Yet they were slaves there. The Egyptians kept them from serving God. One of the reasons God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt was that they would be free to serve Him. When you're a slave you serve others. God did not want His people to be hindered in serving Him. They were His. God was bringing them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Their hardship was only temporary and it would have been a lot shorter than 40 years if they had not disobeyed God. The fact is that these sinful people were not willing to endure hardship for a short season. They refused to accept God's discipline. (Hebrews 12) They failed to trust God. Their faith failed.

Jesus came to free us from the bondage to sin. No one now can force us to sin. We have a Savior who is with us in every circumstance we find ourselves. The world may tell us that we have to sin in order to survive—but Jesus tells us that our life is in His hands—and that we are to look to Him in faith and say no to sin and temptation.

We are to be like Esther, who, when facing great danger for doing the right thing said, (Esther 4:16)

"if I perish, I perish"

Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. God's Words, His commandments—they are our life.

That's what God was showing them with the manna. The manna, and the lack of other food—pointed to this. The people are in the wilderness with no food—God gives them the manna to show that He is their life—that in their lives, their actions, their thoughts, their reasonings—they are to trust Him. He is their all in all who gives them life and freedom.

If you put all these things together you see that these ancient people were not thinking rationally. They sinned greatly by complaining about only having the manna to eat. They despised the manna that pointed to Christ and to how their lives were to be lived. How rational was that?

What about you? Do you analyze things correctly, biblically? Do you despise your life-bread? Do you not appreciate the very special things that God gives you? Do you despise God's discipline in your life? Are you totally committed to putting God's commandments into practice in your life no matter what? One of the clear signals that our society is giving us today is that unless you give in to their ideas you're going to suffer. If you hold to Biblical truth and stand up for it—it's going to be bad for you on this earth. If you don't receive the mark of the beast you're not going to be able to buy or sell. Be thoroughly committed to God.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, this passage shows you that your passions, your desires are paramount to you—you're going to perish. God's way is the way of life. You need Jesus. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:24,

"If anyone would come after me,
he must deny himself and take up
his cross and follow me."

Go to Jesus today.