Numbers 11-13
(Ye of Little Faith)
February 12th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

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!”

- Numbers 11:4-6 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

The Israelites had been very obedient as of late. They moved when God told them to move, they worshiped as God told them to worship, and had been doing everything that he commanded. But it was hard to keep up that good attitude while wandering in the desert. In these three chapters we see several examples of the breakdown of their faith and the LORD’s responses. When the people complained about food, the LORD responded with fire, then sent them more food, but followed up with a plague (chapter 11). When Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses, he struck Miriam with leprosy (chapter 12).

These chapters also begin a brief section that chronicles the first attempt to enter the Promised Land of Milk and Honey. Since the people were getting antsy it was a good time to start scouting out the Promised Land to see what resources were available and who they might encounter if they moved there. Therefore, Moses sent twelve spies on a forty-day journey to explore Canaan, as recorded in chapter 13. They came back with a bunch of fresh grapes and other food as evidence of the abundance of natural resources. All of the spies agreed on the richness of the land. However, there was a division of opinions regarding the plausibility of moving there. The general report back to Moses and the people was very grim. If they had used a PowerPoint slide, it might have looked something like this:

These sound like exaggerated claims, but this is what the spy team said:

    At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

    - Numbers 13: 25-29 (NRSV)

But Caleb, from the tribe of Judah, provided an impassioned rebuttal during his colleagues' presentation:

    Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, "Let's go up and take the land—now. We can do it."

    - Numbers 13:30 (MSG)

Based on information provided in subsequent chapters, it appears that Joshua was the only other spy who had agreed with Caleb on the plausibility of the Israelites possessing the land that God had promised to them. The chapter ends with the situation unresolved, but it looked like the chickens were ruling the roost, as they outnumbered the minority dissenters 10 versus 2. Moreover, the weak-willed were actively spreading their exaggerated claims. We will have to wait until the next reading to see the LORD’s response.

Reflection and Application

This group of chapters began with a slew of complaints from the populace: “We don’t like it here, we were happy in Egypt where we had onions and garlic, nice homes and other modern amenities.” They had also suffered from oppression and were forced to build palaces for a heartless slave master, but hindsight is always biased according to one’s argument. Moses was getting a little frustrated as well. He griped to God that he was forced to carry these people out to the desert just to hear them complain:

    Why do you treat your servant so badly?” Moses asked the LORD. “Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people? Was it I who conceived all this people? or was it I who gave them birth, that you tell me to carry them at my breast, like a nurse carrying an infant, to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?

    Where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they are crying to me, ‘Give us meat for our food.’ I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face my distress.”

    - Numbers 11:11-15 (NAB)

But the greatest demonstration of anger came from the LORD, directed at the people of the twelve tribes. He was resentful of their lack of faith, he was exasperated with their lack of spiritual maturity, and he was appalled at their ingratitude. He spoke to Moses, referring to himself in the third person, “is the LORD’s arm too short (Num 11:23 - NIV)?” In other words, there is nothing he can’t do, but the people act as if his power is limited. As one demonstration of his power, the LORD then took some of the Holy Spirit from Moses and shared it with a group of elders, who then began to prophesize as described in Numbers 11:25. The prophecies in this case may not have been predictions of things to come but enraptured enthusiasm(1). This is one of the early instances of the bestowing of the Holy Spirit that is described in the New Testament. The LORD chose to share the Spirit so that the receivers would be more enabled to help their people. In this case they also helped to relieve the burden on Moses.

If we can look at the Israelites with objective eyes, then we can apply the same scrutiny to ourselves. Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, we ought to be grateful for what we do have. This was the same mistake that Adam and Eve made way back in our first day of study and it is a problem that we are still making today, thousands of years later. However, if we are so disappointed that we need to sound off with someone, then we ought to seek God.

If we have a complaint with God, we can take it to him directly, as Moses did (Num 12:10-15), and then see how God deals with it. Notice that God did not direct his anger at Moses, but at the others who grumbled among themselves and complained about Moses. We may also want to seek to understand the root of our complaint against someone and address the real issue. For example, Miriam would have been better off with this approach regarding Moses, because she probably had some underlying grudge against her little brother, but she chose to discuss superficial problems instead.

Given all the grievances raised by the Israelites, you would think that they would have wanted to believe there was something better and attainable over the next mountain. Instead, they were too easily convinced that it was impossible. On the one hand, their response is understandable. The spies evaluated the volume, size, and military experience of the current inhabitants and may have felt that they would be as outmatched as a High School Soccer team going up against Manchester United, one of the top professional soccer (football) teams in the world. The High School team would need Gordon Banks in the goal and the Hand of God at the other end to score goals. Some of you may remember that in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, there was an Argentinean player who insisted that it was the "Hand of God" that had intervened to knock in the winning goal against England. Many years later he recanted and admitted it was not the Hand of God, but the hand of Diego Maradona (2).

The 20th century descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel understood what it felt like to be a military underdog. In June of 1967, the countries of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were threatening to invade Israel with a force of 328,000 trained men. They significantly outnumbered the force of 250,000 men in the Israeli army, which consisted mostly of lightly trained civilians. In addition, the opposing forces had nearly double the number of tanks and planes, and vowed to devour the nation of Israel. The Israelites of 1967 may have felt like grasshoppers against giants. However, this time they had more Calebs than chickens, and perhaps they truly had the Hand of God on their side. A surprise pre-emptive defensive attack led to the biggest upset in modern military history, all completed in six days, leaving the seventh day to rest (3)(4). The victory expanded the land of Israel to include the Sinai Peninsula, which was later given back to Egypt in return for the peace agreement of 1979 - an agreement that continues to be honored today.

When we feel outnumbered, we can remember that we always have the Hand of God on our side. If we have the facts that lead us to a different conclusion than the rest of our party, we should speak the truth respectfully, but boldly, as Caleb did when he challenged the conclusion of the other spies.

You can click on the video object below if you are interested in seeing the infamous "Hand of God" goal by Diego Maradona - you can double-click on the video to see it in a full screen (so that the players look more like men and less like grasshoppers):

"Hand of God Goal"

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What was your favorite upset victory of all time (as a participant or observer)?
    2. In what situations at work or other places have you found yourself in the minority opinion even though everyone has the same facts?
    3. How do we inspire ourselves and others to drop the assumption that God’s arm is too short to intervene in our world?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to stop attributing human limitations to our vision of you and acknowledge that with you anything is possible. Anything.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Soccer players and coaches (especially the little ones!)


    (1) New American Bible footnotes, Numbers 11 (2) Daryl, “World Cup Moments: Diego Maradona and the Hand of God," World Cup Blog,
    (3) “Middle East: The Quickest War,” Time Magazine, June 16th, 1967
    (4) "Concise Timeline,"

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Numbers 14 (Grave Consequences)

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