The 2001 Commentaries

Israel’s Sin Over Meat?

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If you were to ask most people what the IsraElites had to eat during the forty years that they trekked in the desert, most would answer ‘manna.’ And as the result, many have tended to sympathize with the IsraElites who complained that they wanted more things to eat, because the impression such a conclusion gives is that the only food God provided for His people at the time was just a prison ration of bread (manna) and water…

Notice their actual complaint.
At Numbers 11:4-8 we read:

‘Who is going to give us meat to eat?
We remember all the fish that we used to eat in Egypt, as well as the cucumbers, melons, leeks, garlic, and onions.
But now our lives have become [empty], because, all we can see is this manna.’

Was that the true situation?
Well, remember that the main occupation of these people (and the main source of their wealth) was their huge flocks and herds of cattle (see Genesis 46:32 and Exodus 12:38).
So they really had plenty of meat to eat if they chose.
In fact, most of the meat of the holy sacrifices they were to offer on sacred occasions was returned to them for their own consumption.

Then, what were they complaining about?
Well, notice who really started the complaining.
Verse four says:

‘It was the [gentiles] who were mixed among them that started [complaining].’

So, the instigators were probably Egyptians and others that weren’t used to a shepherd’s diet.
Rather, what they missed was the markets of Egypt, where a person could go every day and purchase meats of all sorts and a wide variety of vegetables (cucumbers, melons, leeks, garlic, and onions). However, they did have beef, lamb, and all the miraculous manna that they cared to eat, which was in fact their primary staple (as bread had always been to the ancients), and it could be prepared in different ways.

Of course, the ‘meat’ that the gentiles among them seemed to be missing was the large variety of animals that they used to consume in Egypt prior to the restrictions that came with God’s Laws. So, the complaint doesn’t really seem to be that they didn’t have meat, but rather, that they probably didn’t like the restrictions that God’s Laws made as to what types of meat they could eat (as well as about their lack of fresh fish, vegetables, and fruit in the desert).

How did God solve this problem?
By sending them the ‘meat’ that they asked for in such an abundance that they virtually became sick of eating it.
Yet, notice that the wild game that He provided (quail) was still allowed under His Law.

Another common misunderstanding about this matter is why God thereafter send a plague on the people for eating the quail. We have heard many answers to this in past years, such as, ‘They ate without giving thanks,’ or, ‘They didn’t take time to drain the blood.’
However, the Bible just doesn’t give us an answer.
All we know is that ‘greed’ was involved, since that place was thereafter referred to in the Bible as ‘The Graveyard of the Greedy.’

You might notice, for example, the quantity of meat that was slaughtered and consumed;
For the account indicates that the slaughter of the birds was needless and wanton.

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