E. L. Bevir.
Christian Friend vol. 15, 1888, p. 36.
It has often been noticed, that the mixed multitude were the immediate cause of Israel's murmuring; but it should be remarked at the same time, that it is always a more ordinary thing to follow a bad example than a good one. In a similar case, Paul exhorts the saints to follow those who were walking at the head of the procession, and not to be looking back at the rear, to those who might very well be compared to the heterogeneous mixed multitude of Numbers 11. (See Philippians 3:17, etc.)
Moses in this chapter feels that the burden is too much for him, and ends his first discourse in verse 15 with a petition to be "killed out of hand." He appears, all through the passage, to great advantage as a noble and disinterested soul, but, occupied with himself and his own resources, he felt himself unable to accomplish the task of leading the people through the wilderness. It is a very remarkable thing that the two grand figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, both begged to be allowed to die in peace. Death is a sovereign remedy for an energetic person, whose task is too hard for him; and surely neither Moses nor Elijah were wanting in energy; but they had to learn that it was not their power or energy that could accomplish their tasks, though they never could have known what the great Apostle to the Gentiles speaks of in 2 Corinthians; that is, the power of the resurrection, and the full and perfect mistrust of all that is of the natural man.
The word "I" is found very frequently in Moses' speeches in this chapter, and when this (I, me) becomes the object of our thoughts we generally find words to express them. Moses had said (Exodus 4:10,) "I am not eloquent . . . . I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue;" but he becomes eloquent when "Moses" is the theme of his discourse (see verses 21 and 22 of the chapter before us), he finds the use of his tongue in describing his own difficulty; and that is natural to all men.
But the great and blessed lesson to be learnt in this remarkable passage is the faithfulness of God whilst chastening His rebellious and lusting people, and the boundless resources of Jehovah in the wilderness when, to all appearance, everything had come to a dead stop, and the mere energy of man is proved to be nothing worth. Nothing could be more interesting to us at the present time, when the enlightened leaders of the nineteenth century, leaving God out of their calculations, assure us that it was physically impossible for Israel to cross the desert, and when not a few may be found following the mixed multitude in all manner of worldliness and self-seeking.
Moses lost a great privilege, but the same power was exercised by Jehovah though he employed seventy other men; the power of the Spirit was distributed, but not increased. The answer to the question, "Have I conceived all this people?" is fully given by the Lord in His untiring patience in this wonderful passage.
But the application must be made to ourselves. It has often been shown that in the first chapters of this book a full and perfect provision is made by the Lord for the march of the whole camp across the wilderness, and that the most terrible failure occurs the moment the camp begins actually to move. The oft-repeated story of failure after having been established in blessing by God is seen here, and may serve as an illustration of what has occurred in the church of God upon earth from Pentecost up to the present time.
We may consider for a moment, without going back further in history, the actual state of things in the present day - the state of utter failure and weakness, and the unchanging grace and power of our God and Father in Jesus Christ, whose goodness will never fail us to the end of the journey. "Is the hand of the Lord shortened?" It became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Leader of their salvation perfect through sufferings; and this blessed Leader never complains, as Moses did, of the weight of the charge He bears. The wilderness journey, for us, is drawing to its close; but we are still in the wilderness, and need to look up to Him at every moment, and He will not fail us.
The contrast between Moses and Paul has often been presented. Moses in verse 12 of this chapter asks if he has brought forth the people, that he should be charged with the burden until the promised land be reached. Paul, on the contrary, in the epistle to the Galatians, was willing to suffer pangs afresh, in order that the saints might receive blessing and Christ be formed in them. We may well notice the perfect trust in the Lord in the apostle, and the perfect mistrust of everything that is of man; and it is not going too far to assert, that Moses had not understood the end of man, of his efforts, his excellence, and his energy, in Numbers 11. He could not, as we have already noticed, say with Paul, "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not have our trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead." A more striking passage than this, where we must be careful not to confound an energetic, noble nature (see verse 29) with the power of God, is perhaps not to be found in Scripture.
If ever there were a day in which we need to look entirely to the Lord, and to Him alone, it is the day in which we live; and by faith we look up to Him, the Leader of our salvation, to Him whose arms were once extended upon the cross as He bare our sins, and who ever lives to lead us through every difficulty to the eternal glory. It may be said that the people of God are so dispersed, the century in which we live is so wicked, the power of the enemy so strong, and many other things, but we know that His arm is not shortened. It may be a severe lesson to learn, that of mistrusting man, and our own selves most of all, but a blessed lesson after all, and we look towards Him in the excellent glory, and to the God of glory who has placed Him at His right hand, praying that we may glorify Him for the rest of the journey in the desert. May we be found walking in true dependence, prayerfully, and with true confidence in Him. E. L. B.