Moses wants out
God sets tents on fire1 People started complaining to the LORD about what a hard time they were having. The LORD didn’t take kindly to any of it. He set a fire outside that camp that struck tents on the perimeter. 2 So, the people complained to Moses instead. Moses prayed to the LORD and the fire burned itself out. 3 Israelites called the place Burning. They did it because this is where the LORD set them on fire.
“Our appetites have lost hope”4 There were some genuine jerks in the crowd who weren’t Israelites. They were hungry—craving food they couldn’t get. Before long, Israelites discovered they were hungry, too. They complained, “Where’s the meat? 5 Remember those good ol’ days of slavery in Egypt, when we were free to eat fish? And cucumbers, too. Melons. Leeks. Onions. Garlic. All for free. 6 But now our appetites have lost hope. There’s nothing to eat but manna.” 7 Manna looked like white coriander seeds or like little white pellets of dried bdellium tree sap. 8 People would wander around the camp, picking up the manna. They would use stones to grind it into a flour, Or they would crush it in a bowl. Sometimes they boiled it in water or baked into bread. The bread tasted sweet, like cakes baked in olive oil. 9 When the night dew fell onto the camp, manna fell with it.
Moses can’t take it anymore10 Moses heard families crying all over the camp. They all stood at the entrance into their tents and moaned. Moses got upset. The LORD got angry. 11 Moses unloaded his complaint onto the LORD: “Why are you giving me such a hard time? Don’t I deserve a little kindness instead? Why have you tossed these people onto my back? 12 Did I bring them into the world? Am I their Papa? Is that why I have to carry them like babies? Do I have to feed them baby food all the way to the Promised Land? 13 Where in these desert badlands am I supposed to find enough meat to feed this many people? 14 I can’t do it anymore. Not by myself. It’s too much. 15 So, if this is how you’re going to treat me, just put me out of my misery. Please. Just kill me now. If you’re on my side and you care about me, end this misery.
Moses gets 70 assistants16 The LORD told Moses:
Bring me 70 older men. I want men the Israelites recognize and respect as their leaders. Bring them to the Meeting Tent and have them stand beside you. 17 I’m coming there to talk with you. I’m going to take away some of Spirit that I poured into you. I’m going to give it to these men standing with you. They’ll help you deal with this crowd of high-maintenance people. You don’t have to do that by yourself anymore.
Prepping for a meat-lover’s meal18 And I want you to do something else. Tell this to the Israelites: Wash up and keep yourselves ritually clean because tomorrow you’re going to eat meat. You’ve been singing the blues into God’s ears:
“Meat, meat, give us meat to eat.
We’re hungry now.
Life in Egypt was sweet.”
Well, the LORD heard your song. Here comes the meat. Get ready to eat.
70 men speak in ecstasy, like prophets24 So Moses told the people what the LORD said. Moses also selected 70 leaders and stood with them around the Meeting Tent. 25 The LORD descended in a cloud and talked to Moses. Then he gave the 70 leaders some of the Spirit he had given to Moses earlier. Suddenly, the men spoke words in a state of ecstasy. But it was a one-time experience. They never did it again. 26 Two of the 70 men missed the meeting at the tent. They were Edad and Medad. They had stayed in the camp. But the Spirit found them. Suddenly, the men were speaking in ecstasy as they walked throughout the camp. 27 A young man ran to Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are going around the camp, talking like prophets.” 28 One man who helped Moses—Joshua, who was Nun’s son—said, “Moses, sir, you need to stop them.” 29 Moses said, “Why? Do you think I’m the only prophet here? I wish all of the LORD’s people here were prophets. I wish they all had his Spirit.” 30 Moses went back into the camp, and the leaders went with him.
Too much quail31 The LORD sent a strong wind that blew quail inland from the sea. They landed near the Israelite camp. Quail blanketed the ground some three feet deep, and for about a day’s walk in all directions. 32 The people went quail-picking. They picked up quail all day, all night, and all day again. Everyone collected at least 50 bushels of quail. Afterward, they set the dead birds out in the desert sun to dry. 33 The meat was still fresh in their mouths and stuck between their teeth when the LORD got angry with them about something and sent a plague. He hit them in the stomach with wrenching pain. 34 The people named the area Graveyard of the Greedy. It’s obvious why. 35 Israelites left the Graveyard of the Greedy and set up camp at Hazroth. They stayed for a long time.
The word is Tabrerah. It’s Hebrew for “burning.”
The Hebrew word is man, pronounced “MAWN.” It’s a good journalism word because it can mean: How? Why? Who? What? What is it? (16:15). Some scholars say a fair English translation of the word might be “whatchamacallit.” Or maybe “whatever.” As in, the Israelites had that “whatever” for breakfast every morning.
Coriander seeds are small, roughly 2-3 millimeters in diameter, about an eighth of an inch. They’re edible and often used as spice. Some say it has a nutty citrus taste of lemon or orange.
Exodus offers a similar description: “The people of Israel called the bread ‘manna.’ It looked like white coriander seeds, and tasted like honey wafers” (Exodus 16:31).
The description sounds like a modern version of booing.
Some scholars say the Hebrew word nābā’ should be translated as “prophesied.” Others say this one-time event sounds more like a prophetic seizure—a moment of great wonder, and possibly with them speaking words that didn’t make sense to those listening. Perhaps a bit like we might hear today in Pentecostal churches when some stand and speak in what the Apostle Paul called “the heavenly language of tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:2). Paul used the Greek word glossa, often translated as “language” or “tongues.” Many Bible experts say that Paul seemed to be referring to a spiritual language that can sound to others like gibberish. Many early Christians, including Paul and Christians in Corinth, seemed to believe that the Holy Spirit allowed some people to speak in a language that makes no sense to most people who hear it. But Paul says it’s a language that can and should be translated if someone speaks it during a worship service (1 Corinthians 14:28).
Quail migrated northward out of Africa every spring and returned each fall. They are heavy birds, easily exhausted. By the time they stopped to rest, they were sometimes too exhausted to flee from predators. Ancient Egyptian artists created pictures of Egyptians picking exhausted quail off the ground.
About one meter.
The Hebrew measure is 10 “homers.” That’s 500 one-gallon-buckets of quail, which is about 50 bushels. That’s also about 2,200 one-liter buckets. It’s a lot of quail. Some say the numbers are an exaggerated way of saying the Israelites had more than enough to eat.
The Hebrew name was Kibroth-hattaavah. Bible versions offer different but similar English translations, including “graves” of: craving, gluttony, wanting. The idea is that people got greedy. They horded. Then they ate too much and died too soon. A modern take on the story is to speculate that the plague was more likely food poisoning from eating spoiled meat. To properly smoke quail, we need a sustained temperature that’s more than double the Sinai temperature. The temperature needs maintained for 3-4 hours, until the temperature of the meat inside is 165 F or 74 C. Otherwise the meat goes bad, the stomach goes sour, and everything inside starts hunting for the nearest exit.
Location uncertain. It’s presumed to have been north of Mount Sinai. One theory is it was at Ain el-Hudhera, about 40 miles (64 km) northeast of Mount Sinai. But that location doesn’t seem to get much support from scholars.
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