11:1 Now the people became evil complainers in the hearing of YHWH, and when YHWH heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of YHWH blazed up among them and devoured the outskirts of the camp. 11:2 The people cried out to Moses, and Moses interceded on (their) behalf to YHWH and the fire died out.
11:3 So the name of that place was called Taberah (burning) because the fire of the Lord burned among them.
The camp of Israel has left Sinai and is on the move, and we enter now a section of Scripture, Numbers 11-14, which is a time of complaining and rebellion that will culminate in Israel’s rebellious refusal to go into the Promised Land. It is at the same time a section of the patience and grace of the Lord.
That rebellion of Israel begins here and will build to Numbers 14. Today we look at the first scene.
Key Truth: Moses wrote Numbers 11:1-3 to warn Israel against rebellion and to prophesy to them Jesus the Messiah whose intercession rescues us from eternal fire.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what the Bible warns about rebellion and how Jesus’ intercession rescues us from Hell’s fire.
1. Rebellion stirs up destroying fire (Numbers 11:1)
2. Christ quenches the destroying fire (Numbers 11:2-3)
Exposition: Note well,
1. REBELLION STIRS UP DESTROYING FIRE (11:1).
a. כְּמִתְאֹ֣נְנִ֔ים Hithpoel participle: complainers
b. What did they complain of?
i. Was it their direction? It was toward the Promised Land, the home God had promised them.
ii. Was it the length of travel? They had only gone three days (10:33).
iii. Was it the food? It was miraculously provided bread (manna) twice a day.
iv. Did they want to return to Egypt (Num 11:4)? Jarchi, a great Jewish commentator, says the word complainers signifies taking an opportunity, and that the sense is, that these men sought an occasion how to separate from the Lord; they wanted to return to Egypt again, that was what they were meditating and contriving; so the Targum of Jonathan reads, "and the ungodly of the people were in distress, and intended and meditated evil before the Lord:"
c. These complainers were creating dissension in the congregation. They were stirring up trouble. They were apparently on the outskirts. Isn’t that just the way they work? They hang around on the edge of what is going on and second guess, nay say, and complain.
d. "it displeased the Lord": a murmuring complaining spirit is always displeasing to him, when a thankful heart for mercies received is an acceptable sacrifice; murmurers and complainers God will judge at the great day,
e. and consumed the outskirts of the camp; who very likely were the principal aggressors; or it began to arouse and terrify the body of the people, and bring them to repentance, who might fear it would proceed and go through the whole camp, the hinder part or rearward of which was the camp of Dan; and so the Targum of Jonathan.
f. Same fire as killed Nadab and Abihu; Leviticus 10:1. This is another form of strange fire.
g. APPLICATION: Let me tell you how you can spot a rebellious person, how you can put your finger on a person creating dissension in the congregation. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, they will have something to complain about it, and they poison everyone they come in contact with. These kinds of people slime you, and you feel just a little dirty after you walk off from their sewage-spewing mouths.
h. Not around for the work: A person creating dissension will also never be found where the real work is going on, unless there is something they can get out of it. They stay out at the outskirts of the camp. You’ll find them standing outside spewing their filth. They’ll pull you in to a conversation you didn’t want to be part of. You’ll come around a corner and see them whispering their poison, putting out their lies, tearing apart somebody. Unless you want to get burned with their strange fire, you best stay away from them. Or if you are in leadership or a supervisory role, your job is to confront it and stop it.
i. Look for an occasion to separate: Another thing is that a person creating dissension is always looking for an occasion, always looking for a cause, always looking for an opportunity to pounce on something or somebody. They have a famous relative. We read about him in 1 Peter 5:8: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” This kind does the same thing. They love innuendo. They like to put half a sentence out there to create a question in your mind. They are constantly looking for a way to twist someone’s words or wrench around a situation to suit their own agenda to make their point, to put somebody in their place, and out of their own insecurity try to make themselves look better than the one they just devoured.
j. Strange Fire: The Scripture says that fire is reserved for those kinds of people. What is sad is that in the church we have leadership, people who are supposed to have the maturity and sense and salvation to stop dissension when they see it, but sometimes they are the ones running around stirring things up to the detriment of everybody else. That kind of activity is called strange fire. It killed Nadab and Abihu. It killed those on the outskirts. And if you traffic in strange fire, it will burn you, too.
k. Some of you might not like what I have to say today, but you will have to take it up with the Almighty and His Book. Oftentimes the Word says things that make me uncomfortable. It is called conviction. If it makes you uncomfortable or angers you, perhaps you should pay more attention. The Holy Spirit is trying to help you overcome yourself. If the Lord doesn’t lead you to passages where He is trying to help you grow and develop and move the obstacles out of the way to that growth, then you’re not reading the Scripture enough. Has it ever occurred to you that there are some messages that the preacher does not want to bring? But to be a faithful servant, bring them he must.
l. But the best part of this passage comes next. In verses 2 & 3 there is some great good News.
2. CHRIST QUENCHES THE DESTROYING FIRE (11:2).
a. “Moses prayed unto the Lord”; as he did, in which he was a type of Christ, the mediator between God and man, the advocate of his people, an intercessor for transgressors.
b. Isaiah 53:12: he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
c. 1 Timothy 2:5-6: For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.”
d. Romans 8:34: It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
e. Hebrews 7:25: Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
f. “the fire was quenched”; it stopped and proceeded no further; as through Christ's mediation God is pacified with his people for all that they have done, and his wrath, and all the effects of it, are turned away from them, and entirely cease with respect to them; or it "sunk down" (תשקע "sunk down") into its place. This may serve to confirm the notion of its being a burning wind, to which the idea of sinking down and subsiding well agrees. Perhaps it could have been a desert wind and sand storm, but the passage does not use the common Hebrew word for wind, ruach. It says fire.
g. “because the fire of the Lord burnt among them”; It was called Burning (Taberah) to perpetuate the memory of this kind of punishment for their sins, that it might be a terror and warning to others; and this history is indeed recorded for our caution in these last days, that we murmur not as these Israelites did, and were destroyed of the destroyer, 1 Corinthians 10:10: “nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”
h. APPLICATION: As a believer do you find yourself under the conviction of the Holy Spirit for rebellion and running your mouth too much?
i. Do you carry tales? Do you enjoy innuendo?
ii. Do you say enough to bring up doubt in people’s minds but not enough to incriminate yourself?
iii. Are you a divider? A separator of friends? Or churches?
iv. If so, one of two things could be happening. You could be living in the flesh or carnality which is sin. Or you could be bound by the evil one. An example of such a person who has tasted salvation but is bound by his own bitterness is Simon bar Jesus in Acts 8.
i. Moses is a picture of Christ Jesus and what He did for us on the cross at Calvary. By His death and resurrection, Jesus purchased for each one of us the free gift of eternal life, salvation full and free. Jesus Christ has paid for our rebellion. He has overcome our sin. He has quenched the flame that was set to destroy us! Hallelujah!
i. Where do you stand with him? Do you know about Him? Or do you know Him?
ii. Do you just have all your doctrine and beliefs in your head about Him correct? Or do you have the strings of your heart tuned to Him?
iii. Have you only a long time ago made a decision for Christ? Or have you given your life in submission to Christ?
iv. Did you only once pass through the waters of baptism? Or do you live your life immersed in His Presence?
v. Are you a simply a member of the church? Or are you a blood-bought child of the Kingdom?
vi. Do you believe yourself to be at root a good person? Or have you recognized your own depravity and claimed the sin payment provided only by the Lord Jesus Christ?
vii. If you cannot tell the difference in what I’m saying to you, then you need to do some serious self evaluation during the next few minutes. And you need to consider responding to the invitation when I give it at the end of this message.
This passage is a warning to us. If we persist in rebellion against the throne of the Mighty God, we have nothing to expect except a fiery eternity, separated from God, in total misery and endless suffering. Hell is a real place, and it is reserved for every person who is rebellious, not because the Lord wants anyone to be there or elects anyone to be there, but because His character will not abide sin and rebellion. Are you safe from that eternal fire, or are you a rebel?
Christ is your intercessor. He ever lives to intercede for you and for me. He has paid the price, but you must confess your sin. You must repent of your sin. You must turn to Christ and lay your whole life before Him. You must submit to His authority in your life. It is what is called, “Giving your life to Jesus.”
But be forewarned today, that if you do not accept the free gift of eternal life, you will be destroyed by fire. This is a serious matter of the first magnitude. You will be sentenced to eternity in a miserable hell. You will be cut off from every mercy and every grace forever. And I’m not talking just to a pagan here or there among us. There are good, church-going Baptists who die and bust hell wide open every day of the week.
Today the Lord’s arms are outstretched to every rebel. To you who have lived a life of rebellion against His Name. To you who creates dissension in the congregation. To you who are filled with sin. He can remove it. He is right now interceding on your behalf to remove the fire which will destroy you. Won’t you receive Him? Won’t you cry out to Him like the children of Israel did? Won’t you do it right now?