Commentary on Numbers 11:1-3

Notes (NET Translation)

This short section of three verses contains all of the essential elements of all the subsequent narratives describing Israel’s complaints: complaint (11:4–5; 12:1–2; 14:1–4; 17:6–7; 20:3–5; 21:5), divine punishment (11:33; 12:9–10; 14:20–37; 16:32; 17:11; 21:7), and immortalizing the incident by giving a name to the site (11:34; 20:13; 21:3; Exod. 15:23; 17:7).1

1 When the people complained, it displeased the LORD. When the LORD heard it, his anger burned, and so the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outer parts of the camp.

No specific complaint is mentioned. “The story’s function, therefore, is not to point to any of the obstacles in the wilderness but rather to indicate the people’s state of mind: negative, volatile, unconfident.”2 The murmuring is striking because it occurs immediately after we read of God’s gracious provision and guidance for the journey (9:15-10:35).

The fire consumed the outskirts of the camp (biqṣēh hammaḥăneh). Although this phrase is unique, qaṣeh is used elsewhere to describe an outer boundary. Most times a contrast is drawn between that which is inside the camp (be or ‘el hammaḥăneh), hence ceremonially clean, safe, and permissible, and that which is outside the camp (miḥûṣ hammaḥăneh), hence ceremonially unclean, unsafe, and forbidden. Here what is consumed by Yahweh’s judging fire are those marginal areas, i.e., those areas near the outside of the camp where danger and uncleanness lurk.3

2 When the people cried to Moses, he prayed to the LORD, and the fire died out.

The verb “to pray” does not indicate general prayer here, but intercession. This verb is not often used with Moses as the subject, and all of the occurrences are in response to a request from the people after rebellion.4

3 So he called the name of that place Taberah because there the fire of the LORD burned among them.

In Hebrew, Taberah means “burning”, “conflagration”.

The site is mentioned again only in Deut 9:22, in the context of Moses’ recounting the history of Israel’s unfaithfulness in a challenge to the people to fear the Lord and to obey, serve, and love him (Deut 10:12–13). Taberah is omitted in the journey itinerary of Numbers 33:16–17, perhaps being subsumed under the heading of Kibroth Hattaavah in the subsequent context.5

Since the Israelites left behind no sedentary population to carry on the memory of this place-name, one cannot expect that the name would have survived and come into popular usage at all.6

Bibliography

Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.

Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 1-20. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.


  1. Milgrom 1990, 82 
  2. Friedman 2001, 460 
  3. Ashley 1993, 202 
  4. Ashley 1993, 202–203 
  5. Cole 2000, Kindle Locations 5905-5907 
  6. Ashley 1993, 203 
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