The Failure of the Flesh
by J. N. Darby

(Christian Friend 1893, pages 238-42.)

NUMBERS 11 (article)

1 And it came to pass that when the people murmured, it was evil in the ears of Jehovah; and Jehovah heard it, and his anger was kindled, and the fire of Jehovah burned among them, and consumed [some] in the extremity of the camp.

2 And the people cried to Moses; and Moses prayed to Jehovah -- and the fire abated.

3 And they called the name of that place Taberah; because a fire of Jehovah burned among them.

4 And the mixed multitude that was among them lusted; and the children of Israel also wept again and said, Who will give us flesh to eat?

5 We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;

6 and now our soul is dried up: there is nothing at all but the manna before our eyes.

7 And the manna was as coriander seed, and its appearance as the appearance of bdellium.

8 The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it with hand-mills, or beat it in mortars, and boiled it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of oil-cakes.

9 And when the dew fell upon the camp by night, the manna fell upon it.

10 And Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every one at the entrance of his tent; and the anger of Jehovah was kindled greatly; it was also evil in the eyes of Moses.

11 And Moses said to Jehovah, Why hast thou done evil to thy servant, and why have I not found favour in thine eyes, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?

12 Have I conceived all this people, have I brought them forth, that thou sayest to me, Carry them in thy bosom, as the nursing-father beareth the suckling, unto the land which thou didst swear unto their fathers?

13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh that we may eat!

14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, for it is too heavy for me.

15 And if thou deal thus with me, slay me, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, that I may not behold my wretchedness.

16 And Jehovah said to Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and their officers; and take them to the tent of meeting, and they shall stand there with thee.

17 And I will come down and talk with thee there; and I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, and thou shalt not bear it alone.

18 And unto the people shalt thou say, Hallow yourselves for to-morrow, and ye shall eat flesh; for ye have wept in the ears of Jehovah, saying, Who will give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt; and Jehovah will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.

19 Not one day shall ye eat, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;

20 [but] for a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it become loathsome unto you; because that ye have despised Jehovah who is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?

21 And Moses said, The people in whose midst I am are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou sayest, I will give them flesh that they may eat a whole month.

22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered for them, to suffice them?

23 And Jehovah said to Moses, Hath Jehovah's hand become short? Now shalt thou see whether my word will come to pass unto thee or not.

24 And Moses went out and told the people the words of Jehovah; and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tent.

25 And Jehovah came down in a cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and put it upon the seventy men, the elders; and it came to pass, that when the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not repeat [it].

26 And two men remained in the camp, the name of the one, Eldad, and the name of the other, Medad; and the Spirit rested upon them (and they were among them that were written, but they had not gone out to the tent); and they prophesied in the camp.

27 And there ran a youth, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.

28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them!

29 But Moses said to him, Enviest thou for my sake? would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, [and] that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!

30 And Moses withdrew into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.

31 And there went forth a wind from Jehovah, and drove quails from the sea, and cast them about the camp, about a day's journey on this side, and about a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and about two cubits above the earth.

32 And the people rose up all that day, and the whole night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered little gathered ten homers; and they spread them abroad for themselves round about the camp.

33 The flesh was yet between their teeth, before it was chewed, when the wrath of Jehovah was kindled against the people, and Jehovah smote the people with a very great plague.

34 And they called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah; because there they buried the people who lusted.

35 From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth; and they were at Hazeroth.

In chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9 we have had the energy of the Spirit of God in us while passing through the wilderness, and in the tenth the ark going before the children of Israel to seek out a place of rest for them-the only journey of which the Lord in this way was the conductor. In this eleventh chapter we have the history of the failure of the flesh. The whole Bible is just the history of the grace and faithfulness of God, and of the failure of man. The very purpose for which the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt was, that He might dwell among them; and if difficulties arose, then it was, "Rise up, Lord: let them that hate thee flee before thee;" or resting "Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel." But there was nothing in this to satisfy the natural man; flesh cannot feed on the manna. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing." "The people complained." (v. 1) Whenever there is complaint in the heart the flesh is at work. "It displeased the Lord." God being present with us, it is evident we are not satisfied with Him when there is complaining of heart. God has now sent down the Holy Ghost, that " He may abide with us for ever." But the flesh has all sorts of cravings which are contrary to the Spirit, nor can it find anything in the Spirit of God to satisfy it. If, therefore, we have murmuring and complaining of heart, we are not satisfied with what is of the Spirit of God. The heart has got away from God, and has not Him for its portion. Then the flesh is at work. A soul feeding on the Lord will not complain. It may be tried; then it will cry to the Lord. "They cried unto thee, and were delivered." But complaining is just saying to God, "You are not enough for me." Trial of heart does not produce complaint; it may bring forth humiliation. "The Lord heard it, and His anger was kindled." At first it was only a partial chastening, consuming those who were in the uttermost part of the camp. They had got away from the consciousness of His presence, and if they would not know His presence in joy, they must know it in judgement and chastening.

The mixed multitude (v. 4) had no possession in Canaan; they "fell a lusting." When the saints are associated with the world many thereby are defiled. "The children of Israel wept again." They were looking for present ease and comfort, good things here, not longing for Canaan. We remember (v. 5); now they were lusting like the mixed multitude. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." They had in heart turned back to Egypt, and, the flesh working in them, could recount all the good things which the flesh had in Egypt; and when Satan is thus drawing us back to the world, we never remember the deliverance, but what we lost by the deliverance. Then Pharaoh is most bountiful. Instead of crying out by reason of hard bondage, we remember the fish we did eat in Egypt freely. This was deception; for they ate it in bondage. We can remember the things of the flesh, but not the things of the Spirit. I may remember that I was happy in communion yesterday, but I must be under the present power of the Holy Ghost to remember what Christ is. The food of yesterday will not do for to-day. When under the power of present communion, we are sometimes ready to say, "My mountain stands strong; I shall never be moved." When we've lost that communion, all the joy we had in it is gone. It is a constant life of faith in present exercise by the Spirit. When the saint gets into the world all things appear lovely, but then their souls are murmuring and unhappy. But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all besides manna.( v 6) They did not say that the manna was not there, but there was nothing else. So with us. It is not that Christ is not there, but saying that He will not satisfy us now in the wilderness, where we have nothing at all before our eyes but Christ to feed upon.

"The anger of the Lord was greatly kindled." (v. 10) Moses said (v. 11), "Wherefore hast thou laid this burden upon me?" Wretched me! Here his faith broke down Nor does he now say "thy people," but lays the burden on his own shoulder and breaks down; for when "I," proud flesh, did not count upon the Lord's love, but he began to make himself of importance, he failed. It was true Moses had been sent to deliver Israel, but it was God still; and when Moses got in the flesh, and thought it was his work and strength, he did not count on God's love. "Have I conceived all this people?" Now in the matter of the golden calf he identified God with the people. Then he did not fail. And when they first murmured (v. 2) he prayed unto the Lord, but now in the general failure his own faith failed. The Lord pitied His servant, and provided for it by putting some of his honour on others and taking it from him. When the heart gets off the ground of love it counts on sorrow. "Let me not see my wretchedness." (v. 15) Then (v. 17) God takes from the proper honour of Moses (the life of faith), and puts it on others to share it with him. Himself alone in immediate communion with God, such is the proper honour of the life of faith. In the Church, it is to bear others' burdens. So with the Lord. "All the vessels of His Father's house laid on Him." True honour is to suffer, bearing others' burdens without comfort from any but God. How different the mind of Moses when alone with God's counsels, but now "not thyself alone." (v. 17) In the matter of the spies he said, "Thou broughtest up this people." "And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word" (Num. 14: 20), because he referred it all to God's glory. There was chastening of the people and merciful dealing with Moses, but with loss of honour, because of the want of the energy of faith. It was not lust in him, but despising the Competency of God to guide and help. Though the Church may have lost the honour of the first glory, the Spirit is competent to bless and guide it now. The Lord may not "restore counsellors as at the first;" and though He will not bear with present evil, yet present evil does not put the Lord away. If we are saying, "Is the Lord among us?" it is despising the presence of the Lord among His people, and arises from losing the joy of His presence, and then forgetting the power of His presence.

When Moses' faith fails, then he begins to reason. (vv. 21, 22) In this he limited the Holy One of Israel; for, whatever Israel's sin had been, the Lord's hand was not shortened. No matter what the difficulty, we must not limit the present power of the Holy One to carry us through the wilderness.

Eldad and Medad prophesied; it was outside the order God had set up. So when some preached Christ of contention, Paul was glad of it because Christ was preached. "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets!" Whenever the Lord acts by the holy power of truth, let us say, "The Lord glorify Himself." It is God's prerogative to act contrary to His set order, and for us to bow to it. In the midst of failure, the energy of the Spirit of God will act spite of the failure.

In verses 31-33 there is a further testimony that the Lord was among them. It was love gave the quails, and they ought to have said, "How could we ever doubt the love of God?" but such was their persevering lust, that on they go to gratify it. It was this brought the anger of the Lord; for while the flesh was yet between their teeth the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and He smote them with a great plague. Thus we have the failure of Israel, their dissatisfaction with their portion in Christ, their complaining, and the heart going back to the world. Then the failure of Moses; losing the sense of the Lord's presence, with want of confidence in the energy of the Lord to bear all the burdens of His people.