A question we often receive when reading Numbers 11 is, “If the Israelites were hungry for meat, why didn’t they eat some of their livestock?”. We have a clue as to why in Numbers 11:21-23. 

But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”  Numbers 11:21-23 

From this, we could surmise that the herds with them were likely sufficient for the required sacrifices, but not enough to feed a group of 600,000 men. Further support for this is when Moses asks, in verse 22, if it would even be enough for them should all the flocks and herds be slaughtered. The reality is, herds are not replenished quickly, and maintaining a certain amount would be necessary to continue the herd.

The gestation period for cattle is about 9 months, and it takes around two years for them to reach full size. Cows typically only have one calf at a time, so it would take roughly 3 years to replace one cow. The gestation period is approximately 5 months for sheep and goats, and it takes about 9 -12 months for them to mature. They typically produce one to three babies per birthing cycle.

Knowing this, we understand that it would only take a short amount of time to consume them, but years to rebuild a depleted herd. The question of all the fish in the sea not being enough to feed them in verse 23 drives home the point that a tremendous amount of meat would be necessary to feed a group this size.

As to the question of trusting YHWH to replenish the herd, could He supernaturally supply them? He absolutely could! However, we saw Him send manna, and they weren’t satisfied with it. If they weren’t content with that, is it fair to expect He would provide in that way again? Being an agricultural society, they would have fully understood the time involved to grow the herd naturally and in my opinion this in no way indicates a lack of faith as they trusted that replenishment would function the way YHWH created it to. I hope this was helpful!

Christy Howlett, Discussion Group Director

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About the Seeking Scripture Team: We are a group of believers from all walks of the faith, saved by grace alone through faith in our Messiah. While we are of one accord in many things, we are all works in progress and lifelong learners. Therefore the opinions of one may not always represent the opinions of all.

Christy Howlett