Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds — a great deal of livestock. (Exodus 12:38, N.K.J.V.)
When Moses led the Israelites out of their Egyptian bondage, certain non-Israelites joined the group. The Old Testament refers to these Gentiles as the mixed multitude. Various reasons are offered as to why these Gentiles chose to leave Egypt and join up with the Israelites. Consider the list:
- Perhaps they had been greatly impressed by the way that Israel’s God had recently manhandled Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods.
- Perhaps some of them were Egyptians who were slaves themselves to fellow Egyptians and saw Israel’s exodus as a way to freedom.
- Perhaps some of them, like the Israelites, were foreigners in Egypt, having ended up there by having their races conquered by Egypt’s army or by some other means.
- Perhaps some of them, whether they were Egyptians or non-Egyptians, just wanted to abandon a land that had been laid waste by a series of divine plagues.
- Perhaps some of them were the dregs of society in Egypt, people who had nothing going for them there and were eager to try something new.
- Perhaps some of them were non-Israelites who were the spouses or offspring of marriages (unequal yokes) between Israelites and non-Israelites.
Whoever exactly the mixed multitude were, it is for certain that they soon became detriments to Israel. They are mentioned again in Numbers 11:4, where they are described as the instigators who caused the Israelites to complain about the manna which God was providing as food. In complaining about the manna, the Israelites voiced their longing for the foods they had enjoyed in Egypt, foods such as fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.
To silence the complaints, God caused a wind to blow incredible numbers of quail in from the sea. All around Israel’s camp, from a day’s journey on one side to a day’s journey on the other side, the quails fluttered three feet off the ground. That made them easy pickings, and the people stayed up all day, all night, and all day the next day killing them and gathering them up into piles. Even the person who gathered the least amount of the birds managed to accumulate no less than 60-70 bushels.
However, the miraculous harvest of quails came at a steep price for the people. Numbers 12:33-34 says:
But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah (the graves of lust), because there they buried the people who had yielded to the craving. (Numbers 11:33-34, N.K.J.V.)
There are so many spiritual lessons that we can learn from this episode in Israel’s history: Be content with what God has given you. Be careful what you pray for. Don’t let your lusts get the better of you. Don’t long for the past. Enjoy the blessings God is giving you in the moment. Understand the potential dangers of griping, grumbling, and complaining.
But, if you are a Christian, be sure not to forget this one: Be wary of associating too closely with non-believers and allowing them to influence you. While the track record of the people of Israel certainly proves that they didn’t need any help getting themselves into trouble with God, who can deny that the influence of the mixed multitude threw gasoline onto the fire of a sin nature that already existed inside the Israelites?
And the same will be true in your life, Christian, if you allow lost people to influence you in negative ways toward God. Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:6-11 tell us that all the things that happened to the Israelites were written as examples to us to help us learn from their mistakes. Obviously, then, we would do well to learn from the mistake they made in listening to the voices of the mixed multitude and resist that temptation in our lives.