Numbers 11–21

Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual, (2003), 96–98


Chapters 11–21 of Numbers contain a three-part account of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness:

  1. 1.

    From Mount Sinai to Paran, near Kadesh (see Numbers 10:10–14:45).

  2. 2.

    From when they were refused entrance into the promised land until their reassembling at Kadesh approximately thirty-eight years later (see chapters 15–19).

  3. 3.

    The march from Kadesh to Mount Hor (see chapters 20–21).

In these later chapters, the children of Israel’s faithfulness increased as they moved toward the promised land.

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

  1. Because the Lord grants blessings in accordance with our desires, we should be careful to pray for what is right (see Numbers 11:18–20, 31–35; see also 1 Samuel 8:5, 20–22; Jacob 4:14; Alma 29:4).

  2. Individuals may receive personal revelation, but only the prophet receives revelation for the entire Church (see Numbers 11:16–12:15).

  3. If we have faith and trust the Lord, we can accomplish all that He commands (see Numbers 13:1–14:12; see also 1 Nephi 3:7).

  4. It is important to do what the Lord commands when He commands it (see Numbers 14:40–45).

  5. Those who rebel or speak against Church leaders are rebelling against God. If they do not repent, they will be cursed (see Numbers 16–17; 20:1–11, 13; 21:4–6; see also 3 Nephi 28:34; D&C 121:16–22).

  6. The Lord blessed the children of Israel in a way that invited them to come unto Him (see Numbers 21:4–9).

Suggestions for Teaching

Numbers 11. Choosing the lusts of the flesh over the things of the Spirit results in spiritual death. (30–35 minutes)

Write the words spirit and body on the board. Ask students:

  1. What are ways the body gets sick?

  2. What are some illnesses that can lead to death?

Explain that just as there are physical sicknesses that cause physical death, there are spiritual sicknesses that can result in spiritual death. Have students read 2 Nephi 9:10–12 and look for what it means to experience spiritual death (see also “The Great Plan of Happiness,” p. 13).

Ask students to make two personal lists: the first of what they have done during the last twenty-four hours to keep their bodies healthy, and the second of what they have done to keep their spirits healthy. Ask them to think about which is in better condition right now, their spirits or their bodies.

Ask students:

  • What can we do weekly to “feed” our spirits?

  • How does the sacrament remind us that our spirits need to be fed?

  • What do the emblems of the sacrament represent? (Jesus Christ’s body and blood.)

Read Exodus 16:14–15 and identify what the Lord gave the Israelites as a daily reminder of their dependence on Him. Read John 6:49, 51 and discuss how manna symbolized Jesus Christ.

Write the words hunger and lust on the board. Ask students to consider how those words are alike and how they are different. Have them read 3 Nephi 12:6 and explain how the Lord used the word hunger in that verse and what was promised to those who hunger. Have them read Numbers 11:4–9 and look for the word lusting. Ask:

  1. Why do you think Moses described the people as “lusting” for meat, rather than “hungering” for it?

  2. What does the word lust signify? (You may want to look up the definition in a dictionary.)

  3. What does the word flesh represent? (Not only “meat,” but also “the appetites of our body.”)

Have students read Numbers 11:10–15 and describe how Moses responded to the people’s complaints. Have them read the rest of the chapter and pay special attention to how the Lord responded to Moses and to the people and taught them an important spiritual lesson. Read and compare Numbers 11:16–17, 24–29 and Numbers 11:18–20, 31–34. Ask students what they think was being taught about things of the Spirit and things of the “flesh.” Read Romans 8:5–14 and explain how Paul’s teachings could be a commentary on the story in Numbers 11.

In the United States, the government publishes a “recommended daily allowance” of such things as foods and vitamins that will maintain the body’s health. As a class, design a recommended daily (or weekly) allowance of what will maintain the health of our spirits. The following scriptures may help as you do this assignment:

Elder L. Lionel Kendrick, a member of the Seventy, said:

“The scriptures are spiritual food for our spirits, which is just as important as physical food for our bodies” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 14; or Ensign, May 1993, 14).

Numbers 11–12. Individuals may receive personal revelation from the Lord, but only the prophet receives revelation to guide the entire Church. (30–40 minutes)

Tell students that there are fifteen men who are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators during a general conference of the Church (for example, see the sustaining of Church officers in the current May Ensign). Ask students to give either the names or the callings of those men. (The members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.)

Have students read Numbers 11:11–14 and tell what two problems Moses took to the Lord. (The people wanted meat to eat and Moses wanted help with his responsibilities.) Read Numbers 11:16–17, 24–29 and find out what the Lord did to help Moses. Ask:

  1. What did Moses call these seventy helpers? (Prophets; see v. 29.)

  2. How many prophets did Moses say there should be?

Share the commentary for Numbers 11:16–17, 24–29 in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel (p. 201). Have a student read the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

“Who may prophesy? Who can receive revelation? To whom are visions and heavenly manifestations vouchsafed? Not to members of the Council of the Twelve only, not to bishops and stake presidents alone, not just to the leaders of the Church. Rather, that God who is no respecter of persons and who loves all his children, speaks to every person who will heed his voice. Prophecy is for all: men, women, and children, every member of the true Church; and those who have the testimony of Jesus have the spirit of prophecy, ‘for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ (Rev. 19:10)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:387).

Ask students:

  • What is the difference between the spirit of prophecy possessed by the prophet and the spirit of prophecy other individuals may have?

  • What difficulties could occur if more than one person claimed revelation for the entire Church?

  • What is the advantage to knowing there is only one prophet, seer, and revelator who guides the entire Church?

Read and discuss the following statement by Dallin H. Oaks:

“Only the president of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own stewardships. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives” (“Revelation,” in Brigham Young University 1981–82 Fireside and Devotional Speeches [1982], 25).

Have students read Numbers 12:1–2 and ask:

  • Who else wanted to be a prophet?

  • What were their claims?

  • What was different about the actions of Miriam and Aaron in chapter 12 and the activities of the seventy elders in chapter 11? (The seventy elders used the gifts the Lord had given them within the boundaries of their calling, while Miriam and Aaron sought powers beyond their callings and criticized the Lord’s chosen leader.)

  • How did the Lord respond to what Miriam and Aaron did? (see vv. 4–10).

  • What do these verses teach us about Moses and about the position of the Lord’s spokesman?

  • What do we learn about criticizing the Lord’s leaders? (see also D&C 1:14).

Share the following statement by Elder Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“I want to bear you my testimony that the experience I have had has taught me that those who criticize the leaders of this Church are showing signs of a spiritual sickness which, unless curbed, will bring about eventually spiritual death” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1947, 67).

Numbers 13–14. If we have faith and trust the Lord, we can accomplish all that God commands. (40–50 minutes)

Note: The effectiveness of this teaching suggestion can be enhanced by asking a few of the parents of your students to write letters to their children, giving their reasons for trusting the Lord’s commandments—even those they may not understand or that seem particularly difficult. Use the letters as suggested later in this teaching suggestion.

Help students get ready to study Numbers 13–14 by using the questions in the introduction to these chapters in their student study guides (p. 66). Make a list with the class of what the Lord had done for the children of Israel since the beginning of the book of Exodus that could be considered impossible or miraculous. Ask them why they think the Lord blessed Israel in those ways (for example, see Exodus 6:6–8). These chapters help us understand how those miracles affected the people’s faith until that time.

Have students read the story of the spies in Numbers 13:17–14:10. When they have finished, ask them to write a message to the Israelites of that time to convince them to go into their land of promise. Invite a few students to share what they wrote.

If available, read two of the letters from parents, without revealing the names of the parents or students. Point out that although it is easy for us to see what the Israelites should have done, we have similar challenges today regarding what the Lord is inviting us to do. Have students read Numbers 14:1–4 and write a paragraph describing what people today might say and do.

Read Numbers 14:21–39 as a class and identify the punishment that came to the people because of their faithlessness. Ask:

  1. How are some punished for faithlessness today?

  2. What could the promised land symbolize to us?

Encourage students to trust in the Lord and be more like Joshua and Caleb in their attitudes toward what He offers us.

weekly icon Numbers 21:1–9. “By very small means the Lord … bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:7). (35–40 minutes)

Show students a picture of a snake. Ask those who are afraid of snakes to explain why they have such fears. Ask:

  1. How can you tell if a snake is poisonous or not? (Type of fangs, shape of head, color or pattern on skin.)

  2. What are possible cures for poisonous snakebites?

Show a box labeled “Snakebite Kit” into which you have put a picture of Jesus Christ. Tell students that inside the box is a cure for snakebites.

Have students read Numbers 21:4–9 and tell what happened to the children of Israel. Explain that we learn more about this event from the prophets of the Book of Mormon. Read 1 Nephi 17:41 and Alma 33:18–22 and list what we learn about this event that is not found in the biblical account. Ask:

  1. Why did some of the Israelites choose to die rather than look at the brass serpent? (see 1 Nephi 17:41; Alma 33:20).

  2. Who was the serpent in the Garden of Eden?

Ask students to guess what is in your snakebite kit. Open the box and show the picture of Jesus Christ. Ask: How did the Savior destroy the power of the serpent? (Through the Atonement.)

the brazen serpent

Read John 3:14–15 and Helaman 8:13–15 and ask students:

  • What did the event with the brazen serpent symbolize?

  • How can looking to Jesus Christ heal us spiritually?

  • What kinds of people today are like the Israelites who died from snakebites? (Read the statement by Elder Boyd K. Packer in the “Points to Ponder” section for Numbers 13–36 in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, p. 212.)

  • If it is worth looking at a brass serpent to be saved from physical death, what is eternal life and exaltation worth?

  • Much of what we do in the Church is considered “simple.” What are some of the simple acts we do that can help us gain eternal life? (For example, respecting and obeying parents, supporting family activities such as family home evening, and dressing modestly.)

  • How can taking the sacrament help heal us spiritually as looking at the brass serpent healed the children of Israel physically?