When the Israelites left Egypt they were allowed to take their flocks and herds with them (Ex 12:32). They needed them for their sacrificial offerings - but they could only use those who were immaculate - so why did they reminisce longingly about eating pots of meat in Egypt (Ex 16:3) and then the LORD sent quail?

And again in (Num 11:4) more of the grumbling about wanting to eat meat and this time an over abundance of quail is given. I can find no prohibition of eating their own animal’s meat; nor that all herds and flock were only to be used for their sacrifices to the LORD. As they were all shepherds in Egypt presumably they all owned livestock? Equally, with their cattle, there would have been enough leather to make many shoes when their old ones wore out; and yet the LORD performed the miracle that their shoes never wore out - implying that they had no way of replenishing them if they did.

Curious what answers you may be able to provide and very ready to admit I may have missed a passage that clears up this query!


2 Answers 2


Let me add a bit to a previous answer along these lines:

What are some possibilities? [1]

  1. The Israelites were tired of eating the same things time and time again. They were simply complaining because they wanted variety rather than because they had absolutely no meat.
  2. In ancient Egypt, people worshiped various animals, including cattle. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites also started worshiping a golden calf made by Aaron while Moses was away (Exodus 32:1–4). It's possible that they may have been influenced by Egyptian beliefs to the point where they couldn't consume animals they considered sacred.
  3. They planned to sell their livestock later and therefore they didn't want to eat them.
  4. The Israelites had limited or nearly exhausted their supply of livestock during their prolonged wilderness journey.

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra suggests that they had already eaten a large portion of their cattle. A this point, if they would all go to purchase more meat at once, the price would skyrocket beyond their means. [2]

  1. Killing a large animal affords a person an abundance of food at one time. After that, since they didn't port refrigerators around in the wilderness, it had to be salted and eaten cold. The Israelites wanted smaller animals so they could enjoy fresh meat on demand. [2]

It's likely that they used some of their livestock for sacrifices and perhaps provisions. This could lead to a decrease in their herds and flocks over time. If we want to account for all variables we should also include natural factors such as disease and predators which could have decreased the size and influenced the health of their livestock.


Great question. I read the book of Jubilee's a few years back and was struck by this as well. The bottom line was god wanted them completely dependant on him.

In the Jubilee's book god allows those that ask to eat but kills 12,000 of them after for disobedience. Remembering that each tribe of Israel has 12,000. This theme is played out again in judas's fate as one of the twelve disciples fails in faith or obedience to God's will.

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