Numbers 11 New International Version (NIV) Fire From the Lord 11 Now the people complained(A) about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord,(B) and when he heard them his anger was aroused.(C) Then fire from the Lord burned among them(D) and consumed(E) some of the outskirts of the camp.
ESV - 1 And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.
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The Bible describes God as merciful and slow to anger (Psalm 103:8), which are both true. When He became angry with His own chosen people in the wilderness, it was only after they had personally witnessed ongoing visible evidence of His presence among them (such as the pillar of cloud that accompanied them by day, and the pillar of fire to provide light for them at night (Exodus 13:21-22)); His repeated activity on their behalf (such as in the plagues that He had brought on Egypt in order to free Israel from slavery, and in the parting of the Red Sea); and His descent on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). Despite that, the people had still continually (ten times, according to Numbers 14:22) put God to the test by questioning His care for them (rather than having faith in Him based on what they had already seen and experienced), and by longing for the life that they had left behind in Egypt (while ignoring the fact that they had been slaves there). Based on their attitude, the people deserved none of the mercy that God had shown them. He would have been totally justified in killing them all (as He noted to Moses in Numbers 14:11-12, after the people had rebelled yet again by fearing to enter the land of Canaan). Even when God took punitive action by sending fire into the Israelite camp, it might still be described as a measured response, since the passage from Numbers cited in the question indicates that the fire was sent into the outlying parts of the camp (rather than into the midst of the people). There is also no direct mention of human casualties, so perhaps only material objects were affected.
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