Numbers isn’t a very popular book in the Old Testament. Most of the text is counting; who would’ve thought? Still, in the midst of the mundane there is a memorable exchange between God and the Israelites as they continued in the wilderness.
After delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt God’s people spent 40 years wandering until they were led to the Promised Land. You may wonder what took them so long, but if you read the first five books of the Bible you’d see there was constant rebellion and consequences postponing their beautiful reward. In Numbers 11 we find Moses and the Israelites just leaving Mount Sinai where they received the 10 Commandments and were led by a cloud of fire, representing God. A measly three days into their journey the Israelites start complaining yet again. This time it’s because they are craving meat like they had when they were slaves. Apparently eating manna every day all day can get old!
There are three interesting and noteworthy elements in this chapter that I’d like to highlight regarding God and His people. But first, let’s get familiar with the story. The chapter begins with the Israelites complaining and God’s first response. After hearing them, God sent a little fire around the camp (vs. 1-3). I consider this a warning. The complaining and “wailing” (vs. 10) continues and Moses begins to get overwhelmed.
As the leader of the Israelites, Moses feels this tremendous burden for these people and cannot handle their complaints anymore. He is so troubled by their wailing and his lack of ability to do anything about it he pleads with the Lord to take his life. (vs. 15) Rather than acquiesce, the Lord tells him to gather 70 respected men in the group so the Lord could distribute the Spirit’s wisdom and direction over them as well.
In the midst of God’s merciful answer to Moses the Lord also promises meat for everyone for a month long! Moses doubts His power to do so; after all there were over 600,000 men alone to feed. God’s sarcastic answer, “Is the Lords’ arm too short?” proves this is not a challenge and sure enough, quail 3 feet high and as far as the eye can see is provided. The Israelites indulge to the point of sickness and the Lord is forced to give them a plague for their gluttony and ungrateful hearts.
This is a brief overview of the story found in Numbers 11. I encourage you to read it in full if you have a few moments.
As I said before there are three elements to this passage that intrigued me. The first is how God’s people respond to Him. The Israelites, saved from slavery, led by a cloud of fire and safe from all enemies, are found complaining because they lack a variety of food. The Lord hears them, gives them what they desire, but they indulge and the Lord sends a consequence, a plague. Part two of this is Moses feeling so overwhelmed he would rather die. He goes to the Lord and tells Him how he feels paralyzed by the responsibility of all the people. God hears and answers with sharing the burden with others in the group.
The second interesting element is how God responds to His people. God hears both parties, answers both mercifully, yet there are two different outcomes. Moses is relieved and the Israelites are sick from bird. When I read this passage I see ungrateful people complaining and not even trying to be a faithful group. The Israelites, are given freedom, godly direction, safety and promise of land of the their own, yet they are unhappy and unsatisfied. Talk about an entitlement generation! Moses, on the other hand, has tried so hard to remain a faithful servant of God and His people, is unhappy and overwhelmed, and finds peace and help. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I believe if we obey God all will be well. This is not biblical. I do think it’s interesting to see consequences and blessings based on our attitude and choices though. This I do think is a natural aspect of life the Lord has instilled.
The third element of this chapter that I want to focus on is the eternal truths that have lasted these thousands of years. The Israelites were asked and expected to trust God and obey. God simply required those things, and probably wouldn’t have minded grateful hearts as well. These things do not change. God still requires His people to trust, obey, and be grateful.
So, what? I don’t know what this story does for you. For me it reminds me that when I feel entitled to certain feelings, possessions, and circumstances I’m probably not as grateful as I could be in my present situation. Numbers 11 shows me that when I don’t trust God I can just as easily ask and pursue things that aren’t the best for me, just like the Israelites. I’m reminded that if the Lord is gracious enough to give me something I desire, like meat, too much of anything isn’t good. Finally, I am taught that God listens and is merciful and desires good for us. He feels sad when we are not pleasing Him and shares in our pain and frustrations at times too. And over all of this, if we only could trust and obey, we might prevent God and His people, from pain, aggravation, and exhaustion.