by Michael E. Brooks
“Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes'” (Numbers 11:4-6 NKJV).
Last week I finally got to go back to one of my favorite restaurants, the Abbas Hotel in Chuknagar, Bangladesh. It had been about a year since I had eaten there. I realize that the Abbas is not on anyone’s culinary guide; to put it kindly it is a “hole-in-the-wall” at best. Some might describe it as a dump. Not only is it small and rather dingy, but it only has one item on the menu: goat curry. Well, you get all the rice you can eat with it, and they will bring a dish of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes (“salad”). You can have salt, a glass of water and some chilli peppers, maybe even a slice of onion on a good day. But that is it. It is goat curry and rice, or nothing. What makes it special, though, is that it is really, really good curry.
Thinking back I realize that there are a number of restaurants over the years that basically featured one thing. The Rendezvous in Memphis is famous for its barbequed ribs. You can get a few other things there (not many), but why would you? That is their specialty. Penn’s Hamburgers in my home town is another. When you go in they ask, “With or without?” (onions). Other than that it is “how many?” and “what do you want to drink?”
Restaurants like these are different and fun, especially if their specialty is a little unusual and very well done. But would you want to eat every meal at Abbas, or Rendezvous, or Penn’s for forty years? Probably not? Yes, me too. But that is what the Children of Israel did. Three times a day, seven days a week for forty years they ate manna. They were fortunate to have it, as God miraculously provided it to them in the wilderness. But it was still exactly the same thing, over and over again. No wonder they complained. But their complaint, however understandable it might be, was still sinful.
First, their complaint was provoked by the non-Israelites among them who yielded to their intense cravings. Israel brought a few Egyptians and other nationalities with them who had no knowledge of or allegiance to God. These became dissatisfied, and their unhappiness spread to God’s people. Israel allowed their guests to exert a bad influence upon them. This led to their sin.
Second, their complaint revealed the lack of appreciation of and gratitude for the blessings God had given them. Many years before, after one month in the wilderness, Israel became very hungry after all the provisions they brought from Egypt were exhausted (Exodus 16:1-4). They cried out to God and he answered them with manna. They were delighted to have food, and found it tasty and pleasant. But those days were long past. At the time of Numbers 11 manna was familiar, taken for granted, and no longer satisfying. “We want something else” was their cry. Some people are never satisfied. Whatever they have is the wrong thing, or there is not enough of it, or something else would be better. That had become the spirit of the children in the wilderness.
A third aspect of their sin might be revealed in the question, “Who will give us meat to eat?” (verse 5). Is there an indication here that their allegiance is for sale? Moses and his God have only manna to offer. Can some man or god provide more? Perhaps they were saying, “We will follow the best cook. Make us an offer.” Is faith in God based only on the material benefits we think he will provide? If life is good, all our illnesses cured, and our needs provided, we will be good Christians. If not, however, God is rejected and faith is abandoned. That describes some at least.
The Israelites did not simply pray for different food. They complained about what God had provided and demanded a change, even if it meant changing their allegiance and leadership. Such complaints are always sinful. Jude describes this attitude emphatically. “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage” (Jude 16). They bragged about those whom they thought might give them what they wanted, but harshly criticized those who would not.
Is that the way we treat God? As long as we enjoy the things he gives us, we are happy. But if we get tired of them, it is off to another faith, or another interest. Let us always recognize and be grateful for God’s gifts, no matter how familiar and ordinary they may seem. Manna every day for forty years still satisfied hunger and provided health and strength. That is hard to beat.
by Michael E. Brooks