“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. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them” (Numbers 11:1-3 ESV).
Can you imagine it? Here was a group of people who had been slaves for hundreds of years. They were now free! They had a God who was taking care of them! And what did they do? Complain about how bad they had it! Really?!
After God sent the fire through the camp, you would have thought they would have learned not to complain. But that wasn’t the case – it was only a very short time and they were complaining again, this time about their food.
“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’” (Numbers 11:4-6 ESV).
Had they forgotten so quickly what it was really like to be slaves? When you read the description they gave of their lives in Egypt you would have thought they were basking in the lap of luxury: meat, fish, melons, leeks, onions, garlic, cucumbers – and all free! How much better could they have had it? But they forgot they were slaves and being constantly mistreated and even beaten and killed. Was it really all that great?
And was the manna that God gave them so bad? Granted, we can sympathize when you have to eat the same thing day after day, but manna was a very flexible food. You could grind it into a flour, boil it, bake it and it tasted like cakes mixed with oil. And the cost? All they had to do was get up in the morning and pick it up off the ground. They could not have had it any easier!
Because they complained, God gave them more meat than they could have imagined – he had quail fall from the sky about a day’s journey all around the camp and about a meter deep. They had all the meat they could want – but because of their complaining God sent a plague which struck many of them down (Numbers 11:31-35).
We can read about the Israelites and think how foolish they were. But are we really any different? Many Christians also like to complain and grumble. We forget that following Jesus isn’t about pleasing “me” but it is all about pleasing God. Do we also forget where we have come from and the great price that was paid for our sin? Does God really owe us anything? Do other Christians really owe us anything? Or is it we that owe so much because of the price that was paid?
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:14-16).
We need to grow up, take our eyes off of ourselves, and remember that what we owe God and each other is our love (Romans 12:9-21).
Readings for next week:
27 February – Numbers 11
28 February – Numbers 12
1 March – Numbers 13
2 March – Numbers 14
3 March – Numbers 15