Amazing how quickly I can forget something important.
Early this morning, I had read Numbers 11-13 and did the appropriate “tsk, tsk” at those ungrateful Israelites. It hadn’t even been two years prior that they were grinding away day after day in abject poverty and humiliating slavery. The oppressive conditions compelled God’s people repeatedly to cry out, begging for deliverance from their cruel taskmasters. And God heard! He sent them Moses, a leader who would stand before Pharaoh time and again requesting to be let go to worship the Lord in the wilderness. With each refusal, the Israelites witnessed the all-powerful hand of God as He sent plague after plague. Ultimately, the Egyptians were so fed up with the afflictions sent by God, they urged the Israelite people to leave, giving them whatever they wanted, just so they would get out of there before the entire country was decimated!
Off they went, and the miracles just kept coming. An incredible trek across a dry sea bed—the sea opened up for them by a divine wind, but closed again upon the pursuing Egyptian forces. They tasted water that had been bitter made sweet by God’s gracious touch. When hunger began to gnaw at them, the Lord provided special “bread” from heaven—manna, it was called, meaning “what is it?” Miraculously, enough came every day to feed every man, woman, and child!
But yesterday’s miracle repeated over and over can too easily be taken for granted. It gets to be commonplace, ho-hum, hum-drum. Pretty soon, you can start feeling a pang for something different. When it comes to one’s diet, I suppose, that’s easy to understand. Reminds me of reading recently about a long-distance backpacker on a journey of hundreds of miles. Before his trip, he planned on having oatmeal every morning for breakfast—a lightweight, easy to prepare, filling, and nutritious meal. Halfway through his journey, however, he never wanted to see oatmeal again!
Back to the Israelites.
They’d been eating manna every day, seven days a week, for months, and frankly, they were getting tired of it. Again, understandable. I suppose one way to handle that dietary monotony would be to pray something like this: “Lord, you’ve been so good to us! You delivered us from the terrible misery of Egypt; you’ve given us plenty to drink; you faithfully, consistently provided us this gracious gift of food every day! All we’ve had to do is get up in the morning with a bucket and go collect it! How generous you are to us! But you know how you created us to enjoy variety? Would you please spice up our diet a bit? Not that we have to have variety. What you’ve already given is plenty to meet what we need. But a little variety would add a measure of pleasure to our days. Whatever you decide is fine. Thanks for listening—I hope I haven’t been tedious in asking.”
That would be one way, but that wasn’t their way. Instead, they simply griped. Complained. And they were pretty ruthless about it, too. Now, think about all God had done for them to this point. Ok, then get the implications of the griping question they ask: “Who’s going to give us flesh to eat?” Umm, maybe God? You know, the One who delivered you from slavery, sent all those plagues, opened up the Red Sea, sweetened the bitter water, provided manna every day? By the way, even Moses seems to have forgotten. Later, when the Lord promised meat within 24 hours, he queried the Lord, “Where’s all this food going to come from??” The Lord quickly brought Moses back to his senses with the curt reply, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened?” You can almost feel Moses’s face turning red.
So in their complaining about what God has been giving, they not only completely ruled out the possibility that God Almighty could give them what they desired, they actually complained that He brought them out of Egypt in the first place! O, it’s not that they wanted to go back to being slaves, but they concluded it’d be worth it if they could have some of the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they enjoyed back “home.” How selective our memories become when we’re zoned in on pining for one thing from our past!
And what was the Lord’s response to all this bellyaching? We’re told more than once: “When the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled….” He wasn’t too happy. Here’s where many skeptics and critics get on a bit of a high horse. “Not a very loving God to get his dander up over such a thing, is he!?” they opine with a bit of a smirk. But come on. What parent hasn’t experienced the grief of making some sacrifice to give his child a special treat or experience, only to have the child turn around and complain because of something they don’t have or can’t have?
Anyway, where am I going with all this? I had just read how easily we take for granted the everyday blessing of the Lord’s provision and develop a complaining spirit. A few minutes later, at around 6:30 a.m., I was getting ready to go to the YMCA for a workout and began grumbling to myself about how cold it was outside…that more snow was coming tonight…why can’t it warm up…when is Spring going to come…—all that late-winter griping stuff. I wasn’t exactly in a foul mood, but I wasn’t too chipper, either. Off we went, and Chris mentioned how nice the sunrise was that morning. Hmm. Then we pulled into the parking lot at the Y, and the golden rays of the sun glimmered through the ice-fog laden branches of a nearby tree. And as I took in the everyday blessing of another sunrise, the provision of physical strength to get out of bed, the warmth of a decent coat and gloves, a warm place to get the exercise my body needs…I felt my own complaining spirit begin to melt.
And it struck me how quickly I forgot!