“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)
With the exception of a few adrenaline junkies, most of us are somewhere on the continuum between petrified to a little unnerved when facing change. Change involves risk and risk is scary.
Yet, very few of us are in situations that are completely bad. We may joke about the only way from here is up, but in reality, for most of us things could get a lot worse or a lot better.
In the Exodus story, we often find the Israelites complaining to Moses about all the good things that they left behind in Egypt. One example is shown in the passage that I have quoted above. They are tired of mana and are remembering some of the good things they had to eat in Egypt. They are in the process of change, having left Egypt they are on the way to the promised land. They do not yet know what they will encounter when they get there and they are sure that they don’t want to continue living where they currently are. They are uncomfortable and irritable.
On the surface it would appear that Scripture is indicating that it is wrong for the Israelites to desire these things.
But, these things are good things in themselves. Who has ever had a sweet, ripe melon in the summer and not enjoyed it? A quick Google search turned up many recipes for cucumber-leek soup, so I assume that many people find the rest of the list tasty. There is nothing wrong with desiring nice things to eat.
What then is the problem?
Part of the problem is that the Israelites have displayed selective memory. They were crying out for deliverance when there were in Egypt and now that it has come, they are crying out to be returned to where they started. The Israelites are choosing to ignore the bad things which forced them to desire change.
Another part of the problem is that they have forgotten the miraculous way that they were delivered from the Egyptians. Not only did God deliver them, He did it in such a way as to leave no-one in doubt as to who is in charge. Egypt was shown the impotence of their gods and Israel came away with the wealth of Egypt. In addition, God had provided supernatural shade during the day and fire at night to keep the Israelites safe on the journey.
The Israelites should have been confident that the God who had delivered them, the God who was delivering them, would also be the God who would bring them to the place of His choosing. Rather than looking to go back, they were supposed to be looking forward. Instead of being driven to complaining, their circumstances should have driven them to worship the God who was delivering them.
For the Christian, the words of the old Gospel song come into play, “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through . . .” We are on a journey from death to life. Like the Israelites, we begin in bondage (Eph. 2:1) and are progressing to a promised existence that is free from the wreckage that is caused by sin (2 Cor. 4:17). Also like the Israelites, we know that God promises to be with us on the journey and see us through (Matt. 28:20; Phil. 1:6).
The point is that it is easy to look back on former situations and remember them as better than they really were. It is also easy to lose sight of the fact that God remains in control and promises to use every circumstance in which we find ourselves for his glory and our benefit (Rom. 8:28). It is easy to let our circumstances drive us to complaining rather than worship.
As I write this, I’m painfully aware that there are some, perhaps even some who will read this blog, that are in very difficult circumstances. I’m not trying to trivialize the difficulty or danger of that situation. But in this I have to trust that the righteous judge of all mankind is even more aware of the situation and it does not fall outside of his concern or oversight.
At a worship time last evening, we sang the song “Oceans” which contains the line, “I will . . . keep my eyes above the waves.” When Peter was looking at Jesus, the waves didn’t seem so daunting, it was when he looked down that the panic set in. The author of Hebrews encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).
If we focus on the promised land and who will dwell there with us, even the good things of Egypt will not be attractive in comparison. As we look to God and allow him to shape our desires and guide us in our decisions, we may encounter difficulty along the way, but we should not lose heart. The end will be better than we can even imagine.