Romans 15:4 lays the foundation for a Christian's study of the Old Testament: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." Therefore, although we cannot find salvation under the Law of Moses, we can turn to the pages of the Old Testament and learn from the lives of those who came before us. Such an instance presents itself when we study Numbers 11. The attitude of the Israelites in this passage provides a telling example for us today. Consider the lessons we can learn from this context, as well as the events that lead up to it.
First, groundwork must be laid from Israel's history. At the time depicted in Exodus 16, Israel was separated from their last day in Egyptian bondage by a mere 30 days (verse 1 compared to 12:18). However, they had already challenged God's judgment and care once (14:10-12), and would do so for the second time here. Moses records, "And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron [and by extension, God-CP] in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full" (Exodus 16:2-3). Israel obviously had a selective memory. They had wiped from their mind the torturous way they had been treated (1:9-14; 5:6-14) and the order to kill all male children (1:15-16); however, they remembered the "flesh pots" and "eating bread to the full." But God, in His infinite mercy, agreed to "rain bread from heaven for you" (verse 4). This bread from heaven would be called "manna," literally, "what is it," and "it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey" (verse 31). He placed regulations, howbeit few, upon the Israelites "that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no." Their physical nourishment was to be completely furnished for them by God-all they had to do was gather it according to His instructions. They were to gather it every morning but the seventh; enough would be provided on the sixth day to last through the seventh. As well, they were to consume it all before the next morning. In both of these regulations, however, Israel failed. Despite Moses' warnings, "some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank" (verse 20). And despite Moses' warnings, "there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and found none" (verse 27).
In spite of God's graciousness in providing manna from heaven, and in spite of His patience in overlooking their errors concerning its use, Israel was not satisfied. Numbers 11 describes yet another calloused and thankless complaint leveled at God by His children. Verse 4 records this despicable description: "And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?" It had been just a little over a year since their deliverance from horrible bondage, and again all they can remember is "the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely [ironic, isn't it, considering they were in bondage-CP]; the cucumbers, and the melons, the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick" (verse 5). And, above that, they had the audacity to say before God that "our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes" (verse 6). Dare they whine and weep at God's gracious provisions? Dare they question and complain because they did not have variety? Yet that is exactly what they did.
But God would teach them a lesson. He commanded Moses to tell the people, "...for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord?therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you..." (verses 18-20). And indeed He fed them. The quail stretched "a day's journey" on all sides of the camp and stood "two cubits," or three feet high. The people gathered "all that day, and all that night, and all the next day." However, when they went to eat it, "while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague" (verse 33). The passage ends with this ominous statement: ". . . there they buried the people that lusted."
The lessons that loom large before us from this passage ought to be obvious. God has provided all of mankind with innumerable blessings. James writes, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). "Every good gift and every perfect gift" includes everything, from earth and air, to money, to the relationships we enjoy. To all the world He has provided the promise that "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), and has given His Son as the means to that end. To those who "seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness" God has promised that "all these things [food, clothing, and shelter] shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). But for many of us, all that God has provided is not enough. We don't just want salvation; we want it on our terms, not His. We don't just want the necessities of life; we want to have everything we could ever desire and then some. Like the Israelites, we "fall a lusting," and survey all of our rich blessings and moan, "There is nothing at all." The American dream has become for many the greed condemned in I Timothy 6:5: "Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness." This nation is one of the wealthiest on earth per capita, and yet many of us are in debt-to have bigger and better-to the point we cannot meet our monthly obligations. Indeed, we have proven true the wisdom of Solomon that says, "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity" (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
So what will it take for us to learn what Paul had to learn, namely, "in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content"? (Philippians 4:11). Will it take us suffering for our abundance, as the Israelites? Will we cry as all that we have amassed "comes out our nostrils?" Will we have to bury those that went a lusting? Will we have to mourn the broken homes, the corrupt lives, and the mournful souls that lie in the wake of our lusts? Will we keep "pulling down our barns, and building greater," only to have God say, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke 12:18, 20)? Or can we learn the simple lesson of faith from the Hebrews writer before it is too late-"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5)?
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