One of my all time favorite stories from this time in Israel's history is the story of the manna and quail. I adore the story of the manna for a variety of reasons. I find it humorous (and revealing of my own faulty human nature) that is only takes a mere month out of captivity for the Israelites to romanticize their bondage.
Exodus 16:3 The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."
Oh yes, you remember correctly, don't you? After the Israelites finished making all those bricks without straw, Pharoah threw open the doors of the palace and led his slaves to feast at the catered smorgasbord complete with real silverware. (Not even in The Message version, friends.) It is such a human, sinful thing we all seem to do under pressure - we default to the lie that wherever God has brought us to is far worse than wherever we have been, even if where we have been was captivity and bondage. I have to laugh as I read this chapter on the other side of the 28 day detox diet. Oh yes. That was me. On about day 6 when I had reached total capacity for all the curds and whey a person could want but none of the Big Mac cravings had yet subsided, I caught myself thinking, "Seriously? This has to be bunk! I felt GREAT when I ate chick-n-minis with a Dr. Pepper every morning!" Oh my.
Most of us know the story of the manna from heaven, but I love the brief encounter I like to call the "Quail Smackdown". For some reason, as I read through the account of the Israelites in the desert the last few days, I keep coming back to the quail. So tonight I turned to Numbers 11:4-35, and it's like God has decided to remind me of a few truths I may be dancing around in my life. (And you know what they say, conviction loves company or something like that...)
Verse 4: The rabble with them began to crave other food and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat!"
I would love to learn the Hebrew word that translates into "the rabble". They were the hangers-on, the not-quite-on-boards, the we'll-hang-with-you-all-but-it-better-not-get-messy folks who followed the Israelites out of Egypt. These folks probably didn't have a long history or relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but were duly impressed with the sights and works of this God back in Egypt and so they tagged along. Ah, the dangers of "the rabble". I am not sure what I am more afraid of - that I am being influenced by the rabble around me or that (gulp) I am "the rabble" to another believer. I am learning that it is probably best to keep maturing, Godly people in my most inner circle so I am not easily swayed by the rabble who mumble and mutter distrust or dissent when it comes to the ways of the Lord. I am also learning that the best way to ensure I am not a stumbling block to someone else is to keep my mouth shut more. Not easy, but when push comes to shove, who wants to be lumped in with "the rabble"?
After hearing the folks groan, Moses approaches God and pours out an overwhelmed heart.
Verse 13-14 "Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!' I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me."
Can I tell you how often I feel like Moses, and I only have two children I'm overseeing? More often than I want to admit, I have felt as if the burden of raising a family is too great for me, especially on the days when the boys look at me as if I am just plain lousy at making their lives OK. Oh Moses, I hear you! The wailing, the whining, and all the while you (and I!) both know these folks are getting more than they need! While God is angry (exceedingly angry it says in verse 10), God hears Moses and instructs him to bring 70 elders to share the burden. And then God and Moses address the issue of the meat.
Verses 18-20 Tell the people: 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, 'If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!' Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month - until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it - because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before Him, saying, 'Why did we ever leave Egypt?'
Now I understand that a lot of people just like to focus on the sweet, loving God who sent His son to be all swaddled up in soft, sweet smelling hay. But I have to say, I find huge comfort in the quail smackdown God lays out. "You want meat? Oh, I'll GIVE you meat! It's gonna come out your nose, I'll give you so much meat!"
It both blesses and terrifies me when I see how God handles the meat whining, because I can see how this very same dynamic has worked in my own life. When I decide that I desire something other than the good things God has faithfully provided out of His glorious riches, I always end up gorged and loathing in the end. God knows what I need. God knows that what He gives is best. But if I want to try and satisfy somewhere else, He will allow it - with disastrous results every time. Can you imagine if Dr. Holistic had told me, "You want McDonalds? OK, I'll give you McDonalds! Eat it for every meal for 28 days." I can assure you, by day 10 I would be begging for organic, all natural greens and a colon cleanse. When it comes to God, the same principles apply. Faithful obedience or disaster. There is no option "C".
Lately, I've been trying to be more aware of when I am whining for quail instead of faithfully gathering my daily bread. I'll be honest, there are aspects of my life that I wish were more glamorous. I have moments when I want to pursue things that aren't God's plan for my life right now. I have been known to cry out, "God, I want _____! Why can't I have _____?", and while I think it is acceptable to pour my heart out to God, I hope I can remember to always do that with His glory and not my needs as my priority.
God is so good. He gives me my daily bread. And I deeply desire a heart that is so thankful and obedient that I avoid choking on a month's worth of quail.