Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 14 2019 - Numbers 11:1-34 – Be careful what you long for

Today's passage begins with complaint. The Israelites, despite their many blessings, were not content with their lot. Even after some of the people had been consumed by the Lord's wrath, still they were discontented, still they complained.

God had provided them with bread from heaven, but now they had become literally fed up with it complaining, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (vv. 4-6).

Moses too is affected by their discontent. He cries out to the Lord protesting that he has to try to look after all these people. Where is he going to get meat to feed them? He also if fed up with the task that the Lord has given him and begs to die.

God responds graciously to Moses. Since he cannot lead this multitude on his own, God will provide seventy leaders from among the people who will share the burden with him. He will give them a share of the Spirit he had given Moses, so that they can help him lead God's people.

And in answer to Moses' complaint, "Where can I get meat for all this people?" (v.13), God promises that he will provide it; "Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you." (v.23). But along with this promise is a graphic warning for the people, "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."

What happened is later remembered in Psalm 106:14-16:

In the desert they gave in to their craving;
    in the wilderness they put God to the test.
So he gave them what they asked for,
    but sent a wasting disease among them.

We live in a society marked by discontent. Discontent is the engine of consumerism and the power that drives growth – the idol of a godless society. We want something new, something different, something better, something more … and yet we are never satisfied. All the stuff that we have hungered after soon becomes ashes in our mouths; it never satisfies.

This incident, and the recalling of it in Psalm 106, warn us to be careful of what we set our heart on. We may get what we want but find it a curse rather than a blessing. None but Christ can satisfy.

God calls his people to trust in his perfect care and to be content with what we have. Such contentment is grounded in contentment with God himself. Paul writing from prison to the Christians in Philippi says, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:11-13).

Father God, you did not spare your own Son but gave him up for us and have promised to care for all our needs with him and in him. By your Spirit, teach us to be content with you, our God; content with the path you call us to tread and content to know that you are always with us and will never abandon us. May our counter-cultural lifestyle of contentment draw others away from the glittering trinket idols of this world to find solid joy and lasting treasure in you and in our precious Saviour.

 

Peter Misselbrook