Friday, May 7, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish for from God

In second month of the second year since the Israelites were brought out of Egypt by God, the Israelites left the Desert of Sinai (on the Sinai peninsula), according to Numbers 10:11. To put that in perspective, if they took the longest possible path and went around the coast of the Sinai peninsula instead of through the desert, they have traveled approximately 300 miles (483 kilometers). If you walked at the slow pace of 1.0 mile per hour (1.6 kilometers per hour) for only eight hours a day, you could cover that amount of ground in about 38 days.

It has been over a year since they left, and they still have yet to see the Promised Land. Not too surprisingly, some of the Israelites are starting to complain. That is where we pick up this study.

Be Careful What You Wish for from God
Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. This common proverb suggests that you do not always know what is good for you.

Asking for something from God should be different, right? Not that you would know what is best for you in that case, but rather that God would know that and would therefore only give you what actually is good for you. Those familiar with the New Testament may recall Matthew 7:9-12 and Luke 11:11-13 where Jesus points out that you would not give your son a snake if he asked for a fish, and then extrapolates that your heavenly Father will likewise give good gifts to those who ask Him.

Well, let us look into that claim more closely. Numbers 11 seems like a good spot to investigate.

Numbers 11:1-3 starts the chapter on a bad note. Some of the Israelites are complaining about their hardships, and they do so “in the hearing of the Lord.” (That partial quote is from Numbers 11:1, and it implies that they were physically close enough to God for Him to hear them, as if God was a being subject to physical constraints.) God is angered by this, and so He kills some of them with fire. The people cried to Moses. Moses prays to God. The fire stops.

In Numbers 11:4-35, the story goes from bad to worse. Numbers 11:4-6 tells of how the Israelites complained that all they had to eat was manna, and that they miss the variety of free foods they had in Egypt.

As you may remember, in Exodus 16 is the tale of when God first starts giving the manna to the Israelites; on the fifteenth day of the second month after leaving Egypt. According to Numbers 10:11, it is now at least the twentieth day of the second month in the second year, so they have been eating manna for over a year now. Day in, and day out. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Any guess as to why they were complaining?

What is manna? Numbers 11:7-9 says that it was like coriander seed and looked like resin, that people would prepare it to eat in a couple different ways after grinding it up like some kind of grain, and that it tasted like something made with olive oil. Strangely enough, this is somewhat contradictory to the earlier description in Exodus 16:4 that manna was a type of bread and in Exodus 16:31 which says that it looked white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.

It should also quickly be noted that the Israelites did not begin receiving the manna until they complained that they had no food. So God rewarded their complaint.

Returning to the story at hand, in Numbers 11:10-15 is a rather amusing rant from Moses, with Moses saying that leading the Israelites is a real pain, and that he would rather be dead unless God provides some help. God replies in Numbers 11:16-17 that He will anoint seventy elders with the Spirit to help share the burden. So God again rewards a complaint.

Circling back to the Israelites' complaints, in Numbers 11:18-20 God says that He has heard their complaints, and will give them meat for a whole month, “until it comes out [their] nostrils and [they] loath it” because they have rejected God. Apparently the desire to have variety in your diet constitutes as rejection of God.

What is even more strange is that God is going to give them meat. Their complaint in Numbers 11:5 was about not having fish, but also about cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. Previously, in Exodus 16:3 they had complained about not having meat. But altogether, it is silly that they would have complained simply about not having meat or that they needed God to provide meat because they had left Egypt with large droves of livestock (Exodus 12:38)!

In Numbers 11:21-22, Moses questions God's ability to provide meat for all of the Israelites for an entire month. That is silly. After all, God made the universe out of nothing, right? Moses should have known better, but instead it seems that Moses has no faith. Of course, if this is just a tale of fiction, there is no need to make sense.

The elders get anointed and begin helping Moses. Joshua makes his first appearance, being jealous that the elders are prophesying (Numbers 11:23-30).

Then, in the thrilling conclusion of the story in Numbers 11:31-35, God sends quail into the camp, echoing what was done earlier in Exodus 16:12-13. (The Bible does like to tell a good story at least twice, like with old Sarah being taken in by Pharaoh and then Abimelech.) However, in a new twist of spiteful wrath, God kills some of the Israelites with a severe plague “while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed” (Numbers 11:33), instead of simply rewarding their complaints like last time.

So we see that the proverb stands true in this case; that even with God you should be careful what you wish for. Also, God appears to be inconsistent in rewarding complaints. And finally, far from being a loving heavenly Father bestowing only good gifts to those who ask of Him, God punishes them with His wrath, killing them just for asking for a little variety. Sad.

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