Numbers 11-12, Luke 21

The Unattractiveness of Ungratefulness.

Numbers 11-12, Luke 21

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 11:4-62 ESV

Complaining, grumbling, dissatisfaction, and discontentment. These are all common characteristics of the human race. Even the people of God have been known to whine and moan about their lot in life on occasion. The book of Numbers records the journey of the people of Israel as they made their way from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan – the land promised to Abraham by God. And just three days into their trip, the people of Israel began to complain about their misfortunes. They moaned about how difficult their lives were. They had grown lazy during their stay at Mount Sinai, and now there were having to put effort into following God. No more sitting around camp while Moses did all the work up on Mount Sinai. Getting to the land of promise was going to take work on their part and, as a result, they complained. The source of their complaint was a “strong craving.” They desired something they didn’t have. They coveted something that was missing in their lives. The people wanted something that God had not chosen to give them. And they showed ingratitude for what God had provided. This is a danger for every child of God in every generation. God had led them and fed them. He had provided manna for them to meet their physical needs. But in their opinion, it lacked flavor and spice. They wanted more! They preferred the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlics of Egypt. Never mind the fact that their meals in Egypt were eaten as slaves. They wanted MORE than what God was providing. When it came to their well-being, they knew better than God. Their complaining revealed and underlying belief that they had been better off in Egypt. Their grumbling exposed their doubt in God’s love and wisdom regarding their lives.

What does this passage reveal about God?

So God gave them what they desired – in abundance. He gave them meat in the form of quail. “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:18-20 ESV). God gave them exactly what they craved and, in time, it would prove loathsome. They would grow sick of it. Not only that, what would initially appear as a blessing from God would end up being a curse. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague” (Numbers 11:33 ESV). The psalmist would later write of this watershed event. “But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave then what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 1-6:14-15 ESV). God graciously gave them what they didn’t deserve: meat. But He also justly gave them what they DID deserve: judgment. Sometimes God allows us to have what we crave, even though He knows it is not what we need. But He also allows us to learn the painful lesson that the things for which we crave tend to bring us disappointment and dissatisfaction. There is a natural human tendency to want more. We are naturally greedy and think the answer to all our problems lies in getting more of what we already have or somehow gaining access to what we believe is missing.

God had graciously provided for the people of Israel. He had chosen them, freed them, guided them, clothed them, fed them and led them. He had agreed to dwell among them – in spite of them. He had provided a means of receiving atonement and enjoying forgiveness of their sins. He had promised to bring them to a land of abundance where they would live in homes they didn’t build, harvest crops they didn’t plant and enjoy the safety of cities they hadn’t constructed. All He had asked was that they follow Him, trust Him and believe that He knew what was best for them. But they craved more. They knew best.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We must always be careful to mistake as God’s blessing the accumulation or acquisition of the things we crave for and lust after. A bigger house is not necessarily what God desires for us. More money could just as easily end up being a curse and not a blessing. Any time we crave what we do not have, it is a sign of dissatisfaction and discontentment with what God has already given us. Discontentment can spread like a cancer among God’s people, robbing them of vitality and joy, and causing them to doubt God’s goodness. We see in the story of Miriam and Aaron another brand of discontentment. They didn’t like the fact that Moses was the sole spokesman for God. They were jealous and dissatisfied with their status as second fiddles to their brother, Moses. So they complained. And their complaint revealed a deep-seated distrust in God’s sovereign will. In speaking against Moses, they had spoken against God. They revealed their belief that they knew better than God. “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed” (Numbers 12:9 ESV). Desiring greater glory for herself, Miriam ended up with leprosy instead. Her craving resulted in a cursing by God. She would eventually receive healing, but also carry with her a painful, yet powerful lesson on the danger in testing rather than trusting God. For seven long days she would find herself expelled from the people of God. Rather than enjoying a greater role as a leader of the people, she would find herself shunned by them – a reject rather than a ruler.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of 1 John, we read these sobering words: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17 ESV). Loving the world more than we love God is a constant temptation for us as His children. We can so easily view what this world has to offer as the solution to our problems and the source of missing satisfaction. More of anything that this world has to offer will always fall short of what God has already done for us. Yet when we crave more than what He has already given, we reveal our ingratitude and expose our desire to be our own god. Peter would remind us that, “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV). But as we saw with Miriam and Aaron, it isn’t always about money and material things. They desired power and more significance. They were discontent with their roles and desired greater visibility and more recognition. They were unwilling to serve where God had placed them. They craved more. They desired something different.

When Jesus came He exposed the status quo of His day. The rich were looked on as icons of virtue. The poor were seen as suffering at the hand of God for their sins. But Jesus taught that the poor were blessed and the rich would find it difficult to enter into His Kingdom. Their love for and dependence upon materialism and money would prove to be a formidable barrier to faith. They were placing their hope in the wrong things. The poor, who had nothing, would find it far more easier to trust in God, because they had no other options. Their need would prove to be a blessing. In Luke 21, we see Jesus preparing His disciples for life after His death and departure. He reveals to them what the end times will look like. Some of what He tells them will happen during their lifetimes. But much of it has yet to occur. But regardless of the timing, He warned them, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36 ESV). They were not to allow the things of this world to distract them from the reality that there is something more yet to come. The people of Israel had been promised a land of abundance. Yet they became distracted with thoughts of more – NOW. Unwilling to wait for the future outcome of God’s promises, they demanded His blessing according to their terms and their timing. They became weighed down with the cares of this life and took their eyes off the promise of God. I can do the same thing. I can find myself craving more of what this world has to offer and fail to recognize that God’s promise is not about me building a kingdom in this world, but enjoying the blessings of His Kingdom in a new world.

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. And forgive me for loving and craving the things of this world. Help me see past their illusion and recognize their inability to deliver what they promise. Only you can provide me with joy, contentment, and satisfaction. More of what this world has to offer is not the answer. Help me to realize the truth of the statement that godliness with contentment is great gain. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men