I was on the phone with a friend from out of state recently. They had heard of the floods nearby and asked, “Weren’t you guys just in a bad drought?” We certainly were. When the rainy seasons began, prayers were answered. Many farmers had requested prayers for rain. Their crops dependent on it, as did their livelihood. Those of us happy to buy what farmers grew and raised were hopeful for less water restrictions on our lawn. They rain came, and we cheered — and then it didn’t stop coming.
My friend’s question made me think of Numbers 11. We had gotten too much of what we had asked for. Some of us learned how to sandbag for the first time, as we assisted others in making sure their homes stayed safe and dry on the inside. Outside of the city proper, new ponds and lakes appeared, and I witnessed a three-quarter submerged tractor in a ditch with my own eyes. It was the most rain I’ve seen here, but it was worse elsewhere. Other areas in California had to be evacuated to keep individuals safe. Our sewer and drainage systems simply aren’t built to handle that much water all at once.
During the time of the Exodus, God’s people depended on Him for guidance and food. In one instance, their minds weren’t focused on the blessings they had, but on what they didn’t have. This lack caused them to long for things they had, even as slaves.
Numbers 11: 4-6 “The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
What was once recognized as the miracle it was — manna: bread dropped from heaven — was now something that was too familiar to be grateful for. While not perfectly parallel, I can recall hearing tales of the famous golden sunny days of California, especially when I lived in the dreary gray rainforest of southeast Alaska. Being here for the past 4 ½ years, I missed the rain, and it took quite a bit to start missing the sun again.
California, Alaska, Israel, the desert wilderness — all these places are different. It’s very easy to admire what exists elsewhere and ignore what you possess already, for which others might long. The Israelites had been traveling; things were not yet stable for them. Though we can all appreciate the desire for variety, something more was going on beneath the surface. A simple reading of the following passage, if you ignore the context of their attitudes, might make God sound harsh. Note the reason for this action mentioned at the end of the passage.
Numbers 11:18-20 “Say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, “Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of 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 ever leave Egypt?”’”
During our recent drought, prayer for rain probably didn’t stem from a lack of trust in God. It was a practical request based on an actual need from a people based in one place. I have no reason to think this recent flooding was any kind of punishment, even if I do have reason to think California as a whole, and many of us in it, could be punished justly. The Israelites in Numbers 11, however, had an attitude problem that we could learn from. They were rejecting God’s provisions and by doing so, God Himself.
God wasn’t withholding meat to tempt them. He was meeting their needs, and had they trusted and obeyed him, they would already have been in the promised land. While it is true that had we Californians managed our water better we might be better off, most of us aren’t on a 40-year journey due to lack of trust in God and mismanaging our resources. It’s just something happening to us in a fallen world, where actions from fallen people have ripple effects. The heart of the Israelites wasn’t just turning to what they didn’t have with them; it was turning to a land of false gods and slavery. When real freedom is in view, it’s foolish to turn to temporary pleasures in a land of bondage. They had been slaves so long that even when freed physically, their minds and appetites were still warped. God wasn’t overindulging them because they dared to ask; He wanted to adjust their attitude towards thankfulness for what He was already providing.
It could be said that God taught them the old lesson, “be careful what you ask for,” but I think there is more in play in the passage. God also taught them to be thankful for what they already had. The time would come when that meat wouldn’t be what they wanted, and they would want God’s provision again. It’s wise to trust in God. It’s moral to serve your neighbor impacted by their environment. It’s okay to pray for rain; it’s okay to pray for sunshine; it’s not okay to take for granted what God has already given you. Rather than being impatient about what we don’t have in this portion of our journey, we should always do as the old hymn suggests, “Count your many blessings; count them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”