Quail and Complaint: Lessons from Lusting

If there had been a complaint hotline in Ancient Israel, the phone would have been ringing off the hook. It seems as though complaining was a national pastime. Not that we should be too critical of Israel. We complain all the time. The weather, politics, our treatment at a particular store, the length of the sermon, the job we are working, the people we work with, the pay check we receive, the gall of someone who did something wrong to us.

In the closing verses of Numbers 10, we find Israel on the move. They have left the camp at the base of Mount Sinai, and they are moving out. Three days into their journey however, they begin to complain. We don’t know what the complaint is in the first three verses of chapter 11, but it’s not hard to imagine. After spending almost a year at the base of Mount Sinai, people have to pick up, pack up and move on. Not hard for me to imagine what got them complaining! But, I admit it’s only conjecture. I don’t think why they are complaining is the point of the first three verses of Numbers 11 anyway. The point is the time it took them to find something to complain about (just three days). Let me ask, how long does it take you? How long before you start complaining? God judges Israel, but to our amazement the judgement does not produce the desired effect. Because in Numbers 11:4 there is more complaining.

The difference is, this time we know why Israel is complaining. Israel does not appreciate God’s menu choices. For approximately 2 years now, Israel has been eating manna, a bread like substance that tasted like fresh olive oil (see Num.11:6-8). Having been subjected to eating this stuff for so long, Israel had grown tired of it, and wanted meat. Israel’s problem here, however, is not that she has a hankering for some protein, the problem is that Israel is not content with God’s provision. Manna, remember was a test of Egypt’s faith (Exodus 16:4). If Israel had been living by faith, there would have been a realization that in the Negev desert and the arid Sinai Peninsula, Israel should have been amazed that a gracious God would provide them with something to eat at all.

Too often, we forget God’s provision because we desire something he has not provided. In Eden there is a provision of plenty with just a single prohibition. Sin comes when Adam and Eve desire the thing which God has forbidden more than they desire the thing which God has provided. Ask yourself this question. Where in your life are you more prone to want what God has forbidden than you are to want what God has provided? God has no problem providing meat, but this lustful attitude, which is accompanied by complaining and griping, is inconsistent with a life of faith. Complaining is an indication that you are seeing with human eyes, and not with a divine perspective. God had graciously provided for Israel, all they could think to do was complain.

In order to truly understand the sin of their complaint you must recall that Israel’s problem was lust. Their desire for variety in their diet became an idol. They were prepared to disobey God to have that thing they desired. The problem with their complaint is that it is borne out of selfish desire to have what they want, when they want to have it. What does God do? He gives them meat. He gives them meat for a month. So much meat that it was coming out of their nose (11:20). These people eat and eat and eat, gorging themselves on roasted quail – some probably eating the flesh raw. Others raced to get them on the fire, frenzied in their desire only to eat. Until…God kills many of them for their lusting. Remember, their complaint was sourced in their willingness to give up God for the goodies they wanted. It is like a Christian saying they would give up the cross if they could only have what the world offered! Placed in those terms you can see the disaster of this kind of complaint!

Are you complaining this way in your own life? Where is your life are you fixated on some worldly lust to the point that you are prepared to dishonor Christ to get it? What would you sell out Jesus for anyway?

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