The Old Testament records the travel plans of the newly reorganized and very fussy nation of Israel on their way to the place that had been long promised to them as a special homeland. Sometimes I’m tempted to think, “For crying out loud, people!” (Which they did, frequently.) I mean, after all, God had done some pretty amazing things from the beginning of this project, what with plagues and parting the Red Sea, Charlton Heston notwithstanding. There was plenty of water from a rock to satisfy a couple million people or so, and enough quail to feed an army.
And then there was this thing called manna. I think the jury is still out as to what this stuff really was, which is kind of a moot point, since it was obviously enough to keep them nutritionally sustained over time. Kind of like the limbis bread of the wood elves in the Lord of the Rings. (Yes, I own the trilogy of movies, directors cut and all that,… but I digress.)
I readily claim that I’m not a picky eater, and neither is Bob. But admittedly we do enjoy some, albeit limited, variety in our palate. I joke that I could live on pizza, but the reality is that even my homemade pizza would probably get a bit old over time. So in a somewhat shaky defense of the Hebrew people, my very human side can relate to a diet of everyday manna bread and water, even though it made them very healthy indeed. (I can only imagine the mothers of the five-year-olds….)
However, it seems that the people never quite learned how to address their grievances judiciously to the God that was so obviously trying to help them. It wasn’t that they were hungry or thirsty. They were just bored. Bored with the desert, bored with constantly moving,….bored with bread, and more bread, and only bread.
Put that thought on hold to check out how their future king, David, managed his frustrations and fears and disappointing circumstances with God. Here’s just a snipet of one of his many recorded communiques with his Lord:
Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me;
Fighting all day long he oppresses me. My foes have trampled upon me all day long,
For they are many who fight proudly against me.
When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?
You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?
Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call;
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
In the Lord, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me? (see Psalm 56, NASB)
Now David wasn’t just having a bad day. This was written in the context of his true enemies (and he had many) capturing him in his own wanderings prior to his providential promise of ascending to the throne. David had no problem “pouring out his complaint to the Lord”, it’s just that he knew how to do it properly. It’s not about using the right words; it’s all about having the right heart. David didn’t mince words with God; he didn’t candy coat the problem or his own emotional response to it. But even in the muck and the mire of dealing with life, he maintained that God was with him, God was in control, and no matter how long it took, he would continue to trust God for the outcome.
Deep breath. Back to the Israelites. They just hadn’t grown up enough to understand and appreciate with Whom they were dealing. Unfortunately, as it has been said, desperate times call for desperate measures. God sent in “the snakes” to do a severe work of judgment. And then, in typical fashion, He also provides a way of healing once bitten.
- I find it interesting that God uses snakes to do the dirty work, since Satan was described as a snake in the garden after deceiving Mother Eve. The original sin was pride, thinking that we should be allowed to “be like God” (which, really, we already were, being made “in His image”, all that.) Like Eve, the Hebrews thought they were “entitled” to more than manna, more than what God deemed healthy for them for that point in the journey. Hmmm….
- The account goes on to say that the people became impatient (Oh! That word!!) with the long journey and complained about the manna, i.e., God’s provision. Not complained in the sense of David’s pouring out his honest frustrations to God “Whom he knew would do what is best, and trusted Him with his life, regardless of current circumstances” kind of complaining. This was more of a “how dare you invite us out here and feed us nothing but bread” category, and the snakes were happy to accommodate. There is a very important warning here: when I complain to God with a victimhood mentality, with a feeling that I am entitled to more than I have (instead of a humble “I know what I really deserve” kind of thinking) there are definite “snakes” just waiting for a piece of me. Their names are Bitterness, Resentment, Jealousy, and Offense, and they have many, many sibling slitherers close behind that are just as poisonous to my soul
- Interestingly, once the people asked for forgiveness, God didn’t just remove the snakes. They were still lurking around, waiting and watching. But God gave the people a pole to look upon should they be bitten, and having gazed upon the pole, they would be healed. Similarly, if, through unresolved heart issues, we allow ourselves to be bitten, we really have only one option for true healing, and that is to gaze upon the One Who was raised up on a cross for us.
So yeah….shut up and pass the quail.