Quail and Manna
Marc led smallgroup on Thursday, saying that he had a Thanksgiving-appropriate lesson for us. I don’t know what I was expecting him to come out with, maybe something from the Gospel or one of Paul’s letters. Something within the status quo of the emergent church, or whatever it is we are.
Yet we proceeded to read from Numbers, that old-Old Testament book full of lots of “begats.” More precisely, we read Numbers 11, where the curtain lifts of the Israelites, who have just been led out of slavery, and have been provided all the manna from the heavens they could want. Perhaps they couldn’t tell, but God was meeting their needs, leading them to something better than they had.
Yet they wanted meat, so they complained. The said “in Egypt, we used to be able to eat fish for free and cucumbers and melon.” Somehow in their grumbling, they forgot the fact that they had been enslaved. Now they were free, and still unhappy! The people grumbled to Moses, Moses grumbled to God, and here we see God at maybe his most sarcastic. “Is the arm of the Lord too short?” God asks when Moses points out the large (600,000) number of men on foot. Well maybe Moses was just trying to be helpful, yet to remind the Creator of the Universe how many people are in a crowd when He’s busy counting the hairs on their head might point to a slight lack of faith, don’t you think?
God ends up meeting their lack of gratitude for what they did have with quail, and lots of it. Quail three-feet deep as far as anyone could see in any direction. So much quail, that it would “come out of the people’s nostrils,” so says God. There their seemingly insatiable greed was met and God proceeded to strike them with a “severe plague” and scripture says that the greedy died there because of it.
The Israelites wanted meat and didn’t give thanks to God for delivering them from slavery. It’s the same with me. My cravings aren’t exactly for meat, but they are for attention and those kinds of things, yet I don’t turn back and acknowledge God for leading me out of my own slavery — I’ll gladly go back to being a slave if it means I can get my proverbial fish!
As we read the passage, I began to think about how decision that are born from an ungrateful heart lead to so much strife and destruction later on. I thought of one recent situation in particular. I need to make a decision about how to proceed and I know that there is a right decision and a wrong decision. I find myself trying to leverage with God saying “I don’t want to talk to you about this because I have an inkling I know what you’re going to tell me, but that’s not the answer I want to hear.” I know that wilfully making the wrong decision, though unwise, is still very much a possibility for me and I know that my tendency to make that decision comes from a place in my heart where I feel like God is not providing in this particular area, so I need to go about it how I want, how I see fit, instead of waiting on God’s timing.
I know that I’ve been ungrateful for the manna and I want the quail, and even cry out for the quail, yet I know that the quail could very well make me sick.
God’s plan is to prosper me and not harm me, but why does it feel so often that He’s withholding things from me? I am surprised at my short-sightedness sometimes. There’s an old hymn that says “all I have needed thy hand hath provided,” and looking back, it’s totally true. God will let me make a bad decision, and then also let me pay the consequences for it. I can say right now that I want to make the right decision, but the bad decision looks pretty fun, too. More fun, in fact. Ugh. This what Paul meant, I think, when we wrote about “doing what I do not want to do.”