Meditations in Exodus: 78. Oh, not again!!!
Num 11:5-6 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
I am going to, as they say, let the cat out of the bag! I am going to share what I believe has to be behind so much of what goes on in respect of Israel. As I have studied the activities of Israel from the Exodus to the Exile, I have concluded there are two reasons for the existence of Israel. The first is to create a nation that should have been a light to the rest of the world, and the second is to show that even with God helping them, the folly of sin cannot be suppressed by the Law so that an alternative means of salvation is needed, i.e. Israel constant and ongoing propensity to sin shows the rest of the world that even with God’s help we need a greater salvation. That of course then opens the door for the coming of Jesus and the salvation he provides through the Cross. Observing Israel can be a depressing exercise unless we realise these things (and it certainly destroys any romantic feeling that certain groups have about modern-day Israel who are the same as their ancestors of the Old Testament – as we all are outside of Christ).
Now there are question marks over who is meant by ‘the rabble’. Some suggest it was the Egyptians who came along with Israel, who had left with them at the Exodus, but I’m not sure there is any warrant for that. Observation of the human race suggests there will always be people of lower moral character, who love to do their own thing, are utterly selfish, give little thought for others, and certainly not God. Sadly there appear there will always we those who some unkindly call the ‘dregs of society’ and these ones grumble.
They have this miraculous food provision, called manna, but they are fed up with it and they remember the variety of food that there had been back in Egypt. In their folly they forget two things: first, that they had been slaves back then (this might be an argument for the rabble being Egyptians, because they hadn’t been slaves) and, second this provision is only supposed to be short-term while they traverse the desert until they reach the land described from the outset as, “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex 3:8, repeated in Ex 13:5 and 33:3).
Now note how this spreads: first of all it is ‘the rabble’, then is, ‘the Israelites’ and soon it is ‘every family’ (v.10). Beware grumblers and those who criticize and moan; they have a habit of infecting the rest of the people. What starts out as one or two can soon become the whole church.
As a result of this, we read, “The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” (v.10) There used to be a TV series with a grumpy old man as the key character whose favourite expression was, “I don’t believe it,” said in the most despairing of tones. That is how any rational person reading this account must surely respond. Surely, after all the wonderful things that have happened to them, this people cannot have taken their eyes off the big picture and fallen into a grumbling and moaning disarray? Yes, they have! And the Lord is not pleased about it and because He is not pleased about it, Moses was troubled as well.
In fact the extent of Moses’ ‘troubled’ mind is expressed in what follows: “He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, `Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favour in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.” (v.11-15) I think all this would be summarized in modern language as, “I have it up to here with this lot, I can’t do it anymore, I’m out of here, I didn’t want the job to start with, you might as well kill me off now and be done with it! He is a seriously unhappy little shepherd! Sorry that makes it sound a laughing matter and it’s not, but that is how it comes over.
Now the fact that I am able to identify with it like that – and perhaps you too – suggests that I too have been through ‘trying times’ and have almost screamed at the Lord (although you don’t scream at the Lord of the Universe!), “I can’t do it any more. I give up!” Now here’s the encouraging bit – God doesn’t give up on him or on Israel – or us! I think we would do better to wait until the next study before seeing the Lord’s way of dealing with the problem – which is a little unexpected – and simply conclude with a few general thoughts about this sort of experience.
I am encouraged by Moses here, his humanity, especially his rant about, “did I want all these people”. I am encouraged that even the best people run out of grace, even the best people feel like giving up, even the best people feel they are confronted by an impossible task from time to time. It’s not just me; it’s other people as well. But then, and this really looks forward, we will find the Lord doesn’t beat up Moses or write him off. In fact He appears to understand Moses’ feelings and work on that basis in dealing with the situation. The Lord knows what I feel and He understands. That doesn’t mean that He will pat me gently on the head and say, “You poor old thing, I’m sorry I gave you such a hard job. It’s all right you can walk away from it and go and retire and grow tomatoes.”
No, when the Lord calls us, He knows the way through to the end and His grace – one way or another – will be sufficient and He will enable us to get to the end goal. So, sorry, no opting out. Just listen to the Lord and see what He has next as a solution. So go and lie down, put a bit of damp lettuce on your face (or whatever else they recommend to calm people down), calm down and commit it to the Lord and wait for Him to turn up with a solution. And if you are someone who has never been in such a situation and are not there now, count yourself lucky and thank the Lord! Enough said.