Meditations in Exodus: 80. Meat in Abundance
Num 11:18 “Tell the people: `Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.
We started the previous meditation by reminding ourselves that Moses has just cried out to the Lord that he’s had enough, he can’t cope with this people. The Lord’s response was to raise up a wider Spirit-anointed leadership, seventy of the elders but, we said, there was still the matter of the need for food that the people demanded.
In response to this cry for meat, as our verse above shows us, the Lord instructs Moses to speak to the people and tell them to consecrate themselves. Now that is slightly strange unless the intent is for the people to ready themselves to meet with God. In other words, the Lord wants the people to realise that what is about to happen – all of it – is from him; there is no accident or coincidence here. You asked for meat (implied)? Very well you will have it in abundance: “You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month–until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it–because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (v.19,20) The warning is very clear, this provision will also be punishment.
But for the moment Moses is amazed and simply asks, ‘how can you possibly provide meat for this massive crowd for a whole month? (v.21,22) “The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” (v.23) i.e. is anything beyond the Lord’s reach? We then see how He does it: “Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp.” (v.31,32)
Historians and geographers tell us that quail migrate from Arabia and Africa in the spring and return again in the autumn. Their route takes them over Egypt, Sinai and Canaan, and earlier last century Arabs in north Sinai used to catch between one and two million quail at the autumn migration using nets to catch the low flying birds. Now whether the ‘three feet above ground’ refers to the height the birds flew or possibly the height that the exhausted birds piled up to in places, is unclear, although the latter is more probable. Again it is more likely that they were in piles rather than a three foot deep mass covering all the land. Whatever the exact truth, there were a lot of birds for the taking. In fact everyone gathered plenty for themselves and then laid out the extras (presumably for use next day) around the camp, again probably in piles.
Now what follows is a description of probably what followed a lot of rotting decaying piles of birds, all going off in the heat: “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.” (v.33,34) The name of the place, your footnote will tell you means ‘graves of the craving’, i.e. a graveyard for those who had craved the meat.
We aren’t given details of the effect of this plague except a number of people died and they were the ones who had craved other food. As much as our modern sensibilities (as distorted as they often are) may find this disturbing, if the ‘plague’ is (as is almost certain) the result of the rotting food, then one has to suggest this is as much the folly of the people as it is a judgment of God, because it must surely have been obvious that leaving all these birds around the place would create serious infection and the obvious answer to any rational person would have been to said, ‘burn all the birds that you cannot eat before they go rotten’, but they didn’t. Even Moses remained quiet.
We see here a principle at work that, I believe, often operates. Ungodly and unrighteous people cry, “Give us what we want, let us live like we want to live,” and the Lord sees that despite all He has said and done, they appear set in their ways and so He allows them to have what they wanted. In its simplest terms we might say this behaviour is self-destructive. Some have suggested that AIDS is a classic outworking of this and certainly STDs are an obvious outworking in a sexually promiscuous society. There may be a considerable number of other things that the discerning person can see in modern Western society where the Lord has allowed ungodliness to develop and unrighteousness (living contrary to God’s design) to prevail with negative outcomes.
We see this in Romans 1 in verses 24,26 & 28 where we see “God gave them over” to various sinful practices that have negative outcomes, disciplinary judgments intended to bring people to their senses as we see happening in the book of Judges again and again and again. May we be a people who understand these things and understand that God has designed His world to work in a particular way, and rejection of that way leads to breakdown in society and breakdown in health.