Bored with their blessings

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Bruce Green

By Bruce Green
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
in Opelika

The first ten chapters of Numbers present a placid picture of Israel in the wilderness under the guidance of Yahweh. After going off the rails in the golden calf incident, the nation settled down and built the tabernacle (Exodus 35-40), conducted a census (Numbers 1), organized their camp around the tabernacle (chapter 2), performed duties relative to the tabernacle (chapters 3-4), and observed the Passover (chapter 9).

Trouble begins in chapter 11, where we’re told, “the people complained about their hardships” (v. 1). They had been on the road for a little over 13 months. While it’s true they hadn’t been traveling all that time (they had spent almost a year at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 19:1; Numbers 10:11-12), nonetheless, they were in transit. (Think of camping for 13 months!). Furthermore, they had been eating manna every day for over a year. They would have had only limited access to other foods, so the manna was the staple of their diet. Before we judge them too severely, we need to understand and acknowledge they were living in some challenging circumstances.

But their hardship hardly justified complaining against God.

Perhaps Israel was like some disciples today who think that coming to Christ means no more difficulties. (Wherever they got this idea, it wasn’t from Jesus, who unhesitatingly told His disciples they would experience hardship precisely because they were followers of Him – John 15:18-21). Whatever their reason, just three days after they had left Mt. Sinai, the nation began airing their grievances against Yahweh.

God was not pleased because their complaining represented a lack of confidence in Him. You would think that ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from above, water from a rock, and all of the other things He had done would have been sufficient for them to trust that He would take care of them.

God’s response was fire. In His mercy, it was limited to the fringes of the camp. The people cried out to Moses, who prayed for them and then the fire stopped (v. 2). Lesson learned, right?

Or maybe not.

Apparently not long after this, the “rabble” began to complain. This is a reference to the non-Jewish people who had left Egypt with Israel (Exodus 12:38). They hadn’t experienced all that Israel had. They didn’t know the story like Israel did. They began complaining and it wasn’t long before Israel joined in.

They told God that having a variety of food while living in slavery and oppression was preferable to freedom and hope in the midst of hardship! The Israelites romanticized their past in Egypt, so God gave them all the meat they could eat with a side dish of plague to help them remember what Egypt was really like.

God had initially given the manna to Israel in response to their grumbling about the lack of food but now, just a year later, they complained to Him about what they had previously begged for. Moses will later tell the next generation of Israelites that their parents were given the manna to teach them to trust in God (Deuteronomy 8:3), but they hadn’t learned the lesson. Instead, they became bored with their blessings, blamed God and died in the wilderness.

Bored with their blessings was not a good look then and it hasn’t improved over the centuries.

You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: www.atasteofgracewithbrucegreen.com.

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