Monday, July 2, 2012

Manna and Quail

In reading through the book of Numbers the other day, I came across the passage that describes Israel’s complaints about their hardships in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. In case you haven’t found yourself reading Numbers lately, let me remind you of the story.

Israel was enslaved in Egypt for many generations. By the time of Moses’ birth, the work was hard, and the Egyptian midwives had been ordered to kill all Israelite baby boys. Moses was spared because of God’s provision of two faithful midwives who refused to kill the Israelite babies, and a courageous mother who made sure he would live.

God spared Moses’ life for a purpose. Through Moses, God miraculously led Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery.

After leaving Egypt and arriving at the “mountain of the LORD” and receiving their marching orders, Israel set out for the land of Canaan. But they soon grew tired of the wilderness. Although God had provided not only freedom, but nourishment for the journey in the form of manna, it was not enough. The people wanted other food. They even suggested that life was better for them in Egypt. In Egypt, they claimed, there was a wide variety of food: fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onion, and garlic. They were tired of manna cakes for breakfast, manna bread for lunch, and manna porridge for dinner. They wanted more.

What is interesting about this story is that in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with wanting good food. Fish, cucumbers, and the like are God’s good gifts to humans. That the people would want these sorts of things is, at some level, natural.

The problem seems to be in the timing of the desire and the lack of gratitude for what God had provided.

On this particular journey, God’s gift to his people was manna. Instead of gratitude for God’s gift of life in the place of death – for that is what the wilderness is – the people’s response was complaint. Instead of being content with what God had provided for the journey, or perhaps asking God if there were any alternatives, the people looked back to Egypt. Like picky children, Israel did not want what God had offered. They wanted a banquet, not daily bread.

The funny thing is, with a little patience, a banquet would be theirs, for the promised land was said to flow with milk and honey.

God gave them what they wanted. But desiring God’s gifts in the wrong way or at the wrong time came with consequences. Israel would get meat to eat but by the end of the month, they would loathe it. Why?

Because in rejecting the gifts God had offered, they had rejected God.

I can’t help but wonder how often I crave God’s good gifts in the wrong way or at the wrong time. How often do I complain because I want the promises of the future now? And how often does that complaint amount to ingratitude for the many good gifts I already have? Its worth thinking about.


  1. Nice post, Professor VandenBerg. It reminds me of a prayer I read recently in church by Basil of Caesarea. "O Lord, our God, teach us, we beg of you, to ask you in the right way for the right blessings." It's a reminder we all need.

    1. Ah yes. Thanks for that prayer, Mark. Something worth praying regularly.