The Dangers of Discontent, Part 2: The Replacement
In Numbers 11 we read of one of the complaints the Israelites brought against God and Moses during their sojourn in the wilderness. They asked for meat; however, as we discussed in Part 1, they already had meat. Their true sentiment stemmed from discontent and a rejection of God’s provision.
As true today as it was then, when we reject God’s provision, we end up pursuing our own agenda. As a result we are presented with opportunities to either turn back or continue with our own way of living. In this case the Israelites’ choices led them away from the blessing of God and into separation from God’s presence.
Did they realize what they had done and what the implications were? Hindsight is wisdom’s teacher. Based on their experience, I realized I had to change my own course.
Numbers 11:30-34 describes how God responded to the Israelites’ complaint and the choice it presented them:
Moshe and the leaders of Israel went back into the camp; and Adonai sent out a wind which brought quails from across the sea and let them fall near the camp, about a day’s trip away on each side of the camp and all around it, covering the ground to a depth of three feet. The people stayed up all that day, all night and all the next day gathering the quails — the person gathering the least collected ten heaps; then they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. But while the meat was still in their mouth, before they had chewed it up, the anger of Adonai flared up against the people, and Adonai struck the people with a terrible plague. Therefore that place was named Kivrot-HaTa’avah [graves of greed], because there they buried the people who were so greedy.
There are several things wrong with this scene, but let’s focus on the issue of bringing the quail into the camp. There was a reason God laid the quail outside the camp. However, because of their greed, they were not content to only take what they needed for a few days and get more when they ran out. They chose to gather quail for probably 36 hours straight, bring them back to camp and heap them up around their tents. Imagine a month’s supply of dead quail strewn between tents and lining the walkways. Remember, “the person gathering the least collected ten heaps.” What a sight!
Here we see a clear conflict set up by the Israelites’ actions:
1. God’s presence is in their camp.
In Leviticus 26 God explained to the Israelites that if they followed his commands, “I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”
Again in Deuteronomy 23:15 we’re told: “For Adonai your God moves about in your camp to rescue you and to hand over your enemies to you. Therefore your camp must be a holy place. Adonai should not see anything indecent among you, or he will turn away from you.”
2. God’s presence cannot dwell with death.
A major theme consistent in all the commandments is God’s separation from death. Consider the many ways people or things would be considered “unclean” due to a form of death or even the loss of potential life:
- Touching a corpse
- Touching a grave
- Childbirth and menstruation
- Losing life-giving fluids
- The items near a dead person
- Eating carnivorous creatures who kill others or eat carcasses
- Having dead skin
- Decaying walls or fabric
To put a finer point on it, God states it clearly in Leviticus 15:31:
“You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.”
Now, because of their desire for “the good life” which we saw in Part 1, they are living among death, the dead quail. Consequently, God can no longer dwell among them. Again we see their rejection of God, but now they’ve chosen to replace His way and commandments with their own. They’d rather have what they consider “the good life” than the life and all the blessings God has in store for them — not to mention His presence dwelling among them.
Again, as was the case with their rejection in Part 1, the result parallels Adam and Eve’s fate in the Garden of Eden: Separation from God’s presence. Indeed, it is our fate in every area of our life that is not aligned with His ways and commands.
The story compels us to search our own life to uncover areas where a desire for this world’s standards of “the good life” separate us from God. Which of my pursuits force Him out or replace His ways? Am I longing for the past or future and missing the present? Do I stop to consider why God has arranged things as He has, or do I let my own logic guide me? Do I really need to understand in order to trust Him?
It’s a sobering story, but it’s not over. In Part 3 we’ll reveal how the Israelites’ choices put them on a detour bypassing the revelation God may have intended for them, and how we can return to obtain His full blessing.