The Dangers of Discontent, Part 1: The Rejection
Remember the story of how God fed the Israelites quail – tons of quail – in the wilderness? It takes up one chapter in the Bible but seems to be just another incident in the litany of complaints the Israelites brought against God and Moses.
How was it different from the other incidents? Why was God so angry? Why so many quail? The story almost raises more questions than it answers. Yet there are a few hints that create intrigue as to its deeper meaning. Contrary to my first impressions, I believe it holds some (almost) hidden lessons about God’s mercy and desire to dwell with us and bless us.
Although there are many other lessons to be gleaned, three aspects of the story spoke strongest to me:
- The Rejection
- The Replacement
- The Missed Revelation
First, let’s look at the complaint:
“The mixed crowd that was with them grew greedy for an easier life; while the people of Israel, for their part, also renewed their weeping and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt — it cost us nothing! — and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, the garlic! But now we’re withering away, we have nothing to look at but this manna.’” Numbers 11:4-6
At face value their request is for meat. However, the Israelites had meat. Exodus 12:37-38 tells us they brought their livestock with them from Egypt. Manna was never intended to replace their meat, nor did it cost them anything. Their complaint was not about meat. The second part of their statement reveals their true sentiment – they’re bored with manna, there’s not enough variety of flavors to please their palate.
Never mind the fact that they had repeatedly complained about all sorts of things to this point; God’s strong reaction was about their desire for something other than what He was miraculously providing. God does respond with meat, but look at verses 19-20:
“You won’t eat it just one day, or two days, or five, or ten, or twenty days, but a whole month! — until it comes out of your nose and you hate it! — because you have rejected Adonai, who is here with you.”
God takes their complaint personally! By grieving leaving “the good life”, they have rejected Him and His presence. We’ll see that theme again in Part 2.
Rejection stems from discontent and leads to rebellion. The Israelites were not satisfied that God had rescued them from their harsh slave masters, miraculously defeated their pursuers, supernaturally fed and watered them and, in fact, dwelt with them in their camp. They were focusing on what they didn’t have. God’s plan and provision was too boring and taxing, so they came up with their own idea for improvement – more meat.
That first generation of wilderness Israelites takes a lot flack. My goal is not to point the finger. Their choices would’ve likely been our choices; their journey, our journey. Our task is to learn their lessons and realign our path to God’s before we die in our own rebellion.
The Israelites’ first two words serve as a window into our lives today: “If only…” Where in my life do “if onlys” hide? Where am I wishing for something better instead of recognizing and appreciating God’s plan and being content with what is? In what areas am I striving beyond what God has provided? Does boredom or the desire for “the good life” get more of my attention than understanding and obeying God’s leading? For me, keeping these temptations in check is an ongoing process.
The Israelites fell prey to the enemy’s oldest weapon: discontentment. This is the exact sin we experienced in the Garden of Eden – a desire for knowledge beyond what God had given us, and a choice to take matters into our own hands, rejecting His instruction and consequently Him. “If only we could be as wise as God…” The enemy is still using this tried and true temptation on us today. Once we reject God’s provision, we venture into our own path to get what we want.
In Part 2 we’ll see how – just as in the Garden – the Israelites’ rejection of God leads them into separation from God. However, we’ll also see that even in His anger God includes a hidden blessing for those who would follow His way.