By Michael Smith
Reading from Numbers 11:1-23
1 Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. 3So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned against them.
4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. 8The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.
10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once — if I have found favor in your sight — and do not let me see my misery.”
16 So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 17I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. 18And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20but for a whole month — until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you — because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”
21 But Moses said, “The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month’! 22Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them? Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?” 23The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”
Moses, as liberator of God’s people, has a problem. In today’s reading, the divine wrath is provoked against a complaining, ungrateful people who appear never to be satisfied with what the Almighty provides. If they receive water, they crave bread. If they obtain bread, they want meat. And so forth and so on in a spiral of self-pity and grumbling.
Now, sustenance in the desert does not seem to be an unreasonable request from God’s covenant people! The problem was not with what they asked, but rather with their attitude and motivation for asking: “They forgot what God had done, and the wonders he had shown them. … / True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed; / but is he able to give bread or to provide meat for his people?” (Ps. 78:11, 20). Even though they had seen the wonders of God’s deliverance, the people not only doubted God’s steadfast love and providential care, they even looked back with nostalgia on the years of their captivity.
Today, I will focus on the goodness and abundance God has bestowed upon me, rather than concentrating on the perceived scarcities of my life. I will be grateful for what I have, instead of resentful for what I think I deserve or need. God is moving us to a new place, a land of promise and freedom. Those who remember this can truly say, “We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, and the wonderful works he has done” (Ps. 78:4).
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith served as Bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. He and his wife, the Rev. Lisa White Smith, are the parents of three grown children and grandparents of nine.
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