“Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. ‘Oh, for some meat!’ they exclaimed. ‘We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!’ ” (v. 4-6 – NLT)
“Mommy, I don’t want to thank God for this right now. I am too upset.”
I had just got off the phone with our pediatrician and my suspicions were confirmed. Our oldest daughter is also allergic to gluten. The diagnostic sounded like music to my ears. I know that sounds crazy, but bear with me.
To most people I know, the doctor might as well have told them that they had six months to live. Having been on a gluten-free diet for almost 3 years now, the most common comment I hear from friends and family is “I would diiiiieeee if I had to give up pizza and bread.”
If you have never heard of this most annoying protein called gluten, it happens to reside inside some of the best foods ever made: cakes, brownies, pizza, pasta, bread, several dressings and sauces. Living without gluten is no cupcake (no pun intended.)
About 2 months ago, my daughter started having daily abdominal pain. She started waking up in the middle of the night because her belly hurt so badly. I tried everything that I knew to make her feel better, and we even put her on a gluten-free diet for a week to see if things would get better, without much success. I have to confess that in the beginning I was hoping that it was not the gluten causing all the pain. I knew first hand that the changes in diet that totally changed my life as an adult would absolutely be a nightmare for a 9 year old. But as the weeks went by and the pain seemed to get worse, I started praying that gluten was the culprit. As much as I do not consider myself a worrier, I started wondering…. What if something was terribly wrong with my baby? I did not share my fears with anyone but the Lord. I cried out to God when she would come to our bedroom in pain: “Lord, have mercy!”. So by the time that the diagnostics came back and I found out that indeed her problems would be solved with a permanent change in diet, I was ready to shout “Halleluiah!!!” As I hung up the phone and told her of the results, my cake-brownie-pizza-bread-loving daughter started crying. She was not too happy when I told her what was in my heart: “We need to thank God, honey. Thank God that this is all that you have.”
Later that night as we prayed together, she looked at me and said: “Mommy, I’m so sorry I said I did not want to thank God. I do now.” And in a whisper filled with conviction, she told her Maker: “Lord, thank you that we found out what is wrong with me. And thank you that it’s nothing too serious.” She then looked at me and joyfully declared: “Mommy, this is sooo cool! We’ll be gluten-free buddies!”
I smiled, proudly. That’s my girl!
A Chapter of Complaints
The eleventh chapter in the book of Numbers should be titled “the chapter of complaints.” In this particular passage, the people of Israel started to complain to Moses about the type of food that God had provided for them. Manna! Nothing but Manna!, they cried. Later on Moses himself lifted up his voice in complaint to God “Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people?” (v. 11 – NLT)
The whining goes on and on. It is indeed not a pretty picture, mainly because unfortunately, most of us can relate to it at some point in our history. The people of Israel were basing their heart’s attitude on skewed views which neglected God’s goodness and past performance. As we look closely into this passage, we can learn important lessons from Israel’s ingratitude towards God.
Lesson # 1 – Be careful who you hang out with
Notice on verse 4 that the people who started the complaints were part of the “foreign rabble” that was traveling with the Israelites. These people were not God’s people. They hitch-hiked along with God’s people, so to speak, as He freed them from Egyptian bondage. These people were along for the ride towards the land of promise, but they were not willing to go through the state of probation necessary to get there. They were like sick sheep that infected the flock. Just like medieval plagues, which started in the outskirts of the cities where filthiness and poverty reigned, and quickly took over the palaces, killing the mighty and wealthy, these people walked along God’s people but not with God’s people, and therefore their lust quickly spread and infected Israel’s attitude. As they moaned and complained about what they did not have, their faithless viewpoint clouded God’s children’s eyes. And so, suddenly, Egypt turned into paradise.
Unfortunately, this type of “infection” is not uncommon amongst God’s people today. There are many Christians that are being infected by the ungodly. I know I am perceived as a radical by some, but I cannot help but believe as I read the Bible that the only way to be light in the world is if you keep your light shining brightly. We must be in the world, but we don’t have to act worldly. If we behave as the world does, doing what they do, using the same language, watching what they watch, laughing at what they laugh, our light cannot help but be dimmed. And that is a true danger – that we may be infected by the world rather than affect our world for Christ.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)
Lesson # 2 – Leave the past where it belongs.
“We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (v.5 – NLT)
One of the things that called my attention as I studied the background in this passage is the place where they were located. If the people were camped in Horeb, they would have had some provision within their reach, such as herbs and vegetables. But in the wilderness of Paran, where they were located, they had no resources to draw from. Their daily complaint should have quickly turned into worship and thanksgiving because of how obvious it was that the manna sent from Heaven was nothing short of another miracle from Almighty God. Instead, with their eyes blinded by lust, they started longing for the place God had delivered them from. They magnified the plenty of food in Egypt, as if God had made a horrendous mistake delivering them from slavery. While they were in Egypt, they complained about the burdens they were submitted to day and night, and here they are in this passage, talking about Egypt as if they had lived there as royalty. They talked as if the plenty of food they ate while under Pharaoh’s watch was theirs for free, evidently forgetting that they paid for it with their own freedom. They remembered cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic as if they were precious, dainty foods, all along forgetting the slave masters’ whip, the death and sorrow that surrounded their lives. How foolish!
Cucumbers, Melons, Leeks, Onions and Garlic? Really???
“Manna was a seed-like substance with a shiny appearance like resin. The people went around collecting it and ground it between stones or pounded it fine in a mortar. Then they boiled it in a pot and shaped it into cakes. It tasted like a delicacy cooked in olive oil.” Numbers 11:7 (The Message – emphasis added).
If we are not careful, we may fall into the same mistake as the Jews did time and again. As we wander in our own wilderness at times, waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled in our lives, we may fall into Satan’s trap of so focusing on our past that we totally miss God’s miracles of provision and deliverance in the present. On verse 6, the Jews were complaining about the Manna that they so admired when they first saw it. It was good food, Heaven food. The food was free and enough was provided for what each family needed each day. Moreover, the manna came from the bounty of God. It was new every morning, just like God’s mercies to us are (Lam 3:23). And yet, they started despising God’s provision.
Be careful to leave your past where it belongs. If you don’t, you will magnify things that looked good, but at the end, cost you your freedom, your peace and your joy. Worse yet, you may miss the miracles of provision that God is sending your way now. Provision for your body needs and for your soul longings as you walk closely to Him in the desert.
Lesson # 3 – Don’t Pout. Instead, lift up your eyes and see God.
When I read the accounts of the children of God in the wilderness, I cannot help at times but to visualize a group of spoiled five-year olds pouting all at the same time. They cried when they did not have what they wanted, and then they cried again when they got what they wanted. They shouted at poor Moses (v.1), complained, murmured, rebelled and disobeyed. They really remind me of some kids I see around the malls, whose parents evidently don’t believe in Proverbs 13:24. Poor Moses. No wonder he wanted to resign from being their leader!
As you read the account of the Jews in the wilderness, you don’t see them looking for God. You hardly see them praying unless they are in so much trouble that they have no option but to repent in order to receive God’s favor once again. They sinned and they pouted. That’s what they did. Instead of looking for God in their circumstances and looking back in their past to remember the numerous times that God showed up in miraculous ways, they would focus on their lustful desires and apparent unmet needs. God faithfully provided forgiveness, deliverance, food, protection and shelter. And instead of being thankful for what they had, they would lust after what they did not have. Oh, what a sad place to be! The Psalmist remembers the account and relates that God was “furious” with their attitude:
“When the Lord heard them, he was furious. The fire of his wrath burned against Jacob.Yes, his anger rose against Israel, for they did not believe God or trust him to care for them.” Psalm 108:21-22 (NLT)
All the Jews wanted was meat. There is no sin in that. Or is there?
Remember this: even things that are perfectly lawful can become evil to us if they are not God’s plan and when we so eagerly desire them, that we allow our lust to take over our trust and faith in God.
True thanksgiving can only take root in the heart of those who trust God, even if His modus operandi does not make sense to us. I don’t understand everything that God does and why sometimes it takes Him so long to do something. We cannot comprehend His mind. “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 (NLT). But this one thing I know: the longer I walk with my Jesus, the more I learn to trust Him. The longer I stay in His presence, the more He shows me His mercy in big and small ways. Small and huge mercies fill my plate. They may not always taste like the dainty foods that I used to eat when I was a slave in Egypt. But they are food from Heaven; food that not even the angels will ever taste, for they are reserved only for God’s redeemed. They may not be exactly what I want, but they are what I need.
I don’t know about you, but I have a huge list to bring before the Lord this Thanksgiving. And my list this year will not only include the blessings I have, those that are so obvious to be thankful for: family, friends, jobs. I am grateful for things that don’t taste that great, but which are drawing me closer to Him. I challenge you to jot down the not-so-great things in your Thanksgiving list this year. They may just be your manna – food from Heaven. Food that will change you from within. I believe that can be a huge thing to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!