God’s anger is demonstrated against the people. Complaining about what God has done is NOT a way to impress Him or make Him move in your favor.
This is a story that I didn’t remember. I remember Israel grumbled A LOT but not this instance. We are not even told exactly what it was they were complaining about. But it was bad enough that God set part of the camp on fire. His house was safe but the fringes of the camp suffered for the attitude of the people.
I want to take a look at the one word that we do have that describes their complaint; “misfortune.” I’m wondering what “misfortune” they are referencing. Is it all the gold they left Egypt with? Is it the health of all of their people? Is it the number of herds they have acquired? Is it the destruction of their oppressors by the Red Sea which they had JUST walked through on dry land? Is it the abundance of water that came from the rock? Is it the victory they had over those who came against them? Is it the close fellowship God had established with them? Was it the abundance of manna they received every morning?
Maybe it was because they didn’t have a firm itinerary. Or possibly that they didn’t have permanent houses. Could it be because they had a long walk ahead of them? Is it possible that it was because they were tired of the journey already?
We see them complaining right after getting to their first stopping place after leaving Mt. Sinai. They had been still for months as they constructed the Tabernacle. Maybe they were complaining because of the new regulations including: carrying the Tabernacle, camp arrangement, marching orders, and trumpet system. Maybe this grumbling included the Law God had just given too.
Whatever it was it angered God. He could have sent fire from Heaven and consumed them all; but He didn’t. He could have struck the grumblers dead; but He didn’t do that either. He could have called for Moses to separate out the malcontents and punish them individually. But He chose a different way to get their attention.
God chose fire. His fire was restrained. It stayed on the outside edges of the camp. I’m wondering if it encircled the whole camp or only appeared in places. We are not told that any people were killed by this fire but it “consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (verse 1b). It was minimal damage and did exactly what God sent it to accomplish. It got the people’s attention and made them turn back to Him.
The second story of grumbling I do remember. This was a specific issue they were rebelling over. The food wasn’t good enough! “There is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (verse 6b). I beg to differ with them on this. First of all, the manna was a gift that God didn’t have to provide. He could have told them to forage for their own food. Second, they had meat. It came from the sacrifices that took place. It might not have meant steak and ribs every day and as much as you want, but they did partake. They certainly ate meat when they celebrated the Passover a little over a month before breaking camp.
I understand being tired of eating the same things all the time but it is better than starvation. They were in the middle of the wilderness with NO stores around them. And they were on a journey to the Promised Land. Couldn’t they just be patient until they got there?
I feel for Moses. He had had enough of their complaining too. But instead of standing up to the people and telling them to “quit their belly aching” he went to God to complain about his own complaint. “What did I do to deserve this headache? Why are they my responsibility? I didn’t decide to drag them out here. What am I supposed to do with them? I CAN’T take care of them! It’s too big of a job for me! If You have any love for me at all, just kill me now and let me out of this mess.”
Sorry Moses. Even you don’t get off that easy. But God does listen to his situation and will answer his need in tomorrow’s reading.
Father God, I find myself looking at the “woe” side of the equation too often. There were SO many blessings You had given this group of people but all they chose to look at was the tough things. I want to remember their lesson and NOT repeat it.
I want to see the miracles of everyday life that You have given me. I want to rejoice instead of complain. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand about the difficulties but to be able to see the possibilities of how You can solve them instead. I want to HONESTLY say “I Love My Life!” and mean every word of it. Thank You for ALL my blessings and for my opportunities to practice thankfulness.