It is my personal conviction that the best way to walk through scripture is in community. Through community you are challenged to see scripture differently, from a different point of view, and encouraged to live it out. That’s why we’ve loved partnering with our friends at City Collective Church in Chattanooga through our Garden to City year. Here’s a review post on Numbers as we wrap that book up and move into Deuteronomy.
Here is a blog from Win Griffith at City Collective in Chattanooga:
As our journey of reading through the Bible has come to the book of Numbers, I have been dumbfounded. God has led Moses and the people of Israel from back-breaking slavery to an enemy nation to the desert where they are on their way to a place “flowing with milk and honey (delicious)” and in the meantime are provided with food and drink every day along with renewed fellowship with God through the tabernacle, and what do they do? Complain.
Over and over they complain. Let’s take a look.
“Soon the people began to complain about their hardship” (Numbers 11:1a)
“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’…’But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-5)
“‘If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!’ they complained…’Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?’ Then they plotted among themselves, ‘Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!'” (Numbers 14:3-4)
As a 21st century reader, this frustrates me deeply. Do they not remember that they would be in slavery under a hopelessly wicked leader if it wasn’t for God’s deliverance? Do they not remember that without God giving manna (basically bread that shows up every morning like dew) they would have starved long before this point? Do they not remember God’s guidance as the pillar of cloud and fire?
The answer is most likely, no. No they don’t. They are all too human.
And to be human is to be forgetful.
Have you ever been hangry? As in so hungry that it turns into a sort of ravenous state where you can’t think of anything except getting food, at the expense of relationships? I have. In those times I’m most certainly not thinking of how nice the last meal I had was. I could have won the lottery an hour before, but when my stomach is about to eat itself, I have a one track mind.
See, the Israelites were hangry. They couldn’t see past the fact that they weren’t getting the kind of food they wanted. In fact, they appointed a leader to take them back to Egypt where they could become slaves again so that they could eat well again. Isn’t that ludicrous?! When currently walking in freedom they actively wanted to be slaves again…for the prison food.
I have to admit, I have a lot of the same characteristics of these Israelites. I get hangry. I have these fleshly desires that wage war against my gratefulness and humility. As soon as my satisfaction or comfort is taken away, I expect more of it. When all the while, I have a loving Father that is graciously giving me over and above what I could ever ask or imagine, and I am just a selfish child taking it and paying him no mind.
I’ve heard that goldfish have a short-term memory capacity of about 3 seconds. Though we may not be that shortsighted, we do tend to forget incredibly quickly. For the Israelites, God had literally just freed their nation from 400 years of slavery. For me, God has freed me from legalism and shame. I forget it just as fast as they did, and complain about the day to day. From getting stuck in traffic to seeing others with the money I want to have to having an unsuccessful sales call.
I get fixated on those things and miss the fact that God is literally giving me life and breath in those moments. He is sustaining my body, providing my food, guiding my steps. I know that, I just forget. What do we do about this chronic forgetfulness?
Years later in the history of Israel, we find the people coming back together after exile, and in it lies the key to our forgetfulness:
“They (the Israelites) refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.” Nehemiah 9:17
As this new group of Israelites read this, they fought their chronic forgetfulness with remembrance. Choosing to take a step back and recount where they have come from. Retelling the story of how God was with them in the wilderness, and in the midst of their rebellion, He was full grace and mercy, and showed them forgiveness. Shockingly enough, this is one of the main reasons why the church meets weekly. We forget that fast in the craziness of this world that God is still God, and He’s still good.
May we realize our tendency to forget, and choose to remember the grace of our Father to give us life and breath today, and everyday.