Surprise, surprise! The Israelites are complaining again! It doesn’t take long, in the course of reading through the Old Testament, to pick up on a theme of complaining. In fact, it seems that this is just about all the Israelites did. In Numbers chapter 11 the Israelites are complaining about being bored with the food that God has been miraculously providing for them in the wilderness. They want more variety. Verses 4-6 say, “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’”. Yikes. A few verses later we read that Moses heard the people weeping (these are grown people… weeping about their food. It puts a whole new perspective on dinner time with toddlers, doesn’t it?), and “the anger of the LORD blazed hotly” (v. 10).
At this point it seems like Moses has just had it with these people. As a mother who is regularly bombarded with cries of “But I don’t like that! I don’t want to eat it!”, I can feel Moses’ pain. Moses cries out to God, and frankly, sounds a little whiny. He is clearly relying on his own strength in this moment, and it seems as though he can’t see an end to the ‘torture’ of listening to people complain about the food they’ve been given (any parents of young kids out there? Can you relate?). In verses 11-15, Moses lays out his feelings to the Lord. He says, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child’, to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat’. I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”
Just when I thought the Israelites were the most dramatic, here comes Moses with pleas for God to kill him so he doesn’t have to listen to the Israelites whining.
The way that God responds to Moses is somewhat surprising to me. Perhaps this is because, as a parent of young kids, my tolerance for whining is somewhat non-existent. God doesn’t reprimand Moses right away. Instead, he tells Moses to gather some of the elders of Israel together so that they can carry some of the burden along with Moses. Then God tells Moses to tell the Israelites to consecrate themselves because the Lord will give them meat to eat, and not just for one day. Verses 19-20 say, “You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but 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 wept before him saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’”.
You might think that at this point Moses would be feeling pretty great– knowing that God heard him and was going to put the Israelites in their place, but no, it appears that Moses was still thinking about what he had to do. He begins to ask God how the people would be given meat, pointing out that there were a lot of them (like God doesn’t know that). I love what God says in response to Moses’ worrying. In verse 23 He says, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not”.
How many times do we have conversations like this with God? We ask Him for something, but then continue to focus on how we can accomplish it, forgetting that in our own strength we can accomplish exactly nothing. We, like Moses and the Israelites, so often forget who God is, and who we are. We place ourselves on the throne by thinking that we are solely responsible for the work that God has given us to do. In reality, however, while God calls us to be faithful, He never tells us that we’re on our own. He knows that apart from his power, we can do nothing.
So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by a job you’ve been assigned, think back to this story of Moses and the Israelites and ask yourself, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened?”