"Graves of Craving"
I was reading in Numbers this morning about the Israelites complaining to Moses about how they were sick of eating manna all the time. The Lord heard them and started a fire which consumed "some outlying parts of the camp" (Numbers 11:1b). Moses prays and the Lord takes the fire away. But, in verse 4 we read, "Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving." What was that craving? Meat. They began to weep and cry out, remembering fondly the fish and melons and cucumbers and onions and all the delicious food that they had in Egypt! Wait... Egypt?!? Where they were slaves?!?! The place from where God had so mightily and wondrously delivered them? Yes. They wanted to go back to Egypt. What?!?!?
Now before we get all incredulous and indignant with the Israelites, let's dig in here a little bit. The Israelites' discontent and discouragement first started with complaining (see verse 1). Then, they began comparing (see verses 4-6). Then they began criticizing their leader, Moses, by standing outside his tent and whining (see verse 10-11). Kind of sounds like my kids when I am hiding in the bathroom and they suddenly NNNEEEEEDDDD a snack.....
Ahem... moving on here- as we read through this next section (verses 10-30), Moses indignantly asks the Lord why on earth God had him (Moses) be the leader of these people. I mean, goodness, they were forever complaining about their food, water, clothes, and so on. They were constantly comparing to other things or people or places. They consistently criticized Moses and his leadership, even criticizing the Lord himself for having forgotten them or potentially bringing them into the desert to die! (When I read these passages, I often imagine the Israelites as drama queens [or kings, as the case may be], pressing their hands against their foreheads and sinking to the ground in a heap of utter despair. Then, God provides for them and they leap up and dance and act like everything is hunky dory again. I can just picture Moses (and God!) rolling his eyes at the whole ordeal.
This passage here is Moses' breaking point. He has HAD IT. And, he lets God know. So, God patiently provides Moses with some other leaders to assist Moses in this process of dealing with the people and their complaints. Kind of like representatives in government. God also tells Moses he will provide meat for the Israelites- so much meat, in fact, that the Israelites will have it coming "out at [their]nostrils and [it will become] loathsome..."(see verse 20).
And that is exactly what God does. He brings a gust of wind, which brings quail from the sea. The quail fall beside the camp and the people collect the quail "all that day and all night and all the next day" (verse 32). Then, the Bible tells us that while the quail meat "was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague. Therefore the name of that place was called Kibrothhattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving" (verses 33-34).
Yikes. What a story. What does this passage teach us? The easiest answer might be, "don't complain", and that would be a good answer. However, this passage struck me even deeper than that. The boys and I have listened to some excerpts from Sally Lloyd-Jones. In one of her devotionals, she talks about this story. She talks about the people complaining about onions after all the amazing things God had done (and continued to do!) for them. Why did they do this? Because they (and we) forgot that "every single thing we have is a gift from God."
Why did the people die? Because they had a craving. Because they chose to be ungrateful. Because they chose to look away from what God had given them and look to what their flesh and deceitful hearts wanted. Because they sinned. And sin has consequences.
This is how addictive behaviors work. It begins with complaining: "my body doesn't look like hers"; "my marriage isn't satisfying my sexual needs"; "my family doesn't understand what I need or want"; "I can't be happy unless I get that drug or that alcohol"; "no one understands my needs"; "I need this to be happy". Then, we begin to compare: "if I just did this work out or lost this much weight, then I would be happy"; "if I just looked at this one porn site, I would be happy"; "if I just look on Instagram for a little bit, I will be happy"; "if I see how many likes I have, I will be happy"; "if I make this much money, I will be happy"; "if I just buy these clothes or shoes, I will be happy". Then, we begin criticizing: "God, why did you give me this body?"; "God, why did you give me this spouse?"; "God, why did you make that person successful?"; "God, why did you give them the promotion?"..... pretty soon, thoughts about what we want or deserve begin to consume our thinking. Maybe we tasted of those things before, and we want them back- even though God has promised to give us everything we need, to provide us with peace and joy and contentment. Yet, here we are thinking about our onions back in Egypt (e.g. our fleshly desires of our sinful flesh).
Addictions start out small. And anyone can struggle with them- even imperceptibly (addictions like work, money, clothes, social media, and so on). But, they all begin with a craving. A craving which causes us to complain, to compare, and to criticize. A craving which will eventually destroy us.
The place where the Israelites buried the people who had the craving was called, Kibrothhattaavah, which mean, "graves of craving". Wow. These people allowed this craving to so consume them, that their burial place is named for their sin. I wrote this in the margin of my Bible: "Cravings- food or otherwise- come to us as part of our natural, fleshly desires. This does NOT mean we indulge them. We must continually keep GOD, his word, his character, his provision and promises in our minds. This is particularly necessary regarding addictive behaviors. Focusing our need for that "thing" or focusing on our circumstances instead of God warps our thinking. It distorts our trust in GOD to be our Provider and Sustainer."
So how do we combat this complaining, comparing, and criticizing? Sally Lloyd Jones writes, [in order to combat a grumbling spirit is] "why God tells us to always be thanking him. Why does God need us to thank him? He doesn't. But we do. You see, God knows it [being thankful] will fill our hearts with joy!"
How thankful are you? Are you thankful for the everyday things? Your job? Your home? Your family? Your body? Your marriage? Your children? Your clothes? Your home?
Are you thankful for your salvation? Or do you still want to dwell in Egypt? Are you thankful for God's transforming work? Or do you miss your onions?
Whatever "onions" you desire, God has provided something better. In Colossians 3:12-17, Paul talks about the things God's "holy and beloved" people are supposed to be "putting on" instead of dwelling in rags of unrighteousness: "compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and... forgiving one another. And above all these put on love... and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts... and BE THANKFUL!"
All these things God has called you and me to are so much better than the sinful desires of the flesh. These cravings will only lead you to a grave of craving. Instead, we are called, in whatever we do, to do that work for the Lord, "knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24).
This is what is better. This anticipation satisfies all your longings. And, when we put off those desires of the flesh, choose thankfulness, and dwell on truth, we are able (by God's grace) to serve him. And as you serve him with a thankful heart, you are then able to forget (gradually) about those onions in Egypt, anticipating, instead, the glories of the Promised Land! He can be (and is!) all you will ever need!
Read Numbers 11 and Colossians 3. Ask God to cultivate in you a thankful heart. Confess areas of sin, areas of craving which are keeping you from experiencing God's goodness to you. Be on guard for those "onions" which easily distract you from God's promises. Memorize verses on being thankful. Intentionally determine to watch out for a complaining spirit in your life. Beware of comparing to others. Reject the temptation to criticize. "You are serving the Lord Christ!"
Additional song for meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDZZ0-F5EKk