And the people grumbled and deplored their hardships, which was evil in the ears of the Lord (Numbers 10:37).
May, 2018. When I first heard this verse as a little girl, I piously thought that if I’d been an Israelite, I would never have complained about my lot. Indeed, I determined then and there to stop grumbling when I didn’t get my way. (I may have kept that vow for a whole day.)
Scott and I recently came back from a trip to the Israeli and Jordanian wilderness. After experiencing miles and miles of unrelenting drought and rocky mountains and heat, I have a new appreciation for why the Israelites complained. Of course my observation comes from the cushioned seat of an air-conditioned bus, but still . . . .
The Israelites were fed up. They were sick and tired of manna sandwiches, manna soup, and manna salads, and they lusted after their flavorful Egyptian dishes. They declared, “Now our soul (our strength) is dried up.” And no wonder! With only six inches of rain a year, where is there enough water in a desert for a million or more people? And so they wept and they complained to Moses. I can picture the little kids whining, “Are we there yet? I’m so tired, hot, and thirsty. My feet hurt.” And the moms, carrying their extra loads, not knowing how far they’d have to walk each day, worried about dehydration (they didn’t have ice-cold, bottled water provided by the bus driver).
The result? God’s fire burned the edges of the camp.
The people’s reaction? They cried out to Moses.
Moses’ response? He cried out to God. “Why? Why? Why? Where? I can’t. I’m not able. Kill me. The burden is too heavy.”
So what’s the difference between the words of the Israelites and the words of Moses? The difference is to whom they complained. Moses directed his words to God. The words were melodramatic, to be sure, but honest. His was not an attitude of lust and rejection of God’s provision. His were words of despair because he was carrying too heavy a burden and his knees were starting to buckle.
God’s response: He came to Moses’ aid. He had him choose 70 men to help carry the load.
And the fire in the camp subsided, and they named the place Kibroth-hattaava (the graves of sensuous desire) because they buried there the people who lusted and whose physical appetite caused them to sin.
Buried in the desert? I used to picture the Sinai Peninsula as gently rolling hills of silty, Sahara-like sand. But as we had to carefully watch our footing over rocky ground, I wondered aloud how the wanderers accomplished this feat. I still don’t have an answer.
Anyway, I came away with two thoughts: I have no right to judge another person’s struggles until I have walked 40 years in their dusty sandals. And second, what can I do when I find myself in the desert? Talk to God instead of whining to other people.