Meditation on Numbers 11 (Selected verses)
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH
Sept. 26, 2021
Link to our Live-Stream Service, including my messages for children and adults, as well as the baptism:
Anybody here love fall in Ohio? It’s my favorite season. On Friday, Jim and I had our fall foliage tour. We drove to Wooster on SR 83.
If you’re from around here, you know that scenic, country road over rolling hills is windy and narrow. At first, it frightened me with the large trucks moving so fast with their heavy loads and farm machinery moving so slow. And then there are the Amish buggies and bicycles that suddenly appear in the road. And the deer. One was crossing as we turned a corner and went down a hill.
But It was a beautiful, early fall day. Blue sky throughout the entire drive. The only thing that would have made it better, I told Jim, was if I were sipping a pumpkin latte.
I was having a craving for pumpkin. When we stopped for lunch, I wanted a pumpkin muffin, but they were sold out. So, I bought canned pumpkin at the grocery store.
That afternoon, I made two pumpkin pies. They would have been better with vanilla bean ice cream, Jim said. That’s the way we like them! But we had to make do with Cool Whip.
Making my pies and craving pumpkin, I thought about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness having a craving for MEAT. Who knows how long it had been since they left their homes and former lives in Egypt to follow Moses? I can imagine their misery, as they were city dwellers—not farmers, hunters, or trappers.
Exodus 1:13-14 tells us about their backbreaking, oppressive labor, building supply cities for Pharoah. He feared that the Hebrews were becoming too numerous and powerful. He worried they would rise up and side with his enemies; he wanted them to die. He set cruel taskmasters over the Hebrew slaves, making their lives “bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor.” He commanded the midwives to kill the male infants when they were born.
The Israelites forget all the suffering and oppression of the past with the days, weeks, months and years of wilderness wanderings. They lose faith that God is going to keep His promises, even though here in Numbers 11 we read how God is feeding them every day with bread from heaven that falls like dew in the night.
It’s an emotional thing for the Israelites—their desire for meat and the foods they used to eat. Manna satisfies their hunger and nourishes their bodies, but doesn’t satisfy the longings for the old life they were forced to leave behind. Egged on by certain negative folk Exodus calls the “rabble,” everyone begins to cry. The miracle of God’s daily bread that is keeping them alive becomes the thing that they despise!
The foods they recall in this passage stir some scholars to question if these former slaves have selective memory and are viewing the past with rose-colored glasses. This would have been a rich diet for those held in captivity.
“If only we had meat to eat!” the rabble cry. “We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for 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.”
How do the Lord and Moses react? God becomes angry, and Moses is “displeased.” He complains to God, asking essentially, “Why me? Why are you treating your servant so badly? Why did you lay the burden of YOUR people on me?” Somewhere in the middle of his tirade, he demands, “Where am I to get meat to give to all these people?”
What’s surprising to me is that Moses thinks, after all this time in the wilderness, that he is expected to provide food for the Israelites, without God’s help. He hasn’t up to now! God has provided water from a rock and bread from heaven. Is there anything too difficult for the Lord, who split the Red Sea so the Israelites could cross on dry land and the Egyptian forces riding in chariots would drown?
We do that sometimes. We forget all that God has already done for us and we can lose our gratitude, particularly if we are stressed and feeling emotional—grieving what we no longer have, fearful for the future. The Israelites are worried about the future. Is this what it’s always going to be? Manna every single day forever? Wandering in the wilderness forever?
This is what I hear God speaking to us through this passage today.
First, look at what happens to the Israelites. The Lord in His grace and mercy continues to provide for the Israelites, even when they are ungrateful. He doesn’t take away the manna from heaven nourishing them daily. But because of the condition of their hearts and the way they demand meat and complain about the manna, the Lord will give them all the quail they can eat as a punishment. They fall ill and some will die. Friends, sometimes the things we are craving aren’t good for us! Rather than always asking God to give us what we want, let us pray, instead, that God will lead us in His will. When we ask for God’s will to be done, our hearts are changed.
Then, let us learn from what happens with Moses. Moses never holds anything back from the Lord. He shares his anger, disappointments, doubts and fears. He’s always honest and authentic. But also notice that God’s chosen prophet is far from perfect! That makes me feel good—that even Moses made mistakes! And how does the Lord respond? He answers his cry for help, without hesitation.
God doesn’t expect perfection of us, either. But the Lord does want us to ask God for help when we are overwhelmed. God wants us to ask before we are overwhelmed!
I believe God can’t wait to bless Moses and the 70 other leaders, who will be touched by the same prophetic Spirit that empowered Moses. Do we have elders in worship today? Isn’t it a blessing to be an elder? The burden of leadership needs to be shared—as it is in the Church of Jesus Christ today.
Maybe the most important lesson of the passage is at the end. The Holy Spirit isn’t limited to the people who gather in the holy tent of meeting. It can’t be controlled by human beings or contained in holy spaces. Medad and Eldad are touched by the Spirit and blessed with prophetic gifts, without coming to the tent of meeting! When they begin to prophecy in camp, Joshua wants Moses to stop them! And Moses says to the one who will lead God’s people after his death, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
Friends, today, we celebrate the growth of the Church by the sacrament of Baptism! Baby Catie and Chandler, her father, were touched by the Spirit!
Christ has claimed them in their Baptism, just as Christ has claimed all of us and made us one in Him. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we leave our former selves and lives behind in the waters of baptism. We are given a new identity. We are new Creations in Jesus Christ! The old has passed away! Only God knows what we will become in this lifelong process of transformation… when Christ has completed a good work in us.
On this day, I also remember my ordination 10 years ago in a little church in Renville, Minnesota. I feel so grateful!
They took a chance on me! It seems like only yesterday when I saw the Minnesota prairie planted with corn, soybean and sugar beet. I can still see the faces of my beloved first congregation, though some of them have already gone ahead of us and joined the Great Cloud of Witnesses, cheering us on. The world has changed in these 10 years. We have changed. The shape of ministry has changed, especially in these last 18 months. One thing that encourages me every day of ministry is that no matter how the world changes around us, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. No matter what happens, we can count on the One to whom we belong to be faithful to lead us home!
The Lord never gives up on us, my friends, and never stops responding to our cries for help! The Lord who loved us long before we loved Him continues to draw new followers to Himself and raise up new leaders in our midst, touched by the Spirit!
Let us pray. Holy One, Thank you for the work of your Spirit, filling us in our baptisms and continuing to empower the Church. Thank you for Catie and Chandler’s baptism today and for the faith of the family. We are so grateful that you chose each one of us to believe the good news. Thank you for never giving up on us—for hearing us when we cry, for wanting to help us and not desiring us to be overwhelmed with the responsibilities of our lives. Lord, you ask us to leave our old identities behind and become a new Creation in your Son. But we hold onto the past and have longings for a way of life that used to be, like the ancient Israelites. We don’t always feel comfortable with changes in our world, our church, in us. Forgive us, Lord. Touch us with your Holy Spirit, once again. Show us your will and teach us how to walk in your loving ways, and be faithful to share our hope with the world. In Christ we pray. Amen.