No sooner had the people of Israel left the foot of Mount Sinai than they sinned against the Lord yet again by complaining. The law can reveal our sin to us, but it cannot destroy it; it can place a restraint upon it, but it cannot conquer it. Indeed, those who are of a discontented spirit will always find something to quarrel or fret about – even though their outward circumstances may be very favorable. The Lord heard the people’s complaining, for He knows the secret frettings and murmurings of the heart which are often concealed from other people. He was much displeased, and He justly chastised the Israelites for their sin. The fire of their wrath against God burned in their minds; therefore, the fire of God’s wrath justly fastened upon their bodies. This caused Moses to name the place Taberah, which means, “a burning.” However, God brought His judgments upon them gradually, and did not consume them all at once, so that they might take warning. He does not delight in punishing; and when Moses interceded on behalf of the people, He speedily quenched the fire of His wrath.
When Man forsakes his proper rest, he feels uneasy and wretched – despite the fact that he may be very prosperous. Such was the case with the children of Israel, even after the incident at Taberah. They were now weary of the provision that He had made for their food, although it was very wholesome and nourishing. It cost them no money, and the labor of gathering it was very little indeed. And yet they talked of Egypt’s cheapness, and the fish and produce that they ate there “freely” – as if it truly cost them nothing, when they paid for it dearly with their hard slavery! While they lived on manna, it was almost as if they were exempt from the curse that sin has brought on Mankind – namely, that in the sweat of his face, he should eat bread. And yet they spoke of the manna with scorn. Peevish, discontented minds will always find fault with things which have no fault in them. Many people could live very happily in this world, but they often make themselves miserable by their own discontentment. These people in the wilderness would not be satisfied unless they had meat to eat. It is an evidence of the prevailing power of the carnal mind when we lust after the delights and satisfactions of earthly pleasure. We should not indulge in any desire which we cannot, in faith, turn into a prayer – such as asking for meat to fulfill greedy appetites. Even those things that are lawful in themselves become evil when the Lord has not allotted them to us and yet we still desire them.
This provocation of the people was very great; and in response to it, Moses became very displeased, and he undervalued the honor that God had put upon him. He spoke as if the Lord expected him to care for and provide for the people, when it was God Himself Who had been doing so all along! And in the course of his words, Moses spoke distrustfully of Divine grace. He declared that he could not handle this heavy burden alone. Even if the work had been much less, he could not have gone through it in his own strength; but even if it had been much greater, he might have still been able to do it, through God strengthening him. The Lord replied to this by telling Moses to choose 70 elders – that is, wise and experienced men – from among the people, and then He promised to qualify them to assist Moses in the leadership of the people. He went on further to say that even the discontented people would be gratified as well, so that every complaining mouth would be stopped. But Moses questioned the truth of the Lord’s promise. He found it hard to believe that so much meat could be provided for a month’s worth of food, for a multitude numbering over 600,000 men-of-war – not even mentioning women and children! Even true and great believers sometimes find it hard to trust and hope in God under the discouragements of the world. But God here brought Moses to the main point to remember: “The Lord God is Almighty!”
The Lord sent forth a wind that blew great flocks of quail falling into the camp of the Israelites. This was a most remarkable miracle which was worked in order to satisfy a murmuring and complaining people. “They tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust,” says the Psalmist; and yet they were not denied. “He rained flesh upon them as dust, and feathered fowl like the sand of the sea.” For a whole day’s journey (perhaps 10 miles or 16 km) on all sides of the camp, the sands of the desert were covered three feet deep with the meat that the Israelites had longed for! Of course, the people greedily gathered the quail; the very least amount gathered by any one person was about 8 bushels! The people were engaged for two whole days and a whole night in gathering the quail. However, as they sat down to feast upon the meat that they had complained and murmured for, the Lord sent a grievous plague among them. The bodies of those who were killed in this plague were buried in this place, and it was given the name Kibroth-hattaavah – meaning, “the graves of lust.”
Those who are under the power of an unregenerated mind will not stop until they have their lusts fulfilled – even if it brings certain ruin to their precious souls. As we can see in this chapter, these people paid dearly for their feast. God often grants the desires of sinners in wrath, while He denies the desires of His own people in love. Instead of engaging wrongful desires, let us seek for those heavenly pleasures which truly satisfy, and which will endure forevermore!
Lord, as we behold Israel’s murmurings, we repent of times when we have repined at Your appointment when things have crossed our sinful flesh. In light of this, we admire Your grace and forbearance toward us, and we thank You for Your unchangeable love and mercy to us! Amen.
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