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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, June 2, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Numbers 11:1–15

Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned against them.

The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 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.” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it. Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? 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 birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.” (NRSV)

My favorite part of today’s reading isn’t in the text. It’s the heading that my Bible gives to this section. Right there, above chapter 11, it says “Complaining in the Desert.”

“And lo, the Israelites did begin to whine, until the Lord did say unto them, ‘Do you want me to give you something to whine about?’” And then, like Dad in the front seat, the Lord reaches back and swats at them, and Moses, like Mom in the front seat, gets him to stop. And then the Israelites (the kids in the back seat) start whining about being hungry. They don’t like the snacks Mom and Dad have for them. They wish they had fish and cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic and lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals and fruit bats, and . . .

(Skip a bit, Brother Maynard.)

And Dad gets angry, and Mom (Moses) gets upset, too. There’s no record of Dad saying, “I will turn this Exodus around,” but there is a record of Mom saying “What am I supposed to do?” And this is my second favorite part of today’s reading:

“I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.” I can’t do it anymore. I’m out of gas. I’m done.

The people have used up their leader. Whining and ingratitude and blame have taken all the reserves of this formidable individual; the guy who stood up to the most powerful man in the world and made him back down, who led 600,000 people out of slavery, who kept them together in hostile territory, who interceded so that their needs were provided for, this guy has finally hit his absolute limit. The Israelites have frittered away their greatest human resource.

The story goes on from today’s reading. Ingratitude leads to temporary gratification and a plague that devastates the nation. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but at some point it also gets pulled off and discarded. Good leaders are hard to find and easy to waste.

Lord, we have seen the weakening and division that ingratitude brings. Please help us to remember that gratitude brings us all together, sustains us, and make us strong. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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