Behaalotcha — “In your making go up”
Portion for the week leading up to June 10, 2017
When reading through the records of the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness, we see their behavior is far from ideal. Perhaps we have looked down on their poor attitudes and convinced ourselves that if we had been among them in those days, surely we would have acted much different. Let's take a closer look.
The people of Israel, although they were being cared for by God, failed to see anything positive in their situation. They began to complain amongst themselves: "Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp" (Numbers 11:1). The Scripture here says that the people "became like those who complain of adversity," and that the Lord heard it. Even though God was taking care of them and wanted to dwell among the people of Israel, the people saw themselves as being oppressed and in desperate need. The punishment seen here affected only the edges of the camp. God's warnings start off lesser and if the disobedience continues, God will increase the pressure (Leviticus 26:14-45). Why did the people feel this way? What did they lack?
What they lacked was the sating of their own desires: "The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.'" (Numbers 11:4-6). We as human beings have a tendency to romanticize our memories. We look back on a previous situation with rose-tinted glasses and think that in the previous days we were better off. But Solomon warns us, "Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this" (Ecclesiastes 7:10). If they were being realistic, they would have recalled that they were in bitter slavery back in Egypt.
The needs of the Israelites were taken care of with the manna. Instead of being grateful for this, they became comfortable and longed for things which they did not have. In most of our lives today, we face the same temptation. In our modern day and age, most people in the first-world do not need to worry about their daily needs being met, such as food, shelter, and clean water. In this situation, many desires and wants are given the opportunity to arise and tempt us. We must remember that it is God who provides for all of our needs, and we should not despise whatever it is that He has given us. This saying applies not only to the provision of our fleshly needs for survival, but also to every aspect of our lives, whether it be the financial situation we find ourselves in or the talents and gifts which God has given us. We cannot despise our situation, but rather we ought to give thanks to God for everything He has provided, even if that were only life itself.
Often God's punishments are simply allowing our own choices to reach a fitting conclusion. This is true in the case of the peoples' longing for meat: "Say to the people, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, "Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt." Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?"'" (Numbers 11:18-20). The root cause of their longing was not because of a lack of meat specifically. The people had come out of Egypt with flocks and herds (Exodus 12:38), so if they simply had a craving for meat, they certainly could have eaten some of their own. The food was merely an expression of the people's desire to return to Egypt.
Why would they want to return to being slaves in Egypt? Relying completely on God is far from easy from the perspective of the flesh. While slavery was indeed very difficult, it was stable and secure. Wandering around for years in the desert, sometimes going without water (Exodus 17:3), was the complete opposite, requiring complete trust and devotion in the face of suffering and impossible circumstances.
Paul explains that we ought to take heed to how the people acted: "Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved" (1 Corinthians 10:6). He tells us not to behave in the various ways that the people did in the wilderness, worshipping idols, behaving immorally, testing the Lord, and grumbling: "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall" (1 Corinthians 10:11-12). If we find ourselves craving a false sense of security instead of whole-hearted obedience, or pursuing our own desires instead of having a spirit of contentedness and thanksgiving, then let us beware lest we fall into sin and find ourselves receiving just what we are desiring.