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Rabble rousers: Discontent (Numbers 11)

As discontent rises in the coming months, let us be careful not to be like these rabble rousers, only complaining and wanting what we do not have.

FAITHFUL UNDER PRESSURE AUTOR 15/Michael_Gowen 28 DE JUNIO DE 2020 11:00 h
Photo: [link]Keenan Constance[/link]. Unsplash (CC0).

We human beings were created for another world, a world that was perfect; but we live in a world that has been spoilt by evil.

So, as CS Lewis says, we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy; we are haunted by a sense that there is something more.

In the happiest moments of our life this feeling of unease is relegated to low background noise. In the hardest times it can threaten to completely overwhelm us.

Different cultures handle this unease in different ways. Americans tend to go all out for the pursuit of happiness. Their Declaration of Independence even states it to be an unalienable Right, thereby hoping to crush any niggling unease.

The French, on the other hand, judging from their literature, see the unease as characteristic of life on this earth. Times of joy or happiness are isolated peaks in the plateau of life where sadness and misery prevail.

We British seem to sit somewhere in the middle. We glory in our great victories, usually in the distant past – yes, it is 58 years since we won the football World Cup! Yet we love to be gallant in defeat, glorying in being hard done by, especially in penalty shoot-outs against Germany!

The tennis player Tim Henman is a sporting hero who we took to our hearts. He never reached the final of any Grand Slam tournament and fell four times in the semi-finals at Wimbledon - but he was so courageous and so gentlemanly in defeat!

Whatever our culture, the human predicament ensures that in any society this unease will be simmering away. In good times it will be relegated to the background, and in hard times it will break out into open discontent – as it did here in Numbers 11.

The Israelites had been travelling in the desert for over two years. The joy of being liberated from slavery in Egypt had worn off. Day after day they were surrounded by the same desert. One day ran into another, every day the same. When this would ever end? Lots of similarities with lockdown in the current Covid crisis.

So discontent rose to the surface; and, as ever, there were rabble rousers ready and willing to exploit it. They focused on something which was very dear to the Israelites: food.

‘We want the meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and melons which we ate in Egypt,’ they complained. ‘This manna that we have to eat every day is disgusting’ (verses 4-6).

Food was to the Israelites what the economy is to us in the West today. When the Israelites got fed up with their food, discontent broke out openly. Whenever our economy struggles, discontent starts to bubble to the surface.

We shall see this happening when the fear of Covid starts to subside and we realise that most of our economies are in ruins and are tax bills will have to drastically increase.

The rabble rousers had no particular agenda, no positive goal. They only wanted what they did not have. They stoked up the discontent of the people, so that it flared into open rebellion.

What was Moses, their leader, to do? Very wisely, he turned first of all to God, and was pretty honest with him (verses 10-15). If only our political leaders today would do the same thing! But still we hear the refrain, ‘We can beat this virus!’

The Lord’s response to Moses is dramatic. ‘These people want meat. I’ll give them more than enough meat for a whole month – for all of the 600,000 men, plus the women and children - until they are thoroughly sick of it’ (verses 18-20). Moses struggles to believe that this is possible (verses 21-22); but it is exactly what happens (verses 31-32).

Then comes the rub. While the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people and he struck them with a severe plague (verse 33) - and there was no lockdown to mitigate it.

James (4:2-3) tells us, You do not have because you do not ask God. When you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Yet sometimes, as here with the Israelites, we ask with wrong motives and God gives us what we desire. This is very dangerous to us.

Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ disciple, loved money and was a thief (John 12:4-6). No doubt he prayed along with his fellow disciples and asked God to provide money. Then he saw an opportunity for the prayer to be answered by betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

‘Helping God’ to answer our prayers, especially by doing something dubious, is never advisable. Judas got what he had asked for and proudly bought a field with it. But God’s anger burned against him, and he was so overcome by remorse that he committed suicide in his own field.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable obtained what he so wanted: enough wealth to keep himself in luxury for years. But it did him no good. God came to him and said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:16-21).

So, as discontent rises in the coming months, let us be careful not to be like these rabble rousers, only complaining and wanting what we do not have. Let us be careful what we ask God for.

And if he does not answer our prayer, let us not view him as unkind and hard-hearted towards us. His refusal of our request may actually be for our own good. King David understood this. For he tells us, First take delight in the Lord, then he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).




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