Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Be Careful What You Wish For (Numbers 11:18-20)

Featured image: Quails Are Sent to the Israelites, James Tissot, c. 1896-1902. Jewish Museum.


“And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore, the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at 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 come out of Egypt?”‘”

Numbers 11:18-20

Once again, be careful when you complain to God. The Israelites get what they want, but to their own dismay. They get the meat they want, and that’s all they’ll eat for a whole month until they get sick of it. And things get worse for them. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague. Therefore, the name of the place was called Kibroth-hattaavah [which means graves of craving], because there they buried the people who had the craving” (vv. 33-34).

Be careful what you wish for. You might just get what you want, but it may not always turn out to do you any good. I love a good, rare steak as much as the next guy, but I wouldn’t want to eat strictly steak for a whole month! (Medium rare is fine, and medium and medium well are passable, but well is just beef jerky at that point.) And it isn’t like the Israelites had a good steak dinner every day with nicely cooked veggies, potatoes, and a dinner roll with a nice glass of red wine and perhaps some dessert afterwards. The only thing God allowed them to eat was just meat for every single meal for an entire month. That would get old after about a week.

Remember in a previous article in this series that complaining to God is different than lamenting. Every lament is a complaint, but not every complaint is a lament. A lament always ends with trust in the Lord, as we’ve seen; a complaint is just someone who whines for not getting their way, like the Israelites here in Numbers 11. So, be careful when you complain. When you complain, make sure it is a lament. Trust in Him and pray that His will be done rather than demanding your will be done.

Not only has Jesus taught us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer, but He has also taught us how to pray in the right disposition before God the Father. On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus prayed. While He prayed on the Mount of Olives, He “knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done'” (Luke 22:41-42). Even Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, prayed according to the will of God the Father in His suffering. And God’s will was for Jesus to drink from the cup of His wrath by being crucified on a cross to work the great blessing upon His people, justification by faith.

When we pray according to God’s will, it won’t always be what we want. If His will does align with your desires, consider it a mere coincidence, for prayer does not require that His will acquiesce to our will. Nevertheless, His will is always good and gracious, even should it be for our own discipline. As the psalmist writes, “The LORD has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (Psalm 118:18). We can’t say the same for the Israelites here in Numbers 11, but as another psalmist writes, “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).

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