Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost 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.”
The Israelites had experienced passover night back in Egypt. They visually saw the cloud leading them by day and the fire by night. Had they not walked on dry land through the Red Sea with walls of water to their right and left? Even when they found bitter water in the desert, God made it sweet for them.
So what did they do when they got a little hungry? Complained and grumbled, grumbled and complained. And then they turned on Moses and Aaron. “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Do you feel any personal familiarity with the story line here? I think we are all acquainted with feelings of anger and self-pity when things don’t go our way and the immediate desire to lash out at those who cross us. But we don’t always recognize our sin because we dress it up in euphemisms such as “injustice” or “unfairness.”
I can remember quite well the way I handled these feelings as a child. When life didn’t give me what I thought I deserved from it, I would let the tears flow and then as they dissipated, I would stand in front of a mirror to remind myself how awful the unfairness was so that I could extend the wailing. What a scene that must have been. Sadly, I did it in private so my parents never had the opportunity to deal with it appropriately. Think of that root growing into an adult tree!
Moses responded to the Israelites by going right to the heart of the matter. “Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.” The Israelites displayed surface sins, grumbling and complaining, but Moses identified what was driving their hearts, which was unbelief in God’s goodness and provision. They believed that the pleasure of a good meal and a full stomach would satisfy them and make them happy. The moment they didn’t have what they desired, self-pity set in.
Parents (and Sunday School teachers) all know the face of self-pity and the words that accompany it: “It’s not fair.” And even before a child is capable of voicing the words, they are skilled at grabbing a toy from another child or screaming their displeasure when they don’t get their own way.
For children, self-pity isn’t all that subtle, but as adults, many of us have refined the experience into an art form. We can wear a smile on our faces while seething inside when someone criticizes us, disagrees with us, or gets that promotion that we deserved. This makes self-pity a very dangerous sin to harbor because it quickly spawns bedfellow-sins such as anger, hatred, slander, withdrawal (sophisticated pouting), bitterness, self-indulgence, and a host of other poisons to our soul.
As we teach this lesson about God’s provision of quail in abundance, our desire is to point the children to the Gospel. The truth is, the Gospel and self-pity are antithetical. Self-pity says I deserve good and I didn’t receive it so I’m a victim; therefore, I have a right to protest, pitch a fit, have a temper tantrum, harbor bitterness, or gossip about the person who crossed me. In other words, I have a right to grumble against the Lord.
The Gospel says I deserve judgment because I have rebelled against an infinitely holy God; however, God has given me a Savior and removed every obstacle in my path (my sin, unbelieving heart, autonomous spirit) so that I might be reconciled to Him by faith. I have no rights. He gives me what I don’t deserve, goodness and mercy, and clothes me in the righteousness of His Son.
The only antidote to the sin of self-pity is Jesus. We are meant to live for His honor and His glory, things that are much bigger than ourselves. Our souls shrink like grapes in the sun when we live myopic lives of self-gratification and self-fulfillment.
This is one lesson that I need to hear over and over again. I don’t want to be numbered with the “rabble,” but my heart is spring-loaded to return evil rather than good, to insist that I’m right rather than wrong, and to justify all my actions rather than walk in humility. Life is war and victory is only found in Jesus and the Gospel of grace.
Sunday School Craft