We romanticize the past. A pile of feces looks better in the rearview mirror. I admit it’s an easy thing to do. One might call it human nature. However, deep within our misremembering there’s always a shade of truth. This is why I believe that even in Egypt; the food must have been awesome. You don’t get a “food channel” degree of description if something isn’t partially true about what you’re remembering. Egypt might have meant slavery, bondage, and torture. But the melons were to die for!
Since they left Egypt, they’ve been on a diet. They’ve had nothing to eat but “manna”. No meat, no salads, no buffet bars, nothing remotely tasty, enjoyable, or filling. It’s been about bland survival eating. And despite God’s provisions, this daily routine has gotten old.
Moses realizes his people are unhappy. Moses too is frustrated with his inability to effectively lead God’s chosen people. And yes, he’d like the occasional steak. But more than that, why has God placed upon him the burden of caring for such unhappy, miserable people? Why couldn’t he have a team leadership? It seems like an impossible task for one man. (Shouldn’t God have anticipated this instead of forcing Moses to beg for help?) In an attempt to reframe and understand his task, Moses puts it before God this way: You want me to take hundreds of people into a wilderness, disconnect them from everything they’ve known or understood, feed them weird food, and expect them to deal with it just because God says, “I’m God and I say so.”
To this, God essentially says “yes”. Even though everything about human nature, people, reason, common sense, and history says, “one might expect some pushback along the way”. No one would expect the Exodus to be an incident free, with no complaints, worship filled endeavor except a God who held standards so high they could never be realistically attained. One would also think that people being normal people in extreme circumstances wouldn’t be called “rejecting the Lord”. In Numbers, God appears as an out of touch bully, a passive aggressive parent, ready to send the wandering Israelites on a hunger fueled and anger laced guilt trip.
Moses’ God is quick to start packing for the guilt trip. The Israelites will get what they want but severe, long, and painful strings will be attached. Reading through Numbers, I also notice how easily God becomes “angry” and “outraged”. Unlike other parts of the Hebrew Bible, God becomes angry exceedingly quickly. The world around me also becomes angry at the drop of a hat. I need God to be stable. In my own community, only last week, a man was beaten severely with a shovel. This was anger fueled by alcohol. In the same week, an angry man nearly beat his 13 year old son to death in an alcohol fueled rage. Anger is at home and abroad. I need God to be better than the anger I live with everyday. I don’t need to be lectured about God’s righteous anger. Anger and the desire for righteous anger (vengeance) are infecting my community. Scripture passages that speak of an angry God make me want to close my Bible. An angry God helps no one.
That’s what happens. God goes overboard. No dialogue, no discussion. Moses gets his committee but at what price? Has an angry God made anything better for anyone? God’s going to give them meat until they’re physically ill. God’s going to give them so much meat it’s going to be coming out their noses. “You want meat? I’m going to give you so much meat that when I’m through with you’ll never eat meat again.” Like a vindictive, abusive parent, God says, “now you’ve complained and now you have to feel some extreme form of punishment.” That’s a game I no longer want to play. I’m not sure I want to hang out with someone who plays mind games with the people He loves this way. Isn’t this the textbook definition of an abusive relationship? It’s sadistic and I hope to God that the God of Numbers 11 is not who God really is.