Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#84. Numbers xi. “Mark them . . . . . whose god is their belly.”

     Following the law dealing with the Nazarite are a series of chapters that deal with the dedication of the tabernacle and its service (chapters vii.-x.).  As we considered the tabernacle in the articles which dealt with the book of Exodus, we will pass on to other features, taking up our study in  chapter xi.  which begins to deal with the chief feature of the book, and the one of most important in its lessons for ourselves.

     Chapter xi.  commences a series of events, accompanied by significant movements and journeyings of Israel, that have been incorporated into the practical parts of some of the epistles, and demand a prayerful as well as a careful study.  We have already had before us the provoking of the Lord by Israel at the Red Sea, at Marah, in the wilderness of Sin, at Rephidim and at Horeb.  The book of Numbers records three more provocations, viz., at Taberah (Numb. xi. 1), at Kibroth Hattaavah (Numb. xi. 4), and  at Kadesh Barnea (Numb. xiv. 2) where they filled up their measure and lost the promised land.  Of the first of the three acts of provocation recorded in Numbers no specific details are given, but the simple statement:--

     “And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord:  and the Lord heard it;  and His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burnt among them” (xi. 1).

     Murmuring or complaining is not treated with the seriousness that it merits, and there will doubtless be many sad cases where believers will suffer loss as a result of failure to mark and forsake the sin of unbelief and ingratitude.  If we really believed that God was leading us, we could not complain:  it is only when we commence to doubt His care that complaining can possibly begin.  It is not without true reason therefore the  chapter x.  ends with the reference to the ark and cloud, symbols of God’s presence and leading.  To murmur in the very presence of God, and in sight of that pillar of cloud was unbelief, and the fire of the Lord consumed to the uttermost parts of the camp.

     I Corinthians x. 6-10  uses this wilderness experience to enforce a lesson, saying:--

     “Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.”

     Philippians, while it does not actually refer to this period, treats of the same aspect of truth — the going on like Caleb and Joshua — and in that epistle comes the exhortation:--

     “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Phil. ii. 14).

     A murmuring or complaining member of Christ is giving the lie to his calling.  It is the first step to a wasted life, the “perdition” of  Heb. x. 39,  the “destruction” of  Phil. iii. 19.   Philippians counters this spirit by implicating joy.  A rejoicing believer is proof against the temptations of the wilderness.

     Following this general reference comes one that is specific:--

     “And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting:  and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?” (Numb. xi. 4).

     This mixed multitude has appeared before, viz., in  Exod. xii. 37, 38.   They had evidently come out  under the shelter of the passover,  and they had come through the Red Sea, as we find them here in  Numbers xi.   This mixed multitude were the result of mixed marriages contracted while in Egypt.   Leviticus xxiv. 10  speaks of the son of an Israelitish woman whose father was an Egyptian.  When Israel returned to Jerusalem under Nehemiah, mixed marriages again were a source of trouble (see  Nehemiah xiii. 23  &  Ezra ix. 1, 2).   Jehoshaphat’s ruin is traceable to his “affinity” with Ahab.  This mixed multitude, when expressed in spiritual equivalents, appears in  II Cor. vi. 14-18,  and hinders that “perfecting” of holiness which is the goal before us (II.Cor.vii.1).

     Israel, when they wept, said:--

     “Who will give us flesh to eat?  We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely;  the cucumbers and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick.  But now our soul is dried away:  there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes” (Numb. xi. 4-6).

     It is not without significance that Egypt’s food is given as six items.  Before the Israelites lay the land of promise, and the food items mentioned in  Deut.viii.8  are seven in number.  Behind them lay the viands of Egypt, ahead the fruits of the land of promise, and around them, before their very eyes and fresh every morning, was the manna, with its taste like fresh oil.  One of the seven items of Canaan’s food was olive oil, and the manna seems to have been a foretaste, a sort of “earnest of the inheritance”.

     That it was to be accepted gratefully and highly prized, the references in Scripture testify.  A golden pot of manna was among the few items that were laid up in the holiest of all (Heb. ix. 4), and the Psalmist speaks of it as “The corn of heaven” and “angel’s food” (Psa. lxxviii. 24, 25).  Yet, did we not know, alas too well, our own hearts, we should hardly believe that a redeemed people, so recently sighing under the bitter bondage of Egypt, should so soon forget the bitterness and remember the tasty morsels like leeks, onions and garlick.  They said “we remember”, and the apostle in  Phil. iii. 13  says, “forgetting those things which are behind”, and  Heb. xi. 15  says:  “Truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned”.  Stephen, in  Acts vii. 39,  tells us that Israel turned back again in their hearts unto Egypt, while in  Numb. xiv. 4  we read that they actually said:  “Let us make a captain, and let us return unto Egypt”.

     No one with a knowledge of Hebrews, with its double reference to “The Captain of our salvation” (Heb. ii. 10), and “The Captain and Perfecter of faith” (Heb. xii. 2), will fail to see the solemn bearing of this spirit upon the alternatives of Hebrews, viz., “On to perfection” or “Back to perdition”.  The poet has said:  “Distance lends enchantment to the view”, and Israel’s memory was biased;  they forgot the bondage while they remembered the fish, etc., and we do well to profit by this lesson.

     How awful the words sound when we think of their setting:--

     “There is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes” (Numb. ix. 6).

     It is almost like crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to open shame.  It is comparable with Esau who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.  It is parallel with those who were failing of the prize as these Israelites were, whose “god was their belly”.  It is not without deep reason that the first temptation of Adam, and of Christ, revolved around something to eat.  This is the first avenue of temptation, and sometimes it is enough.

     There is something infectious about evil.  The mixed multitude start lusting, the children of Israel begin to weep and complain, and now Moses under the heavy strain begins to speak:--

     “Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant? . . . . . Have i conceived all this people?  Have i begotten them, that Thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which Thou swearest unto their fathers?” (Numb. xi. 11, 12).

     Poor Moses — mighty leader as he was, man of faith that so wondrously overcame — he was nevertheless a shadow only of Him Who was to come:--

     “For it became Him . . . . . in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. ii. 10).

     There came a day when the patience of Moses snapped, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips and lost entry into the land of promise.  He was a saved man, he appeared upon the Mount of Transfiguration, he was faithful, as a servant, in all his house — few, if any, have even walked so closely with the Lord or been so highly honoured — yet the greatest and the best are unworthy to loose the latchet of the Saviour’s shoes.  Every crown must be placed at the feet of the Redeemer, He alone is worthy:  no flesh shall glory in His presence.

     The Lord meets Moses’ difficulty by appointing seventy men of the elders of Israel to share his burden, even as He had deputed Aaron to share the work at the first.

     Then the Lord takes up the complaint of Israel and their desire for flesh:--

     “Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days, but even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you:  because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?” (Numbers.xi.19,20).

     We know how the Lord fulfilled this dreadful pronouncement.  A wind brought quails from the sea, which flew so low that they were easily caught.  All that day and all that night and all the next day the people gathered quails:--

     “And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people” (Numb. xi. 33).

     The following passages of Scripture seem to be a fitting comment and conclusion to this solemn passage:--

     “We remember” (Numb. xi. 5).
     “They soon forgat His works;  they waited not for His counsel, but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert.  And He gave them their request;  but sent leanness into their soul” (Psa. cvi. 13-15).
     “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content . . . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. iv. 11-13).
     “Be content with such things as ye have:  for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. xiii. 5).

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