The unexpected consequence of our meat-lust
“The Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it.19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it.” Numbers 11:19
He rained meat down on them like dust, birds like sand on the seashoreHe made them come down inside their camp, all around their tents.They ate till they were gorged—he had given them what they craved. Psalm 78:27-30
In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test. So he gave them what they asked for. Psalm 106:14-15
Without some background, these passages will appear nonsensical if not brutal. Rather than reiterate it, I recommend that you check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 before proceeding. In a nutshell, God was sustaining his people in the wilderness with supernatural “manna” when after a while they tired of it, complained about their daily diet, and whined for meat saying, “We detest this miserable food!” God relented and airmailed what his petulant children demanded till they were literally sick of it. “Be careful what you pray for,” as the old saying goes, “because you might get it!” They got it all right and it wasn’t what they expected to get.
Centuries later, despite God’s warnings, the Jews demanded a king, and God gave them one that was nothing if not inept. One of God’s severest disciplinary tactics is to let us have what we want so that we’ll see what we actually need and to teach us that the things we wanted don’t really satisfy. God says, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” He lets us go our own way in hopes that we’ll come running back to him.
Is it possible that God has given America and its Church* what we’ve begged him for? We’ve whined and worked for more and more and more, and now that it’s ours, we’re still unhappy, unhealthy, and unhelpful. We’ve disrespected the gift of simple manna – the Man from heaven – and gorged ourselves on meat. We’re so crammed full of what we’ve craved that it pours out our nostrils! Rather than contentment, our self-indulgent expectations have sickened us, and rather than repent, we lust for more.
*I speak of America and the Church as one since, as I said above, we’ve merged the prosperity dreams of both into one self-indulged dream.
A “critical mass” of meat lovers
“Some people come to church looking for a way to make life better, to feel good about themselves, to see things in a better light. They arrange a ritual and hire a preacher to make that happen for them.” Eugene Petersen
“We’ve created a vicious cycle of endless program upgrades, staff improvements, and building campaigns to feed the consumer monster. The monster is always hungry. Pastors are burned out. Members are marginalized. The lost community gets a corrupted caricature of the Kingdom of God.” David Platt
From whence did the desert dwellers’ dissatisfaction with manna originate?
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!” Numbers 11:4
Malcontents have an almost supernatural power to breed negativity and discontentment. Their spirit of faithless fear is contagious and spreads like the flu among shallow thinking believers.
Among the newly-freed slaves the meat-lust was instigated by a group of people called, “the rabble.” In some versions they were called “the mixed multitude,” which seems to indicate they had been foreign slaves in Egypt who tagged along with the Jews on their escape from captivity. They witnessed the plagues, the undeniable sea splitting, water shooting from rocks, and the miracle morning manna. They had no choice but to believe in the God of the Jews, yet their respect for Jehovah was several wrungs below theirs.
Their faith was, at best, secondhand, so when they got tired of the morning miracle manna they whined for a diet to which they were accustomed in Egypt. Their grumbling infected the covenant people, who blindly joined in the corporate gripe. “Yeah!” they cried. “Where’s the meat? You guys are right. If we’re the people of God, we should eat better than this!” Another historical example of a small minority poisoning the minds of the majority.
These former slaves of mixed ancestry had some regard for the Jews and their religion, but had no real love for their God. They tagged along with them for the benefits that came their way by token of their proximity to the actual people of God.Their faith in their God was hand-me-down. So, when they got bored with manna they made such a stink that the Jews followed suit and moaned for meat.
As I’ve indicated above, it’s my opinion that we’re plagued with a similar spirit of entitlement in our modern Church. Where do we get it from? Where do we derive the idea that God promises his followers comfort and riches? As harsh at it may sound, I propose that one such dispensary of this entitled spirituality is a “mixed multitude” who, like the rabble in Moses’ day, have attached themselves to the Church without attaching themselves to the God of the Church.
Jesus reprimanded people who only wanted earthly bread and rejected the Heavenly. These rubberneckers followed him around for the groceries and insisted on something more tangible than the spiritual. Jesus saw what was going on and thinned out the crowd who came only for lunch by insisting that that they become followers and not just fans. He made it clear that he wasn’t content with “friends with benefits.” Like many church attenders, this mixed multitude have mixed motives in hanging around God and his people. They come around just for what they get out of it, without any intention of pledging themselves to the family or its Father.
This was no small number, significant enough to be called a “multitude,” large enough to influence the rest of the nation. And unfortunately, the nation let this multitude convince them that manna was not enough. Somebody besides Moses should’ve spoken up. If God decides to give us manna, who are we to lust for something more? Manna must be all we need and we must therefore choose to be grateful. You don’t speak for the rest of us. We hope you’ll give your heart to Jehovah the Generous, but if you’re not content with his best you can leave anytime you want! But we’re more than satisfied with our manna, new every morning!
Similarly, rather than entice the half-spiritual people in our churches toward our irrepressible love and trust in God, we tend to be seduced by their toxic American Dream faith. They come to the Church for their needs to be met and their wants to be fulfilled without loving our God. They believe in him but they don’t love him as he is. They’re dissatisfied with just Jesus and they spread their discontentment among the rest of us whose faith was weak to begin with. Because our own relationship with God is sickly, we give into their demands for a more hedonistic faith, a comfortable church, a spirituality that provides blessings without demands. We follow their lead rather than them following ours.
I’m not suggesting that we remove the “rabble” from our churches or even that we should be selective about those we allow in. I’m saying that we should be more careful about whose voice we listen to, whose lead we follow as we carry on our pilgrimage. It’s not that we shouldn’t welcome people in who are spiritual only in spots, but when it comes to setting our course through the wilderness, it’s the Spirit we follow and not the “mixed multitude.”
When we are so thoroughly in love with God and so content with his manna, our simple inviting faith will entice even the least spiritually inclined person to follow suit. If we’ll refuse to be seduced by a popular self-orbiting faith we’ll be more apt to persuade them to join us in our Jesus-following, Father-loving, Spirit-obeying sojourn.
Next time: Manna, meat, and MONEY!
Other posts you might consider: For the Love of God; The Missional, Merciful, Worshipful Christian
I admit this is some pretty straight talk. It’s not my intent to disparage the Church or give the impression that I think that all of Christendom is shallow and sickly. I love the Church and hope to be the Church (or my part of it anyway) that I want it to be. Anyway, what do you think?
2 Replies to “Manna, Meat, and Money (An appeal for a less self-indulged and more Christ-centered Christianity) Part 4 of 5ish”
Barney, I hear what you are saying. My question is how can we in the pews, the laity, impact this? Knowing, at the same time that we are fighting against the conforming of this world on ourselves individually but also resistijg the conforming of the church as a culture that we find ourselves a part of in our churches. Where is the church, the called out ones, that prevail against the gates of Hell? And then I have to look at myself since I am a member of the body of Christ. His called out ones. The church…
I’d look for likeminded people, with similar kingdom passions and trajectories as yours. I personally find them in places of service in the community I’m in; people serving in soup kitchens, street ministries, crisis pregnancy centers, AIDS clinics, or tutoring at risk kids, etc. Along with such people you’re more likely to become the church you want to see.