I have before hovered over Numbers 11 wondering how a people literally fed by the hand of God could complain about the food they were given. “Nothing but manna?” That was their complaint. These earthly people had grown tired of heavenly food. God’s daily provision had for them become dully predictable. And while God in His graciousness would provide meat to eat, His anger would also “blaze hotly” (v.10) and for many it would be their last meal (v. 34).
But this morning what grabs my attention is less the sin than the source. Focused less on their crazy cry for Egypt’s good food and more on the catalyst that started it all. In my bible, it’s called the rabble.
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.”
(Numbers 11:4-6 ESV)
It started with “the rabble that was among them.” The foreign rabble (NLT). The contemptible people (HCSB). The riff-raff (MSG). The mixed multitude (NKJV).
The “strong craving,” the lusting for Egypt, that ignited the manna rebellion began with some of “the mixed multitude” that walked out of Egypt with the people of God (Ex. 12:38). People who really had eaten of the best of the land, but bailed on the land when the firstborn of the land were destroyed during the tenth plague. People who believed enough to flee the wrath, but not enough to follow in faith. It might be argued that though they were with the people of God, they were never really of the people of God.
This doesn’t excuse the people’s rebellion. They were the ones who complained and cried out against God. But it is a reminder that, among the people of God, there has always been wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). That among the wheat there has always been the weeds (Matt. 13:25). That not everyone “of us” is really “of us” (1Jn. 2:19).
It is amazing that this rabble were permitted to walk out of Egypt. That they too waded into the Red Sea on dry ground. That they witnessed the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. God in His sovereign determination allowing them to masquerade as though they longed to follow the God of Israel when, in fact, they lusted after the ease of Egypt. Perhaps, in His patient kindness, wanting to provide maximum time for their hearts to be turned toward Him.
But their hearts remained with Egypt. And their “strong craving” for the world spread like yeast among the people of God igniting a discontent for the way of God and a desire for the way of bondage.
No excusing the chosen people. But wouldn’t it be foolish to ignore the rabble, the catalyst for crying out against God?
How we need to be discerning of voices within the midst of the congregation that long for the ways of this world and complain against the God of heaven. How we need to be on guard against those who would turn aside the hearts of the people.
. . . 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 that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.
(Numbers 11:34 ESV)
Beware the craving. Beware the rabble.
By His grace. For His glory.