Scripture: While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, 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 11:33-34 ESV
Observation: Having apportioned the Spirit among the elders, Yahweh fulfills his promise for meat and directs a wind storm that blows quail into Israel’s camp. Amazed at the massive number of birds, the people greedily gather the quail around the clock for a day and a half. Thus, even the minimum collected per household equaled about sixty bushels (11:31-32). And as theologian Ronald Allen rightly imagines, it was a riot scene of “people screaming, birds flapping their wings, everywhere the pell-mell movement of a meat-hungry people in a sea of birds” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Numbers, Vol. 2, p. 795). But as they began to consume the quail voraciously, the Lord struck down those “who had the craving” with a plague (11:33-34).
Assuming this lot who instigated the complaint likely devoured the raw flesh of the quail without first roasting the meat over a fire, they would have digested harmful bacteria that caused their inevitable death. Nevertheless, regardless of how Yahweh invoked the plague, Israel aptly named the location of this carnage Kibroth-hattaavah, which means “Graves of Craving” in Hebrew, to remind future generations of their folly.
Takeaway: Often, we tend to glorify those “good old days,” which leads to discontentment and grumbling. The Israelites provide us with a cautionary tale of the consequences. Wandering in the desert, they complained about their monotonous diet of manna in comparison to the variety of fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they had eaten in Egypt. It’s an example of selective memory to justify ungratefulness. Yes, they had more dietary options in captivity, but food could never alleviate their past physical and mental suffering at the hand of Pharaoh. A temporary, restrictive diet was a small price for their freedom and future home in a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, instead of looking forward, they focused on the past. Consequently, because of their lack of faith in God’s guidance and provision, he gave them over to their cravings and provided quail that would be the ruin of some.
So what’s the antidote? When tempted to complain about present challenges, we must resist craving the past by looking forward to our eternal Promised Land. And as Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica, we would do well along the way to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for [us]” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your Son who never looked back but set his sight on Calvary. Would you please help us follow his lead and focus on what lies ahead as we press onward and upward, giving thanks in all circumstances while resisting the craving for bygone days? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling