Culinary complaints lead to some meaty insights.
The Israelites had left slavery in Egypt. After a year’s journey, they reached the Promised Land. We know it took a year because they celebrated the second Passover at this time, Numbers 9:1.
The people griped that they were sick of eating the same old manna each day and had no meat (Numbers 11:4- 6).
Wait a minute. What about their flocks?
The people indeed had kosher meat animals on hand. Moses had told Pharaoh that the Israelites would not leave Egypt without their animals (Exodus 10:25-26). When they had departed, “A mixed crowd also went with them, and livestock in great number, both flocks and herds” (Exodus 12:38).
When Moses went up on Mount Sinai to talk with God, he ordered the Israelites to “not let your flocks or herds graze in front of the mountain” (Exodus 34:3).
Two of the tribes argued over the land they needed because both groups “owned a very great number of cattle” (Numbers 32:1).
Shortly before the grumbling Roots of Faith Sally Carpenter Dinnertime grumblings produce food for thought for the faithful took place, the people had consecrated their priests with the sacrifice of many animals (Leviticus chapter 9). God would not have commanded the Israelites to offer animal sacrifices if they did not have the livestock on hand to do so.
So why did the people complain about not having meat? None of the commentaries I consulted addressed this question, so I’ll make some speculations.
I doubt that the livestock were reserved only for sacrifices. The animals had a year to reproduce, creating more than enough critters needed for worship.
Maybe the people had no time to cook the meat while they were on the move. Yet the priests were able to prepare animals for the sacrifices.
It could be the people had become indifferent. Two months after they had left Egypt, God began supplying a food called manna, a resin that appeared on the ground in the morning. Manna, which resembled coriander seed, could be ground or pounded and cooked to make loaves “with a rich creamy taste” (Numbers 11:7-8).
The manna seemed to be a type of grain, a staple food item in ancient times. As a nomadic nation, the Israelites could not raise wheat to make their own bread.
Each person received the same amount of manna, just enough for that day. On the sixth day, the people collected twice as much, and the leftovers stayed fresh for the Sabbath so they could rest from working.
They had grown used to God providing the manna with little effort on their part. Now they expected God to prepare fresh meat as well.
Maybe they did not want to slaughter their animals so they could preserve the size of their herds. Large flocks were considered a sign of wealth.
Or perhaps they were tired of the taste of manna and they lusted for something else.
Such explanations hit home today. Do we expect God to magically provide our wants, or do we work hard to carry out his plans? Do we gladly give of our time, talents and treasures, or cling to what we have?
Are we grateful to receive our daily needs, or do we yearn for the faster car, bigger house or the prestigious promotion?
Thank God that he provides the manna we need—not necessarily what we think we want.
Sally Carpenter, M.Div., is a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Moorpark. Reach her at email@example.com.