“Oh That We Had Meat to Eat!” (Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 26, 2021

“Oh That We Had Meat to Eat!” (Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29)

“Oh that we had meat to eat!” Oh that we had meat we could afford to buy! Have you looked at the price of meat lately? I have. I was at the grocery store the other day, and the prices for all kinds of meat are very high right now: steak, ground beef, pork, even chicken. It confirmed what I read in a news article recently. Prices for meat have skyrocketed this year. Across the nation, beef prices have surged a whopping 12% over the last year. Pork prices have jumped almost 10%. Chicken, 7%. Looking at those price increases might almost drive one to becoming a vegan. Well, almost. I wouldn’t go that far.

“Oh that we had meat to eat!” But we would not be the first ones to cry that. The ancient Israelites said the same thing back during their wilderness wanderings. And they said it as a complaint against God and against his servant Moses. We heard it in the Old Testament reading for today from Numbers 11. “Now the rabble that was among [the children of Israel] 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.’”

“Oh That We Had Meat to Eat!” Was it just the ancient Israelites who complain like this? Or maybe we do too. Our text today serves as both a warning and an encouragement for us. It’s a warning against ingratitude and unbelief. But it’s also an encouragement for us to find our forgiveness in Christ and to give thanks to God for how he does provide for us.

My friends, you and I are like those Israelites. We too complain against God. We too cry out, in one way or another, “Oh that we had meat to eat!” Or maybe it’s not meat. “Oh that we had more money in our bank account!” “Oh that I had a new car!” Or a boat. Or a new kitchen counter. Whatever. We’re never satisfied with what we have. In that respect, we’re a lot like the children of Israel.

Now their situation was like this: The Lord had led his people Israel out of bondage in Egypt, through his servant Moses. God was bringing them up to the land he had promised to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel had seen the Lord’s faithfulness to his promises of old. The Lord had heard their cry for deliverance. He remembered his promises. And he brought them out of bondage with a mighty hand. He brought them to Sinai and made a covenant with them there. He stayed with them, even though they had shown themselves to be an adulterous people. The Lord provided for them along the way in the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. He provided manna from heaven, quail in the desert, and water from a rock. He had done these things for them for years now, and he would continue to do so. The Lord was more gracious to them than they deserved. And he had promised them that the land he would bring them into would be a land flowing with milk and honey and all sorts of goodness and abundance.

And yet they complained. They grumbled and groused and kvetched. They complained that the Lord’s provision was not as good as the food they remembered from back in Egypt. “We’re sick of this manna,” they murmured. “At least back in Egypt we had tastier food!” The irony, of course, was that back in Egypt they were slaves! And here the Lord had given them freedom and was bringing them up to a good land where they would have plenty of food. Yet they wanted to go back to Egypt. That was more familiar to them, even though it meant slavery. So they griped and groused and grumbled.

As I say, this is a picture of us. We too grumble and grouse and gripe. We complain and murmur. If we didn’t have something to complain about, we’d probably complain about that! “Why doesn’t God give us more to complain about? We’re feeling a little short-changed here, God!” What an unruly, ungrateful flock we can be!

But not content just to complain against God, Israel also took it out on their pastor, Pastor Moses. He made a convenient target. Now I don’t want to turn this into a pastor’s pity party here, because every pastor knows there are things he could have done better. But the point is, when we grumble against God, we often take out our frustrations on the people around us. It’s been like that from the beginning. Adam blamed Eve and thus was blaming God, who had given the woman to him. Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent. You and I always want to blame somebody else for our own failings and shortcomings.

We grumble and complain, we fight and quarrel. Like Israel, we wanna go back to Egypt. We’re tempted to return to the ways of the world. We think the grass is greener there. Oh, we have seen the Lord’s faithfulness. We have heard his promises. We have received his provision. Yet we want to go back to Egypt. We would rather return to slavery of sin. At least that seemed familiar. Our old nature wants to go back to the ways of the world. The worldlings we know are our friends and neighbors. We want to fit in and blend in. We want to be like them. The surrounding culture calls out to us, like a seductive siren beckoning us to the rocky shoals. So we say, “Who needs church? Who needs this wilderness waybread that we get here? We’re tired of this, this–what is it, ‘manna’? ‘Oh that we had meat to eat!’ Let us go back to the fleshpots of Egypt!”

Think about how we envy the people of this world: “Why, they have their weekends entirely free! They don’t feel like they have to go to church! Hey, I could sleep in on Sunday mornings!” “You know, the people of this world have a lot more disposable income to spend on things they want, like new cars and boats and kitchen counters. They don’t get guilted into putting their hard-earned money into the offering plate!” “Think of it! Nobody would ask me to serve in some church office! Wouldn’t life be great!” “No more dusty old hymns and the boring old liturgy. Who needs all that sin-and-grace stuff? No, if I’ve gonna have a little dab of religion, I’d rather have stuff that appeals to my self-interest. A church that offers entertainment, lots of programs, and maybe a fitness center. Word and Sacraments? No, bread and circuses!” “Oh that we had meat to eat!”

The warning for us here is that we not fall back into unbelief. If we tire of God’s ways and long for the ways of the world, the danger is, we may just get what we wish for. And that would be a disaster. It is better for us to enter into life subsisting on the manna that God gives than to feast on the fatness of the world and be cast into hell. The journey that God leads us on may not always be easy or luxurious, but it is the only path that leads to life.

And so here also is the encouragement for us. Our gracious God does not cast us aside, even though we have grumbled and complained against him. For there is one who makes intercession for us. Just as Moses interceded for Israel, so our Lord Jesus Christ intercedes for us. Jesus pleads on our behalf that we would be saved eternally, and we are! We are saved from God’s righteous anger against ungrateful grumblers. By grace we are saved for everlasting life in the Promised Land of heaven. Christ our ascended Savior even now is interceding for us. His holy blood pleads for us before God’s throne of grace.

Moses felt the burden of the sins of his rebellious people. In a much greater way, Jesus bore the burden of the sins of the whole world and carried that unbearable burden to the cross. There he bled and died for us. Now the weight of sin is lifted from our shoulders, and we are free. Hell holds no terror for us. Satan has no power over us. The Holy Spirit renews our minds and hearts. He renews our words and our attitudes. God’s promises enliven our steps and lift our drooping spirits, as we wend our way through the wilderness of this world. The sure hope of heaven lifts our vision beyond the horizon of the humdrum. The lifeblood of love flows through our veins, and we now are able to love others with the love we ourselves have received from God.

Brothers and sisters, Christ Jesus is your freedom and contentment. Jesus is your provision along the way. He is your promise of the sweet and blessed country to come. He cleanses you from complaining and gives you grace in place of grumbling. Jesus is the living bread that comes down from heaven. Eat of his flesh by faith, and you shall live forever.

Instead of grumbling, now our mouths will be filled with an attitude of gratitude. Meat prices may be up, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to starve. We still have more than enough to eat. “The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord; and Thou givest them their meat in due season.” Yes, you and I believe that God “gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

And on top of all those First-Article gifts, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We have forgiveness, life, and the sure hope of everlasting salvation. So, what do we have to complain about? Not much. Not nearly enough to outweigh the eternal blessings that are ours, as we make our way through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Published in: on September 25, 2021 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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