Britain is sometimes referred to as a nation of grumblers. Complaining about things is somewhat of a national sport. It’s raining? We wish it were sunny. It’s sunny? We complain about the heat. If I’m driving you somewhere you’ll hear exasperated comments like “indicate, why don’t you?” or “do you want to cause an accident?”. I’m not yet thirty and already I’m complaining about “kids these days”.
The British pale into insignificance, however, when compared with the people of Israel on their way to the promised land. In Numbers we hear:
The Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4b-6)
The Lord has rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and is taking them to a land full of blessing. Each day he gives them all the nourishment they need by providing manna – bread from heaven. Yet the people long for the days of slavery in Egypt. “We were better off there”, they say. “In Egypt we had cucumbers!”
It’s not just a few grumbles about physical comforts. The Lord tells us the spiritual reality behind what they’re doing:
“You have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”” (Numbers 11:20)
The Israelites are still in the wilderness. They’ve not yet made it to the promised land. But in the wilderness the Lord is with them. 1 Corinthians 10:4 tells us that they “drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ”. By saying they’d rather be back in Egypt, they are “rejecting the Lord, who is among [them]”. They’d rather have cucumbers in chains, than know freedom with Christ.
As we travel through the wilderness of this world, we too are prone to grumble. The Christian life is hard; we face trials and temptations; we can very easily take our eyes off the Lord. Rather than turn to him in our anguish, we turn away from him and grumble.
What is it that you grumble about? I complain about my job, ill health, wet weather and missed buses. I grumble about how much better other people’s lives seem than mine. In doing so, I forget all the ways the Lord has blessed me and continues to bless me.
How do we address grumbling? Not by excusing it (“everyone does it”), nor by blithely ignoring it (“cheer up, it’s not that bad!”). No – we take our grumbles to our loving Father, who never ceases to do good to his children. He knows that we live in the wilderness, but gives us the true Bread of Heaven to eat (John 6:26-35). We look to Jesus – and as we see him, we find that his goodness outshines all the darkness around us. Who needs cucumbers when you can have Christ?
(Reflections on “Cucumbers rather than Christ”, the talk given at Emmanuel Bristol yesterday. Further reading: Glen Scrivener on the Bread of Heaven and Dan Hames on what the wilderness years point to.)