And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.
I hate to see this. Israel’s track record to this point in the Book of Numbers has been good. But just under a third of the way through the book, the story takes a rough turn. One of the features of the Book of Numbers is its recounting of Israel’s grumbling, complaining, and rebelling against God. And this chapter records the first few moments of that part of the story.
There complaints start out as a very generic kind of griping. They complain about their misfortunes. Undoubtedly there were murmurs about desert life, about being forced to eek out a nomad’s existence. And God chose to get their attention through a fire that consumed the outward edges of the camp… perhaps where the grumbling originated. And this got their attention. Moses interceded with God and the fire was quenched.
The second episode shows that they did not learn their lesson. They missed the perceived smorgasbord of food that was theirs in Egypt. Of course the tradeoff was slavery, which they neglected to mention in their sinful reminiscing. God again was upset at them, but graciously provided more quail than they could handle. During their feast, a plague breaks out (could it have been some kind of food poisoning?) before they have even finished eating (the text is very direct - “while the meat was yet between their teeth”). So a second episode of complaining has resulted in judgment. Has Israel learned a lesson yet? Wait and see.
Watch where you complain. God can quickly show you that your perspective is short-sighted by taking you a place you never wanted to go. I know this thought has my attention right now. I think I will look for ways to find praise for God in my present circumstances. When things aren’t as I want them to be, it is time to be drawn to worship, not whining!