Connections 03.10.2024: If You Think This is Bad…

Numbers 21:1-9; Psalm 107:1, 17-22

Sometimes in the Bible, God’s people seem all too human. We can easily relate to their frustrations and their failures, their reactivity and their resistance. Sometimes in the Bible, though, God’s people don’t just seem human. They seem positively childish. Not childlike, as in the kind of unpretentious, open, teachable faith and trust Jesus describes (Mt 18:1-5, Mk 10:14-16) but childish, like a “terrible two” (or three, or six, or ten, or fifteen) complaining when they don’t get their way. And when they do. And when they are tired, hungry, angry, hangry, bored, rebellious, testing authority….

You get the idea. We’ve all been around that kid. We’ve parented them or grandparented them or auntied-or-uncled them or neighbored them or taught them or sat next to them in church or been in line behind them at the grocery store. But mostly, we’ve all been that kid at one time or another—probably more often than we’d like to admit. We’ve complained to God when we didn’t approve of how God was handling things. We’ve challenged God to live up to our expectations, to punish the people we thought needed punishing and to let us off the hook. We’ve argued and sulked and demanded and rebelled.

The attitudes of the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness sound so familiar. On this very long road trip—a trip they seem to forget is the direct result of their freedom!—they get very cranky. In Numbers 21, they make a deal with God to defeat the Canaanites, and then almost immediately get discouraged. They complain about God to their leader, Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” They’ve already forgotten the victory the Lord just provided; they’re hangry, bored, rebellious. The contradictory childishness of their complaint is almost funny: they don’t have any food, and also they hate “this miserable food” (v. 6). As a parent myself, I wonder how Moses kept a straight face. Especially because this is about the fifteenth time the people have complained on this trip.

This time, though, I can imagine Moses and God gritting their teeth and uttering the classic line: “I have had it UP TO HERE.” God seems to be fed up. If the people thought having no food or yucky food was bad, they have another “think” coming.

Discussion

  • The conclusion of this story—God’s sending poisonous serpents, then a salvation from poisonous serpents—is all miraculous, divine work that may be hard for us to understand, much less relate to. But in the humanness (indeed, the childishness) of the people’s attitudes and actions we can recognize ourselves and learn about ourselves. How do you relate to the people in this story? Can you think of times when you have expressed this kind of frustration and rebellion to God?
  • What is the role of our religious leaders when we feel frustrated and angry at God? What should their role be? What do we expect of them?
  • What do you think about the way God reacts to the people’s complaining—both the negative and the positive? Have you ever experienced God’s caring provision even in the midst of something that felt like a punishment?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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