Numbers 11:1-34
The Eucharistic Life

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. In today's passage of scripture we have recorded for us two episodes associated with the origin of two place names. The first has to do with the place name "Taberah (Burning)," and runs from verses one to four. The reason this name was given to it is explained as "The fire of the Lord burned against them," (verse three). The second has to do with the place name "Kibroth Hattaavah (Tomb Of Insatiety) and goes from verses five to thirty-four in a long story. The reason this name was given is explained as "He buried the insatiable people there," (verse thirty-four). In both places the names are derived from the judgment of the Lord [upon the people]. The text says that it was a constant complaining of the Israelites that provoked the judgment of the Lord. Today, I would like for us to zero in on the issue of complaining with which we are very much familiar, to read this story, and to listen to the message from the Lord for us from it.

Manna Everywhere You Looked

2. Please begin by looking at verse one. The first episode related to the place name of "Taberah" starts out with the following words: "The people complained so bitterly as to reach unto the hearing of the Lord. In his hearing it, the Lord became angry, and the fire of the Lord began to burn against them, and he was ready to consume their encampment with fire," (verse one). It doesn't specify what they had been complaining about. Furthermore, it is translated, "they complained," but in the original text, it uses the expression "the constant complainers." It meant that it wasn't just this one occasion, but that they were a people who regularly filed their complaints about anything and everything. In other words, a short episode is given related to the place "Taberah" here, but the way the Israelites typically were as they traveled the wilderness is lumped together here in a summary way with this. Also, as a specific example, a case is presented of their dissatisfaction and discontent regarding food (in chapter twelve more complaining but this time about Moses).

3. The complaints regarding food originated with "the many sorts of foreigners that joined the people." They made a case out of their hunger and thirst, and their complaining immediately infected the Israelites. They whined and said, "No one is giving us anything to eat. In Egypt they had us eat fish for free, and we can't forget those cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic and all either. Now, our saliva is dried up, and everywhere we look around us is nothing but manna," (verses four through six).

4. The scripture says they made a case over "hunger and thirst," but when we listen to the words of the Israelites, we see that they were not "starving" in any pure sense of the term; for, they were continually being given manna. But, it wasn't only the manna over which they were dissatisfied.

5. Let's recall here how this thing called manna was being given to them. Please look at Exodus chapter sixteen. It had been hardly no time since the Israelites had been freed from Egypt. The Israelites, guided into the wilderness, immediately claimed they had no food and began to complain. In response, the Lord told Moses, "Behold, I will let bread fall from heaven for you. The people will go out and gather only enough for each day," (Exodus 6:4). The "bread from heaven" was manna. Manna was a food which they couldn't gather extra and try to store. Therefore, they couldn't live unless it was given by God anew day by day. Inevitably, they were to learn that their lives depended totally on the grace of God.

6. So then, when they were saved from Egypt what they were given was not just a release from servitude. They were given a new lifestyle of being nourished by the grace of God day by day, in which they were to continue their journey onto the the promised land all the while giving thanksgiving for that grace from God. The manna must certainly not have been any kind of extravagant food. But, when they received it from the hand of God, and as they were in the wilderness, they were already experiencing what you could call a foretaste of living in the promised land. -- Indeed so, their trip should have gone something like that.

7. But oh, when we get to the scene in Numbers, we come across the figure of the Israelites fed up with their day to day lives of gathering and eating manna! God granting them life each day and that's it was dissatisfying for them. Life lived with the knowledge of God's grace first hand wasn't enough by itself for them. They disliked a life in which each day was unlivable unless they depended on God. Now they couldn't find much satisfaction in what God was giving them by itself alone. Ooh, we wanna eat meat. We wanna eat fish. We can't forget those cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. Ooh, there's nothing wherever we look but manna! That's what they said and shed whining tears over.

The Lord Gives Meat

8. How did the Lord respond to these who were demanding and crying for meat? Please look at verse eighteen. The Lord said to Moses, "Announce to the people. Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow. You will be able to eat meat. You have cried so much it has reached the Lord's ears, and because you made a case that you were happier in Egypt with "No one will give us any meat to eat, will they?," the Lord will grant you meat and you will be able to eat," (verse eighteen).

9. The Lord heard the request of the Israelites. The Lord said he would give them what they sought after. But, it wouldn't be given as a blessing unto the Israelites. The Lord went on also to add, "You won't eat it one day or two days, or five days or ten days or twelve days. It will go for a month and at last it will come out of your noses and it will be to the point of your feeling nauseous; for, you have rejected the Lord who is among you and you have complained with tears before the Lord's presence saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?," (verses nineteen and twenty). The Lord's giving them meat was not as a blessing but as judgment upon them.

10. So, how did the words of the Lord come to fulfillment? Please look at verse thirty-one. A great flock of quail came riding in on the wind and fell around their encampment. Around the camp a number of huge spreads piled up on the land to the height of about two cubits (about ninety centimeters). So, whatever happened there, the people did start to gather up an enormous number of quail. They gathered it all that day and all that night and even the next day too, and the text says a few of them even collected as much as ten homers, which was at least two thousand liters in cubic volume. Why did they ever collect up this much? It could not be eaten. But, this is the greed of their humanity. Their insatiety, hidden as it was, was now out in the open, and human greed causes sickness. Vast amounts of meat was gathered up, but in the end, since so much of it was left uneaten, it was easy to see how an infectious disease [might have] spread from there. The Bible does not depict this as a mere disaster but as a clear judgment of God. "While the meat was still between their teeth and while it was being bitten off, the Lord expressed anger towards the people and struck them with a severe disease," (verse thirty-three), says the scripture.

11. The place where the people were buried was called "Kibroth Hattaavah (Tomb Of Insatiety)." It was Kibroth Hattaavah, it was the place where the people had arrived, the people who had gotten more meat than they needed but had been wanting so badly. We need to remember this. They got everything they wanted, there was a fulfillment of everything that they had so selfishly asked for. But, we should not see it as the blessing of God; for, our own arrival points may be a Kibroth Hattaavah. The fulfillment of desires that have come from our moaning and groaning is a misfortune, a disaster, [perhaps even] a curse. As for those unhappy with the grace that God gives them, when they get everything their heart craves for, such a thing is not so much as much of a misfortune as it is the [pure] judgment of God; for such it is.

Invited To The Lord's Table For Communion

12. Well, as we read today's story in this [light], we see that the problem of complaining which is so very familiar to us is not a small thing in God's sight. How important is it in a person's life for him or her to always call forth and keep fresh their thanksgiving for the grace of the Lord? When we think like this, the Lord will let us see the meaning anew and afresh behind the fact that he keeps inviting us to his table over and over. The Lord's Supper as practiced here has been called from ancient times with the name "Thanksgiving Feast (The Eucharist)." In the worship services we hold in which we surround the Lord's table, we are called back again to a lifestyle of thanksgiving for the grace of the Lord.

13. "The night Jesus was betrayed, he took break, offered up a prayer of thanksgiving, broke [the bread], and said, 'This is my body for you. Do it like this as a remembrance of me.' Then, after the meal, in the same way with the cup as well, he said, 'This cup is the new covenant established by my blood. Whenever you drink, do it like this as a remembrance of me'," (First Corinthians 11:23-25). As you know, these are the words [from the Lord] as related to the stipulations in the Lord's Supper. As we have here, what the disciples received from Jesus was just some poor little scrap of bread and some meager [drops] of wine they shared and drank. That was it; what the church is given by the Lord is ultimately just his word along with small bits of bread and a little grape drink.

14. Is there anyone hooked in by the beautiful splendid sanctuary [of the church]? Yet, a church may lose its building. Are there people captivated by [the church's] many different attractive activities? Yet, it is not beyond the church to not have these attractive activities. Are there some captivated by the beautiful singing voices of the choir? Yet, what one may hear in a church may only be praise from some very very unmusical out of tune voice. Are there some expecting some speeches to satisfy their intellectual curiosity or some wisdom to serve a role in their daily lives? Yet, it's bound to be that we won't even be able to hear messages of that [caliber] in the church. So, all of these things are things we can lose in the church or in our day to day faith lives.

15. But, there is something that can absolutely never be lost to the church, there is something that can absolutely never be lost to one's faith life as long as it is connected to the church. It is the small bit of bread and the wine that is given us from the Lord, it is the word of the Lord that comes included with it. Are you saying, "Wherever I look, it's only the bread of the Lord's Supper and wine and nothing else but that!" If that's what you say, you are just like those Israelites. Those who do not receive the grace of the Lord in the bread and the wine with true thanksgiving, even though they may have so many of their wishes and desired met, the place to which they have arrived is just a grave of greed and craving.

16. The Lord has gathered us around his table today. Let's keep our eyes steadfast on the abundance of the grace which the Lord has given us. And as we live a life of thanksgiving rejoicing in that we are being nourished and are allowed to live through the Lord, I would like for us to begin our walk anew and afresh from here on out.

End Note:

* This title comes from an expression in a booklet by Henri Nouwen.

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