The effects of discontent can carry over well past an initial display of someone’s grievance. They can have disastrous consequences that go beyond one person’s bad thinking about something. There’s a contagious aspect about dissatisfaction; an infestation of sorts that creates a festering wound.
The Israelites had a problem. They’d known nothing of Yahweh for 400 years other than tales of Him around their campfires at night. He was a distant mythical entity, impossible even to visualize; unlike the gods of Egypt which all had idols to them of gold and silver. When I AM showed up and spurred Moses to lead these people to the land of promise that Yahweh had pledged to their ancestors, it was difficult for them to grasp. To make matters worse, there were some numbers among them who weren’t Israelites (e.g. Exodus 12:38: A mixed multitude went with them…). Thus, when things got seemingly hard, people were in their midst who had even less knowledge of Yahweh and what He intended than the Israelites themselves.
And so, we come to Numbers 11:4 which initiates a string of events that reflect poorly on the people and trigger a strong response from God:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!
The Hebrew word for rabble – asaphsuph – means exactly what the Exodus reference above says: a mixed multitude. These were camp followers; in modern day language they were groupies. They were enamored by what they’d seen Yahweh do among His people and were hangers-on, looking for what He could do for them in their personal lives, but having no commitment to the Lord.
This was a problem. It’s the old situation where someone begins inciting others. He stirs up one or two, and suddenly there are ten. More and more people feel the sting of discontent, and a faceless, nameless, outraged mob emerges.
The pressure built and came down on Moses. The people complained as if he had caused their problems. He lashed out, not at the rabble, but at God. He wasn’t a happy camper because he felt the Lord had allowed all this indignation to fall on him, and what was he supposed to do about it? He was only following the commands of Yahweh. If it hadn’t been for God, Moses would still have been tending sheep in Midian. So, basically Moses yells at God for putting him in this position.
That had repercussions. To the people’s complaints about how much better a life they had in Egypt with unlimited food and leisure, God brought them more food – in the form of an inexhaustible supply of quail – than they could possibly eat. Before they could consume more than a couple mouthfuls, the Lord’s anger burned, and He caused a plague to come upon them. Their cravings brought death. When the people who died were buried, the Israelites called the place of burial “graves of craving.”
The discontent from that original group of rabble rousers didn’t stop there. Pride rose up in Miriam and Aaron. They were prophets and servants of the Lord; didn’t they merit greater recognition and favor? When God confronted them in the presence of Moses, He put a quick end to that by immensely humbling Miriam. He made it clear that the humility evidenced by Moses (Numbers 12:3) was what He wanted.
And still, the effects of this infection of distrust continued. Despite God’s promises of what He would do for His chosen people, the spies who went into Canaan came back with a bad report. They’d seen the bounty of the land, but fear of its inhabitants turned to rebellion. These naysayers had their way, and all but a faithful few wanted to cross the Jordan and face the giants. The outcome was inevitable. God took that as the slap in the face that it was and consigned them to forty years of wandering until that entire generation died in the wilderness.
Such responses and their consequences have been with us always and will carry forward into the Tribulation. The rebellion of the Jewish people and skepticism of God’s Word has resulted in a secular society in Israel whose hearts the Lord must turn to accomplish His purposes. That same lack of faith has caused great apostasy in the church, since many no longer view the Bible as inerrant and infallible. Those who have chosen to reject the free gift of salvation through God’s Son Jesus Christ will pay a very high price.
They are part of the latter day rabble; the crowd of malcontents who believe their feelings trump God’s Word. Just as Yahweh brought tragic outcomes to those in the past who went their own way, so He will do in days to come.
The rabble with its mob mentality, always causes trouble. The crowd stirred up by the Pharisees demanded Jesus’ crucifixion, which brought God’s wrath upon the nation of Israel to this day, despite His mercy in so many aspects of their lives.
This is one reason Paul reminds Christ-followers that this world is not our home. We don’t have to be concerned with the issues about which the rioters complain. We’re to keep our eyes on Jesus and the eternal home that He promised. When we do, all these things will seem strangely distant, and we can live in peace regardless of all the chaos that swirls around us.