A Poor but Good Prayer
A daily devotion for June 20th
Quail From the Lord
4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.
10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
16 The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.
18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”
21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”
23 The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”
24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.
26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”
29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
31 Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.
He (Moses) asked the Lord,Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me,Num 11:11-14Give us meat to eat!I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.
It is obvious that this prayer is filled with a great deal of self-pity, reproach, and petulance. It is the expression of a man who feels he had been put upon. Moses comes very close to rebuking and upbraiding God for ever giving him the job of taking care of these ungrateful people. This is one of the poorest prayers in the Bible, but it is a prayer that is very like ours.
Moses had an extremely rich prayer life. His prayers are uttered with an artless eloquence which gathers up majestic thoughts about the greatness of God, which reflect man's faith and God's power to act, but this is surely not one of them. This is a very weak prayer, uttered at a time when Moses felt that he had been taken advantage of. He wanted to quit, so he lays it all before God, and says,
Why ever did you give me a job like this? Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? Why should I bear them on my heart? I didn't bring them into being.
We do not get this picture of Moses very often. He was a towering figure in the Old Testament, a mighty prophet and leader of the people. He affected the laws of nations for thousands of years, therefore we tend to think of him as high above all of us in his relationship to God. We are familiar with the stories of Moses exercising the mighty power of God — stretching out his rod to roll back the waters of the Red Sea so that the people of Israel walked through on dry land, striking the rock so the waters flowed out in the midst of a howling desert to slake the thirst of the people. It is clear from many of these stories in the Bible that he was a mighty man of God.
But here in this prayer we get the other side of Moses. In this and other accounts like this we get glimpses now and then of Moses as he lived his daily life, and the amazing thing is that, when we get close to him, we see that he is a surprisingly unimpressive figure in himself. Here we see him angry and upset and feeling sorry for himself. There is nothing heroic about him at all. Moses is, by natural temperament, an irresolute, shrinking personality, distrustful of self, easily discouraged, ready to resign and even die when the pressure is heavy. This is the human instrument used so mightily by God.
The remarkable thing about this is that even this self-pitying reproachful request of Moses was answered. It is the poorest prayer he ever prayed, far from a model of prayer, but, whatever else it was, this prayer was an attempt to draw upon divine resources. It recognized Moses' own personal insufficiency, and it had an awareness of the incredible resources of God; therefore God honored it and answered it. That is what prayer is, a reliance on God, which brings forth great possibilities.
Lord, I confess I often feel like Moses. I feel like my problems are too big for me, my circumstances are too complex for me to work out, and I resent being asked to do so. Forgive me Lord. Teach me that you are a God of infinite resources, of incredible wisdom, of infinite patience, and that you work out these matters if I but trust.
Life Application: Are we quick to blame God for life's problems, but slow to accept his ways and means to their solutions? Could this indicate misplaced confidence in ourselves, rather than confident expectation in God and his will?
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