December 23, 2013

Getting What You Want or Getting What You Deserve

When I think of large meals nowadays, I think about Thanksgiving and Christmas and McDonalds super-sized meals (just kidding). When I think about large meals in the Bible I am drawn to two specific examples where a lot of people got fed a lot of food and they are nearly opposite one another in terms of spirituality.

One of the things I want to show in this post is that God provides for His people when they are in need and sometimes even when they are not. He does it all to His own glory. Both of the following examples will show this through opposite means.

The first is the feeding of God’s people in their desert wanderings. I will focus on both in the manna and quail combined as the first seems to precipitate the second to some degree.

Deuteronomy 8:16 ~ “He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.”

Numbers 11:18-19, 31 ~ “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. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days… 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.

Exodus 16:11-12 ~ “The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.”

The main thing we see in Numbers 11 is complaining because of provision. Israelites have just left the shadow of Mt Sinai and within one chapter of the Bible they are in full whine mode. The complaints come fast and God’s wrath comes furious. Because of this impetuous behavior even Moses begins to complain about the onerous load (v.10-15) of the people themselves being childish and petulant. Miriam and Aaron will do the same in Chapter 12 of Numbers. None of these complaints will go unanswered...and some of them will not go unpunished either.

Numbers 11:1-3 ~ “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them.

Herein lie the dangers of the modern errant prosperity Gospel preached in the States and across the pond in Europe, Asia and Africa. To some extent we will see it also in the Liberation Theology of Central and South America too. We see the turning up of one’s nose in favor of what is perceived as better. People nearly always think they know what’s best for them. They act as if they know what will make them happy and strive after those things…often in vain. More, more and more. I the case of the Israelites, they seemed as if they would almost prefer being in bondage again just so they could eat better. Never once does it seem that the majority of them think in the long-view of what is best for God’s plans or what aligns to His will. God is most certain concerned with peoples immediate needs (Matthew 6:25-34). What God is more concerned with is people’s holiness and eternal destination. If things of this world will eventually jeopardize a person’s eternal well-being, God may often make one a pauper not a prince in this world. This is where the prosperity Gospel totally gets it backwards.

It assumes that monetary wealth and worldly provisions are the sole path or provision for happiness and well-being. This is opposed to the overarching theme and analogies of Scripture that tell a believer to be prepared to suffer and that those who persevere will gain reward (1 Corinthians 9, James 1, 1 Peter 5:4, Revelation 3).

The whole mindset of health, wealth and prosperity preaching assumes that health, wealth, affluence and improved social status will make people respond to the Gospel and the message of God in a more positive manner and this is a false assumption (Enns 634). If anything I believe the Bible speaks abundantly to the fact that just the opposite may be true when it comes to affluence and money (David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Judas, etc.). The change in a person’s social status does not guarantee improvement of the condition one’s life or position with God (salvation)…it just makes a rich or prosperous sinner…not a happy one.

Humanity can only depend on Jesus to remove and halt the effects of sin. God is concerned with the removal of sin and its effects. In this way, this will profit a man much more than monetary goods and health in this world now (i.e.: your best life now). We’re all going to die. The things we have here will all pass away. Why would God want to load us down here with junk we can’t take with us anyway? Especially junk that will act as idols, ballasts on our spiritual life and probably corrupt our souls. It is much more beneficial to be poor or destitute and broken of Spirit (See Matthew 5-7 and the Sermon on the Mount) than it is to be rich, powerful, influential and dead inside destined for damnation (See Matthew 23:27-28 and the Pharisees). As Jerry Bridges once said on his book on grace…
It is difficult for us to see God's hand of love in the adversities and heartaches of life because we persist in thinking, as the world does, that happiness is the greatest good. Thus we tend to evaluate all our circumstances in terms of whether or not they produce happiness. Holiness, however, is the greater good than happiness, so God arranges and orchestrates circumstances to produce holiness before happiness. ~ Jerry Bridges-Transforming Grace (p.209)
The biggest irony of this passage is that one of God’s “rewards” for the complaints about his provision of manna which saved their lives…was even more provision in the form of meat. What God also shows in this episode that too much provision literally ends up choking off the blessing and the provision and actually becomes a curse to some that complained as God’s wrath burns hot against them and He sends a plague among the unrepentant and argumentative and difficult people. The ones that complain are the ones that thought they knew what would be beneficial for them and what would make them happy. Instead, they get what they though they wanted or needed and it makes them severely unhappy or in the extreme case…their reward for ungratefulness makes them quite dead when God in His perfect justice gives them what they deserve.

In the New Testament we see what appears to be a mirror image of Deuteronomy and Numbers in the feeding of the 5000.

Matthew 14:19-21 ~ “And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Bread and fish were normal rations for people of the Galilean area…and people were grateful. They received what they had what they had always received which was down-to-earth and meager. This is just the opposite of what the desert wanderers had received. They Israelites in Moses time had literally been supernaturally been given bread from Heaven and were miraculously sent quail…and they groveled and murmured against the very God that provided the provision.

In this episode we also see Jesus look to Heaven and give thanks to God, something we do not see the Israelites do. The very Son of man does not take for granted the common provision provided by God the Father. What should be particularly noted is that Jesus does not bless the loaves, He blesses God. Jesus’ attention is directed heavenward, not towards the bread. Here we see the proper response to what many usually take for granted. In this way I believe the expectation of more, More, MORE in this world in the Name-It-And-Claim-It and Prosperity Gospel grinds totally against the pattern of Scripture and has these types of people align themselves with the complainers of the desert wandering rather than with Jesus and the 5000 on the hillside.

In both of these situations we see expectation of God to provide for His faithful (or not faithful), the end resultant behavior of the two different groups is what is different. We are told that we should not worry about whether or not God will provide for us Matthew 6 and in this respect we expect that God will come to our aid if it is His will. The expectation of the Israelites is that they get what will suffice and they become even more expectant and petulant. The second group are thankful for what they get which is quite adequate for their needs. So much so that there are leftover fish and loaves which are collected. In blessing God the blessing is turned around on the one blessing. God not only provided, he provided abundantly (v.20).

The difference between the two groups? Heart condition and then God’s subsequent reaction. Correct response to God’s blessing brings more blessing. Lashing out at God brings His eventual wrath. Is it because God likes punishing man? No. It is because God has laid out these plans for men to give them the best possible opportunity to make the best of their lives and reach eternal life in the presence of the Lord. Rejection of this condemns man for eternity and God knows this. Again, a heart condition of repentance is necessary, not a heart of rebellion. Jesus doing what He does in the feeding of the 5000 not only shows the Kingdom breaking through in the miracle of the feeding…it also shows that correct behavior towards God aids in this end result of seeing the Kingdom of Heaven break through here and now. Jesus acting the way He does as an example for shows for certain that blessings will inevitably come if we do the same. It all starts with a turn towards God and a turn away from our sin.

1 comment:

A Georgian said...

I would like to use your picture of the Valley of Akhor in my blog: An Amateur's Journey Through the Bible (bikingfencer.blogspot.com and bikingfencer.tumblr.com)

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