Problem with Numbers

There are times in the Old Testament where I struggle with what I read. I hope that doesn’t bother you too much. There are passages, like Numbers 11, where if I was God, it seems that I would have done it differently. Have you ever felt that way? In Numbers 11 the people of Israel have begun their journey to the promised land. They are existing on manna, a bread like substance that is provided by God each day. In the beginning of the chapter, the people complain about not having meat to eat. They complain rather loudly, even saying they would rather be back in Egypt as slaves (which is definitely whining and complaining like a child) Then God says that He would give them meat and He provides quail for them to eat. Some of the people gather this quail and the bible gives us a picture that they greedily eat the quail and then we read that God sends a plague on those who ate the quail.

I have a problem with this. It doesn’t seem that God needed to kill the people who ate the quail. Did He really have to do that? When you read verses of Numbers, describing what God says to Moses to tell the people, God sounds like an upset parent who has lost perspective: 18 Then you shall say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, 20 but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?”’

What do you do when you read things like this, when you have a “problem with Numbers”? I have come to appreciate that I don’t have a good answer to why God would do this. Sure, the people “deserved” it. But honestly, I’ve done the same thing or worse in my complaining to God but I haven’t been struck down with a deadly disease. I suggest doing two things. First, settle in your mind that God is a good God and when God does things like this it doesn’t negate His “goodness”. It doesn’t shake my faith in Who God is when God doesn’t act like I think He should. Second, it’s OK to have these thoughts. It’s OK also to recognize that the Bible contains passages like this that we don’t understand and that others who read it for the first time will have questions. When we have problems with Numbers it doesn’t mean problems with God.


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