Moving on and holding back
Welcome back to the season in Torah that highlights our complaining in the desert! ‘Give me meat!’ I know what’s good for me and it’s not this! With these words the events of the next few Shabbat portions unfold with an almost inevitable consequential development.
We find Israel a year into the journey, having spent 1 year at Sinai and now setting off, but already dissatisfied with God’s provision; who really knows best? This sits at the root of every question and complaint.
The Lord sends them quail 3 foot deep 1 day’s journey all around them; surely the good times have arrived but no, the bad times have arrived. What we count as times of blessing can actually be a judgement against us, or even not be for our overall good. The good times can be the bad times too. So the people interpreted the quail as a blessing and an answer to prayer and pleading (which on one level it was). But in truth they didn’t understand what God was doing! Their thought world/interpretative framework to understand God and their own response to Him was faulty and so our people failed to see the hand of God at work.
The complaints had had an effect, the words had galvanised the whole community to rebel against God’s provision. It starts with one person who infects another; eventually a group forms and then destruction happens. In our inherited system of democracy here in the West, the majority must always be ‘right’. Yet the roots of that thought lie in Greek political thinking that is alien to the Torah.
One person can change the world. One person can steer the entire cultural and philosophical direction of continents. Ideas rule. The Kingdom of God comes and transforms culture and society where people live out His teachings and allow their minds to be renewed by the ‘ideas’ of the One true God of Israel.
So with a weak understanding of God and His ways, failing to actually comprehend what was happening, Miriam and Aaron got caught up in gossip and verbal dissension. The classic comment ‘Has the Lord only spoken through you?’ came from Miriam. Aaron repents but Miriam is punished. She was the instigator of this and so she was dealt with strongly. Her punishment reflects a father’s heart for righteousness in the family and community, read B’midbar 12:14-15. The shutting out for 7 days is a rebuke from our Heavenly Father. But notice what the result of this was: the whole camp couldn’t move on. One person’s words and dissension meant staying put until it was finally resolved. That’s a lesson we all can learn from! If we as Israel, and the many Jewish communities around the world rebel against God and fail to understand Him, then we can become stuck in our growth and calling. What should be a glorious shining light of righteousness can become dimmed and inconsequential to the world, a world which needs to see God. After the quail incident, the people needed to know that dissension like this had consequences, even if it was Miriam!