By Don Umphrey
(Scriptural quotations from the NIV)
There are many parallels between those of us in 12-step groups for addiction-recovery and the biblical children of Israel whose story is found in the Old Testament of the Bible. In each case God’s guidance was/is the cornerstone in finding the freedom of a happy, fulfilling life.
God sent Moses to guide the children of Israel, while people seeking to stay clean and sober look to God for guidance.
After about two years on their journey, the children of Israel set up a camp at a place that was subsequently called Kibroth Hattaavah, which means Graves of the Craving.
Just prior to arriving at that location, the Israelites had done a lot of whining that displeased the Lord and received a stern warning. “Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1). The Israelites sought help from Moses, who prayed for them and the fire subsided.
People who do a lot of whining in recovery groups usually don’t stick around too long.
Whining About Manna
The rabble (translated as “riff-raff” in The Message) with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna! (Numbers 11:4-6).
There is craving among newcomers to recovery and even among those who have been clean and sober for longer periods of time. The craving will usually decrease over a period of time for those who seek God’s guidance.
Originally, not everyone craved meat, only “the rabble.” Biblical scholars say these people, first identified in Exodus 12:38, were non-Israelite tag-alongs with little or no desire to serve the Lord. Their sentiments quickly spread to the Israelites, a reminder about the possible negative effects of our associates (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Some former addicts have selective memories; they start recalling “the good ol’ days” that occurred before their addictive substance, behavior or pattern of thinking took them to their knees. They sometimes rejoin former associates who never stopped using.
Was Slavery So Bad?
On the surface at least, what was said about the fish being free in Egypt was factual. Fish could be caught in the Nile or in the numerous canals running from it. Missed in this observation, however, is that in order to get free fish, people had to live in a land where they were slaves.
This is the devil’s bargain.
Note that the craving among the Israelites was not due to hunger. Rather, it was a dietary preference for meat and spicy stuff that was available in the land of slavery as opposed to God-supplied manna.
There is a saying “you are what you eat” that applies to nutrition. It may also be used as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. As a person who is in recovery, what do I want to “feed” myself spiritually? Something spicy that will titillate me or God-given manna-like material?
Craving is defined as “an abnormal or excessive desire, as for a food or drug.” To act on a craving for something from the land of slavery is to believe a lie. God viewed the craving and whining among the Israelites as rejection of Him (Numbers 11:20).
Writing about this episode in The Land Between, Jeff Manion observed, “They were not simply rejecting the food; they were rejecting their God. They were saying, in essence, ‘We were better off without you as our rescuer, we were better off without your presence, we were better off as slaves, we would have had a better life living among the gods of Egypt.’”
I have been taught that my sobriety is contingent on my spiritual condition, but I have seen people who refuse to accept God’s guidance. They may look in the mirror and say to themselves, “How’s this working for me?” If the answer is “Not so good,” they turn to the same person who created their mess in the first place (themselves). In other words, they think they had the ability to solve their own problems.
Through Moses, here is God’s response to the craving for Egyptian food:
Preparing for Puke-a-Thon
“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, 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?’” (Numbers 11:18-20).
Could this warning be any more simple? Today, someone might ask, “What part of projectile vomiting do you not understand?”
The next day, a wind blew in a huge flock of quail that had crossed the sea. These birds piled up three feet in camp and a day’s walk in every direction from the camp. The least gathered by anyone filled 60 bushels. (See Numbers 11:31.)
What happened next reminds me of an experiment involving cocaine and lab animals. Those allowed to self-administer cocaine every 50 seconds all died within 30 days. Monkeys allowed to take cocaine every 10 seconds all died within five days.
But you don’t have to be an animal to do something like this. You could just act like one.
“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. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food" (Numbers 11:33-34).
I’ve known many people who were never able to get a firm grasp on a God-focused recovery program. They have died in various ways —suicide, cirrhosis, hepatitis, murder victims, various types of cancer, and car wrecks—as a result of unabated alcoholism and drug use.
© 2023 by Don Umphrey
The New International Version” and “NIV” are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.
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