Don’t be a Turkey

November 18, 2018

             Obviously no one wants to be a turkey on Thanksgiving in the literal sense of the word.  If you are, you have a good chance of ending up on someone’s dinner table.  But according to Merriam-Webster, the word ‘turkey’ can also be used to refer to a stupid, foolish, or inept person.

          In our Scripture readings this morning, (Exodus 16:1-4a, Numbers 11:7-9, Numbers 11:4-6,10-15, and Numbers 11:16-23,31-34) you heard how the Israelites were acting like turkeys. 

          Let’s backtrack a little.  God had compassion on them when they were slaves in Egypt.  In Exodus chapter 3, God called Moses from the burning bush, and said to him “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  I’m sure some of you have worked for cruel bosses, but I am fairly certain none of them can match the cruelty of the Egyptian pharaoh and his men.  So the Israelites were justified in their crying, and God came to their rescue.  Now God has chosen Moses since his birth to be the one to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, and the events of his life were all in preparation for this noble task.  But what does Moses say to God?  “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”  (Exodus 4:13).  God was angry, and was not about to take ‘no’ for an answer.  However, He did compromise by sending Aaron along with him to be his spokesperson.   But that was strike one against Moses.  So when God honors you by giving you work to do for him, don’t be a turkey.  It is foolish to say “no” to God.

          So Moses went before the pharaoh, and God was with him.  He performed miraculous signs through Moses and Aaron to persuade him to release the Israelites, and then parted the Red Sea so they could cross when the Egyptian army was chasing them.  And then he drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea after the Israelites had safely crossed.  And after all of this, what do the Israelites do?  Complain.  Complain because they were worried about having enough food.  After all the miracles God performed to ensure their safe rescue, so they would no longer have to make bricks without straw for hours on end under the hot sun, day in and day out, they had the nerve to grumble and say, “We wish the LORD had killed us in Egypt. When we lived there, we could at least sit down and eat all the bread and meat we wanted. But you have brought us out here into this desert, where we are going to starve.” (Exodus 16:3)  Even though they had forgotten God’s goodness, and his ability to provide, if necessary through miraculous means, our compassionate God sent them manna from heaven.  Food of the angels.  Enough to satisfy all of their needs.  But were they thankful?

          No.  They quickly grew tired of the manna.  So now they cried out, “We don't have any meat! In Egypt we could eat all the fish we wanted, and there were cucumbers, melons, all kinds of onions, and garlic. But we're starving out here, and the only food we have is this manna.”  (Numbers 11:4-6)  Not only did their complaining make God angry, but it got Moses so fed up with them, that he, too, started complaining!  Moses cried out to God, “I am your servant, LORD, so why are you doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? You've made me responsible for all these people, but they're not my children. You told me to nurse them along and to carry them to the land you promised their ancestors. They keep whining for meat, but where can I get meat for them? This job is too much for me. How can I take care of all these people by myself? If this is the way you're going to treat me, just kill me now and end my miserable life!”  (Numbers 11:11-15)  I don’t envy Moses for having to deal with the Israelites.  Yes, they were God’s chosen people, but even God was losing His patience with them.  So God gave Moses 70 Spirit-filled men to help him lead the children of Israel.  But not only did Moses complain about his job, worse yet, he doubted God’s ability to send enough meat for over 600,000 men, plus women and children, even after all of the miracles he had already witnessed first hand.  This was definitely strike two against Moses.  So as proof of the old adage, be careful what you wish for, God sent quail along with the manna - and sent something else along with them.  In Numbers 11:31-34 we read, “the LORD sent a strong wind that blew quails in from the sea until Israel's camp was completely surrounded with birds, piled up about a meter high for many kilometers in every direction. The people picked up quails for two days - each person filled at least ten large baskets. Then they spread them out to dry. But before the meat could be eaten, the LORD became angry and sent a deadly disease through the camp.  After they had buried the people who had been so greedy for meat, they called the place “Graves for the Greedy”.

          Unfortunately people haven’t changed.  We still complain, we still aren’t always grateful for what God does for us, and we still often don’t want to do what is asked of them.  You would think we would have learned after thousands of years have passed, that sincere gratitude that results in a willingness to do God’s will, and trusting in His providence, is much better than complaining and doubting.  I, myself, was reluctant to go into the ministry at first, because like Moses, public speaking was not exactly my strong point.  But I am happy that I did, and God has blessed me abundantly for it.  So the next time you are tempted to complain about what God has provided for you, or you are tempted to doubt His ability to continue to provide for your needs, remember the Israelites and what happened to them when God’s patience finally ran out.

          Oh, and were you wondering what Moses’ third strike was?  God instructed him to strike a rock to receive water out of it, but he struck it twice - as if he thought once was not enough, that his own effort was needed in addition to God’s to bring the water from the rock. And because of this, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land of Canaan, but could only view it from afar before his death.  It is like the person who doesn’t believe faith in Jesus Christ, his sacrificial death and resurrection, is enough to provide him with the living water of salvation, but he must add his own works in order to be saved. 

          So let Moses and the Israelites be an example to us that blessings will follow gratitude, faith, and obedience, but consequences will ensue for ingratitude, doubt, and rebellion.  May the Lord give us all a heart overflowing with thanks, a spirit that trusts God with our lives and our salvation, and a willingness to follow wherever He leads and do all He calls us to do.  Amen.

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