My Mother, the stoic, had an expression that she used on us when we were children. She would say, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” When we didn’t like the sensible, brown shoes in the hand-me-down bag, she would say that. When we turned up our noses at leftovers for dinner, she would say that. Somehow it didn’t make me feel any more grateful.
This week I had the opportunity to do the devotional in our morning assembly at school. I was assigned the theme, “thankfulness.” I started by asking the kids to raise their hands if they were picky eaters. (My own children should have raise their hands. I forgot to look and see if they did.) Then I told the story about the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, who dared to be picky. If anyone deserved the title “beggars” it was them!
The Israelites had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. They were set free in a blizzard of miracles from the 10 plagues to the parting of the Red Sea to the presence of God with them day and night as a pillar of cloud or fire. They should have constantly been walking around with their mouths hanging open in amazement at all that God had done for them. But no, they repeatedly forgot to be thankful.
So after a few months in the desert, their food ran out. God did another miracle for them by giving them Manna, food from Heaven, every single day. At first, they were thrilled. The Manna tasted like flakes of honey. It was delicious, healthy, versatile, free and abundant. But after a while, they started to get bored with Manna. Let me say that again, they got bored with the Miracle that happened every single day before their very eyes. They forgot that without this miracle, they were beggars. And beggars can’t be choosers.
That’s when the complaining began. Once they started being ungrateful, the Manna no longer tasted sweet. It tasted bland because their hearts were no longer joyful and full of thanks. Their attitude affected their appetites. They no longer hungered for the things of God. They started looking back and hungering for the food in Egypt. They forgot that as slaves, they would not have eaten like kings. But they romanticized the past and complained about their present conditions.
They complained that they wanted meat. So God got angry and decided to teach them a lesson. He told Moses, “I’m going to give them so much meat that it will make them sick. They will eat meat until it comes out their noses!” God send a huge flock of quail into the camp. They were thrilled at first! But they quickly over stuffed themselves. Then they got sick and threw up. The meat came out their noses just like God said it would.
I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but once I got food poisoning from McDonalds. I threw up for two days straight. I haven’t eaten a chicken sandwich since! That was enough to cure me of any McDonalds cravings for a long, long time. The same thing happened to the Israelites. They didn’t want meat after that. And we heard no more grumbling about Manna for the next 40 years. They finally accepted the fact that you can’t be a picky eater in the desert. Better to be thankful than to pass a drumstick out your nostril.
I have my own little tribe of Israelites at home. All of my children have been picky eaters (though the teenager has pretty much out grown that phase). My youngest one just surprised me recently. She went from an all noodles and cereal diet to suddenly agreeing to taste a bite of chicken. The bribe was, she would eat a piece of chicken if I let her cut it with a knife. So with my protecting hands over her little paws, we cut the chicken together and she held up her end of the bargain. Then she declared, “I like it!” I about died! Five years of refusing to eat chicken and suddenly she likes it. I felt like God looking down on his own picky eaters and breathing a sigh of relief. Finally they are eating and not complaining.
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