Psalm 106: Craving
Have you ever opened the doors to your pantry or refrigerator, stared at the food inside and then declared, “We don’t have anything to eat”? How many times have you planned a meal and then decided it was not what you wanted so you went or ordered out? How often are we less than satisfied with what we have, not because it is less than necessary, but it is just not what we wanted? There is a word we use in these cases and it is a word that the Psalmist used as well, it is called craving. It is certainly not negative to crave, to want or even to have a desire for a particular thing, but when we allow our cravings to determine our decisions, we often end up with outcomes we had not planned for.
Psalm 106 is a partner of 105, it picks up where the last left off, but while it continues the story, it has got an entirely different tune. Psalm 105 told the story of God’s faithfulness to Israel in bringing them out of Egypt, Psalm 106 tells us the story of Israel’s unfaithfulness in the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.
It begins with a loud declaration, “Praise the LORD!” and a command to “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” While these words are familiar, we cannot ever allow them to be common, while we might have them memorized, we cannot allow ourselves to say them without the weight they deserve. In many ways, these words continue the thought from the previous psalm. God had brought Israel out of slavery, defeated the Egyptians, provided for her needs and surrounded her with His presence. But within a few verses there is a vast change in Psalm 106, it moves from God’s goodness to Israel’s sin: “Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.”
We know from Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, but the psalmist is not making a generic statement, he is not just acknowledging some mistakes or failures, he is going to tell the story, not to shame those who came before him, but to caution those who would come after him. He wrote “our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wonderous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.”
What was the rebellion by the Red Sea? Israel came out of Egypt miraculously and quickly. God delivered them over night, they had been slaves but left carrying gold and silver, clothing, livestock and food. The cloud of God’s presence led them each day and a pillar of fire each night, from the moment they left they were given visible signs of God’s presence. God had not just been for them in their weakness, He was with them in every stop of their journey from bondage to prosperity. God told them exactly the path to take, it was not the way they expected, it was not even the way that would take them to where they wanted to go, but it was the way that they needed and the way that God had planned. As they journeyed in what looked like circles, Pharaoh reconsidered losing his workforce and gather his army, chariots and horses to go bring Israel back. Israel, by the hand of God ended up trapped, the Red Sea in front of them and Egypt behind them and according to Psalm 106, that is when they rebelled.
What does rebellion look like? Rebellion is a big word for Christians. I Samuel 15:23 equates it with witchcraft. We think of Satan rebelling against God and being cast out of heaven or Korah rebelling against God and Moses and being swallowed up by the earth, or Absalom rebelling against his father David attempting to take his throne. We view rebellion as a large act of treason, a complete apostacy or heresy, an action that few if any of us would ever consider or be capable of. But according to Psalm 106, the rebellion at the Red Sea looked like fear, anxiety, doubt and complaining.
In Exodus 14, when Israel was in this vice between the sea and the Egyptians, even though they could still see the cloud of God’s presence and where still eating the food that they had taken with them from Egypt, they cried out to the Lord and then complained against Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” God called that rebellion. They turned on Moses, but the truth was they forgot about God. They forgot about the plagues and how they had been protected in Goshen while the Egyptians were suffering. They forgot about the Passover in which God Himself had passed over their homes, protecting their firstborn but bringing death to the Egyptians. They forgot about promises God had made, the miracles He had done, the love He had shown. They were a people that could only give thanks when the reasons for thanksgiving were right in front of them. They did not call them to mind, they let their minds wander.
Sounds a little harsh right? They were afraid, they were unsure, they were anxious, they forgot, they complained, they accused, that cannot be rebellion, can it? According to Psalm 106 it is, because that place of forgetting, does not just stop with complaining, it leads to far more, to far worse.
Verse 13 says “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.” When we forget what God has done, we tend to stop asking God what we should do next. We do what makes sense to us, we order our steps according to the plan we have, we take matters into our own hands, we fall back to familiar patterns, we look for comfortable places, worst of all, we end up giving in to our cravings. That is the next line of the psalm, “But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert”.
While eating manna, bread from heaven that miraculously appeared 6 days a week, Israel started to crave the meat and fish and vegetables of Egypt. By being forgetful of what God had done, they started to crave the food of bondage while they ate the bread of freedom. Now, I am not saying that I would not have gotten tired of eating the same meal every day or that there would not have been some days when I would have really had a taste for something other than what we had, but the issue was that they stopped being content with what the bread represented. The manna was a sign of God’s love and provision, it was a statement that said that He was their God, and they were His people, it was a daily message that said, “I am all you need, and I will do everything I promised to do.” The manna was a guarantee that the Promised Land was a done deal.
But they had cravings. They danced and rejoiced when God provided, but the next time they needed Him to provide, they thought they were going to die. They forgot what God had done, they forgot what God was like, they forgot who God was and then finally, they gave their cravings so much control that they chose other gods. This is where the cravings and the rebellion are joined to each other. Our cravings have one plan, to attack our contentment and gain our full attention. Our cravings want us to remember what has not happened rather than being thankful for what has. They want us to worry about the future rather than resting in the present. They want us to believe that promises that are still in the future are burdens to bear rather than gifts that will be given. Our cravings tell us that we cannot be happy unless they are fulfilled, that we have been neglected, uncared for or overlooked. Our cravings tempt us to take our attention from how loved we are and put it on how we think we would like to be loved.
What are you craving today? Eight years ago, I started a journey to change my life by improving my health. There were things I knew I had to stop eating, habits that had to be changed and disciplines that had to be learned. In those eight years I have had plenty of cravings, but if I can be honest, when cravings come, I have learned to compare where I was in the past to where I am today. What if, when Israel craved the food of Egypt someone would have rallied them together and said, “let’s talk about the bondage of Egypt”, or even better, what if someone would have stopped and said, “let’s remind each other of all that God has done to get us here”? I guarantee that most of them would have decided that the monotony of manna could not rob them of the majesty of the miracles they had seen. I encourage you today, do not let what you want right now get in the way of what God has done and what He is still going to do. Do not give in to the temptation to complain or the tendency to forget, do not let your craving rob you of your contentment. All of God’s promises are yes, all His works are good, all His plans are to bless you and all His love is upon you. Eat your manna, remind yourself of God’s presence and show your cravings that they cannot compare with God’s promises.