Psalm 105: 37 Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled. 38 Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it. 39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night. 40 They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance. 41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river. 42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. 43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. 44 He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples, 45 that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!
What sticks out for me in this passage is the neat and tidy nature of this narrative. The ugly, messy parts have been stripped out. V.40 mentions quail the people received. Well, what it doesn’t mention is the reason for this mass of quail. God sent the quail because the people were grumbling about having to eat manna all the time, but no meat. Fine. So God made the people eat so much quail it made them sick. The quail wasn’t a gift but a form of punishment for complaining against God.
V.41 mentions God bringing forth water from a rock, which he did through Moses. However, the second time Moses tried this, he struck the rock twice, not once. God perceived this second strike as a form of faithlessness on Moses’ part. It was a principal reason why Moses was not allowed to actually enter the Promised Land after leading the people for 40 years on the way. There is more, but I’ll move on.
One of the things I like most about bible stories is the messiness the stories reveal. God and the Israelites fight about as much as they get along. People rebel against God more than they follow him. God spends much of the Old Testament commanding the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child – even livestock – among the tribes already occupying the Promised Land. “Leave nothing alive” is a common refrain. God even gets mad when the Israelites don’t kill EVERYTHING. Yet today we say “God is love”. God is indeed love and mercy and compassion, but God is much more. God is also fierce and jealous and ready to take his own people out when they fall short of faith.
And in some ways, this dimension of God appeals to me. A nice, neat God at the foundation of a nice, neat faith doesn’t appeal. Life isn’t nice and neat and tidy and predictable, so neither is our God. Some of you reading this post won’t like me saying so. Okay. But even a cursory reading of the bible, from beginning to end, reveals a complicated God that resists being domesticated to our ideals of who believe God should be.