Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
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And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
— Numbers 11:4-6
As an aside, this is the second mention in the story of the term "mixed multitude" (more recently translated as "riffraff"), the first being at the point of departure from Egypt: And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.1 Various theories exist as to the identity of this group, e.g. slaves of other nationalities or foreigners who had married into the Israelite clan. In his 2008 study of the topic, Shaul Bar concludes they were mercenaries, hired by the Israelites before they left Egypt.2 Either way, the members of this particular group are very disgruntled with their current lot, and their negative energy infects the Israelites.3
This episode is a refrain of the incident in Exodus 16, reflected on in two earlier essays.4 In the previous episode the Israelites complain they don't have anything to eat and are provided with 'manna'. In this episode they complain that all they have to eat is manna, and recall in very specific detail the kinds of food they used to eat in Egypt. They remember that this food was given freely, which of course it was—slaves must be fed—but they forget the intolerable price they paid to eat this way. Again, in hardship, captivity beckons. Slavery with a varied diet seems preferable to freedom with a limited one.
In the face of such ingratitude, the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased 5 which is hardly surprising. The culture of slavery is so ingrained in the Israelites that they struggle to be free of it. Embarking on a life transformation is exciting, and motivating, at least while the conditions supporting the change are favourable, but when they become hostile, that's when the change gets difficult, and we begin to doubt its value. We crave the simplicity of the known, becoming resentful of the present, and fearful of the future. The bondage of the Israelites was still very much present, showing up now as the bondage of self—a condition many of us must contend with if we are to live freely, and to our full potential. We look to blame forces outside of ourselves, but the real enemy is within. It is the classic God/Satan dilemma.
1 Exodus 12:38
2 Who were the "Mixed Multitudes"? by Shaul Bar, Hebrew Studies Vol. 49 (2008), pp. 27-39
3 The reintroduction of the 'riffraff' here is possibly a device used by the writers to indicate that the Israelites themselves were not the villains in this episode, but were led astray by foreigners.
4 Exodus 16, verse 3 Paradox and verses 14-15 Enough.
5 Numbers 11:10