Pretty Good Cucumbers

Even the Israelites cried again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our lives are wasting away. There is nothing but manna in front of us.”

-Numbers 11:4-6

Those must have been pretty good cucumbers, huh? You probably remember that when the Israelites first escaped from Egypt, they complained that they were hungry. There was no food. God, always generous, always providing, sent manna and quails for the people to eat. All through the wilderness, the people had enough to eat because God gave it. All along their way to the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” they had enough.

So what gives? Why are they complaining about food? I love a good cucumber, and I never say no to garlic. But… did they forget what Egypt was? This was the place they were slaves! Their infant sons were murdered! Pharaoh refused to let them go until ten plagues had passed through Egypt! And they’re reminiscing about the produce?

They aren’t just venting or lamenting, which would be a perfectly reasonable response to years in the wilderness eating the same thing every day. Instead, they’re complaining to Moses, blaming him for their dissatisfaction with the menu.

The “good old days” aren’t always all that good, if we’re honest. What they are is familiar. It is so easy to look backward, to think of how things used to be, and to gravitate toward what was. We might long for how it was, back seven months or seven years or seven decades ago. But are we being honest about remembering the bad along with the good?

If we only ever look back, we start to sound like the Israelites crying for cucumbers. Could Egypt’s produce really have been good enough to make up for slavery, oppression, and infanticide? Of course not. Yet, in the wilderness in-between, it was easier to look back to the cucumbers than to look ahead to the land flowing with milk and honey.

There are a lot of in-between wilderness spaces. The pandemic, of course, is the one that is on so many of our minds. We can’t go back, but going forward is harder than we thought it might be. There are other wildernesses: unemployment, a damaged relationship, the space between childhood and adulthood or between working and retiring, the journey from injustice toward justice, the change from who we were to who we will be next. Whenever we aren’t where we were or where we are going, we are in the wilderness.

Whenever we go to somewhere, we also have to go through somewhere. Moses was leading the people to the Promised Land. The only way there was through the wilderness. The people got focused on the through instead of looking toward the to. Wandering in the wilderness, it got easy to complain. Even Moses, when he received the complaints about the food, turned around and complained to God about the very people he was leading!

But God was leading the Israelites, God’s chosen people, through the wilderness and to the Promised Land. They went through all sorts of challenges: disease, fighting, and disagreement, to name a few. Those wilderness experiences were not the destination. They were the pit stops and detours on the way to the Promised Land.

Ask yourself: what are you going through on your way to where God’s leading you? Is it possible that you’ve gotten too caught up in looking around and looking back that you’ve lost sight of what’s ahead? We all do it sometimes. Those were pretty good cucumbers, after all. God doesn’t want us to go back to good enough, to how it was, to the good old days. God is always leading us to something better, out of captivity and oppression to the freedom only Jesus Christ gives. Let’s let the cucumbers go.

God, going through the wilderness is the hardest part of any journey. Give us the courage and persistence to keep our focus on the destination you are leading us to. Save us from looking backward and longing for what is past. Bring us through the wilderness to your Promised Land. Amen.

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