The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He is slow to anger and rich in love. He is righteous and capable of anger against those who oppose him. But sarcastic? Is God sarcastic? In Numbers 11, I think He might have been.
The entire nation of Israel was trekking in the dessert. A band of refugees who could have numbered as many as 2.5 million, recently delivered from slavery in Egypt through unmistakably supernatural means, was on their way to the promised land. And while God was literally raining food from heaven to feed them, they started complaining about the lack of diversity in their diet.
“Remember the free fish we had back in Egypt?” they moaned. “Remember the cucumbers and the melons? The onions and the leeks? This manna is so plain, I’m not even hungry anymore!”
Moses was annoyed. (“Troubled,” the NIV says.) He asked God where he was going to get enough meat to feed all these babies and whiners he’d been put in charge of. In fact, Moses had quite a pity party. (See Numbers 11:10-15). Even when the Lord tells Moses He’s going to send meat, Moses doesn’t quite believe Him.
“I’ve got 600,000 men here, plus their families. Is there enough, even if we slaughtered all the herds? Is there even enough fish in the sea?”
God answers Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?”
And then the Lord sent a wind that blew quail in from the sea. To say that birds landed in camp and the people had plenty of meat to eat does the story an injustice. Verse 31-32 says that there were so many birds that they were piled up three feet deep on the ground, and spread out as far as a day’s walk in every direction. A yard deep, and twenty miles in every direction. There were so many birds that every person gathered no less than 80 bushels- as much as ten mules could carry.
“Is the Lord’s arm too short?”
Sound exegetical principles do not allow me to say for certainty whether God is actually being sarcastic in this passage. For that, you’d have to go back to the original language. (Which I am not qualified to do.) The phrase, “Is my arm too short?” is repeated in Isaiah 59:1, also in reference to God’s provision, so it may just be a creative turn of phrase.
But it speaks to me in sarcasm, which in my case is good. I understand sarcasm. God’s response bluntly points out the incongruity of my fear in light of the limitless capability of my God to meet my need.
About six weeks ago, I wrote this post about our upcoming transition to Togo, and about the fear I was struggling with. I concluded with, ” In 90 days or less, I will tell you the ending to this story. Because God can do it, and I’m publicly declaring that He will.”
God is working. I won’t give you any spoilers, because in another six weeks, I’ll have a great story to tell. But the truth is that I still struggle with fear from time to time. Just the other day I found myself again praying like Moses, asking God, “how can this possibly happen?” and doubting just a little bit. In response, God reminded me of this story.
“Is my arm too short?” Is my arm too short to find tenants for your home while you are gone? Is my arm too short to provide a full-time job and living situation for your son before you leave? And is my arm too short to do it all, exceeding above all that you could ask or imagine?”
“No, no, and no.”
“Then don’t be afraid.”
As His child, I don’t need to know how He will meet my need. I only need to know that He will. In 45 days, I am going to have a story to tell you– a story about quail three feet deep on the ground and twenty miles in every direction. I can’t wait to tell it.
Authors Note: I would like to thank my husband, Phil Malcolm, for being the one to discover the hidden gem in this story. He was the one who first pointed out to me the dark humor in God’s verbal response and then in the scale of the miracle that followed. Sometimes one person’s observation can be just the words another person needs to hear. That’s why the Bible talks about iron sharpening iron.
Thanks honey. I love you.