The other day I read the book of Numbers from the Bible for a project I’m doing. I read the whole thing in one sitting (it’s 36 Bible chapters, which is about 31 pages). And though, as the title suggest, it is chock-full of stats and names, I was surprised to find that I loved the story, but I was even more surprised that the reason I loved the story is because I’m a parent.
In these 36 chapters, the children of Israel complain. A LOT. They complain that they only have manna to eat and not meat (manna which God completely provides for them, btw). They complain that the land (which God is just handing to them) is full of scary people. They complain that desert living is worse than being slaves (Come on now, do you even remember Egypt?). They complain when they can’t find water for themselves (so God magically makes water gush from a rock).
This complaining annoys God like crazy, and I get that. My kids won’t eat most of the nutritious food I give them, they just beg for cupcakes. My kids get whiny about going to summer camp because it’s in a new place (even though it has all these amazing, fun things to do). They melt down when I ask them to put on their own socks because they think it’s too difficult (and after 20 minutes I end up doing it for them – which is probably bad parenting).
And I get annoyed. I’m annoyed by the noise. I’m annoyed by their unwillingness to persevere. I’m annoyed by the time and energy (both theirs and mine) that they’re wasting. But most of all – and I think this is what happens to God in the book of Numbers – I’m annoyed because what their complaining actually says is “we don’t trust you enough to even try doing what you’re asking us to do.”
God rescues the Israelites out of a cruel slavery. God provides for their every need. God sets them up to have abundance and a future. And yet over and over, they refuse to trust God. And God reacts, like a parent throwing up her hands and yelling, “What have I ever done that would make you think I’m untrustworthy?! I’ve done everything for you! Okay, you know what? Fine. Do what you want.” God is at the end of what has so far been a very long rope, and plagues ensue.
Another thing that God does over the course of the book is try to instill good values in the children of Israel, values like keeping one’s word and being trustworthy (because these are things that God practices unceasingly). But instead of listening to their Almighty Parent, they devolve into fear, they break their covenant of faithfulness, and they opt out of God’s promised gifts of blessing. So God takes the blessing, the promised land, away (and gives it to the next generation instead).
My husband and I are trying to teach our 5-year-old about money: earning it, saving it, spending it wisely, and the value of hard, honest work. But I swear, when he said one day that he didn’t want to help starving kids around the world because there’d be less toys for himself, I wanted to take his whole piggy bank and throw it in the trash. I was so angry at his entitlement, at his lack of empathy, and at his lack of trust in me and my charitable ideas, as though I wouldn’t still want good things for him, too. I was offended and hurt that my own child wouldn’t think I had his best interest at heart. And it seems that God feels the same way in the book of Numbers.
Now I’m not saying that how God reacts in Numbers is easy to digest; trashing a piggy bank and killing hundreds of people are very different and I still have to wrestle with that. But it gave me joy this week to read a difficult book and feel like I glimpsed the heart of God just a little bit better because I have children.