"The people (of Israel) spoke against God and against Moses and said, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!'"
- Numbers 21:5 (NIV)
This was the year I wasn't going to make any connection at all between my New Years resolutions and weight loss. I was finally going to accept my body the way it is, and not worry about that 20 extra pounds that never seem to go away no matter what diet I pursue.
Then I remembered. Five months from now I'll be attending my 50th high school reunion and I'd like to have something close to my girlish figure back.
But I wasnt going to tell anyone about my silly goal. I'd just swim more laps, take longer walks, skip the junk food, and hope for a miracle. In short, judging by the glaring weight-loss promises on the covers of 9/10ths of the magazines at the checkout counter, the obsession I apparently share with half the human race didnt go away just because I resolved it so.
Another of my obsessions is to expand my devotional life; that is, to spend more time in Bible study and prayer. Although I admire the various thought-for-the-day publications, when I have time, I prefer to read larger chunks of the Bible at one sitting, than settle for the brief gleanings of someone else. So during my recent, less-consuming days at the beach I read the Book of Numbers.
Numbers? Can anything good come out of 36 chapters of census figures, names Ill never remember, and the itinerary of Gods people as they traveled to their Promised Land?
Well, I skimmed most of the lists. But what I found between the lists - and there are more betweens than names and numbers - were spiritual nuggets I didnt realize were there. For instance, I was amazed at God's explicit instructions about cleanliness and food preparation which, though given under the guise of ceremony and godly living, greatly protected their health. In the absence of refrigeration and common bathing facilities during their long camping trip in the desert, without such instructions many would have died simply from food contamination or dirty hands.
But the most fascinating new lesson I learned concerned the manna God supplied for food throughout their journey. Not knowing what kind of food the manna was, I had an idea it must have been similar to a fungus, perhaps a form of mushroom. But realizing how much care God gave his traveling people, I was sure it contained all the nutrients they needed for good health. What I didnt know, until I came to chapter 11, was that God had even thought of taste.
The manna was like coriander seed The people ground it and cooked it in a pot or made it into cakes. It tasted like something made with olive oil (Numbers 11:7-9).
Yet no matter how they cooked it, after a while they grew to hate that manna, and grumbled because Moses had taken them away from the meat, cucumbers, melons, and garlic they had in Egypt. Maybe it was the diet that made them forget God had taken them away from slavery, too, about which they had also complained.
Though writer Jean Shaw understands the down side of eating the same thing day after day, she adds something else to the manna story that goes to the heart of that long-ago manna diet, and our modern obsession about weight loss.
Manna was Gods visual aid to teach his people to look beyond their stomachs to see their spiritual needs. There are more important things in life than eating.
Shaws words echo those of Moses in his summary of the lessons God gave the Israelites during their travels:
God fed you with manna to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Perhaps that miracle the dieter longs for is the same formula that creates a better devotional life for the Christian: less time thinking about food, and more time consuming the words that come from the mouth of the Lord.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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