Day 5 – Numbers 11:4-9
As we continue to consider the movement from expectation to trust, we now turn to the first example we are given 1 Corinthians 10. In verse 6, we read: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” This may seem like a general statement of what happened in the wilderness and that is likely part of what is going on here. However, the wording here also suggests a reference back to Numbers 11 where it is said that “the rabble that was among them had a strong craving.” The words “strong craving” are interesting when you examine the Hebrew language in which they were originally written. Literally, the two words are “desiring desire,” and the idea is intensity as the word desire is doubled. Hence, the word “strong.” Other English translations offer “wanton craving.”
To be clear, desire is a good thing. We were designed with desire. Desire is what shapes us and motivates us. At our core is desire for God, but there may be other desires that have built up over the years to the point where our desire for God is almost unnoticeable. One of the reasons that God brings us to the desert is to expose desires that have become more prominent than our desire for God. The word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians for desire is a compound word that literally means “over-desire” or intense desire, much like the doubling of the word “desire” in Numbers 11. In other contexts, it is translated as “lust.”
The danger of this “over-desire” is that it is desire that is misdirected. If we think about desire having an object, like an archer would aim at a target, “over-desire” is desire that aims at the wrong target. This kind of misdirected desire is shaped by and directed toward evil. This is how the Apostle Paul explains it in 1 Corinthians 10:6 with phrase “that we might not desire evil.” Evil is one of those words that we may resist. No one wants to think that they desire evil. We may think: evil describes dictators from previous generations or serial killers, but not me!
Part of that sort of response is because we don’t fully understand desire. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Every man who knocks on the door of the brothel is looking for God.” Underneath every desire is our desire for God. The goal is not to get rid of desire but to redirect it. In addition, evil is another one of those words that may need some redefining. It can be helpful to think about goodness. What is good? Simply put, good is that which is experienced in the context of trusting, loving relationship with God. As we listen to God and trust what He says about life and trust how He is leading us, we are living in the good. Micah 6:8 famously walks us through the question, “What is good?” The answer is justice and mercy as we walk humbly with God. Often, people identify with the first two elements and forget about the third. However, the third part is the linchpin … it is what effectively leads us into the other two. Walking humbly with God, we might say, is the essence of goodness. In contrast, evil is not walking humbly with God … not trusting His heart and what He has to say about life and love. Evil would be defining things on our own … living independently of God. This is what the serpent in Genesis 3 was leading our first parents toward … “you can’t trust God. He’s holding out on you. He is trying to manipulate you.”
Essentially, we might say that the contrast between desiring evil and desire goodness can be understood respectively as independence from God and dependence upon God. We see this displayed in the words of Psalm 106, “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness.” (vv. 13-14)
A note of caution: we often focus on sins as actions instead of looking at sin which is an independent heart which can stir and shape the desire for sinful actions. Not that actions and behavior are insignificant, but in the desert, God is leading us to look at our hearts, to examine desire. Two more notes of caution: it is not our responsibility to determine what is going on in someone’s else heart (Matthew 7:3-4); and we also must take evil actions seriously (Isaiah 5:20). However, on the road of our own transformation, it is ourheart that is the focus. Indeed, following Christ is a journey of the heart.
In the wilderness, we are often tempted to focus on behaviors and actions. Perhaps, this is simply another way to stay in control or live independently from God. We may be tempted to try to figure out what we need to “do” in order to get things back to normal, but it is examining our hearts that leads to the freedom and transformation for which we long.
Maurice Nicoll asks the question, “Why should a [person] leave the familiar and go into a wilderness? … [because] without temptation, there is no transformation.” Wilderness can both surface over desire as well as be the context for redirecting it.
Questions for reflection: As we move on this path from independence to dependence, are you willing to be uncomfortable? Are you willing to walk through the suffering rather than trying to fight it? Are you willing to look at your heart and desires instead of simply your actions?
Prayer: Lord, today, give me the strength to abide with you in the wilderness, noticing my heart and seeing misdirected desire. As I see, I trust you to reshape the direction of my desires. Amen.