Once upon time there were two store owners who were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other’s business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival while the other was jealous. One night an angel appeared to one of the store owners in a dream and said, “I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?” The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, “Here is my request: Beat me half to death!
Jealousy and coveting can lead to an ugly end.
A true story: At the end of the Civil War. John Wilkes Booth, the man who killed Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater was the brother of one of America’s most famous actors, Edwin Booth. John Wilkes Booth bitterly coveted the popularity of his brother. He knew there was a growing dislike for Abraham Lincoln in certain areas of the United States. So he killed the President, thinking to become a national hero. The assassination of this beloved man started with one covetous thought.
Maybe you don’t have a raging jealousy going on, but coveting can also be thought of as “Destination Disease.” We think, “I can’t be happy right now. I will only be happy when…
“I get a new job, I get a new car, I get a new spouse, I get a raise, I move out on my own, I get married, I get divorced, I move to a different city, I get a better church, I go on vacation, I win the lottery, I pay off all my bills, My business takes off, My business slows down, I lose weight, I gain weight, I finally finish school, etc.”
Do you ever struggle with destination disease? I do.
What does it mean to covet something? After all is it wrong to want nice things? The psalmist said God will give us the desires of our heart. When do the desires of our heart cross the line and become the craving of coveting?
According to author James McDonald, coveting can be defined in four ways…
- Coveting is; wanting the wrong things:
Power over others, an illicit relationship or something that belongs to someone else.
- Coveting is; wanting the right things but for the wrong reason
Wanting to be a leader, manager or boss but not to help people but to have control or my way and my agenda over others.
- Coveting is wanting the right things at the wrong time.
A young couple comes into my office for premarital counseling, they love god and one another, they are committed to one another and plan to get married in 3 months – but they want to move in together now – they want the right things commitment to God and to one another but the timing is wrong, they need to wait until they are married to live together.
- Coveting is wanting the right things but the wrong amount
Take money for example, money is not a wrong thing it is part of life – money causes us a problem when we love money to the point that we become obsessed with getting more and more money to the exclusion of building relationships with God and others.
Coveting has a strong hold on people today, yet God’s word teaches us there is a way to escape the trap of coveting and live a life of contentment.
People have always struggled with coveting. Nowhere is that more obvious than the children of Israel and their desert experience in Numbers chapter 11.
In the last post, we saw how their attitude of complaining caused God to discipline His people, now want us to look at another attitude of the Children of God were displaying; the attitude of coveting. I want us to consider asking God to change our covetous attitude to an attitude of contentment.
We need to look at the story and then discover the application.
This account reads like a three act drama, as the drama unfolds we can see the need to focus on an attitude of contentment.
Act 1 – Giving in to Wanting More
Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” The manna looked like small coriander seeds, and it was pale yellow like gum resin. The people would go out and gather it from the ground. They made flour by grinding it with hand mills or pounding it in mortars. Then they boiled it in a pot and made it into flat cakes. These cakes tasted like pastries baked with olive oil. The manna came down on the camp with the dew during the night. Moses heard all the families standing in the doorways of their tents whining, and the Lord became extremely angry. Moses was also very aggravated.
Moses introduces us to a new group of people – the foreign rabble. These were the people who left Egypt along with the Children of Israel. Having seen the complete devastation of Egypt this group wanted nothing to do with their homeland, so they joined Israel hoping for a better future.
Scripture says, “They began to crave the good things of Egypt”.
The inference is that not only was the rabble complaining but the children of Israel were drawn into their complaining as well. They had a selective memory; they remembered the good life of Egypt. Verse 5, “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted.” Really? As slaves they did not eat at the buffet line each night!
It seems they longed for the good old days – Mark Twain said, what makes the good old days the good old days is a bad memory.
Egypt was not a good place, Egypt was a place of bondage; it was a place of bricks and mortar – yet all they could see was the good things of Egypt – the things that would fill their physical appetites.
While Egypt provided bondage, God was providing deliverance, direction, a new life, water, food and purpose.
Each evening as the dew fell God was giving his people a bread-like substance which would sustain them thru their wilderness journey. Remember the trip was to only take a couple of months and soon they would be in a land flowing with milk and honey. The only thing God’s people would have to do is gather the manna each day and cook it – it would be enough to get them through the desert.
But the manna was not enough.
Verse 6, our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” God’s provision only brought about complaints. Everyday they had enough food, but they wanted something more. That is the bottom line of a covetous attitude – I want something more than I need!
The reason God is angry for us to have a covetous attitude is that we are saying to God, “you do not give me enough – I have needs and you are not taking care of me, so I want to look someplace else to have my needs met!” For the children of Israel they wanted their needs met back in Egypt, for us we look to have our needs met by gathering things and possessions rather than seeking God. The Root of Covetousness is a Rejection of God’s Sufficiency.
Act 1 closes out with a sober truth – verse 10, Moses heard all the families standing in the doorways of their tents whining, and the Lord became extremely angry. Moses was also very aggravated.
Because the people were unappreciative of God’s provision – scripture tells us, “The Lord became angry”, “extremely angry” If you have every tried to do something for someone and they show little or no gratitude you can understand God’s anger at this moment.
Act 2 – Getting what you do not want
Then the Lord said to Moses…”Say to the people, ‘Purify yourselves, for tomorrow you will have meat to eat. You were whining, and the Lord heard you when you cried, “Oh, for some meat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will have to eat it. And it won’t be for just a day or two, or for five or ten or even twenty. You will eat it for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it. For you have rejected the Lord, who is here among you, and you have whined to him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” Numbers 11:16-20
Their request brought a dangerous reply.
Basically God said, “you want meat – I will give you meat, not just one day or two but you will have meat for 30 days. You will become sick of meat.”
He gave them what they wanted but it did not meet their need
Psalm 106 is a companion passage for this event listen to what verse 15 says, He gave them exactly what they asked for, but along with it they got an empty heart. Psalm 106:15
With God we can be satisfied with what he provides for us but if we walk away from God’s provision we soon find ourselves empty. We may end up loathing what we had to have.
Nothing is essential, but God.
Things were never designed to take God’s place. When we covet something and make it essential – “I have got to have it”, we are saying to God there is something more than what you can provide.
Maybe today there is something you are putting ahead of God…
A Financial Goal
A Specific Dream for your future
I have and continue to struggle with thinking that my goals must be God’s. I want to challenge us to seek first His Kingdom, before we seek out our own desires.
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 34:7 Israel’s problem was they wanted their desires but they did not want to delight in the Lord, may that not be said of us.
Act 3 – Consequences to Getting What We Want
Now for the rest of the story:
The Lord sent a wind that brought quail from the sea and let them fall all around the camp. For miles in every direction there were quail flying about three feet above the ground. So the people went out and caught quail all that day and throughout the night and all the next day, too. No one gathered less than fifty bushels! They spread the quail all around the camp to dry. But while they were gorging themselves on the meat—while it was still in their mouths—the anger of the Lord blazed against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (which means “graves of gluttony”) because there they buried the people who had craved meat from Egypt. Numbers 11:31-34
The Lord was true to His Word.
He sent the quail – man, did he send the quail. For 36 hours the people gathered the quail – no one gathered less than 50 bushels. A bushel of tomatoes or corn weighs about 50 pounds, so 50 bushels is a lot of meat!
Then came the ugly result of their covetousness:
Their punishment came in two forms…
1. Loss of Discernment – One the problems that comes with a covetous attitude is that we lose our capacity for discerning. The Children of Israel had so much quail, scripture says they gorged themselves. They actually lost the ability to know when they had had enough. Instead of controlling their wants their wants were controlling them. When you live a life of coveting you too can lose your discernment, you begin to want a possession or a goal more than life itself and soon you too are controlled by something rather than you having the self-control which is a fruit of the spirit.
2. Loss of their life – God intervened and caused a severe plague to come upon the people and many people died. Interesting Israel wanted to go back to Egypt for the best of everything. But God sent a plague reminded them that all that was in Egypt was destruction and plagues. If we are guilty of coveting we probably will not loose our life in such a dramatic fashion as the children of Israel did in the wilderness, but Jesus asked his followers a pertinent question that applies to us today when wit comes to handling a covetous attitude. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? Luke 9:25
The example of Israel rejecting God and choosing something else is a tragic story of coveting. The question we need to ask ourselves today is, “what steps can we take to transform our life from an attitude of coveting to an attitude of contentment? We will look at how to be content in the next post.
Check out one of our “Lord Change My Attitude” Growth Groups that will go into much more detail and study about each attitude.