And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.
4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.
10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased.
– Numbers 11:1-10
Covetousness has a powerful stronghold in people’s lives, especially in North America. Many of us are not only in bondage to it, but we’re also in serious denial about it.
What is covetousness? First, it’s wanting wrong things, such as wanting pure power. Wanting control over others. Wanting wealth. Wanting glory and accolades.
Second, covetousness is also wanting right things for wrong reasons. Take, for example, the role of spiritual leadership. The desire to be a spiritual leader and make an impact on others’ lives is a noble goal (1 Timothy 3:1)—as long as you want it for the right reasons. If you’re motivated by recognition, power over others, or a personal agenda, it’s not noble—it’s covetous.
Third, covetousness is wanting right things at the wrong time, like a young couple engaged to be married who rationalize, “We love Christ and each other, and we’re committed to a lifetime together. Our wedding is in three months anyway, so let’s start sleeping together now.” They want right things for the right reasons but at the wrong time.
Fourth, covetousness is wanting right things but in the wrong amount. Money is a perfect example. It’s not a wrong thing; money is a necessary part of life. Providing for our families requires earning money, yet we face the danger of not knowing when to stop. We may be tempted to think more money will make us happier—but more of anything other than God will never fulfill us.
So covetousness is wanting wrong things, or wanting right things for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time, or in the wrong amount. At the root of all forms of covetousness is a rejection of God’s sufficiency. This is the reason God hates it.
We see this clearly in Numbers 11, when God’s people wanted something other than what they had.“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat!’” Here they were, in the middle of the wilderness, and God had been feeding them fresh manna (sweet cakes baked with oil) every day. But they started complaining, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (11:5). Timeout! The fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic were back in Egypt—but not for the children of Israel. As slaves, they were treated harshly and lived on a sparse diet. Yet as they reminisced, their memories became radically selective. In that sense, we are just like them. When we dwell on our desires, sin grows more attractive and accessible than it really is.
“But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (11:6). Can you hear the disgust in their voices as they looked at what God had miraculously given them to eat? Rather than being thankful for His provision, they coveted more, better, and different. They even started to cry over their plight (11:10)!
God’s people responded to His provision with a slap in His face, essentially saying, “It’s not enough, God. You’re not meeting my needs or my expectations.” And how did God respond to their covetousness? “The anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased” (11:10b).
What about us? Will we be grateful and satisfied with God and His provision for us? Or will we covet more and better and different? Often our problem is not that we don’t want God; it’s that we covet God and ___________ [fill in the blank].
Still, our savior calls us to come to a settled place where the central passion of our lives is this: “God, I just want You. Your joy, Your peace, Your fullness, and Your friendship—that’s enough for me.”
– James McDonald