The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6, 10-15)
Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
What does it mean to feel burdened? That is a phrase we may have thrown around from time to time. It could be a burden caused by worrying about our children, a burden of caring for a loved one, or even a burden for a social justice issue. For me, when I talk of feeling burdened it has to do with the call God has placed on my heart for those in the parishes I serve. Now when I say burdened I don’t mean it negatively, as in thinking someone or something is a burden or a bother. When I mean is a burden as in something that occupies a lot of thought and prayer, something that means a lot to us, something we devote ourselves to, for the sake of another person or a group.
Missionaries feel a burden for those living in areas unreached by the gospel or those suffering in developing countries. Youth group leaders feel a burden for kids and teens. A spouse feels a burden to care for their husband or wife, who is suffering from an illness. A teenager feels the burden of trying to do well in school, trying to build relationships with friends, and trying to prepare for adulthood. A parent feels a burden for their child, who is sick or struggling. A burden is something the innermost soul cares about. If we didn’t care, we’d not think twice about it. A burden is something that occupies our minds, something we consider when making decisions and life choices. But a burden can consume us.
Moses felt consumed. In the passage from Numbers we hear an account of the Israelites, grumbling and complaining that they were hungry, they longed to go back to Egypt where they could enjoy cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic even if it meant going back into slavery. Moses had been called to lead the Israelites. God approached him in the burning bush. He didn’t go seeking out to be a leader. God called him and placed this “burden” on him. Now, caught in the thick of it and fully invested as the leader of the Israelites Moses is stuck and consumed by this burden.
The Rev. Bonnie Scott of a United Methodist Church on Madison Ave in New York explains it this way…
“Moses slams his letter of resignation on the desk and hands over the keys to the world’s largest station wagon. A foldout map of the Promised Land falls on the ground, but he’s happy to leave this family vacation in the dust. “These aren’t even my kids! Did I conceive them all? Did I give birth to them?” God is angry and Moses is livid. “Meat? Where am I going to get meat in the middle of a dessert?!” It is one of those moments in Moses’ pastoral–or should we say parental–careers when he has to pull over the car. He is spent, dried up, running on fumes. In today’s world, we have a word for this: burnout. Moses is burnt out. He brings to God his own death wish and a few choice words: “I cannot carry them all alone. They are too heavy for me!” You may have felt like Moses. Burnt out Frustrated Tired Overwhelmed Threatening to just throw up your hands and walk away thinking it would be easy for us to walk away. But we cannot. Because when we think of these burdens, our deepest strongest missions and convictions that God gives us they are “too heavy to carry, but impossible to leave.”
Moses was desperate because as hard as his calling was, it was his calling. It was the thing that occupied his mind and was rooted deep inside his soul. God laid the burden for his people on Moses’ heart and when it got bad, Moses got desperate, to the point of asking to die. That’s how much it meant to him. That’s how much he cared. Even when they complained about trivial things like melons and garlic, the burden Moses had for these people was deep and if he couldn’t please them he’d rather be dead.
We can learn an important lesson from Moses. I believe he was justified in his frustration with the Israelites and his decision to turn to God in desperation and honesty is something that we too must do, when our burdens become too much for us.
In the letter of James, he writes – If you are suffering – pray. Suffering can come in many forms. Moses was suffering because he poured his heart into caring for these people, only to have them grumble and complain and rebell. He couldn’t walk away from them, so he prayed, he cried out to God saying I am not able to carry this burden. Help me!
Our burdens come in all shapes and sizes. Some revolve around our job, some around a ministry, some revolve around family and loved ones or for a group of people in need of compassion or justice. Compassion for a person or a cause is a good indication that you are carrying a burden. Therefore, if something is so important to you that you’d consider it a burden, well then you’re bound to come into some times of tension and hardship. Truth is, there will be times of grumbling, of struggle, or worry, or difficulty, and because you care, you suffer. You suffer for the cause.
You may have a burden you’ve been dealing with and if there is anything from this passage we can apply easily to our life it is to not stay stuck under the weight of these burdens, but to turn to God. Jesus says “’Come to me, all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’” Matt 11:28-30