“He gave them their request, but sent a wasting disease among them.”
Context: Psalms 105 and 106 are “History Psalms” and should be read in context with one another. Psalm 105 exhorts the people to “remember His wonders … His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth” (v. 5). The people were commanded to remember God because He remembered His holy word (v. 42); He “remembered His covenant” (105:8-15). Following, in Psalm 106, the psalmist encourages the Israelites to remember what they had done; unfortunately, there is little to be proud. They did not remember [God’s] abundant kindness (7b) they forgot His works (13), their
redemption (21), they did not believe in His word (24), they did not listen to God’s voice/word (25), they provoked God (29, 32), they mingled with the nations and served their idols (35), until they became unclean and defiled (39). Psalm 106, a history lesson, was written after God's redemption of the Hebrew people from Babylonian captivity. As they journeyed from captivity back to Jerusalem, they were encouraged to remember the past in order not to repeat it.
Of the numerous examples of this unfaithfulness, the Psalmist chose six examples. One of those –
“They did not wait for His counsel, but craved intensely in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. So He gave them their request, but sent a wasting disease among them.” (13-15)
This verse refers to a narrative described in the eleventh chapter of Numbers when the Israelites, in unfaithfulness, grumbled and complained about Moses and God. As God had earlier encouraged them, He did not want them to depend on their own abilities but instead to rely solely on Him, and every day He gave them a day’s supply of manna. Instead of remembering God’s covenant and His promise to provide everything they needed, they “remember[ed] the fish which [they] used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic” (v. 5). They grew weary of God’s provision and longed for the food of their enemy. The Hebrews, slaves to Egyptians who inflicted hard labor upon them, became so self-centered that they remembered their captivity as freedom and God’s faithfulness as a burden!
Numbers 11 tells us that a “rabble” of people (a mix of people who added themselves to the Israelites*) had greedy desires and the Israelites yielded to their mindset. God delivered Israel from their enemy and brought them from a place of bondage to deliver them into the noblest positions among all the people on the earth, and they forgot. They forgot deliverance, they forgot God’s promises, and they forgot where God was leading them. Rather than using their time in the wilderness as a time of preparation, they became like the people around them. Rather than being set-aside as Kingdom-minded people, they grumbled, complained, and lusted for what their enemy offered. This, remember, is just one example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant they entered with God.
Primary Message: The Israelites chose their own wisdom to God’s sovereignty and, therefore, rejected God altogether. The lack of trust in the sovereignty of God destroyed the people. It always will.
So what did God do with their desires? He gave them what they wanted most. He gave them meat until it “came out of their nostrils (Num. 11:20). They got what they wanted until a “wasting disease” fell on the entire group (Ps. 106:15). Wasting is a Hebrew word (räzon) that means “leanness.” Again, their sinful desires did not satisfy them. The meat did not make them full; it made them lean until it killed them.
God never promised the Israelites an easy journey; He promised, however, to send His presence for their journey. He delivered them from Egypt and proved Himself powerful and faithful when He opened the Red Sea and “redeemed them from the hand of the enemy” (106:8-10). They were quick to sing His praises in the middle of redemption but quick to forget in the middle of the desert (12-13). When God’s hand was obviously moving on their behalf, they believed (12); when they were asked to wait and trust, they could not and, instead, remembered captivity with greed-filled hearts.
God can give us His best or He can give us what our hearts demand. One will lead to growth; one will lead to destruction.
Application: The Israelites desired to be fed now with what God promised they would have in abundance in the Promised Land. He had promised a land of “milk and honey” – a land of abundance. When we question His faithfulness and His sovereignty, we do so because we have chosen to believe the enemy’s lies. When we demand the things captivity offers while forgetting how wretched captivity really was, God often lets us have our heart's desire - even knowing that those choices will play out tragically in our lives. He offers His best but doesn’t demand that we accept it. God can give us His best or He can give us what our heart demands. We get to choose. But we don’t get to choose the consequences of our choices; God has already told us the consequence of forgetting His word.
If we continually demand earthly things (don’t read that as merely material things, understand that as any mindset that goes against the Kingdom of God), we can be assured that we will not grow in maturity. Demanding our own way offers leanness; God offers growth. Complacency offers little; God offers abundance.
This is a spiritual matter. When we deny or ignore the condition of our hearts and refuse to submit certain areas for healing, it always results in death; honesty before God always brings freedom. Spiritual growth is never about restrictions; sanctification is about life. Sanctification is about joy and freedom.
We may not be inclined to admit that we are still in desperate need of more sanctifying grace from God; we may hear it as a rebuke, jam-packed with shame. We should hear it as an invitation to grow, to spread out, to enlarge, to rebuild our hearts and minds into something beautiful made of “stones of turquoise…rubies… sparkling jewels… and precious stones” (Isa 54:11). Rather than accepting leanness in our souls, let’s begin to accept God’s invitation to grow fat with Him (spiritually speaking, of course). Why suffer from a wasting disease and leanness of spirit when we are invited to grow in sanctification (holiness)? Remember, we grow fat not by bread (or meat) alone, but by the always satisfying Word of the Lord. Remember His faithfulness, remember His mighty works, and remember His promises. And remember His covenant with us.
Lord, help us to remain faithful. Help us to remember who we were and where we were headed before you redeemed us from the bondage of sin. Help us to remember what you promised and how faithful you have always proven to be. And Lord, help us when adversity comes our way, and most assuredly it will, that your goal is not to fulfill our lean and lazy attitudes that demand an easy way. Your goal is that we reflect your glory. Help us to grow in maturity. Help us to seek only that which is for our best, that which you have promised. And with all of this, thank you that you remember your covenant and remember us as objects of compassion. We give thanks to you and your holy name and glory in your praise.
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good. Ps. 107:9
“God will save us in his own way, or not at all; because that way, being the plan of infinite wisdom, it is impossible that we can be saved in any other.”**
What's next: Sanctification is about growth. It is about maturity. It is about growing closer to the Father. The thing is, the closer we get to God, the more likely He will begin a work of pruning. But pruning is not a matter of making us smaller; it's about helping us grow. Sanctification is a matter of helping us enlarge our hearts to produce the fruit of the Spirit in greater measure. Sanctification is about growing fat - spiritually speaking, of course!
*Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon