Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Abundance (06/08/06)
TITLE: Bitter Harvest
By Janelle Bailey
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Absorbed in her lonely vigil she almost didn’t notice her brother Eli quietly entering the tent. As though knowing how fruitless words would be, he simply hoisted Jacob’s body to his shoulders and departed for the camp’s outskirts. Miriam followed senselessly, stumbling through the cavalcade of wailing that hung through the avenues of tents. The whole camp swarmed with the fetid stench of the dead and the anguish of the living. Tears mingled with the desert sand, feathers and vomit that were spread underfoot. As was normal in times of grief, many people had covered their bodies with the dust of the ground, the offensive mixture clotting on their skin and adding to the horror of the day.
It was worse still on the edge of the camp. With so many dead, individual burials were impossible. So the dead were interred with their clans, in pits filled with the representatives from Israel’s families.
All around Miriam could see the signs of what had brought this trouble: the feathers, offal scraps and tiny quail bones that were supposed to be their saviour.
When Moses had announced Yahweh was sending them meat, Miriam could not believe it. Neither apparently could many others, scoffing at the impossibility of Yahweh supplying meat for so many. But her mouth had watered with the hope of something more than endless insipid manna. So hungry was she for meat that she gave little regard to Moses’ warning that coupled the promise of abundance.
Within days of Moses’ announcement, they had come. Great flocks of quails had blown in on a strange southerly wind. The people had plucked literally thousands of them from the air. Even the children had joined in, grasping at the lower birds as though picking grapes from a vine.
The manna had been trampled underfoot in their mass eagerness for the quails, and they had gorged themselves in a frenzied, forgotten pleasure. It was right then, in those early moments of feasting that the sorrow had begun. For it seemed that some of them had sickened even as they swallowed their first mouthfuls. Wails soon joined with the cries of celebration, swiftly overpowering the people’s joy.
Eli removed Jacob’s body as carefully as he could, laying it reverently among his piled up relatives. Those of the clan who were left began covering the dead with dirt.
Miriam watched bitterly as her husband disappeared under the sand. Anger over his loss filled her being. Why had Yahweh answered their longing for meat so cruelly? Why did he force them to wander the desert, scattering their bones to the four winds? Miriam could not, would not, understand a God that tormented his people in this way. He was not, she decided, someone who was worth her allegiance or her worship.
As Miriam left the burial site that day she determined never to trust the God of Israel again.
“Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt? But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, (graves of craving) because there they buried the people who had craved other food.” (Numbers 11:17-20,33, NIV)
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