The Fleshpots of Egypt
March 24th, 1946 @ 7:30 PM
THE FLESH POTS OF EGYPT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-24-46 7:30 p.m.
And the children of Israel said, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic:
But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
[Numbers 11: 4-6]
"Would to God we had died in the land of Egypt, in the good old days when we sat by the flesh pots and ate to the full." So murmured some. "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic," lamented others. "There is nothing to eat in this interminable desert, nothing but this manna," so cried still others. "Our souls are dried up with this life. Oh, that we were back in Egypt!" so concluded the rest. Are these the same people who groaned in Egyptian bondage? Who cried unto the Lord for deliverance from the land of the taskmaster? Yes, they are the same. They are weary of their pilgrimage to the Promised Land and wish they were back again in the bondage and slavery of Egypt. What a people! Yes, what a people! Just like us!
When the Israelites forsook Egypt, they turned their faces toward Canaan with high hopes and fond dreams. They were free now, free as the birds that fly through the air. All chains were broken; their emancipation was complete; they were forever out of bondage. Their deliverance at the Red Sea was final and complete. They sang a song of exaltation over their enemies. Dreams of ease and everlasting triumph filled their minds. Every trouble would be miraculously smoothed away. There would be no interval between the slavery of Egypt and the promised inheritance in the land of milk and honey. A snap of the finger, and they were out of Egypt; "presto!" and they had arrived in the haven of Canaan! Instead, they plunged into a wilderness of scorching heat and burning sand, a desolation where vacancy and thirst and hunger covered the horizon. What a disillusionment! Old things have passed away, but what are these things made new? They are terrible things full of weariness and pain and endless travail, full of heartache and disappointment and complete exhaustion.
Their reaction was immediate and violent. "Would to God we had died back there in Egypt; back where the flesh pots boiled, back where the garlic grew." The astounding miracles of yesterday go for nothing. Their past deliverances from the plagues, from the angel of death, are all forgotten. God’s miraculous care for them through the Red Sea is but a faint, barely recalled memory. They applauded at the time; the miracle sent a thrill through their souls, but now they are too busy finding fault with God and murmuring about the hardships of the journey to recall anything good. There is a special meanness in their regret that they had ever followed the Lord – they would rather have died, satiated by the fleshpots in Egypt, than to have known Jehovah. When it came to a choice between following the Lord God in the wilderness or eating to the full in Egyptian bondage, they followed the dictates of their appetites and chose the latter. The way of the Lord may be good discipline for the saint, but it is not to be compared with the leeks and the onions and the garlic served on the tables of the Egyptians.
What do we think about all this? We say, how could they forget so soon their heaven-pointed hopes, their efforts to be a free people, their prayers and their faith, and then drop into such base servility to the appetites of the flesh? But look about you. How many will follow through years and years the way of God in the wilderness? How many will deny themselves the luxuries and vanities of life in order to serve God in the lonely, faraway places? "The world is too much with us" and too much in us to leave it easily for the straight, narrow way of self-denial and service. "But," one says, "if we had witnessed all these marvelous miracles, we would forego any worldly pleasure to be with God. We would not have murmured as they did in the wilderness." There is nothing permanent, however, in a miracle. A wonder soon drops into a commonplace. If our great-grandfathers could rise from the dead and live for a day in our modern world, they would be amazed beyond words at the miraculous things we have: the radio, the airplane, television, and a thousand other things. But do our children, to whom they are commonplace, look upon them as being miraculous? They are as ordinary as God’s other miracles: the rainbow, the stars, the sunsets, the flowers, the snow, and the rain. We are not much inclined to be converted by miracles, nor are we of a nature to be kept converted by stupendous wonders. The devoted, consecrated life is a deeper matter than just the thrill that comes in the presence of a stupendous sign.
The Lord God heard these bitter things which the children of Israel were saying, and in the goodness and kindness of His heart, He provided for His people. He said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you" [Exodus 16:4]. Psalm 78:24 calls it "corn of heaven," and the following verse calls it "angels’ food." Each day there was a fresh supply. It came with the dew in the evening. It was abundantly given, enough for all. It was nourishing for child and adult. It tasted like a wafer made with honey. It could be cooked or baked in many ways. It was calculated to sustain their energies for the journey, yet leave their appetites unstimulated, unpampered. Somehow, in the providence of heaven, God expected His people to give themselves to purer joys than the gross sensualities they had known in Egypt. Egypt’s food of leeks and garlic was not to nourish the new nature. The soul cannot be fed on the vanity and worldliness of the old life. There is to be a new food for the new life; it is to be manna from heaven.
Human judgment might have concluded that the people would be content with the wonderful gift from Jehovah, but the Lord God knows otherwise. Man is ever the same, a moral failure. The moment he moves, he breaks down; the minute he acts, he disobeys. If God creates a beautiful garden, soon the disobedience of man has cursed it. The moment Israel is delivered out of Egypt, they begin to worship a golden calf. After the priesthood is set up, the sons of Aaron offer strange fire upon the altar. Directly Saul is made king, he becomes willful and jealous. After the church has received the Pentecostal gift, some of the members lie to the Holy Spirit. So here in our present story. The gracious God of heaven gives the people manna to eat, only to hear them long for the leeks and the onions of Egypt. Their Egyptian tastes were not satisfied with heaven’s food.
It all started with "the mixed multitude" [Numbers 11:4]. When the children of Israel went out of Egypt, a "mixed multitude" [Exodus 12:38] went out also with them. They had no real interest in Israel’s hope; they just attached themselves to a throng that seemed to be successful. It was the popular thing to be with Israel in those latter days in the land of Goshen. (Exodus 12:36: "And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians.") So long as everything went well, the mixed multitude did well: they caused no particular trouble. But when the days of trial came, they "fell a lusting" [Numbers 11:4], and they carried with them the entire company of the children of Israel.
It was a good thing to get Israel out of Egypt, but how do you get Egypt out of Israel? It is a good thing to get the church of our Savior out of the world, but how do you get the world out of the church? It is ever Satan’s effort to link the people of God with the mixed multitude whose Egyptian appetites constantly pull the people toward worldliness and compromise. Manna, even angels’ food, will never satisfy an unregenerate man. "His soul is dried up" when he is offered the bread of heaven. He likes the leaven of the world: nor does he cease his lusting until the church has forsaken its love for the spiritual gifts of heaven to go hankering and hungering for the leeks and the onions and the garlic of Egypt.
"And the children of Israel said, Would to God we had died … in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full" [Exodus 16:3]. The flesh breaks in upon the spirit, their appetites have been excited, and their hearts turn back to the old days of slavery. Worldly memories bring back the sensual pleasures and bodily gratifications they once knew, and the heavenly appeal of God becomes a dreary, drab dryness compared to the excitement created by those memories. The heart has turned back to live in Egypt.
There is no tragedy so poignant as when the Christian loses his interest in the heavenly pilgrimage and goes back into the ways of the world. He thinks the manna of God is not sufficient. His soul craves the things that once he knew in the paths of sin. He longs to taste this indulgence, eat of that forbidden fruit, enjoy other delights of the body. The Bible is neglected, the prayer life is lost, soul-winning is forsaken, the gospel loses its charm. He grows weary of the way, his eye wanders back to the world, his heart follows his eye, and his feet follow his heart. He is back again by the flesh pots, enjoying the leeks and the onions and the garlic.
But he has forgotten one thing. That is the reason the apostasy of the child of God is so tragic. He has forgotten that the land of Egypt is the land of bondage and of slavery. He has lost his God-given freedom, he is a slave again and he is miserable unto death. "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" [Romans 6:16] The children of Israel remembered the flesh pots and the physical pleasures, but they have forgotten the lash of the taskmaster, the toil of the brick kiln, the cries of anguish that always go with slavery.
Oh, you who are enmeshed again in the tentacles of the world, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord … and I will … be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters" [2 Corinthians 6:18].
Shun evil companions,
Bad language disdain;
God’s name hold in rev’rence,
Nor take it in vain;
Be thoughtful and earnest,
Kind-hearted and true,
Look ever to Jesus,
He’ll carry you through.
To him that o’ercometh,
God giveth a crown;
Thro’ faith we will conquer,
Tho’ often cast down;
He who is our Savior,
Our strength will renew;
Look ever to Jesus,
He’ll carry you through.
Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen, and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.
["Yield not to Temptation," H. R. Palmer]