Some time ago, I was sitting beside Lake Michigan reading the Psalms. And like many times when I read my Bible, my brain was reading the words and my mind was wandering hither and thither and yon. (An unfortunate reality that you can all relate to.) Suddenly, a group of verses in Psalm 106 jerked me back to full attention. They go like this, “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Psalm 106 chronicles God’s faithfulness and forgiveness to the children of Israel even while they continually sinned against Him. I immediately knew what the psalmist was referring to in those few sentences. It was the time when the Israelites were so sick and tired of the manna God sent directly from the heavens, that they began to wish for meat. They wanted it so much that they began to weep. So, God gave it to them. While they ate, God sent a plague.
The words that kept pounding in my mind were the last, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” It was sobering to think that God might give me everything I want and a skinny soul to go along with it. A common theme throughout the Bible is that God usually does give us what we want. That sounds pretty good until you realize that getting what you want isn’t always a sign of God’s blessing or that what you want is a legitimate, holy desire in the first place.
As if by divine intervention, (a little tongue-in-cheek there…I know it was), I was reading I Samuel a few days later. In chapter 8, the Israelites come to Samuel and tell him, “We want a king to rule us instead of you. We want to be like the rest of the nations around here who have kings to lead them into battle.” So, Samuel prayed to the Lord and the Lord said, “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (Interesting that God should say that. As far as I can tell, there is nothing written in the Mosaic law that says, “Though shalt not have kings.” Just a thought for many of us who suppose that sin is a simple matter of chapter and verse—that if we can’t find it in the Bible, plain as day, then it’s okay to do it.) As God instructs him, Samuel tells the people that if they rearrange their government in such a way, they will have nothing but trouble. “And he said, ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.’” (I Samuel 8:11-18) He painted a rather bad picture, but it changed no one’s mind. So the LORD, as Hosea 13:11 puts it, “…gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.” He gave them Saul, who went crazy. He gave them Solomon, who through his lust for many women, led the whole nation idolatry. He gave them Rehoboam, the jack ass whose lack of wisdom split the nation. And the list goes on. There are a few shining stars in the kings of Israel and Judah, but for the most part, they were bad news. Yes, God does give us what we want.
As I pondered these passages, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us Christians are contentedly living our lives without the blessing of God, our souls so skinny we can’t even see it. How many of us have the spouses we clamored after, the material possessions we wept for, the anti-depressants to keep us from unpleasant emotional sensations, the large families we so desperately desired, the childlessness we worked double-time to preserve, the “responsible” amount of children we approved of, the churches we searched high and low for to tickle our fancies and fit our preferences—all gifts given, not in blessing but in wrath? As Matthew Henry writes, “Not that God was pleased with their request, but, as sometimes he crosses us in love, so at other times he gratifies us in wrath; he did so here. When they said, Give us a king and princes he gave them a king in his anger, as he gave them quails. God bade Samuel humour them in this matter.”
It all makes me want to reexamine every one of my desires and all the motivations behind my desires. Because it would be far better to die a pauper, live in a shack, have my hopes for the future dashed and my life’s work come to nothing than to have everything my deceitful heart wants and a soul that’s starving.