Israel’s complaining and grumbling began early on in the wilderness years. In fact, if my count is correct, they complained around 5 times in the first year or so after God rescued them from Egypt. In one instance of their grumbling, God gave Israel what they whined for: meat to eat. In fact, God said to Israel, “You will eat it [meat] for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it” (Num. 11:20 NLT).
In their hearts, the people of Israel craved, coveted, and longed for the things of Egypt. This was such a deep heart issue that they wouldn’t listen to God’s word nor would they remember his promise and his provision. John Bunyan commented on this deep-rooted sinful craving:
But now, how shall this man be reclaimed from this sin? How shall he be brought, wrought, and made, to be out of love with it? Doubtless it can be by no other means, by what we can see in the Word, but by the wounding, breaking, and disabling of the heart that loves sin, and by that means making sin a plague and gall unto the heart.
Sin may be made an affliction, and as gall and wormwood to them that love it; but the making of sin so bitter a thing to such a man, will not be done but by great and sore means.
Bunyan also told a story of a little girl in his town who used to chew on dirty cigar butts she found on the ground. Her parents tried everything to get her to stop eating the butts – from kind promises to discipline – but nothing worked. Finally, since nothing else was working, they listened to their doctor. They took a bunch of dirty cigar butts, mixed them with warm milk, and made the girl drink it. She took a sip and it made her so sick that she vomited. After that, she never touched a cigar butt again! The point is that God sometimes does that to his children when they are infatuated with sin.
Bunyan then wrote,
You love your sin, and neither rod nor good words will as yet reclaim you. Well, take heed; if you will not be reclaimed, God will make you a potion of your sin, which shall be so bitter to your soul, so irksome to your taste, so loathsome to your mind, and so afflicting to your heart, that it shall break your heart with sickness and grief, till sin be loathsome to you. I say, thus he will do if he loves you; if not, he will allow you to go on in your sinful course, and will let you go on eating your tobacco-pipe heads!
In other words,
God can tell how to make that loathsome to you on which you most set your evil heart. And he will do so, if he loves you; else, as I said, he will not make you sick by smiting you nor punish you for or when you commit whoredom, but will let you alone till the judgment-day, and call you to a reckoning for all your sins then.
When our hearts are so in love with the things of this world, so enraptured by sin, sometimes God makes us drink that sin like a nasty elixir which makes us sick to the heart. When that happens, we must learn from Israel’s mistake and repent! And we must thank God for making us taste the bitterness of sin now so we can escape its bitterness in eternity. Finally, we should ask God for forgiveness, for the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, for his Spirit to help us fight sin, and for contentment with the lot God has given us.
The above edited quotes are found in John Bunyan, The Acceptable Sacrifice, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 707.
(NOTE: This is a repost from August, 2016).