It’s an odd practice we have of naming streets after people or historic landmarks. Or naming patches of earth after events that happened there. Perhaps it’s a way of keeping these things present in the collective memory of our people – things we either wish to remember or shouldn’t forget. And Americans didn’t invent this. Neither did the Europeans. It’s quite biblical and goes waaaaaay back – at least to the times of Abraham (2000ish BC).
As the ancient people of Israel spent time in the wilderness after coming out of Egypt, they had much to learn along the way. They had to learn how to not be slaves but free. They had to learn the ways of the God that had delivered them – a God very different from the gods of Egypt (especially because this God was, in fact, the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth). They had to learn to trust God’s promises rather than the circumstances suggested to them by their sensory organs.
The eleventh chapter of the book of Numbers records an episode of learning a painful lesson and the naming of the place where it happened so as not to forget it. Kibroth-hattaavah – “Graves of Craving.” Now that’s a name. The lesson that name commemorated still speaks to our lives today. Graves of Craving. The lesson is basically this: be careful of those overly strong desires, those cravings, those things that you just gotta have. They just might cost you your life.
After leaving Egypt, the Israelites and those with them had been given the Commandments of God at Mt Sinai, they had been given a place to worship (the Tabernacle) and a priesthood. They had leadership and organization. They were on their way to the Promised Land and they were almost there. But, they had been in the wilderness for perhaps eighteen months with little more to eat than the strange “bread of heaven,” the manna that God had provided for them. I get wanting some variety in the diet. I probably would have been weary of it too. What the people really wanted was some meat. They remembered the fleshpots of Egypt when they could cook up some good eats with leeks and garlic and onions. The more they thought back to those times, the more they remembered (not their slavery, but) the food. The memory turned into a raging craving. They had to have it! They grumbled and complained and wept to the point of wearying Moses, and he complained to God.
The long and short of that craving was that God gave them what they wanted – more quail (meat) than they could handle. But God’s judgment was in it. Listen to what God said to Moses: “You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”
Ultimately, when our cravings become demands for something we must have, then whatever we are craving usurps the place of God in our lives. Since He is our greatest good, these cravings can become destructive to our lives and being. How many money-lovers in need of “just a little more” have gambled or worked their lives away, losing family and friends along the way? How many folks wanting to control life and dictate whether and when they feel pain or pleasure have drank or drugged themselves into oblivion? How many sensual people have made shipwreck of their health through gluttony, or lost their ability to have real relationships through addiction to porn, prostitution and worse?
Remember the lesson bound up in the place called Kibroth-hattaavah. Rather than consuming what we crave, the things we crave can and will consume us. Unchecked, the raging desires of our hearts can slip quickly toward the grave.