As one schooled in the art of comparing, I think I can relate to what is going on as the Israelites continue their journey from slavery to the promised land. Numbers 11:4 gives it to us plainly – they were comparing the way things are now with the way things used to be — “‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now … we never see anything but this manna!’” (NIV)

When things get tough it’s certainly tempting to spend some time thinking about “the good ol’ days” and to lament about how good we had it. We all do it from time-to-time. And when we do, I wonder how much our comparison resembles that of the Israelites, because what is interesting in this account is what the Israelites chose as the basis for their comparison: food.

We learn from Numbers 1 that the nation has been free for at least two years! They now get a weekly day off, they now have the LORD’s visible presence with them, they now have godly leadership and just and fair laws to guide social interaction. They are free, they are safe, they are well led, and they are walking into an amazing future that the LORD Himself has promised them. Yet they choose to compare today’s dinner menu to what it was two years ago. Let that sink in — they dwell on their dinner menu from two years ago as opposed to the freedom and security in which they live daily!

Comparing is usually not helpful. Why? Because it angers the LORD (Numbers 11:10). This is something we don’t like to think much about, but there it is in the text for all to see. And why do you think it would anger Him so much? One thought is because comparing calls into question His wisdom and goodness as He leads our lives and exercises His providential care. And while they don’t come out and say it, what I believe the Israelites are thinking is this — “If the LORD is good, He wouldn’t be feeding us manna every day. If He really loves us, He would certainly take better care of us than the Egyptians did! He can do better.” (Yikes)

After writing all this, I do want to point out that not all comparison is bad. Thus, what are some practices we can adopt to keep ourselves from that bad kind of comparing? First, we can practice the good kind by asking the right questions — “Am I more aware of God’s presence and providence than I used to be? In what ways am I growing closer to Him/growing to be more like Him? How is He forming me into a more loving person?” These questions help us continue to grow and abide in Christ.  

The second thing we can do is re-focus on our priorities. I like the way Paul stated it in Philippians 3:12-14. I would encourage you to go read and pray through those verses to see how they might help you guard against unhelpful comparison.

In it with you for the long haul.

Scott Smith
Pastor of Discipleship Ministry

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