When we hear of “fleshpots” we’ll likely think of sexual temptation. As in…
— “he had lived the life of a roué in the fleshpots of London and Paris.”
But in their original, biblical context, “fleshpots” are literally cauldrons of meat. They are a temptation, but there’s nothing sexual about them.
Here’s their mention in Exodus 16:
“the children of Israel said unto [Moses and Aaron], 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.” (Exodus 16:3)
The children of Israel have come out of slavery through the Red Sea and now wander in the wilderness. It’s not an instant translation from the house of bondage to the land of milk and honey. In between there is hardship and testing.
It is a picture of our own Christian lives – saved from sin and Satan, brought out into newness of life but not yet living with Christ in the new creation. Right now is a time of daily dependence on the LORD. And just like the Israelites, we too are tempted to grumble about our present and to idealize our non-Christian past:
“Egypt was wonderful” we conveniently misremember. “It was feasting and fullness!”
That’s how the Israelites recall their slavery and genocide. “Forget the taskmasters, remember the barbecues??!”
Fleshpots are not about our sex-life – they are about our old-life. But lusting after some nostalgic conception of the past can be even more spiritually poisonous.
In the wilderness years the Israelites would often look back with rose-tinted glasses. For example:
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: (Numbers 11:5)
Very literally they looked on the past as their green salad days. But now? Now they see only desert and scarcity.
When Jesus leads us into a desert place we re-imagine life without Him as fleshpots. We grumble:
Our past was care-free. And all our non-Christian friends are blissfully happy millionaires. Jesus has led me away from life and fullness and into this desert.
Such grumbling grieves our LORD who has fought to the death to buy our freedom. Our fond reminiscences of Egypt are like some Stockholm Syndrome – where captives develop feelings for their captors. Jesus is pained by our nostalgia for the darkness.
As an aside we should note that the Bible is full of complaints that are addressed to God. Those aren’t grumbles. Those are called prayers. And they are wonderful and godly things. The Psalms are full of complaining prayers. “LORD this is terrible, I can’t handle it, what are you going to do?” That’s a perfectly good prayer. But moaning to one another in unbelief, wishing to be completely without the LORD and wallowing in a complaining spirit while never addressing our complaint to the Manager? That’s grumbling. And the LORD takes offence.
Of course He takes offence. As the verse above shows, grumbling portrays the LORD as a murderer. It paints Him as anti-life when the truth is, Egypt was anti-life.
The LORD won’t have this kind of grumbling against Him. So what does He do?
He does the only thing that truly takes our eyes off the fleshpots and steals the complaints from our mouths:
It’s astonishing really. We’ll see tomorrow that He showers grace on the grumblers. For now let’s ask ourselves, are there ways we are misremembering our non-Christian past? Are there ways we’re glamourising the non-Christian world? Do we need to get our eyes off the fleshpots and onto Jesus?
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