The Good and Bad of Quail
by Jacob Hudgins
Quail are morally neutral animals. They are not forbidden in the elaborate dietary restrictions of the Jews. They are not condemned in the long lists of sinful behaviors in the New Testament. So why did God strike His people with a plague for wanting and eating quail? Let’s examine the good and bad of quail.
1) The good of quail
“Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”(Num 11:4-6). We can sympathize with the Israelites. They are languishing in the desert, wandering in a circuitous route, struggling to find water. They long for the variety and richness of Egypt. In response, God sends quail, blessing his people and proving His power and wisdom.
2) The bad of quail
This story, though, is not all good. “Then Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, everyone at the door of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was greatly aroused; Moses also was displeased”(Num 11:10). First, this craving for meat has obscured their memory. The people whine about how great things were in Egypt—God summarizes them as saying “For it was well with us in Egypt”(Num 11:18). That’s not how the story actually went. They were slaves in Egypt, their lives were bitter in hard bondage and their children murdered by Pharaoh.
Further, the quail does not just represent God’s provision, but also his anger. “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?’”(Num 11:18-20). God is so frustrated with the people that he promises not only to give them what they want so badly, but to give them more than they can handle. Most notable is God’s statement: “because you have despised the Lord who is among you”. God took their complaining personally—and that’s a bad thing about quail. Is meat worth despising and angering God?
So we come to the ultimate bad of quail. “But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving”(Num 11:33-34). The bad of quail is that you can get what you want, and it’s worse than not having it. These people die because despite God’s constant deliverance and provision, they can never be satisfied.
The lesson for us? There are lots of cravings, conveniences, and pleasures we have that are harmless in themselves—like the desire for meat. Yet in our lust for them, we can reject and anger our God. If we allow such things to rob us of contentment, to ignore how God provides what we need rather than what we want, or even to desire to go back to our old way of living, we become the Israelites. We can’t rule out the possibility that God will allow us to have the things we think we want so desperately to show their futility. But most of all, even morally neutral things can come between us and God. We need a perspective that is constantly conscious and appreciative for God’s work in our lives—and content with what we have and where we are.