The Strange Appeal of Cucumbers and Garlic


Henry Blackaby, a man I have never met, has had a profound effect upon my Christian spirituality. Today as I listened to his talk from unit 8 of his course, “Experiencing God – Knowing and doing the will of God” (download available here HERE), Henry once again said something that made me stop short.

Referring to the Old Testament incident recounted in Numbers 11, where the people of Israel, newly delivered from 400 years of Egyptian slavery by God through Moses and on their way to the Promised Land, complain against God … about the food.

“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” Numbers 11:5 NIVUK

This is almost unbelievable. These people have been crying out to God for centuries for Him to deliver them from Egyptian oppression.

“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” Exodus 3:7 NIVUK

Yet now, in very short order, they start to hanker back to their time in slavery, and all over the food?!

What are they complaining about? In fact, they are complaining about the daily miracle of God’s provision! They are complaining about the ‘Manna’;  this strange food that God made appear every day, which they could freely gather and which provided for their nutritional needs.

But they were fed up of it; so fed up that they even began to hanker back to life as an oppressed slave.

Seems surprising doesn’t it? We might feel like scorning them for their lack of back-bone, we might feel superior. But actually this is a phenomenon common to most Christians.

One of the Devil’s greatest strategies against us is to constantly remind us of the cost of our obedience to God. What have we missed out on by responding to God?

Oh! the cucumbers and garlic we could have enjoyed!

When actually the really important question, the really, really important question, is what would disobedience to God cost us?

The people of Israel stood at the cusp of a glorious new future. They were to be settled into a homeland for the very first time in their history. They were going to be able to live with God and worship Him in freedom and liberty. They were going to be made a light for the nations, an arena for the demonstration of the glory and power of God. That was what God was about to do in them and through their history.

But all they could think of was cucumbers.

In my life I can look back at times when God called me to make what seemed like significant sacrifices – to give up a safe career in the civil service, to sell our home, to leave our home country and to go and live in a foreign culture, to leave family and friends behind.

However, looking back over the past 20 years, I can honestly say I do not regret any single instance of sacrifice. In fact, such has been the blessing I have experienced and the enriching I have received through what God has done in response to my obedience, actually they do not even feel like sacrifices.

If I was given the chance to live my life again, I would not make any other choice than to obey God.

God does not ask us to make sacrifices in order to diminish our lives, but to enrich them – perhaps in ways that are different to what we would choose, or imagine. But He loves us and wants the best for us and He knows better than us what Best looks like.

God has always eternity in mind, not time. His best always has eternal dimensions.

Can we accept God’s choice of what is best? Or will we stay fixated on cucumbers?

Can we not give up piffling trifles in exchange for eternal blessedness?

As for me, you can keep the garlic.


Come and Die


Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said; “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (The Cost of Discipleship)

Having read much of the current debate on human sexuality, gay ‘marriage’ etc. it strikes me that much of the debate around this issue misses the point.

The Christian faith is not about self-affirmation, but about self-denial.

The fundamental truth Christian disciples recognize is that God has the right to ask me to give up anything He wants.

I have nothing I did not receive from Him.

Every beat of my heart, every breath, every potential that exists in me, is a gift, is His.

Therefore all that I am already belongs to Him.

Christian is the active expression of this knowledge – I am His and He is free to dispose of me how He wills.

This is what St Paul meant when he talked of Christians being “living sacrifices”.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 NIV

In terms of sexuality, the Church used to affirm those whom God called to give up sexual fulfillment – priests and religious and even some lay people have felt this particular call. We used to celebrate it. To value it. To hold it up as a positive thing. To name it a pleasing sacrifice. To honour those who felt called of God to make it.

Now, it appears, that is no longer possible.

Without sexual fulfillment we are sub-humans, non-humans. Those who respond to God’s costly call in this area of life are ridiculed, scorned, pitied.

Jesus Himself knew the cost of sacrifice, not only in celibacy, but in martyrdom. He calls no-one to any sacrifice He hasn’t Himself made, and then some.

Jesus also knows that human sexuality is a continuum,

For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:12 NIV

Letting God be God is the greatest challenge of Christian discipleship.

In the area of sexuality God does not affirm ALL sexual practice. Only that of heterosexual couples within married relationships.

There are also those who God calls to sacrifice this part of their humanity for the sake of the Kingdom. But such sacrifices are always positive. God is never any man’s debtor.

The primary goal of human life is to develop a relationship with God.

Therefore any sacrifice God calls upon us to make will inevitably lead to this. There will be the reward of deeper intimacy with Him in this life and who knows what in the next.

People often state that their sexual feelings were given them by God. However Christian faith is not a matter of feelings, but revelation. What does God say about how we should live? The answer is clear – regardless of any feelings I might have.

I can personally testify that I rarely feel like doing the will of God in any area of my life. If I let my feelings be the arbiter I would have abandoned the Christian faith decades ago.

God calls us all – whatever our feelings – to radical holiness. And He has every right to do so. He decides what is good for man, not man.

I don’t underestimate the pain and cost of anyone’s sacrifice – especially not my own. However it cost God His own son. Anything He calls us to give pales by comparison. And everything He calls us to give up will ultimately prove to have been worth the cost. Otherwise God would not be loving, nor would He have our best interests at heart – which is impossible.