In my last article, I referred to a passage in Numbers 11 where the children of Israel were craving Egypt’s meat instead of God’s presence. What is interesting though is the fact that the Israelites appear to have been influenced by another group within their midst. Verses 4-6 of Numbers 11 reads: 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!”
I want to focus on the “mixed multitude”. You see, many might assume it was only the Israelites who left Egypt, but it is clear from this passage that there were others with them. In Hebrew, the word for “mixed multitude” in the Numbers 11 passage is “asapsup” (sometimes spelt asaphsuph and always pronounced as-pes-oof). It means “rabble” or “riffraff” and it only appears once in the entire Old Testament. When that happens, it always gets my attention! We are not told why the mixed multitude decided to leave Egypt but perhaps they believed there would be a brighter future for them with the Israelites than with the Egyptians. Maybe some also feared that more judgements were coming and it would be safer to be with the Israelites.
Whatever the reason and whatever their origin, the mixed multitude caused Moses and the people of Israel a great deal of trouble. They were even influencing the Israelites to forsake heaven’s supply and crave the world’s supply. Their attitude displeased Moses and greatly aroused the anger of the Lord. But if we consider this principle in our age, we must also admit there is a similar group creating problems for God’s servants today. Wherever God is at work, the devil is at work also. Satan is an imitator and an infiltrator. 2 Peter 2:1-2 explains: But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. The Apostle Paul also warned the church about false brethren (Galatians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 11:26) and a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).
You see, we are often taught to be on guard for enemies outside of the church but often the most destructive people are, as the Israelites experienced, those within our midst. Acts 20:28-30 provides a very clear warning: Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Like the experience of the Israelites, the “mixed multitude” amongst us might appear to initially have an appetite for spiritual things, but over time their true colours are revealed. 1 John 2:18-19 reads: Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.
The point is this – where lies the appetite of the church today? Have we also allowed the “mixed multitude” to influence our desire? In Matthew 4:4, Jesus said: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” I recently received an e-mail from a former pastor of a church in one of the main Protestant denominations. He was charged with two indiscretions. The first was opposing same-sex marriage and the second, in his words, “was that I was found to be teaching directly from Scripture.” On the basis of these two charges, he was called to repent! He refused and left the church. However, it highlights a tragic issue within the church – many are failing to teach the Word! In essence, they are forsaking heaven’s supply and dining on the crumbs of the world. But John 6:66-68 says: From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Unfortunately, in trying to attract and please the “mixed multitude” sometimes churches go too far. Perhaps that goes some lengths to explain why sanctuaries are turned into theatres, ministries become performances and sermons become motivational speeches. In short, has our worship become entertainment designed to please those who have an appetite for worldly things? Philippians 3:17-19 says: Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things.
In closing, I am not suggesting that we need to be suspicious of everyone who walks through our doors, subjecting them to intense interrogation. However, we do need the Holy Spirit to help us discern the difference between those who have a spiritual appetite and those who seek religious substitutes that are only designed to satisfy fleshly desires. The Lord’s anger was greatly aroused at the Israelites who were influenced towards worldly lusts by the mixed multitude amongst them. Would He think any differently if we allowed that in our fellowships as well?