What shall we eat?

The Bible story about the mana in the desert captured my imagination when I was a boy. Not the bread falling from Heaven, but the guys being struck dead with the quail still in their mouths. Chewing a mouthfull of free quail, then bam! you’re dead. Here’s part of the King James version:

He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap. In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness. And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? Can he provide flesh for his people? Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation: Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full. He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea: And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire; They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel. For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works. — Psalm 78, verses 13 through 32

But why, exactly, was it that “while their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them”? I mean, God gave them the quail; did he then kill them for eating it? And what did it mean, “They were not estranged from their lust?” The New International version says

They ate till they were gorged – he had given them what they craved. But before they turned from what they craved, even while the food was still in their mouths, God’s anger rose against them; he put to death the sturdiest among them… — Psalm 78, 29-31 NIV

Well, gorging yourself is bad. Maybe they were killed for gluttony. “Before they turned from what they craved” just sounds like the first part of a repetition to reinforce the point, which I gather is typical of the Hebrew poetry of the psalms.

Then I read the other day in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

So they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved. But they did not stop their craving, though the food was still in their mouths. So God’s anger mounted against them; he slew their strongest men and laid low the youth of Israel.

Ah ha, maybe. The New Jerusalem Bible seems to support this, saying

They ate as much food as they wanted, he satisfied all their cravings; but their cravings were still upon them, the food was still in their mouths, when the wrath of God attacked them… — Psalm 78, 29-31 NJB

So rather than “not estranged from their lusts” we might read “their cravings were still upon them.” Maybe the point is that, even with the food in their mouths, they still wanted more. More food, or different food, or a forty year supply of food in a fleet of refrigerated trailers. And a series of fuel depots across the desert.

I don’t have any idea what the Hebrew or Greek will support as translations, but this seems to work in the larger context. “Sure, our Almighty God parted the Red Sea, but what about water? Sure, there’s water, but what about bread? Okay, bread, but how are we going to get meat? Well, yeah, there’s meat now, but what about tomorr… Zap! And a thousand years later, “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” and several parables, and the Lord’s Prayer.

There seems to be a continuing theme here.