Longing for Cucumbers
The ancient Israelites’ longing for cucumbers was really the longing for home, whether in Egypt or in a new place. I think it’s our longing too, in our strange and fearsome time.
“We remember the fish we had in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” – Numbers 11:5 (NRSV)
There are lots of foods I like: lemon meringue pie, enchiladas, blueberry muffins. Even some I crave: chocolate in any form. But cucumbers, leeks, and onions? Hardly.
Two years after the exodus, such vegetables were much on the minds of the Israelites. Stirred up by the “rabble among them,” they cried out for cucumbers. It’s a strange request. Unlike previous complaints, the Israelites faced no imminent threat, whether from Pharaoh’s army, starvation, or thirst. Egypt was years behind them. God was providing their daily manna.
But before dismissing the Israelites’ longing for cucumbers as mere whining, may we hear what it truly is: a longing for home, or at least a taste of home.
It didn’t matter that God’s manna was sweet and abundant or that cucumbers came from slave times. Two years into the exodus, Egyptian vegetables reminded the Israelites of the only home they’d ever known. They simply wanted things to be the way they used to be, even if it meant going back to Egypt.
If that wasn’t possible, then they wanted least some stability in that endless wilderness. To grow cucumbers or leeks or garlic, you have to quit wandering in the desert and settle down. The Israelites’ longing for cucumbers was really the longing for home, whether back in Egypt or in a strange new world.
I think it’s our longing also, in our strange and fearsome time.
In the wilderness, O Lord, your people learned that their real home wasn’t in a particular place or well-tended garden. It was in your heart. Help us to find our home there, too. Amen.