Food is an important part of our daily lives. That probably goes without saying, but I said it anyway. It is so important that it creeps (jumps?) into our everyday language. American food idioms include such things as someone being “cool as a cucumber,” or a pretty woman being a “hot tomato.” (That last, of course, is not generally acceptable these days, but it proves the point.) Not only do the foods themselves become part of what we say, but the act of eating does so, too. When I was younger (alert, I am about to show my age) one commercial catch phrase was “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” When we flatter a person we hope they “eat it up.” Often we or another person are the eater, but every now and then it is a concept or an inanimate object. We are eaten up by, or consumed with, guilt, for instance. The Old Testament has one such phrase. It talks about a land eating people up.
The first time the idea comes up is in Leviticus 26. Moses is recounting what good things will happen to Israel if they continue to obey God and, in more detail, what evils will befall them if they don’t. Among the evils we find a prediction that they will eat their own children in verse 29, In verse 38, though, we also read this. “And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.” One could ask, how could a land eat them up? Perhaps the answer can be seen in the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy. The northern tribes of Israel had a long history of disobedience. From the time they separated from Judah they followed other gods. They fought against their own kin. They refused to hear God, and killed his prophets. As a result, God brought the nation of Assyria against them and caused them to go into captivity. After the Babylonian captivity of Judah a few descendants of those Israelites returned to their land, but most had lost their identity in the lands to which they were taken. By their assimilation into the societies where they went, the land of their enemies ate them up. We now talk about them as the “lost tribes” of Israel.
The next of the three references to a land eating people, and perhaps the most famous, is found in Numbers 13:32. God’s people had left Egypt, received the Law at Sinai, and traveled to the borders of the Promised Land. Moses selected leaders from each tribe to spy out the land. “And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof” (Num 13:32) Tradition holds that when the spies went into Canaan, God caused the death of a member of every family in the land. In this way, everyone would be distracted with burying their dead and would not notice the spies. It worked, but it worked too well. Instead of the spies seeing God’s hand in their protection, they only saw the funerals. To them, the land was eating its inhabitants; it was a land full of death.
Can we be like the spies? God has done wonderful things for us. He gives us all that we have. He gave up his son so that we could have eternal life with Him. Yet some people see only the negative side of life. They see the threat of hell rather than the promise of heaven. They see the crucifixion but not the resurrection. They see a land that eats its inhabitants rather than the hand of God protecting them.
The last reference to a carnivorous land is a promise of relief. “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because they say unto you, Thou land devourest up men, and hast bereaved thy nations; Therefore thou shalt devour men no more, neither bereave thy nations any more, saith the Lord GOD.” (Ezek 36:13-14) The land that the spies said ate up people would eat nobody again. When all is said and done, God gives us a chance again to see his hand. He makes his protection more sure and more clear. God’s son has made it so we don’t need to worry about anything or anyone eating us up. We can be sure of entering the Promised Land.