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Godzdogz

The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
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Biblical Beasts: Quail

Friday, September 09, 2011

We find two references to Quail in the Old Testament: first, in Exodus chapter 15, and then again in Numbers chapter 11. In both instances God provides the people of Israel with meat in the form of these birds in response to their grumblings and complaints about the hardships of the desert. Yet the two accounts are subtly and interestingly different.

In Exodus Israel is only just beginning its wanderings in the desert. As the people begin to feel the pangs of hunger and thirst they begin to regret their leap from slavery in Egypt to freedom with God. To strengthen them and encourage them on their journey, God provides his people with Manna, bread from heaven and a 'type' of the Eucharist. In addition, he also provides Quail, he provides his people with flesh to eat in the desert. In Exodus, then, the Quail appear as a sign of God's providence and generosity, and also a foreshadowing of the Eucharist and the Incarnation. In the Desert, God gave his people bread from heaven and flesh from the sky in the form of Quail. In the Eucharist, our bread from heaven is the Body and Blood of Christ himself, this is our food for our journey with God.

In Numbers Chapter 11, however, the context is slightly different. Here the people have already received the gift of the Manna, they have already received the bread from heaven, the food for the journey - and they are sick of it. They are bored of this food and once more long for the variety of their diet in Egypt. The sacrifices of freedom are too high. The consolations of slavery much too alluring. Once again God provides responds to the complaints of his people by providing meat in the form of Quail, but this time he promises Israel that they will grow tired of this meat too. He tells Israel: ' You will eat it [meat]....for a month until it comes out of your nostrils and sickens you' (Numbers 11: 20).

Here the Quail represent all the sensual, intellectual and emotional consolations that we turn to in order to avoid the cross of Christ, in order to avoid the sacrifices that love of God and love of neighbour demand. Eventually these consolations become revolting and we must search for another 'fix'. As Augustine puts it, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. This is the hard lesson that the Israelites learnt by enduring the privations of the desert for forty years. It is a lesson that we too must learn if we are to fully embrace our freedom as children of God and finally dispel all thoughts of returning to the slavery of sin.




Nicholas Crowe OP

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