Grace for Grumblers
Last week we left Moses at the burning bush where God called him to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go so that they could serve God. Moses goes. He and Aaron appear before Pharaoh and deliver God’s demand. Pharaoh refuses and a showdown ensues. God strikes Egypt with ten plagues, culminating with the death of all the first-born of man and animal—except for those covered by the blood smeared on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites go, but after they have gone, changes his mind. He sends his army out to bring them back. But God parts the sea so that the Israelites cross on dry ground. But when the Egyptians try to follow, God releases the sea, drowning the entire Egyptian army.
The people of God have been freed from slavery, but now they face a new challenge—finding food in the wilderness for 2 million people every day.
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
The Lord does not deliver them directly from slavery into the land of milk and honey. In between there is a wilderness—a place of testing and hardship. It’s a picture of our own Christian life. We have been delivered from slavery to sin and Satan and we have been brought out to newness of life, but we are not yet living with Christ in the new creation.
Right now, we are living in a place of daily dependence on the Lord. Just like the Israelites we are tempted to grumble about our present and to idealize our past. Now that they were in the wilderness the Israelites were recalling their time of slavery with fondness. “Wasn’t Egypt great? There we had all we needed.” Conveniently forgetting the slavery and occasional genocide. “Forget the slavery, forget the slave masters, forget the genocide. Weren’t the barbeques great?”
During their wilderness times the Israelites would often look back to their time in Egypt with rose-tinted glasses. Numbers 11:5:
5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.
But now, they look around and all they can see is desert—dry and empty.
When Jesus leads us into a desert place, this our temptation, too. We start to reimagine life without him as this wonderful time. We look out at the non-Christian world and it starts to look pretty good to us. We may grumble and say, “Before Jesus, my life was carefree and wonderful, but now Jesus has led me away from all fulness and joy, out into this desert to starve.”
Such grumbling grieves our Lord. He has died to buy our freedom. When we fondly remember our life without him it’s a sort of spiritual “Stockholm Syndrome.” Stockholm Syndrome is where those who have been kidnapped develop sympathy for their captors. This happens to us. We were enslaved to our old life, but we loved it too. Sometimes, this makes us look back and then grumble about the present.
Now, the Bible is full of legitimate complaints. You can complain to the Lord. Frequently in the Bible people are struggling and they tell God about it. That’s not a problem—it’s a prayer. The Psalms, for example, are full of prayers of complaint. That is perfectly legitimate.
But there is another way to handle disappointment. That’s to moan to one another in unbelief. When we wallow in a complaining spirit while never actually addressing our complaint to God—that’s grumbling. And the Lord takes offense. Of course, he takes offense—we are, in effect calling God a murderer: “you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”.
We are imagining that God is antilife. But it was Egypt that was antilife. The old life was antilife. The old ways were trying to kill us. God is not trying to kill us, he’s trying to save us. The way through the wilderness is the way to glory. It is the only way. He longs for us to trust him.
So, how does God respond to this bunch of grumblers? In verse 4 God responds with words that remind us of Sodom and Gomorrah:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down . . . (vs. 4).
What? What will God rain down on this bunch of ungrateful grumblers? Fire and brimstone? Lightning bolts? Plague and pestilence? Righteous indignation? That’s what we would do were we God. But, no . . .
“I will rain down . . . bread from heaven for you”
It’s called manna. Manna sounds like the Hebrew for “What is it?” because when the Israelites saw it they said, “What is it?” because they had never seen anything like it before. So, they called it “whatisit”. They went out and gathered whatisit every morning for the whole of their time in the wilderness—forty years.
Verse 31 says it tasted like honey. I find it that interesting because the Promised Land was a place flowing with milk and honey. Their future will gush with honey, but now they were given a little foretaste of the Promised Land every morning.
Manna an object lesson which God uses to teach the people.
Here is lesson #1: Do not hoard.
19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
The Lord gives them all they need for today, but if they hoard things till tomorrow it rots.
Lesson #2: Learn how to rest.
The Lord tells them that to gather twice the amount of manna on Friday and take Saturday off. But, verse 27:
27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none.
The Lord gives them a day off, but they work anyway.
How would you do with these lessons in dependence? Are you a hoarder? Would you have collected more than a day’s worth? You’d have seen it rot before your eyes. How are you at rest? Are you able to stop? Would you have gone out on the Sabbath to gather more? You’d have found none. Put yourself in the sandals of these Israelites. Would you have been content for the day or would be forever worrying about tomorrow?
God was leading the Israelites into deeper dependence—daily dependence. This is what we all need.
Jesus considers us to be in the position of the Israelites. Didn’t he teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”? Where is Jesus asking ourselves to imagine ourselves as we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We are in the wilderness needing to trust our Father for daily bread. Every person needs to learn the lesson of the manna. We need to trust our Father for our daily provision. We are not to pray “Give us our bread for next year, next month, or even tomorrow, but Give us this day our daily bread.
Do I depend on the Lord for today’s needs? Do I leave tomorrow in his hands?
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
In John 6 Jesus demonstrates his ability to provide for our needs. Once again there is a crowd of grumbling Israelites. And, once again, they’re in a desert place. They’re hungry and Jesus feeds them. 5,000 men, it says (not counting women and children). He is clearly saying, “I am the Lord of Exodus 16. I am the one who accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness.”
But then, he goes a step further. He says to them, “I am this bread of life.” Jesus doesn’t just provide for us, he is the Provision. He is the true provision we need day by day.
This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Look at the cross. There we see Jesus given to the world like bread to the hungry. That was true grace for grumblers like you and me. We deserved fire and we got the bread of heaven.
When we see Jesus on the cross, given for us, can we doubt his provision? No matter what the trial is we are going through—no matter what the wilderness experience, we can look to the cross and see what kind of provider our Lord is. Not just giving us things to get by, but giving us his very self.
Corrie ten Boom said, “I never knew that Jesus was all I needed until Jesus was all I had.” When we are in a place where Christ is all we have, we can look at the cross and know that Christ is all we need. The desert with Jesus is better than any Egypt without him.