They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16:1-8)
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. Let us pray. Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight and let me preach as if never to preach again and as a dying man to dying men. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“I am sick and tired of it all.”
“I wish I had never even come here. Look at how they have treated me. This stinks. I hate this God-forsaken place and just want to go back to where I came from.” He went on without taking a breath until he could do so no longer. Awkwardly, I asked, “Would like some coffee?”
Yes, I have had my share of counseling curmudgeonly clergy and murmuring ministers. Yet, they often were reflecting the grumbling groaning of their discontented flock. The murmuring seemed to be a virulent virus that fed on each other until, at length, the entire congregation was infected, effectively killing ministry and mission.
I admit that I, too, have been bitten by this bad bug. Just this week my wife had to remind me that I was getting a little less than positive. I used to cringe at asking an older person about how they were doing, expecting the inevitable rounds of aches and pains in this joint and that muscle. Now, though I don’t consider myself “of ancient days” I do hurt a great deal at times and recently allowed those pains to dampen my spirit. Thankfully, my wife helped me to see that if I could “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, leave no room for Mr. In-Between,” it might just bring a bit of cheerfulness into our home again.
Maybe you, too, have experienced the problem of murmuring or grumbling. Now, to be sure, there is a difference between decrying that which is evil (or actually needing medical attention!) and just plain complaining over God’s sovereign rule. That is the situation, which we see in Exodus 16.
The Israelites had been led to yet another point in their journey. God had already demonstrated His glory and His provision in parting the Red Sea, turning bitter water into sweet, but now they find themselves hungry. They rebel against Moses. Moses says, “Look, you are not murmuring against me, friends, you are grumbling against God!” And he was right. And this lead us to the eternal truth that applies to every one of us here today.
Murmuring is an ordinary malady of extraordinary magnitude that has got to be stopped or it will devour all of the good that God has given you. It is a spiritual disease that left untreated will become a pandemic in a family or within a Christian community.
Now, how is this so, as we look at Exodus 16:1-8? Well, we answer that by looking at (1) what it really is, (2) what is really does, and (3) how God responds to our murmuring. All of this being designed, not to destroy us, but to lead us along the journey towards the place where God wants us to be. God was never going to give up on the Hebrews any more than God is going to give up on you. If you are His, from the moment that you became His son or daughter, you entered a beautiful compact in which He promises to bring you through this world, even through death, and into a New Heaven and a New Earth.
But, let’s back up and look at this phenomenon of murmuring and its consequences.
First, let us look at what murmuring really is.
Look at the text. The Israelites complained that they were hungry, not starving to death, but knowing, apparently, the first pangs of hunger, that tested their faith and found them wanting. Other texts, also, strengthen the indictment against Israel:
“Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us” (Numbers 16:13)
And the New Testament writers often teach from the sad example of Israel’s murmuring:
“For who were the ones who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt” (Hebrews 3:16)?
“These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts” (Jude 1:16).
The essence of murmuring is a lack of faith in God. Israel had seen God’s demonstration of salvation in leading them out of Egypt, the blood on the posts and the angel of death passing over, the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, the waters of Marah becoming sweet to drink. Yet, their faith was momentary. It was a passing euphoric faith, not a transformative faith. Thus, their god is themselves. And we must say, then, that this is idolatry. Let us not think that Israel erecting a golden calf in the desert is so shocking, for they here erect an idol in their hearts against God and against His anointed, Moses. They have become a god unto themselves and demand that Providence comply with their sovereign decrees.
But, of course, we know nothing of this. Or do we? I recall being in a situation, myself, when I was laboring in planting our first church plant. My wife and I were giving our all, but the few people gathering with us at that time did not have the enthusiasm that I demanded in my own mind. The truth is that I expected hey level of commitment that I had not displayed equally so in pastoral love. It took a no-nonsense colleague to observe the situation and then confront me, asking me if this was about God or about me. My old professor, Dr. Robert L. Reymond, now with the Lord, simply said it like this, “to think that you can control your life is an act of unbelief and shameless idolatry.”
But you just wanted your employees to get the job done the way you wanted it done. The young up and comer wasn’t so up and coming, after all, was he? Or, was he just young, and needing a mentor? You moved here from another city to get the job, and the job went away in the economic downturn. Then, you ended up with a lesser job, in a career trajectory that you didn’t plan. But, I ask you: did you do anything wrong? Weren’t you following the Lord and acting out of the light He gave you at the time? And haven’t you been placed in one of the greatest states in the Union? No, it is not the career you chose, but it is where you are. What will you make of it? How will you make it yours?
My Beloved, you and I are not gods. We are mortals. We serve a living God who is in control of all things. All things are not good. But God takes all things and fashions into good, over time, in His time, at the proper time, so that, as Peter tells us, He will exalt us in due time. We hunger in order for us to receive the blessing with thankfulness.
What Murmuring Really Does
The murmuring of the Israelites did not advance their journey. But it did have extraordinary consequences that we need to pay attention to. First, the grumbling, dissatisfied, toxic talk broke unity. Broken unity compromised mission. Murmuring then created lawlessness that bred mutiny. And mutiny created rebellion against the Almighty. We read in verse eight,
“Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” At this point Murmuring souls can wither and spirits die from their own poison.
We each and all be very concerned about this. This is why we are warned by Scripture to be careful about every word. Our Lord Jesus told us, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
There are times when a crisis can actually slow our speaking causing us to think about what we are going to say The actor Jimmy Stewart was known for his dawdling, hesitating Midwestern way of talking. He made a career out of it, whether he was playing a cowboy or a detective. The truth is that man who became George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life and starred in so many Alfred Hitchcock movies and westerns was a boy scout from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and later a squadron commander of B-24 Liberators who flew more than his maximum share of missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. He was the squadron leader in the famous Black Thursday bombing of Schweinfurt, Germany ball-bearing plant on 14 October 1943. It was Black Thursday because that critical mission costs the Allies 60 planes and crew out of 291. But, the mission was successful. Jimmy Stewart, the son of a hardware store owner, a Princeton University grad in architecture, was a slow-speaker, because, in large part, the vast universal events of World War Two placed him in a dangerous place, at a very young age, where every word counted. He was naturally cautious, studied, and diffident.
If you’re going to speak, why not speak a word that will encourage rather than discourage; a word to lift up rather than to bring down; and a word that will bring praise rather than scolding. The Bible tells us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. We are also told, “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
Murmuring is a fool’s game. Yet, it is as common as a cold. But, this leads to our final question of the text and for our lives?
What is God’s Response to Murmuring?
In the passage we see that God immediately throws a javelin of lightening down on Israel and kills them all. Right? Of course now. Amazingly, the Lord just carries through on His program of providing for the needs of the people so that they could continue their journey. He gives them manna and quail—Johnny Cakes from heaven in the morning, and a quail supper in the evening, twice as much on the sixth day, so they will have a good Sabbath meal. He will feed them. But He will do it His way. All they must do is wait on the Lord, then, receive His gift without condition, but according to His plan, not theirs.
This is still the response of the Almighty to grumbling, discontented people today. God comes to you not to punish you but to welcome you and to receive you to himself with literally a gift from heaven.Receive the gift of God. What is it? It is the bread of life in the flesh of his own body which nourishes us and ultimately saves us and will even transform our earthly bodies into any mortal body.The life of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, used to be received for transforming power and then to be received a let you in the morning and in the evening and all through the day as we seek him in prayer. For man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You must receive Him God’s way, of course, not yours. But He comes with no other conditions than to repent and believe. Then, taste and see that the Lord is good. You will be filled. You will live. And you will see that you were led to this point so that you could know the goodness of God even in the desperate days of your life at this time.
Do you really think that God has designed it so that He will bring you to a place and then leave you? Or bring you to a place to hurt you? No. God loves you. He loves you because He made you. And for those who turn to His Son He adopts you into His family as a son or daughter. His love is a covenant love that will never let you go. Trust your Father. Let Him feed you. Wait upon Him. He will send the Holy Spirit to you where you are, in your predicament, in your trial, in your place of hardship, and He will minister to you in a way that will surprise you. You might even say, “I was led here so that I could hunger and be filled.” For after all, is that not what our Lord said?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). And, “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9).
To bring your hunger before the Lord Jesus in prayer is the first step in receiving his provision of his own life. And your murmuring will be turned to so satisfying gratitude.
And this too is contagious.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THE SERMON SERIES
The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary [on the Books of the Bible. 31 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978.
Allen, Clifton J. The Broadman Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1969.
Audi, Robert and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate. Point/Counterpoint. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus; a Critical, Theological Commentary. The Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974.
Driver, S. R., Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs. The International Critical Commentary: On the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. 48 vols. Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1895.
Dunnam, Maxie D. and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Exodus. The Preacher’s Commentary Old Testament. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1987.
Durham, John I. Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
Ephraem, Edward G. Mathews, Joseph P. Amar, Kathleen E. McVey, and Ebrary Inc. Selected Prose Works The Fathers of the church v 91. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994.
Fee, Gordon D. and Robert L. Hubbard. The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2011.
Gaebelein, Frank Ely, J. D. Douglas, and Willem Van Gemeren. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: With the New International Version of the Holy Bible. 12 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1976.
Metzger, Bruce M., David Allan Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Word Biblical Commentary.
Meyer, F. B. Devotional Commentary on Exodus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978.
Murphy, James G. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Exodus with a New Translation. Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1881.
Napier, Bunyan Davie. The Book of Exodus. Layman’s Bible Commentary. Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1963.
Noth, Martin. Exodus: A Commentary. The Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962.
Ramm, Bernard L. God’s Way Out : Finding the Road to Personal Freedom through Exodus. A Regal Bible Commentary for Laymen. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1987.
Spence-Jones, H. D. M., Joseph S. Exelll, and Edward Mark Deems. The Pulpit Commentary. 23 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1950.
Volf, Miroslav. A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. Brand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2011.