Grumbling and Grousing before the Grace of God: Exodus 16.1c-12

Tripping along happily in my daily Bible reading, I stubbed my toe on a section of Exodus 16. The pain came through the repeated sentiment. To get the gist, I will have to quote most of the section, but I will mark up what I’m referring to:
“…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. ( . . . )." 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." Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, 'Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.'" And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. And the LORD said to Moses, "I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"”
I’m sure you saw it quickly – the grumbling (“murmering” AV) was the issue. Why is that? Look at the beginning of the section and ask yourself, “When did this happen?” It was two months after they had been marvelously rescued from Egypt! Think of it; they have watched ten plagues unfold and substantially cripple the world’s super power of their day; then they saw Yahweh part the sea and make it so that they crossed the seabed on “dry ground (14.22)”; next they viewed Yahweh decimate this super power by bringing the waters crashing on top of their elite military force; afterward they came to a pool of poisoned water and beheld God make it clean so that the 600,000 men (plus women and children – maybe 1 to 2 million people!) could have plenty of water. Now, two months after the rescue from Egypt they hit another snag and what do they do? Whine! But it’s not any old whine; it’s a “good old days” kind of whine. It’s an “It sure was better being a safe and secure slave under the ham-fisted tyranny of Pharaoh instead of this scary liberation of Yahweh” kind of whine! “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.” This is grumbling and grousing before the grace of God!

As shockingly disappointing as that is, the real bombshell comes next. They obviously thought they were being harmlessly critical of their leadership. If you had asked them, they likely would have told you, “Oh, we’re just trying to give some constructive criticism, because the leadership seems to have lost its vision, and forgotten that we’re entitled to being affirmed and sustained. I mean, we’re the children of Abraham, for crying out loud!”

There are two effects of this “innocuous” criticism:

(1) Yahweh heard them! Four times it’s stated that Yahweh “has heard” them. They thought they were talking to the leadership, and Yahweh makes a social blunder by eaves dropping, and then taking them serious!

(2) He then points out that they’re real issue was not with the leadership (the easy targets), but ultimately with Yahweh himself! Twice it says that their grumbling was “against him/the LORD.” I do not think this is a blanket endorsement of all Christian leadership (it’s not saying, “You should never criticize your pastor/elders”), as much as exposing their hearts. Though they hurled their verbal reproaches against Moses and Aaron, the oral sounds were simply a cover for their real grievance: they didn’t like the way Yahweh was treating them! It seems that they assumed all they had to do was believe in Yahweh and he’d take care of all their problems – to their satisfaction; no pain, no challenges, no troubles! Discipleship should be user friendly, right?

Here, then, is why this hurt so much. To begin with, there are times when I grumble, complain and whine, and I sort-of-kind-of desire God to hear me. But really I’m not sure I want that. As messy and muddled as people can be, they’re a lot safer than God is. So I would far rather God not eaves drop into my sniveling, snide complaints, nor take me serious, thank you very much. And this passage reminds me that he just might do that very thing! Yikes!

Consequently, that means he may actually call me to task for the real reason skulking under my vocal peevishness. I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest I’d have to say that most of my grievances are really with God himself, no matter what comes out of my mouth. This episode confirms that God already knows that, and might take me to task for it.

Maybe this is the time to stop, ruminate over your grumbling and grousing before the grace of God and come clean before him in confession. And then listen to your voice and heart the next time you catch yourself complaining. There just might be times when you need to “put a lid on it,” so to speak.



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