Meditations in Exodus: 54. Complaining about Food
Ex 16:2,3 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 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.”
Memory is a strange thing. I often think it is distorted by time, but it is also distorted by present circumstances which make us have memories of what we wished it had been like. Israel are back in the desert and now “the whole community” it seems “grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” The cause of their grumbling was two fold: first, they lack food and, second, they have these memories of better days back in Egypt.
Consider the first of those: they have no food. Pardon? Excuse me! They have large flocks and herds, they have a walking larder, they just don’t want to start using them up. But then the memory: they had been slaves, slaves who “sat around pots of meat and ate all the food they wanted”. A different sort of slavery with abundant provisions from the sort of slavery history usually shows us!
The truth is that they are fearful. They don’t know where they are going and how long it will take and they foresee their food resources being depleted and depleted until they are left with none. That hasn’t happened yet but it will do if we carry on like this. It is a fear grounded in their uncertainty about God. They haven’t realised that all that is happening is to teach them to trust Him.
So the Lord shares with Moses His intentions: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (v.4,5) Now that is interesting! He doesn’t say what the provision will be but He does use again that word ‘test’. There is going to be a testing element to what is going to happen. The Lord seeks to get Israel to trust Him and that trust will be shown by obedience. There are two instructions for Israel here: first, they are to go out daily collecting this provision and, second, on the sixth day of the week they are to collect twice as much as usual with the inference that on the seventh day there would be no provision. Interesting!
Now what is more interesting is the way Moses now teaches Israel: “So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” (v.6,7) He doesn’t start with the news that the Lord will provide food for them, but he confronts them with what they are doing in grumbling against Moses and Aaron is actually grumbling against God. He reiterates this: “Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.” (v.8) Yes, the Lord will provide food for them in such a way that there will be no doubt about where it came from.
To back this up, the Lord (implied) calls for the people to face Him: “Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, `Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.” (v.9,10) Moses calls for the people to face God and, bearing in mind it is still daytime, the Lord’s fire appears in the pillar of cloud. The Lord reiterates He will provide for the people: “The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, `At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’” (v.11,12)
There is a simple but important lesson in this passage. The Lord takes note of our grumbling and in what follows He shows that He does not want us to grumble and that He will deal with us accordingly. Now I have sought to be honest in the past meditations, confessing I am a grumbler but what I now need to do is tell you that the Lord disciplines me with more of the same thing! There is good news and good news about this. The first bit of good news is that the Lord does understand why we are like we are and He still loves us. The second bit of good news is that He will keep on and on with our training (disciplining) until we come to the point of trusting Him. He doesn’t give up. I am sure if it was us in His position we would give up very early on in the game, with comments like, “Oh, for goodness sake, let’s give up on this blind bunch, let’s go and find some more receptive people and start over again.”
I suspect that most church leaders feel like this at some time or other. God’s people really are like sheep sometimes, getting themselves into all kinds of difficulties of belief and behaviour. The temptation after you have been preaching about something for weeks on end and it still seems to be falling on deaf ears, is to want to give up and go and find some more receptive people. The lesson of these passages is that the Lord keeps on with them even though they appear to be slow to learn. The Lord doesn’t call us to change people – only He can do that – but to pray, to teach and preach and love and care and leave the rest to Him. Yes, the Lord may discipline His people but unless it is a sin against the community, let’s just keep on doing what we are called to do and preach and teach and leave the conviction to Him, until maybe the point will arrive when people come to us and confess they want to talk about their lives because they need our counsel.
This also applies even if we are not a leader. You see slow growing young Christians? Love them, pray for them, be there for them until they feel sufficiently secure in your love that they open their lives to you and you are granted permission to speak into them. I recently saw a quote that wisdom is knowing when to speak and when not to speak. Love them like the Lord loved Israel and wait for your time to speak.