Bread From Heaven
The Murmuring Complaining People
1. As we read today's passage of scripture we notice immediately that the word "murmur, complain" is repeated over and over. In this short passage, in the New Interconfessional Version it occurs seven times; in the original [Hebrew] "complain" or "utter complaints" occur eight times. The act of "complaining" is quite common to us in our daily living. We are very much involved on a daily level with what is being said in this passage.
2. The things they were complaining about is written in the text at verse three. They spoke to Moses and Aaron, "It would have been better for us to have died in Egypt under the hand of the Lord. Back then at least we sat before pots with lots of meat in them and our bellies were filled with bread. You brought us to this wilderness and are about to make this entire assembly die of starvation," (verse three).
3. The issuing of these statements, when we consider the following few points, should be very surprising.
4. First, the people doing the complaining here had experienced the miraculous saving of God with all that happened in the Exodus. They used to be slaves serving Egyptians. They were suffering. "During that time the Israelites moaned and cried out from their hard labor. Their crying voices seeking for help due to their hard labor arrived before God," (2:23), says the scripture. The reason they were set free was God inclined his hearing towards their cries and set things in motion by his grace. Just hardly a month before, they had experienced his blessings.
5. Second, the people complaining here had experienced the blessing of God in the miracle of the Sea of Reeds. When the Egyptian army had pursued them from behind, the sea of Reeds which was stretched out before them had meant their certain end. But, God opened up a way in the midst of the sea. God opened up a way before them for them to pierce on through this end and still proceed on further, a way for them to pierce on through their hopelessness. As you'd expect, they had certainly walked with their own feet on the way which was opened to them by God's grace.
6. Third, the people complaining here had once before lavished praises for God's grace with their very own mouths. The song of praise which Moses and the Israelites had sung is recorded in chapter fifteen. This is what they sang to the Lord, "To the Lord I will sing. The Lord has shown his great power, he has thrown the horse and the rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength, my son, the Lord is become my salvation. He indeed is my God. I will extol him. I will show him reverence, [and worship] God my father," (15:1-2).
7. Fourth, the people doing the complaining here had been encamped at a nearby spring right in front of them. The Bible says, "When they came to Elim, there were twelve springs and seventy date palm trees growing well there. They encamped near the springs," (15:27). The pillar of the cloud and the pillar of fire had guided them to that place. That is, the Lord had guided them near to the springs. They must have experienced an overflow of abundance being right there next to these springs.
8. When people complain they are like that. While their tongues, which have praised God, are not thirsty, they complain with the same mouth. They said, "It would have been better for us to have died in Egypt under the hand of the Lord." How ungrateful! How shameful they were! But, they're not the only ones like that. We notice a similar ingratitude and shameless mindset when we think of the walk of the church even today and even when we think of our own day to day living. During this morning's service we praise God's work of salvation and we are spending time near the springs of the Lord, but the mindset of Israel that we see here may be ours by the afternoon today.
9. But there is also a phrase that is used repetitiously in a similar way. It is the phrase of "The Lord opened up." This is an awesome expression. They were making complaints against Moses and Aaron. When we state our complaints, it is merely the human figures who enter our field of vision. But, Moses said, "You are not going against us, in fact, you are making your complaints against the Lord," (verse eight). The Lord certainly had heard the voices of the Israelites when they were seeking for help. The same Lord also heard the voices of the people fussing. When we pray we assume that the Lord has listening ears. Since that's so, whenever we complain, we should assume that the Lord also has listening ears just like before.
A Bread Giving Lord
10. Well, what did the Lord then do after he heard the complaining of the Israelites? Moses told the people, "At twilight the Lord will grant you meat and let you eat, he will give bread till the morning and let you fill yourselves up full," (verse eight). Wow, even more graciously so, the Lord allows these people who have said, "It would have been better for us to have died in Egypt under the hand of the Lord," to keep on living.
11. What Moses told the people became true. Just as the word of the Lord had said, when it turned evening, quail came flying in and covered the camp. In the morning when the dew fell around the camp and then evaporated, the compromised and rancid food covered the surface of the earth like the dew on the ground. They named it "manna." It truly was a bread from heaven. Over the next forty years as they journeyed in the wilderness, they were sustained and nourished by the heavenly bread.
12. All of this obviously was totally of God's grace. As we've already seen, they were not righteous or pious or faithful people at all. Their state of being was hardly any different from when they used to be in Egypt. Neither was their receiving this heavenly bread a due right that they deserved to receive. Their receiving it was based on grace and nothing but grace. In that sense, what the Lord did for them in Egypt and during their travels to the promised land was essentially the same. It was all totally of God's grace and nothing but that.
13. We need to see that the Lord had a purpose in displaying his grace the way he did to an undeserving people. What does the Lord say in verse twelve? The Lord says, "In the twilight of the evening you will eat meat and in the morning you will eat bread till you are full. In this you will know that I am the Lord your God." God wasn't giving them bread just to satisfy their stomachs. He states that the purpose of it was so that "you will know that I am the Lord your God." The one given the bread had to know this.
14. "You will know that I am the Lord your God." What does that mean? If put in other words, it means to come to live in a relationship of life with our gracious Lord and to live by loving Him, fearing Him, trusting Him, and following Him. That's what we could call truly coming to live as God's people. For that reason the Lord had insisted on leading them into the wilderness and giving them bread there. If they had not been led into the wilderness they might never have known [Him] because without a wilderness arrogant humankind is hardly capable of knowing that the one who lets them have life in its truest sense is the Lord.
15. This matter is expressed in another passage later in Deuteronomy. Moses had this to say to the Israelites after forty years in the land. "Recall your journey in the wilderness for forty years during which the Lord your God has guided you. Thus, the Lord tested you with affliction because he wanted to see what was in your hearts, that is, whether you would keep his commandments. The Lord made you suffer, let you get hungry and made you eat this manna which neither you nor your ancestors had ever eaten before. He did this so that you would know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God," (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).
16. A very paradoxical statement has been made. The Bible stated that the reason God had given them bread was to make them know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Therefore, the Lord didn't only give them just bread, but he had also given an order for the people to obey. In not permitting the people to store up any of the manna, the Lord had required of them that they "collect only the amount they needed for that day." That is, they were required not to focus on the bread itself, but on the giver of the bread, on the Lord, and to trust in him obediently from day to day. It was so they would know that there is real life in living according to the word of the Lord.
17. As is clear from how Israel looks when we look in Exodus, it was not a people worthy of being the people of God who were made into the people of God. A people who were in no way worthy were redeemed by a grace stemming from God alone, and then saved and made into the people of God. For these people saved in such a manner, the wilderness journey could be called a course curriculum that they had to go through in order to become God's people who would truly live with Him. In it they found God's upbringing for them and training from the Father. Through a similar wilderness journey we too are headed for the promised land.