Your Complaints, They Have Been Heard!
June 14, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Complaining People
1. What I notice right away upon reading today's passage of scripture is that the word "complain" is repeated. For that reason alone this story from several thousand years ago is quite familiar even to us here in this place; because I would venture to say that there is no one among us who has lived completely apart from "complaining."
2. The words of their complaint are written in verse three. They said to Moses and Aaron, "It would have been better for us to have died in the land of Egypt, at the hand of the Lord! At that time we sat before pots with lots of meat in them, and we ate with stomachs full of bread. You lead us into this wilderness and you are about to starve this entire assembly to death," (verse three).
3. Their having brought forth such words of complaint, on several points, is quite surprising.
4. First, the people doing the complaining here are the ones who had experienced a divine work of salvation upon them during the events of the exodus from Egypt. Originally they had been slaves serving Egyptians. They had cried out to God from their suffering. "During that time the Israelites moaned and cried out because of their hard labor. Because of their hard labor their crying voices imploring for help had reached God," (2:23), says the scripture. They were set free because God listened to their cries and was moved to act by his grace. Only just a month before, these people had experienced that grace.
5. Second, the people doing the complaining here are the ones who had experienced the grace of God in the miracle of the Sea of Reeds [the Red Sea]. When the Egyptian army was pursing them right at their heels, the Sea of Reeds was spread out right before them and this must have surely meant their end. But, God opened a way in the midst of that sea. Right in front of them, God opened a way for them to break through this end [of theirs] and still go on forward, a way to break through the hopelessness and go on ahead. Yes, indeed, they were expected to walk on their own two feet on that path opened by the grace of God.
6. Third, the people doing the complaining here are the ones who once praised God for his grace with their own mouths and with great volume of praise. The song of praise which Moses and the Israelites had sung is recorded in chapter fifteen. They sang to the Lord as follows. "To the Lord I will sing. The Lord revealed great power, he threw the horse and the rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength, my song; the Lord has become my salvation. He, yes he, is my God. I praise him. The God of my father, I worship him," (15:1-2). This was their song.
7. Fourth, the people doing the complaining here are the ones who were led by God to the banks of a spring, and just before this, they had made camp by the banks of [several] springs. The scripture says, "When they came to Elim, there were twelve springs there, and seventy date palm trees were flourishing [there]. They made camp at that banks of these springs," (15:27). By the pillar of the cloud, the pillar of the fire, God had led them up to the spring banks. Thus, they had surely experienced an abundance just through God's grace, until just before [the complaining].
8. That is how the people doing the complaining were. No sooner had the words of their praises to God been out of their mouths [and there] they were complaining with the same mouths. They said, "It would have been better for us to have died in the land of Egypt, at the hand of the Lord!" "You lead us into this wilderness and you are about to starve this entire assembly to death." What ingratitude! What shamelessness! When I read the scriptures I simply feel that [about them]. But, is this only their problem and never ours? When we consider the walk the church has made to this point, and when we consider our own day to day lives as well, don't we find the same kind of figure as we see here in this text? Don't we find our own selves in the same condition as them, ungrateful and shameless? And so perhaps the same thing may be happening today as well. During this morning worship service, we are praising the Lord's work of salvation and are spending an hour by the banks of the Lord's springs, but then we may complain away this afternoon.
9. Thus, the word we all know all too intimately, "complain," is repeatedly [used] in the passage read for today. That's how this passage goes. But, it is not only the word "complain" that is repeated. There is [another] word repeated just like it. It is the phrase "The Lord heard." This is a dreadful phrase. They were complaining against Moses and Aaron. When we complain the figure of a human being may only enter into our field of vision. But, Moses says, "You are not voicing your complaint to us, but actually to the Lord," (verse eight).
10. The Lord certainly did hear the voices [of] the Israelites some time ago when they were seeking for [his] help. The reason the Israelites were able to escape from Egypt is that the Lord certainly did hear their voices in prayer seeking out and crying out. However, the same Lord also heard the people's complaining voices. When we pray we assume and presuppose that the Lord has listening ears. Therefore, also when we complain, we should expect that we must presuppose that likewise the Lord has listening ears.
The Lord Gives Bread From Heaven
11. So, what did the Lord, who had heard the complaining of the Israelites, do? Moses informed the people, "The Lord will give you meat and feed you in the evenings, and he will give you bread and fill your stomachs in the mornings," (verse eight). Wow, the Lord was still willing to grant life to the people who were saying, "It would have been better for us to have died in the land of Egypt, at the hand of the Lord!" He was willing to keep them alive with his blessings and grace.
12. What Moses told the people came true. According to the word of the Lord, when it became evening, quail would come flying in to them and cover the camp. In the mornings dew would fall around the camp, when the dew evaporated, this rainy dewy watery food covered the ground like frost over a huge stretch of earth. They gave it the name manna. Actually, it was bread from heaven. During their journeys in the wilderness, it so happened that they lived on this bread from heaven and were nourished by it.
13. The Lord did it this way, obviously, because it was something that could only come from the unilateral grace of God alone. As we've already seen, they were not at all a righteous, devout, or deeply faithful people. The way they were hadn't changed even in the slightest since when they were in Egypt. These guys in this poor shape of theirs were still receiving this bread from heaven, but their getting the food was not because it was deserved or because it was a just reward, it was grace, it was nothing except for grace.
14. Our own experience compares with this scene, with that of the bread from heaven, still being given to the complaining people. When you give it some thought, our still being here now like we are must be because of the unilateral grace of the Lord. We're like this: Even though we've been shown so much goodness and filled to satisfaction, in the next instant we forget to be thankful and grumble with dissatisfaction. Isn't it marvelous that he hasn't abandoned us a long time ago! Isn't it marvelous that he hasn't destroyed us a long time ago, but instead he prepares everything for us and keeps us alive. And even now we are assembled at the banks of the spring of life. He is still giving to us even now his words of life, and unchanged [in his ways], both the body of Christ and the blood of Christ are [still] being given to us. Thus, we are still being kept alive by the bread from heaven. It is not because we deserve it. Undeserving as we are, nevertheless the Lord still reveals his grace to us.
15. We must not take lightly this amazing grace of the Lord. When we read today's passage of scripture, I am thinking that again. The Lord still gave the bread from heaven to the complaining people, but what in the world was his will for them? It should be impossible for us to be indifferent to what the Lord requires [of us]. It is not in today's reading, but in verse twelve the Lord says, "You will eat meat in the evenings, and in the mornings you will be full eating bread. Thus, you will come to know that I am your God, the Lord."
16. "You will come to know that I am your God, the Lord." This is what the Lord wills. "You will come to know that I am your God, the Lord." We are to come to know the Lord. We are to come to know [him] as our God. We are to come to live as persons who truly know the Lord. The Lord wills this [of us]. The Lord wills that we live in a relationship of life with the gracious Lord, love the Lord, honor the Lord, trust the Lord from the heart, and live obediently to the Lord. The Lord wills that we truly love as the Lord's people.
17. Therefore, even in the passage that [I] read [to you] today, it didn't just say, "Look! I will make bread from heaven fall for you," (verse four). It goes on to add, "The people will go out and gather only the portion they need each day. I will test whether they will do according to [my] instructions," (verse four). When the Lord says, "I will test," it means he wills that the people will, of course, "do according to [his] instructions." The Lord willed that they gather only the portion they needed for each day. That is, the Lord willed that they not worry over tomorrow, but day by day, they might trust in the Lord for this day today, and be a people who live obediently to the Lord. In this way then, he had willed that they would "come to know that I am your God, the Lord."
18. "You will come to know that I am your God, the Lord." Still willing this for us, the Lord is nourishing us here in this place by his great grace. We must not take the grace of the Lord lightly. In response to the Lord's grace, let's go forth from this place and walk accordingly from here on!