Exodus 15:22-17:7: Grumbling, Grace and Gratitude

It’s been a year where GRUMBLING is acceptable conversation. Grumbling about the health risks in a pandemic. Grumbling about the inconveniences of lockdown and closures. Grumbling about the boredom, or tensions, of working from home. And not being able to travel. And too many zoom meetings. And wearing masks. The list goes on and on.

But is grumbling acceptable for God’s people? There’s a TYPE of grumbling we find all through the Psalms. It’s LAMENT. It’s okay to be SAD, and to cry out to God. Because the world is BROKEN. God ENCOURAGES us to hand our pain, and requests, over to him, because he’s God and we’re NOT.

But then there’s the grumbling we see in today’s chapters of Exodus. Which is something DIFFERENT. It begins with FORGETFULNESS. It’s only DAYS since God miraculously rescued them from slavery and destroyed Egypt’s army. But they’ve FORGOTTEN how God rescued them, and so they don’t TRUST that he’ll look after them. And they’ve forgotten how BAD Egypt was, so they’re not CONTENT. And they’re UNGRATEFUL. That’s what separates grumbling from lament. A LACK OF GRATITUDE, CONTENTMENT AND FAITH.

We see grumbling again and again in today’s chapters. (Putting God to the TEST). And yet despite their grumbling. Again and again, we see God GRACIOUSLY PROVIDING what they need. And giving them the opportunity express GRATITUDE.

What if we could learn a lesson from Israel? What if, instead of grumbling, we REJOICED? Expressed GRATITUDE. TRUSTED God to provide. Trusted that he’d work GOOD through all things. What if we learned to look FOR HIS GOOD HAND AT WORK in the midst of the mess? I reckon it would transform our conversations. And transform the way we approached life. And how we walked through it with God.

1. God provides water (15:22-27)

We’re picking up the story in Exodus 15 v22. Israel’s just crossed the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army’s been completely wiped out. God’s miraculously saved Israel. And they’ve sung his praises. But now, it’s only three days later. They’ve marched through the desert. And there’s no water.

Finally they find a spring. But when they start drinking, they spit it out in disgust. It’s salty! Full of minerals. Like drinking SEA water! They could have done THAT back at the Red Sea! And so v24. They GRUMBLE to Moses, “What are we to drink?” So Moses cries out to God. V25. and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the WATER BECAME SWEET.

Protest and provision. Grumbling and grace. They’re thirsty. And he gives them water to drink. Not because they DESERVE it. But simply because OF WHO GOD IS.

But look what else he does. He gives the chance to show GRATITUDE. He gives them a test. Half way through v25.

There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and THERE HE TESTED THEM. {26} He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

Israel had taken their eyes OFF God. They’d DOUBTED him. But they’d been shown grace. And now they’ve got the chance to show GRATITUDE. To LISTEN to God’s commands, and to DO WHAT’S RIGHT. If they PASS, the curses of disobedience won’t come on them.

And then, v27, to REINFORCE God’s undeserved goodness, and to back up his promise of blessing, they come to the spring of Elim. With no salty water. And twelve springs – one for each tribe. And seventy palm trees to top it off! Grumbling, grace, and gratitude. Look out for that pattern as we keep moving.

2. God provides food (16:1-36)

Episode two. Chapter 16. They move on from the spring of Elim. It’s been one month since Israel left Egypt. Thirty whole days. And what happens? More grumbling! V2.

In the desert the whole community GRUMBLED against Moses and Aaron. {3} 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.”

The food’s running out. Their STOMACH’S are grumbling, so THEY start grumbling. It would be HILARIOUS if it wasn’t so SAD. It’s the ultimate in selective amnesia – forgetting the worse bits of their years of suffering. Four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. One month of freedom. And they want to go back to Egypt. God’s TESTED them. And it hasn’t taken them long to COMPLETELY FAIL.

Israel GRUMBLES. And how does God respond? Once again, he shows GRACE. Look at v7 and also in v12. He tells Moses, “I’ve HEARD their grumbling.” Which is OMINOUS, if his response is about what they DESERVE. But instead he PROVIDES. He promises MEAT in the EVENING, and BREAD in the MORNING. A two course heavenly banquet. And that’s what HAPPENS. V13. That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. {14} When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. {15} When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” (In Aramaic “Mah na?”) For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.

Gratitude (16:19-30; 31-35 ) – a test (16:4-5)

Grumbling. And grace. The LORD provides. But once again, notice how God gives them the opportunity to show GRATITUDE. The GIFT comes with ANOTHER TEST. Look back at v4 and 5. A test in two parts.

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. (And) 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.”

He PROVIDES for them, but he TESTS them. He shows GRACE. But he expects OBEDIENCE. To see whether they TRUST him, or not.

Here’s how the testing worked. First, he tells them to collect just enough for one day. No more. But just like most of us, some people couldn’t help collecting a bit extra. Just in case.  But look what happened. God tested them, and they failed the test. Because they didn’t trust God. Over to verse 19. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” {20} However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

They failed the first part. How would they go with the second? On Friday, God said to collect TWICE AS MUCH. Because there’d be none to collect on the SATURDAY. Because God wanted them to REST on the Sabbath.

And that’s the way it HAPPENED. Twice as much collected on Friday. And, v24, it lasted until Saturday. And then, v25, Moses explains it all

“Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. {26} Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

But look at v27. SOME of the people DIDN’T collect double on Friday. And they went out looking on Saturday. When they were supposed to be RESTING. (I wonder if it was the same people who’d collected TOO MUCH during the week, and it had gone off?). And God had a message for Moses to tell them. V28.

“How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? {29} Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” {30} So the people rested on the seventh day.

God did it that way for a reason. For one thing, He wanted his people to REST. Secondly, he wanted to test their obedience. Obedience which was IN RESPONSE to his grace. Notice that it’s not just Sabbath, but “Sabbath to the LORD”. Their act of keeping the Sabbath is TO EXPRESS THEIR GRATITUDE to God’s grace. They stop working IN RECOGNITION that God’s PROVIDED for them, so they don’t HAVE to. Grumbling, grace and gratitude.

3. God provides water –again (17:1-7)

Grumbling (17:1-4)

Next we get to Ch 17. and the story’s a familiar one. V1, more travelling, and more thirsty people. V2.

SO THEY QUARRELED WITH MOSES and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? WHY DO YOU PUT THE LORD TO THE TEST?” {3} But the people were thirsty for water there, and they GRUMBLED against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” {4} Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

Once again – grumbling. But notice? This time it’s the PEOPLE who put GOD to the test. Rather than responding to GOD’S test by OBEYING, they grumble, and put God to the test! “What are YOU going to do for US? How much grace have you got?”

Grace (17:5-6):

THEY might fail GOD’S test. But HE doesn’t fail THEIRS. v5.

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. {6} I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Once again, God provides. DESPITE the doubting of his people. And in v7 Moses even gives the place a couple of nicknames. “Testing” and “quarrelling”.

“because the Israelites QUARRELED and because they TESTED the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Is the LORD among us or not? There’s a CYNICISM there, I think. A doubt that God’s GOOD or that he’s ABLE. (Will he PROVIDE? Is he LOOKING? Does he CARE?)

And it’s that VERY QUESTION that gets answered in the next two sections. “Is the LORD among us, or not?” Because God continues to provide for his people. He provides in WARTIME, and he provides in PEACETIME. He brings them victory against the AMALEKITES in ch 17. And he provides JUDGES to help Moses govern the people in ch 18. Which are great stories. But we don’t have time to look at them today.

Instead, I want to come back to the question we BEGAN with. Can we learn a lesson from Israel, and move FROM GRUMBLING TO GRATITUDE? The truth is we’ve been saved from a much greater enemy than Egypt. A much greater slavery than forced labour. If we’re Christian, we’ve been saved from the power and consequences of our sin. We’ve been saved from God’s anger and judgment. We’ve been put right with God through trusting Jesus.

That’s the GREAT TRUTH that should colour the way we think about life NOW. Look at the logic in Romans 5. Focussing on how God’s JUSTIFIED us IN THE PAST means we can confidently rejoice in PRESENT SUFFERINGS. Romans 5 v1.

Therefore, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED THROUGH FAITH, we have PEACE WITH GOD through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we REJOICE in the hope of the glory of God. 3 NOT ONLY SO, BUT WE ALSO REJOICE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Focus on what God’s ALREADY DONE FOR US in saving us. Rejoice in the experience of your relationship with him. That will give you the tools, the perspective, to rejoice in the PAIN of life. The GOSPEL is the key to moving from GRUMBLING to GRATITUDE.

The God who SAVED you will never DESERT you. Or, as Romans 8:32 says, “If God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us ALL THINGS?!”

Paul didn’t just WRITE those words. He LIVED THEM. The letter to the Philippians was written from PRISON. But it’s also called the LETTER OF JOY. He rejoices that he’s stuck in prison, because, 1:13, “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” And so he can say, in v18, And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

Even though it looks like he might be EXECUTED. Not even the THREAT OF DEATH can stop his joy. Because he knows that he’ll be better off, because he’ll BE WITH JESUS. He says, 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

In v27, he encourages them, “whatever happens conduct yourselves IN A MANNER WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL.” In other words, live out the GRATITUDE of people who’ve been shown GRACE.

And then, 2:14, he turns it around. And states the NEGATIVE. Grumbling is the NEGATIVE of REJOICING. He commands Do everything WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you SHINE LIKE STARS in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life-

It’s easy to do things you ENJOY without grumbling. But do EVERYTHING without grumbling. Everything! Wake up with a sore throat, receive criticism, sit in traffic, pay a parking ticket, cook dinner for an ungrateful family. Sit through another zoom meeting.

And if you can live like THAT in the midst of a grumbling generation, you’ll LOOK DIFFERENT. As different as stars in the night sky. Do THAT. And you’ll show yourselves to be TRUSTING CHILDREN of your heavenly Father. Who cares for you and gives you good things.

Not grumbling is an attitude that flows from your relationship with him. That’s what it means when he says in 3:1 Rejoice IN THE LORD. Rejoice BECAUSE you belong to the Lord.

That’s the treasure Paul says he’ll GIVE UP EVERYTHING ELSE for. Knowing God is his TOP PRIORITY. Everything else is worthless. He says in 3:8

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I MAY GAIN CHRIST 9 AND BE FOUND IN HIM, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ

That’s where JOY and GRATITUDE come from. That’s what STOPS grumbling. That’s the secret of BEING CONTENT. Because what you have in JESUS is worth FAR MORE than anything this world can offer you. 4:12

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

The strength to be CONTENT. To not GRUMBLE. But instead to show GRATITUDE. To trust the God who SAVED you, the FATHER who cares for you.  Rejoice in the LORD always! I’ll say it again, REJOICE! And don’t grumble!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s