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(Exodus 15:22-17:7) Grumbling at God

(Exodus 15:22-17:7) Grumbling at God

by Stephen Davey Ref: Exodus 15:22–27; 16; 17:1–7

Moses is stuck in the wildnerness with thousands of grumbling people. Every time things go wrong he hears something like, "Hey Moses... you should have left us in Egypt! Thanks for nothing!" The Israelites were incredibly ungrateful people, but in this message Stephen shows us why we are just like them.



(Exodus 15:22-17:7)


We’ll read from I Corinthians, chapter 10.  It’s an interesting passage of scripture that is, in a sense, a commentary on what occurred in Exodus, chapter 15, in fact, throughout the history of the Israelite nation.  I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 1, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, he says, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” - note this - “Now these things happened as examples for us,” - that is, the New Testament Christian - “that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.  And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.” - that was an act of God’s judgment - “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor” - verse 10 - “grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  It’s interesting that what happened to the Israelites and the record of their failure was given so that you and I might learn, by observing their failure, how to succeed.  We learn from the kind of lifestyle that they lived.  Where they did not please God, how we then in turn might, by learning from history, learn how to please God.  And that’s why we’ve been given the record. 

Now, back in Exodus, chapter 15, the story unfolds and we’re going to take three stops.  Those notes may help you, that you have been given.  The first begins in verse 22 of chapter 15.  And what we want to do, briefly, is go through the text of scripture and discover what happened to the Israelite and then, major on what that means to you and to me, by way of application.  Verse 22, “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea,” - that is, that spiritual victory - “and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.”  It’s interesting that they’ve just come through the Red Sea and they’ve sung that song of great praise to God and now, Moses leads them into the wilderness of Shur, which is probably the eastern border of Egypt stretching up to the southern portion of Palestine.  And today, if you were to go there, from what I have seen, by way of pictures and read, it is still a very barren region with very little vegetation.  And that’s exactly where God will take the Israelites for this first stopping place: the wilderness of Shur.  And it’s interesting, the text says, they - “found no water.”  They went three days without water. 

Now, I want you to imagine yourself, part of that 2.5, perhaps even 3, million company of people that is trekking through the wilderness of Shur.  The first day, you feel the heat of the sun and the sand and wind whips at your body and you probably feel your wineskin getting rather muggy and warm and the water doesn’t taste too well.  The second day into that trip, you are beginning to feel a little anxious for that fresh store of water and there is still none.  The third day, they begin to rejoice, as you would with them, because they’ve sighted water.  There’s water at Marah.  There’s water ahead, so they think.  God has finally provided.  Note verse 23, “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter”.  That’s what Marah means, or “bitterness.”  So they come up to that pool of water, perhaps that small lake, and they plunge into the water and it isn’t long before you hear the cries, “Don’t drink this.  It’s bitter water.  You’ll get sick.”  There they thought the end of their tired journey would occur, where they could drink water and refresh themselves, and they look at all of that water and they’ve got to stand back, they can’t drink any of it. 

And so, what happens?  Verse 24, “So the people grumbled at Moses”.  You’ll find this phrase five times in the passage we’ll study.  Grumbling is a characteristic of the Israelite.  In fact, in I Corinthians, chapter 10, it says that one of their failures, one of their great weaknesses was that they grumbled at God and at Moses.  It says, they - “grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’”  So, Moses, of course, goes to God.  “Then he cried out to the Lord, and” - note this - “the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters”.  Now, I can just imagine myself being there.  We’re grumbling at Moses, “Moses, you’ve led us to a place where now we can’t drink water.  Go to God and find out what’s happening.”  He goes to God.  He comes back and they say, “Well, did God tell you?  What are we going to do?”  And Moses says, “Well, you see the tree over there by the water?  Somebody cut it down.”  Okay, somebody goes over there and chops that tree down.  And Moses says, “Now, throw it in the water.”  So they throw the tree in the water.  And Moses says, “You can drink it now.”  (laughter)  And two million people scratch their heads and say, “Moses, you take the first drink.”  And, I imagine, that everybody watched Moses dip down there with his hand and pull up some water and drink it.  And they watched his face, “How does he respond?”  This is the most ridiculous solution in the world!  “The water is bitter, you can’t drink it.”  What does God say?  “Take a tree and throw it into the water.” 

What is God teaching them?  He is teaching them that the human solutions, that they would expect, are not going to be used by God.  These are divine solutions.  This is the divine way that will teach them, ultimately, dependence upon His way.  In fact, you’ll find in that the only solution to our own grumbling.  That God is, ultimately, in control. 

Verse 27, let’s hurry on, “Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the water.”  And oh, how God is so gracious.  He takes them to the bitter water, where they had their faith tested and they grumble.  And then what does God do?  “Go spend a month out there without any water.”  No.  He leads them to an oasis and He allows them to refresh themselves and to rest.  And they do so for a period of time. 

And here comes the second stopover, look at chapter 16.  “Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of” - Zin, or - “Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.  And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”  Why was that?  Because, basically, they were running out of food.  They had lost that provision that they had, perhaps, kept as they left Egypt and now it had run out.  And they were wondering what, in the world, they were going to do.  And let me, at least, give you a few facts so you can understand the enormity of what God is about to do.  I read one expositor who was a mathematician who has been very helpful to me.  And he says that if you figure out that there were 2.5, perhaps even 3 million, Israelites, it would take to feed that amount of people, four thousand tons of food every day.  And, if you boxed all of that food in a train, the train would stretch two miles.  I got out my little calculator and, it wasn’t hard to discover that, this many people is five times the size of Wake County.  “Where are we going to get food?  We’re out in the wilderness.  No vegetation.  We’ve run out.  Now, Moses, what will God do now?” 

And God will, in effect, come back and give them a very interesting solution.  Look at verse 11, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am’” - Yahweh - “your God.”  Right.  Verse 13, “So it came about at evening” - note this - “that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.”  He rains down, as it were, manna, that surfaces once the dew is evaporated.  But, before He does that, He says, “It has been awhile since you’ve had meat.”  And so, He brings in quail.  And, another passage of scripture talks about how they just went out and collected the quail. 

Now, I love the scoffers of scripture and those who would try to come up with a natural explanation of what happened.  And before we go any further, I want to give you what they’ve come up with.  They believe that the manna, this white substance, was the excretion of small desert insects.  There is no way Moses is going to talk two-and-a-half million people into eating, if that’s manna.  But that’s their solution.  There’s got to be a way around the fact that God just sends stuff out of heaven.  And the quail, they said that these were birds migrating from Africa who were exhausted and weren’t able to fly more than three feet above the ground.  That’s great.  I don’t know if you hunt but that would be the ultimate hunting experience.  No gun, just get a broom and go hit them out of the air.  Great!  Man alive, look at this pile!  That’s a miracle.  It’s more of a miracle than to just assume that God said that He would take care of the people and He is sending quail in and all they have to do is collect it.  And every morning and, by the way, every morning for forty years this occurs, for the entire forty year wandering.  Verse 35, “And the sons of Israel ate the manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.”  In other words, God’s going to provide TONS of bread every morning.  We’ll look at some of the details later.  But, that was His provision.  Again, showing them that He is a powerful God who does not need human solutions to provide for His people.  And I hope you’re noting that as we go along. 


Now let’s go to chapter 17.  This is the third grumbling spot.  The people are without water this time.  Their wineskins are empty.  Verse 2, “Therefore the people quarreled” - could be translated “grumbled,” or “complained” - “with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’”  What an ungrateful lot.  “And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?’”  Verse 5,“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.  Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that they people may drink.’  And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.”  And I love this solution better than any of the others.  “Moses, we are thirsty.  What will you do?”  Moses says, “Well this time, just follow me.”  And Moses takes his staff and he says, “You see that rock over there?”  And the people say, “Yeah.  It looks a lot like all the other rocks around here.”  And he says, “Well, water will come out of the rock.”  “How is that?”  “Well, stand back and let me get a good swing.”  And he strikes the rock and God provides for His people. 

You see, ladies and gentlemen, God is bringing these people down to the one basic question.  It’s the same question that you and I have to ask whenever we’re at those stopping places where life, like this water, is bitter, where we seem without provision, where it seems that God is not providing for us.  The question is found in verse 7, of chapter 17.  Moses comes to the people and they see or observe this, verse 7, “And he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying,”  - and here it is - “Is the Lord among us or not?”  That’s the bottom line in life.  Is God among us?  Is God involved in my life?  Is He involved in your life?  That’s the fundamental question that will either make you a grumbler throughout life or a person who trusts in the sovereign power of God.  Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, ask the question, “Is God among us?  Is He in my home?  Is He in my life?”  And therein lies the solution. 

Now, I want to go back because there is too much here to simply skip.  And I want to give you characteristics of grumblers, from this text of scripture.  If you have your notes, you might jot in the remainder of these sentences that I’ve left for you.  And I think you will, with me, find this rather convicting but, I hope, life changing.  The first is found in chapter 15, verse 25.  And I would say that the first characteristic of a grumbler is, one who observes God’s provision without appreciation; without appreciation or without learning.  There, in verse 25, God shows them a tree, they throw it into the waters and the waters become sweet, and there is no response.  There was the response of praise before but, in these next stopping grounds, it’s as if they are expecting.  And they constantly expect and God continually provides and there is no sign of appreciation nor is there a sign that they are learning that God is involved.  A grumbler is a very stubborn person.  And, when you and I grumble, we, in effect, blind our eyes to the fact that God is providing what He has provided and we have little appreciation. 

The second is found in chapter 16, verse 3.  And that is, a grumbler exaggerates personal conditions and then he complains.  Would you note verse 3 with me?  “And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt” - “Oh, I just wished I had died in Egypt before coming out here.”  Now note what they say, by exaggeration, “when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full” - or, literally, “we ate bread until we were stuffed” - “for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  They have forgotten.  “Oh, if we could only go back to the good old days in Egypt, when we sit by the meat pots.  We’d eat until we were stuffed.”  My, how they have forgotten what it was like in Egypt.  Working from dawn until dusk under heavy taskmasters, who constantly beat them.  Forging about and scrounging for food was the lifestyle of a slave.  But, do you know something?  Just as with them, and it’s true with me, whenever I am grumbling or complaining, I tend to exaggerate all that’s bad.  And usually, after that, I look around for somebody to blame, who can take the hit.  And they found Moses and they complained to him. 

Another thing that they do, in that verse, is they compare the present to the past.  And, I would add, to an always favorable past.  Do you know a chronic complainer is constantly looking back.  And everything in the background, everything in history, is more favorable than the present.  It was always better back then.  I don’t like to talk to people who talk about the good ole days.  Maybe because I’m too young to have good ole days, I don’t know.  But, you get around people, you could be twenty years old, you could be fifteen and remember, “Oh, what it was like before, back then.”  And one of the fascinating things about children, as you observe them, what are they living for?  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  “I can’t wait until I get old enough to do that.  I can’t wait until I grow up and do this.  Oh, if I were only sixteen and I could drive.  I can’t wait to go to college.”  And they live in the future tense.  And somewhere along there is a wall that’s built and we run into it and, from there on out, it’s, “Oh, if we could only go back.  If we could only return.  When I was seven, it was simple.  Before I drove, it was much easier.”  A chronic complainer is always comparing the present to a favorable past.  “Oh” - “we sat by the pots of meat”.  I want to say, “WAKE UP!”  But they are chronic grumblers.

The fourth would be this, refusing to totally surrender to the authority of God.  You see, there is a root that disallows them from really experiencing the provision of God.  And this is why they never appreciate it, because their eyes are, in a sense, closed to what His hand is doing.  They’re always thinking about the past.  They’re always exaggerating the present.  So they don’t really benefit from what God does.  Let me show you where this occurs.  Look at verse 20 of chapter 16, “This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece’” - that’s six pints, we can figure that they were picking up about eighteen million pints a morning - “‘according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’  And the sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little.  When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack” - this is a supernatural miracle, in itself, that the manna expands to meet the need of the family or diminishes so that they don’t have any left over - “And Moses said to them,” - verse 19 - “Let no man leave any of it until morning.”  Verse 20, “But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.”  In other words, “Okay, Lord, You’re going to provide manna.  But, since I’m really not under Your authority, I’m really not able to appreciate what You’re doing for me.  Therefore, I’m not really going to listen to the whole counsel, the whole command.  You say, ‘Don’t leave any over?’  Big deal.  I’m going to set a little aside.”  And, of course, God makes sure that it spoils.  Verse 26, “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath,” - literally translated “the rest day” - “there will be none.”- “Don’t collect it on the sabbath.”  Verse 27, “And it came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none”.  They amaze me.  And they resemble me.  Because God says, “Don’t do something, I’m going to take care of you.”  And what do I do?  “Okay, the seventh day, I’ll go out and get us a portion.”  “Don’t leave any over until morning.”  “Well, I don’t know if God can really provide and so, I’ll just make sure I’ve got some saved up.”  Boy, this is too convicting.  Let’s go to the next. 

The fifth, they distort reality and they falsely accuse.  Verse 3 of chapter 17, “But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’”  Now that’s intelligent.  Two-and-a-half million people have reached the conclusion that Moses led them out of Egypt to make sure they die of thirst.  That makes a lot of sense because Moses didn’t have any water, himself, if they didn’t.  What are they doing?  They are distorting reality and that goes right along with those who are chronic grumblers.  We lose the mooring of reality.  We’re so convinced that God may be against us, that all of this is bad, that all of yesterday was better, we make foolish decisions.  We distort the reality of what is actually happening. 

But let me stop and let’s sidle up to Moses for a second.  Let’s pretend we’re him.  How would you and I respond against such false accusation?  What if you were leading the people of Israel and they came to you with this conclusion?  Well, although this is very dramatic, we have all experienced accusations; some true, some false.  Do we mirror the character of Moses, who repeatedly does the same thing when he is falsely accused?  And what does he do?  He goes to God.  You never see, in this text of scripture, Moses saying, “BRING YOU OUT TO KILL YOU?  Let me give you five reasons why that’s not true.”  He never does.  He just goes to God. 

Let’s tie up the strings.  How do we overcome, what we could consider, the disease of grumbling?  It comes in slowly and then masters us.  I just want to give you two things.  We could talk about twenty; let me give you two.  First of all, by developing a constant dependence on the living Lord.  Developing a constant dependence.  And I want to show you something that is fascinating.  Turn to the Gospel of John.  You’ve got to see this for yourself.  John, chapter 6.  We talk about types, in the Old Testament, being fulfilled in the anti-type; that is, Jesus Christ.  And that Old Testament passage, we’ve looked at, has a sermon in itself about how Jesus Christ is the anti-type of that which was given in the Old Testament.  He fulfills the picture of what happened in the past.  You’ll note this one very clearly.  John, chapter 6, verse 32, “Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’” - verse 35 - “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life;’” - “I am the manna,” He says - “he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” - verse 48 - “I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread” - “I am the bread” - “which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  Jesus Christ said, that, which happened to Israel there in the wilderness where God provided, in fact, forty years in giving bread, they still had to die.  But, “I am the bread of life” - “and, if you come to depend on Me, you will never die.” Man!  But see, that isn’t just it.  That’s redemption.  But there is a constant dependence, throughout our wilderness journey, before we have reached the land of promise, where we will overcome the grumbler’s spirit by depending on the word, the living bread that is available.  It is new each morning. 

There are a couple of similarities.  It’s interesting that the manna fell and was available.  They didn’t have to go for a long distance to find it.  And so is the living word available to all of us.  And the interesting thing is, the manna was available to those who would go out and collect it.  This is available to those who will go and study it.  Manna was never force-fed; you could eat it or go hungry.  You will never be force-fed this book.  You will choose to eat from it, for it represents the living word, Jesus Christ, or you will go spiritually hungry.  If someone came to you and they said that they are spiritually weak and you were to ask them, “How often do you study the Bible?”  “Well, I read it a couple of times throughout the week and I get a good dose of it on Sunday.”  What if somebody came to you and said they are physically weak and you said, “Well, how often do you eat?”  “Well, I take a bite or two during the week and I have a full meal on Sunday.”  I think the spiritual anemia comes, ladies and gentlemen, because you and I are not in the book.  This.  It is available.  It’s here.  We have three or four in our houses.  We have many, plenty.  And yet, because it is never force-fed, it is ignored.  What a tremendous picture that Jesus Christ gives, not only of Himself but, of the word.  Developing a constant dependence on the Lord.

The second is this, cultivating a thankful attitude.  Cultivating a thankful attitude.  And I want to give you two ways that that can happen.  Obviously, there are many more.  The first, and this is all related to Israel.  There is a word that occurs more often to the Israelites than just about anybody else.  It is the little word “remember.”  I pulled out the concordance and I just started counting until I gave up.  There are probably over three-hundred times it occurs in the scriptures.  “Remember.”  “Remember.”  “Remember.”  God would tell the Israelites, when they were down in the dumps, “Remember the covenants.  Remember the promises.”  You see, because the grumbler has forgotten that God is involved, one of the best solutions is to simply sit down and remember what God has done.  Grumblers have very short memories.  I think we need to develop better memories.

The second is, to practice.  It takes practice.  A thankful attitude takes practice.  Turn over to Colossians, chapter 3, and I’ll show you.  Colossians, chapter 3, and I’m going to read this particular text out of William’s translation because he literalizes the tense of the verb and uses that very word.  Chapter 3 of Colossians.  And look at verse 15, “Let the peace that Christ can give keep on acting as an umpire in your hearts, for you were called to this state as members of one body;  and practice being thankful.”  That’s interesting, “practice being thankful.”  Now, I’ve got to admit to you, when I hear the word “practice,” I don’t like the word because it brings back a certain memory.  The word “practice,” was always related to the piano and I hated it.  And I came from that school where you practiced an hour a day.  And my parents kept record, if I missed some, they’d add it onto the next day.  Many Saturdays, five, six hours.  That was exciting.  I even ran away from home one day.  They said, “Go down, you’ve got four hours.”  And I climbed out the window and decided, as an eight-year-old, I was history, as far as this family was concerned.  My mother caught up with me a couple of blocks down the road and I came back and practiced four hours.  When I hear the word “practice,” I don’t think of fun.  I think of work.  And I think that’s the context here, “practice being thankful.”  You don’t practice thankfulness on the edge of the Red Sea.  You don’t practice being thankful at the Oasis of Helem(?).  That doesn’t take practice.  It takes practice when you are in the wilderness, in the desert when you’re thirsty, and things are going wrong.  That’s when you practice.  And so he said, “I want you to practice thankfulness.”  That is, when the situations arise where you want to do anything but be thankful, therein you develop the discipline of a thankful spirit. 

Chapter 1, verse 11, of that same book.  This may confuse you to try to follow along.  Maybe you could just listen.  He says, “I want you to lead lives worthy of the Lord to His full satisfaction by bearing fruit in every good enterprise and by a steady growth in a fuller knowledge of God.  Then you will be perfectly empowered by His glorious might for every sort of joyous endurance” - that’s dealing with circumstances -  “and forbearance” - that’s dealing with people - “and you will always be thanking the Father who has qualified you to share the lot of His people in the realm of life.”  What do I have to be thankful for today?  The foundation, the beginning, the starting point is, that we, by the redemption of Jesus Christ, can say, “I am thankful that He has qualified me, by His Son, to be part of the family of God.”  I start there.  Practice that.  And, when the lights are turned off, begin there.  “I am part of God’s family by Jesus Christ.”  And because of that, I can begin to practice thankfulness; knowing, believing, that Jesus Christ is among my life. 

There’s a little kid’s song that I heard one talking about, in relation to this thought.  Let me read it to you.  You’ve probably had your children learn it.  It’s called, “Grumblers.”  “In country, town or city, some people can be found, who spend their lives in grumbling at everything around.  Oh yes, they always grumble, no matter what we say,  for these are chronic grumblers and they grumble night and day.  They grumble in the city, they grumble in the farm, they grumble at their neighbors, they think it is no harm.  They grumble at their husbands, they grumble at their wives, they grumble at their children but the grumbler never thrives.  They grumble when it’s raining, they grumble when it’s dry, and if the crops are failing, they grumble and they sigh.  They grumble at the prices, they grumble when they’re high.  They grumble all the year around and they grumble until they die.  Oh, they grumble on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they grumble on Thursday too.”  Have you heard that?  “They grumble on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, they grumble the whole week through.” 

Living life in the past tense. No anticipation about what God is going to do in my life today and tomorrow.  No development of that discipline that separates you and I from the rest of the world.  When the lights are turned off in their lives, where do they go?  Oh, we have the solution, we go to God and we say, “Yes, by the grace of God, YOU ARE in my life.”  I don’t want to die like that.  It’s going to take not one thing to LIVE like that.  Let’s pray.                                                     

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