When the children of Israel were on their travels through the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land, they had some interesting experiences with food and water. At the same time they also made some discoveries about themselves, and their provider God. After the thrilling, triumphant crossing of the Red sea on dry land, followed by the drowning of the Egyptian army on that same strip of ‘dry land’, they were faced with the problem of finding enough to eat and drink. That’s when the grumbling started!!
It began with the issue of water. There were two incidents involving grumbling about the lack of water. The first time it was hardly surprising. They had left the Red Sea behind them, and travelled for three days into the desert to Marah without finding any water. What happens next is just amazing. They find some water – great relief – but no! it’s bitter, and that leads to bitter disappointment and the grumbling starts. The Lord shows Moses what to do, and he throws a piece of wood into the water and it becomes ‘sweet’, that is to say O.K. to drink, giving rise to more great relief, Exodus 15:22-25.
The Lord has now got their attention and promises them, at that ‘healed’ oasis, that if they pay attention to His commands and keep His decrees, they will not suffer the diseases He brought on the Egyptians but He will be their ‘Healer God’, Jehovah Rophe. He then leads them on to a place called Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees (probably dates). They had come to a place of rich blessing and abundance, Exodus 15:25-27, and a chance to discover God as their ‘Provider’.
The next complaint comes after they have been travelling for a month and a half since leaving Egypt, and they want food! The Lord appears to Moses and says, ‘I have heard the grumblings 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”, Exodus 16:11 How wonderful of our God to send them quail to eat in the evening and ‘bread’ to gather in the morning. They could also have gathered more evidence that He was going to be their ‘Provider God’.
After the quail and manna incident they again find themselves without water, this time in a desert place called Rephidim. More grumbling! “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and our livestock die?” This time when Moses calls on the Lord he is given the instructions to strike the rock at Horeb, and water flows out for the people to drink. Again God graciously provides for them, always ‘inspite of’, and not ‘because of’ the grumbling.
It’s easy to judge them, but in fact each incident of complaining occurs when there is genuine need. Three days without water! A month and a half without a regular food supply!! I don’t know about you but I know how hard it is, even when I have seen the Lord’s provision and deliverances in the past, to stay positive in a current crisis or situation of need. Somehow there is always that whisper in your head, ‘well He didn’t let you down last time but……’. Also the Lord seems to have a way of stretching our faith by coming to our rescue at, what very often feels like, the last minute.
What the Israelites hadn’t done was to keep in remembrance who the Lord was for them, even though He had kept them safe and well, with food and water for nearly two months, and that can be our problem too. We are told by the Psalmist that ‘He (the Lord) made known His ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel’ Psalm 103:6. I think there may be a key here. If we are just thankful to the Lord for what he does for us there is still room for doubts to creep in as to whether He will do the same for us again, and so in the face of each situation of need, we have to build up our faith.
If however our gratitude is for who He is for us in those situations, then our confidence in who He will continue to be for us will grow, until we are walking with Him in peace and confidence whatever is happening to us. We will know from deep down within ourselves that He is never going to let us down. God had shown Himself to be Deliverer, Healer, and Provider to the Israelites, but may be they had focused on the deliverances and not ‘the Deliverer’.
In every situation of need, I believe the Lord doesn’t just want to rescue us, He wants us to grow in our confidence in His Fatherhood and loving care of us. If we can thank Him each time, not just for what He has done for us, but for who He has shown Himself to be for us, for His ways with us, I believe we will grow in our faith and our trusting of Him. We will become increasingly sure of who He is and always will be for us, whatever comes our way. So let us increase our thanks giving, in all the circumstances in which we find ourselves, for who He is showing Himself to be for us, and let us grow in our confidence and trust in our wonderful Heavenly Father.