When Moses finally convinced the elders of Israel that God sent him to deliver Israel from slavery to the Egyptians, the elders all bowed and worshipped God.
Then the people of Israel were convinced that the LORD had sent Moses and Aaron. When they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. (Exodus 4:21)[i]
However, when things got tough they were thrown into a panic and said:
“May the LORD judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!” (Exodus 6:21)
The Israelites witnessed the plagues and God’s judgment of Egypt. As they left Egypt, the Lord went ahead of them guiding them with a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day. (Exodus 13:21-22)
They had witnessed the power of God for at least a few months now, probably longer, but they panicked when they saw Pharaoh’s army chasing them. They were camped by the Red Sea and Pharaoh and his army came at them from the other side. The people then said to Moses:
“Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” (Exodus 14:11-12)
The next day the whole community of Israel stood on the opposite shore of the Red Sea and worshipped God as they saw the bodies of their enemies washed up on the seashore. (Exodus 14:30)
The Lord then led them from the Red Sea into the wilderness. After three days of travel where they did not see any water they came to an oasis. However, the water was too bitter to drink. The scriptures tell us they grumbled against Moses and demanded of Him, “What are we going to drink?” (Exodus 15:24)
We see a pattern here. Each time the people faced a problem they grumbled against Moses. Moses then went to the Lord.
The Lord had sent Moses because the people had cried out to the Lord, but now they did not cry out to the Lord when they faced problems. They grumbled against Moses.
This was their pattern as we enter into the 16th chapter of Exodus. Exodus 16:1-3 says:
Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
The Lord heard their complaint and worked a mighty miracle, feeding the people with bread out of heaven. This bread showed up on the ground every morning for 40 years. However, the pattern we have just looked at revealed a serious problem. Over 1,000 years later the New Testament says of this generation:
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
These things happened as a warning to us. (1 Corinthians 10:1-6)
Let us stop here and consider this. “These things happened as a warning to us.”
What was the problem? Was it the grumbling? Well yes, but grumbling was a symptom of a condition of the heart. Grumbling was not so much the problem but the symptom or manifestation of the problem.
In another passage, the New Testament puts its finger on the issue. Hebrews 3:7-9 says:
Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness. There your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
In this passage, the issue is named when it says, “don’t harden your hearts as Israel did.” The problem was hard hearts. It is fascinating to me that the very problem that Pharaoh manifested, a hard heart, also plagued the whole community of Israel. In fact, because of pride, it tends to plague the entire human race. No wonder the New Testament warns us not to harden our hearts.
The New Testament tells us that these things happened as a warning for us. So, I want to look at the warning signs of a hard heart.
There are three and we will look at each one in turn. These three warning signs are: 1) grumbling, 2) Scapegoating and 3) Anger.
First, we will consider the grumbling.
According to Google to “grumble” means to: “complain or protest about something in a bad-tempered but typically muted way.”
It is important to understand that this is different from being dissatisfied with circumstances. When the people grumbled they had legitimate concerns. Pharaoh’s army was a real threat. Water was a necessity. Food was a concern. In each case, God intervened and provided the things that were the cause of concern. The problem with the grumbling was that it was the people’s response to the issue at hand.
But, what should they have done? Could they take on Pharaoh’s army? Could they clear up the bitter water? Could they make food where there was no food?
Let us ask another question. What did they expect Moses to do?
Here I want to make an important point about our beliefs. Christianity and the church universal have always taught that the individual is responsible for his or her response to God. One does not find peace with God because he or she belongs to the right church. One does not find peace with God because he or she is born into the right family. This is part of why we stress that the Bible is the Word of God. The normal person can easily understand this plain book. We do not rely on a priest or church or another person to explain it to us. Each person is responsible for his or her own response.
This grumbling response shows the first step in turning away from this responsibility. In fact, Hebrews 3:10 says, “So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me.” Consider what God is saying here. He has warned us against hardening our hearts as the Israelites did, and now He says, “Their hearts always turn away from me.” If we go back to the question, “What did they expect Moses to do? We will see that Moses always went to the Lord for them. Why did they not go to the Lord for themselves? Why did they not turn to the Lord? Would this not be a much more appropriate response? “Oh, God help us! We are hungry.” Would God not bless such a heart?
The first warning sign was grumbling. Take a third person view of yourself and see if you do not grumble. Then look for the second warning sign: scapegoating.
According to Webster a scapegoat is: “one that bears the blame for others.”
This shows itself quite plainly in the complaints of the Israelites. “Moses, why did you take us out of Egypt?” Each time the Israelites grumbled did you notice that they grumbled against Moses and Aaron?
A cloud in the shape of a pillar led them. The Red Sea parted before them. Frogs, flies and fleas plagued the land around them. Was Moses the source of these miracles? Listen to what Moses told them. “What have we done? Yes, your complaints are against the LORD, not against us.” (Exodus 16:8)
Rather than looking to the Lord for help, their hearts turned away from the Lord and they looked for someone to blame. Moses and Aaron were right there up front. So, in an unreasonable and senseless manor, they directed their complaints against Moses and Aaron.
If we take a good objective look at ourselves and find that we are grumbling in our dissatisfaction, the next step we should take is look for the person we are blaming. Once we identify that person, we should repent and apologize as necessary.
This extends to politics and presidents as well. If we are concerned for our country, we should not grumble and complain. We should turn to the Lord. Never think that the solution is in men and women. Our hope is always in the Lord. This can be said for the church, the work place, the home and the community. We are each individually responsible to call on the name of the Lord. We do not need a Moses to do that for us.
Next, after scapegoating, the people expressed their anger.
They said, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 16:3, ESV)[ii]
This is anger. These people are afraid that they might die, and they are so angry and frustrated with Moses that they wish they had died already.
If you have gotten to the point where you wish you were dead, talk to a good Christian brother or sister. Do not go it alone. We all get to this point at some time in our lives. Do not deceive yourself. You are not alone, and need a friend at this point.
God’s solution to this problem was not the manna. The manna was the food they needed. However, there was a much greater issue that needed to be addressed. Moses explains part of the lesson in Deuteronomy 8:3, and Jesus also quoted this lesson as being more important than food. Deuteronomy 8:3 says:
Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
If we look at Exodus 16, we will see something interesting. Exodus 16:10 says:
And as Aaron spoke to the whole community of Israel, they looked out toward the wilderness. There they could see the awesome glory of the LORD in the cloud.
God’s solution was to show His glory.
There is a very simple lesson here. When we are tempted to grumble, when we are tempted to scapegoat and when we are tempted to anger, remember this statement: “It is not about me.”
God wants to bless you. Call on Him. You will see His glory and understand, “It is not about me.”
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.