There are two words the Bible uses most to describe the wilderness years – grumbling and rebellion. The two are connected. Murmuring hardens the heart and stiffens the neck. More than empty words, their complaining was a show of defiance. It was a rejection of God’s authority and loving leadership.
When Israel gave way to grumbling, God grieved but responded in grace. He promised to send flocks of quail each night for meat and sweetened flakes of bread every morning. The people called it manna, which means “what is it?” I can’t help but think of the little donut balls from Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m not sure what manna tasted like, but it was heavenly.
With the blessing of provision came two simple instructions. Gather only enough for each day and store no leftovers. Second, every sixth day gather twice as much and prepare it all so there can be complete rest on the Sabbath. No searching for food or laboring over a hot stove on the Lord’s Day. It all was a test to see if they could daily trust God to meet their needs.
The birds came in droves, and the manna spread like snow. But the people gathered too much and stored it for the next day. The following day, they ran to peek in their containers but found only maggots. On the Sabbath, they lumbered out of their tents, worried about provisions for the next week, but found nothing.
Their stubborn rebellion angered God. Exodus 16:27-28 says, “Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?”
My dad and mom gave their lives in full-time ministry – helping people, planting churches, and building schools. Dad left each weekday at 5:30 AM for early morning prayer, and came home late. With four kids, mom ran the home, pinching every penny, while teaching adult catechism. No matter how tough it got, there was always fried chicken, sweet tea, and green beans. I didn’t have Ralph Loren, but I did have clothes. I didn’t get everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed.
As a kid, I developed a love for the soulful singing and trumpeting of Phil Driscol. As a young trumpet player in the school band and the church worship team, I dreamed of being like Phil. But, my instrument was a beat up Bundy, that had long lost its brassy shine. I’ll never forget the Christmas they went over the top and gave me a new, silver, Stradivarius Bach.
What if I gathered my siblings in the backyard and grumbled about dad’s ability to provide while he was hard at work? Or, despite the warnings, continued to complain about mom’s cooking while feeding my face? This would be a rejection of their leadership, an act of rebellion that would anger and frustrate any parent, destroying the joy in the family.
Because grumbling stirs rebellion, there is no rest. For the next forty years, Israel would grumble and rebel. While God tested them, they tested and tried God. They tried God a little, like a swimmer dips a toe in the water but quickly pulls back, never able to make a wholehearted plunge. Never wholly devoted they were always anxious, worried, and unsettled.
All of this was written for our instruction, to help us journey through this life on the way to our eternal rest. Notice Hebrews 3:7-11.
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
Here are a few questions to ponder.
* Think back over the last month. How is your energy level? What have you said to yourself about your marriage, job, family, church, and place in life? What have you said to others? Are you blaming others? If you’re not sure, ask your spouse, or a good friend.
* If you could put on a real “mood ring” what color would it be?
* Convinced you’re grateful, are you really a chronic complainer?
* Which do you spend more time doing, faultfinding or giving thanks?
* What kind of culture are you creating in your home, church, and place of work? Is it negative or positive?
* What kind of seed are you sewing? Play the movie forward. Will your words produce a good crop or a harvest of hardship?
* Do your words reflect the majesty and glory of God, or does it sound to others like God is dead?
* While complaining about others, is your real issue with God?
* Are you using your complaints about others to justify your own disobedience?
Wherever you are, be thankful today can mark a new beginning. It’s never too late with God. In the following weeks, you’ll find encouragement to chart a new course of thankfulness.