Now would you please take a copy of the Holy Scriptures in your hands. Turn with me to the book of Exodus, chapter 16. We’ve been working our way through the book of Exodus. This is where we’ve come to. Exodus chapter 16 in our church Bibles; it’s on page 58. It’s our custom before we read God’s Word to bow and ask for Him to help us understand and believe its message. Would you pray with me please?
We’re so grateful, Father, that Jesus teaches us that we who know how to give good gifts to our children when one of them asks for bread we’d never give them a stone, our Father is so much more ready to be generous and kind. He said, “Which of you being evil, even though you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts, give the Holy Spirit, to those who ask Him?” Well now, Father, we’re asking, would You send us the Holy Spirit please? Keep Your promise to us. We need Your Word to shed light into our darkness, to bring life to the dead, to feed us. We are hungry. So come, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, open the truth to us and open us to the truth, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Exodus chapter 16, reading from verse 1, this is the Word of God:
“They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him - what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.’
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’’ And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’’
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’’ And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.
Repetition of Vital Lessons
If you were with us last Lord Day you will remember, as we looked at the last section of chapter 15, the people of Israel moving on from the banks of the Red Sea where God had performed an extraordinary miracle of deliverance from the Egyptian army who were bearing down upon them. He had parted the sea and saved His people. And they moved on to a place called Marah, which means, “bitter,” because the waters of the oasis there were bitter to drink. And we began to identify a pattern emerging in the national life of Israel at this point in their journey and in their story. They begin to grumble and complain. They are discontent. And yet as we saw, God, for all their complaining, was wonderfully kind and patient with them. He, by a supernatural act, turned the bitter waters sweet then moved them on to another oasis, the oasis at Elim, where there was abundant supply for everyone. God was merciful to His complaining people. And as we turn now to chapter 16, we see Israel continuing their onward journey through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. They leave Elim behind them and they move on to what I think in English at least is the wonderfully ironically named wilderness of Sin, somewhere between Elim and Sinai. And disappointingly perhaps, though not surprisingly, the cycle repeats itself, doesn’t it? The people once again are to be found grumbling and complaining. This time it’s not about water but about food to eat. They are hungry; resentment is growing at the perceived austerity of their new wilderness life.
And yet, for all the sorry, sinful complaining of the people, the major focus of the passage we’ve read together falls not on their rebellious hearts but on the extraordinary patience and kindness and forbearance and grace of God who provides for them in their need. And so in many ways the whole story from the end of chapter 15 is recapitulated. It’s repeating itself here in chapter 16, many of the same themes and much of the same points. You might have heard the story about George Whitefield, the great 18th century Anglican who’s preaching God used so mightily in revival, both in Britain and in the United States. He was once asked, “Mr. Whitefield, why do you preach so frequently on the text, ‘You must be born again’?” to which Whitefield replied, “Because, ye must be born again!” Sometimes repetition is necessary because the lesson is vital. Sometimes repetition is necessary because the lesson is vital. Chapter 15 is being recapitulated in chapter 16. There’s the same lesson, largely, repeated because we need to learn the points. We find ourselves mirrored and echoed in the life of Israel and there’s important teaching for us and Moses is concerned, the Lord is concerned, that Israel and we begin to learn.
And so, we get another look, don’t we, at the complaining, dissatisfied hearts of the people of Israel. This time we go a little deeper than we did at the end of chapter 15. We’re going to look at all of chapter 16 this week and again next week. The first twenty-one verses, our portion today, really focuses our attention on who God is and then next week on practical, God’s practical treatment plan for dissatisfied hearts. I hate to divide the chapter that way, however, because I don’t want you to think that being shown who God is, is somehow impractical. Actually seeing more of God and seeing Him more clearly, understanding His heart and what He is like and how He responds, even to the grumbling, complaining, wicked hearts of His children is the first and most vital and most necessary step in dealing with a dissatisfied heart. The Puritan Thomas Watson once said, “Till sin is bitter, Christ will never be sweet.” I actually think he has that round the wrong way. When you perceive the sweetness of Christ, when you know who God is, His kindness, His patience, His love, in the light of who He is you begin to see more clearly how the sin you once found so enticing, to attractive, so beautiful, is really truly ugly and bankrupt and bitter indeed. That’s the concern of these opening twenty-one verses of chapter 16. They want to show us who God is, to remind us again of His kindness and patience and mercy that we might learn no longer to be dissatisfied but to find ultimate satisfaction in Him alone.
I. The Problem of Dissatisfaction
And I want you to see how, first of all, the passage opens with another glimpse at the problem of dissatisfaction. Verses 1 to 3 - Israel is about a month and a half out from Egypt; forty-five days have passed since they left, and despite all that God has done, the mighty deeds that He has performed among them, the people really are unhappy, aren’t they? Verse 2 - “The whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and the people of Israel said to them” - listen to this; this is shocking. “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in Egypt when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” It’s an extraordinary statement. It unmasks just how deep the dissatisfaction goes in their hearts, doesn’t it? They’re saying they would have preferred God to have killed them with the Egyptians in the plagues rather than have to endure all that they are currently enduring in the wilderness. “At least in Egypt we had plenty to eat! God’s rescue is worse than His wrath!” That’s what they’re saying. “We’d rather have food and slavery and death than God’s salvation and freedom and life with hunger.” They don’t think God’s plan is working and they do not trust Him to provide for their needs.
And since they’re handy, poor Moses and Aaron become the target of their grumbling and complaining, however, Moses and Aaron are careful to help them see that though they may make Moses and Aaron the target of their complaints, the real object of their dissatisfaction is not the leaders the Lord has provided but the Lord Himself. The Scriptures, Philippians 2:14, the Scriptures call us “to do all things without grumbling or complaining.” Our complaining, Israel’s complaints here, reveal a dissatisfied heart and the driver, our passage is showing us, behind that dissatisfaction at bottom is unbelief. They do not believe God is going to provide for them.
The Fruit of Unbelief
I wonder if that sounds familiar at all. Dissatisfaction is the flower, the bloom on the head of the weed of unbelief that has been allowed to grow in your heart. You do not believe in your particular extremity of need, in your unique circumstances, in all the details of your particular crisis that God can help you, that God can meet your need, that God is enough, that He is sufficient, that He is a full and perfect deliverer, to guide you through, to provide, to sustain, to direct. Sometimes we allow ourselves to conclude that God is only interested in souls and not in bodies or banks or bills to pay; those are beneath Him, and so He’s unconcerned about my trials and the burdens that weigh me down. That’s not at all how the Scriptures speak about God’s care for His people. And so before we move on to look at how God responds to the dissatisfaction of Israel, let’s try and face ourselves honestly together for a moment, shall we? Where have we allowed a creeping unbelief to slip into our thinking, generating in our hearts fear and fueling discontent? Where are there persistent whispered insinuations that here in this place at this point - God is not enough, that He will not supply, that His promises do not cover your need, that there is no help for your trial, that the nitty-gritty of your day by day burdens are beneath His notice? Have you been tempted to think that way? If you’ll let me to be a little blunt with you, I hope not unkindly, but maybe today God is calling you to repentance. He’s calling you to repentance for the sin of unbelief, for having allowed the weed of unbelief, not believing His promises, to have grown and festered in your heart and begun to bear fruit in discontentment and a complaining spirit. Maybe you need to repent and cry to God for pardon and cleansing and change.
II. The Patience of Grace
The problem of dissatisfaction is exposed in our passage, isn’t it, but do look at verses 4 to 12. Here’s how God responds to the problem of dissatisfaction with the patience of grace. The problem of dissatisfaction. The patience of grace. The peoples words really are appalling, aren’t they? Cold and cruel, entitled, demanding. “Yesterday’s miracles, however spectacular, simply will not do as I face today’s problems.” That’s what they’re saying. “Without a fresh miracle today, we are ready to write God off! Unloving! He doesn’t care about me!” It’s horrible, ugly, entitled. And yet look how God responds. There is not a word in our passage of recrimination. Instead, He promises again and again and again in these twenty-one verses to provide. He’s going to rain bread from heaven; He’s going to send quail into the camp into the evening. He even gives specific instructions about how much to gather each day. How much to gather on Friday night before the Saturday’s Sabbath. He does want careful obedience. He is still teaching His people like a patient Father to learn to trust Him and to obey Him, but He does not hesitate as he teaches them to provide for their needs, do you see?
The LORD Hears
You see the divine patience with them? It’s especially clear when you notice the repeat emphasis on God’s hearing in our passage. Verse 7, “The LORD has heard your grumbling.” Verse 8, “The LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him.” Verse 9, “Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.” Verse 11, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel.’” If you’ve ever grumbled and complained about someone then you know that dreadful feeling like an ice cube down your spine when you discover the person about whom you’re complaining has heard every word. And I’m sure the people must have felt some of that and much worse when they discover that all their complaints aimed at Moses and Aaron have been heard by Almighty God Himself. We do need to understand, I think, that all our thoughts, our intentions, are known to God. We live day by day, we think and speak and do coram deo - “before the face of God.” He sees and He hears all of it. And yet it’s not judgment the people receive here, is it? That might be what they deserve. It is not what they get. What they get is marvelous provision. Here’s the patience of grace. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. As far as east is removed from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” This is your God - abounding in steadfast love, overflowing with the patience of grace.
God’s Method of Producing Holiness
You remember Dickens’, A Christmas Carol? After the three spirits visit Ebenezer Scrooge he’s a changed man the next day, isn’t he? But those around him don’t quite know it yet and when he ventures out everyone is cowering and cringing, expecting a dreadful curmudgeonly word from Mr. Scrooge and they are astonished when instead he wishes them a Merry Christmas and smiles and dances and sings. I think, I suspect, some of us look at God like those people looked at Scrooge that day, expecting Him to be cold and angry and harsh and denunciatory. And we are astonished when He showers us with undeserved grace upon grace. God is holy, He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, righteous, just, high and lifted up, glorious in majesty, far above us. To Him we must all give an account. He never simply indulges us. He never winks at sin or excuses our waywardness. All of that is true, and yet some of us still forget with alarming frequency that he is wonderfully patient with us - slow to anger. He deals with us as a perfect Father, patiently teaching and training His children. And we forget, don’t we, that sanctification is not always carried on by hard trials and sharp rebukes. God does use suffering as one of the many instruments as a Master Surgeon to deal with the cancer of sin in our hearts. He does. But kindness and patience and unmerited free grace, they are by far the more powerful and the more prevalent instruments in the hand of God to kill your sin and to teach you to trust Him and to make you like Jesus. Your God delights to be kind to you, Christian.
Some of you think that round every corner lurks a catastrophe, that God is sort of waiting in ambush to ruin your happiness in order to pursue your holiness, as though happiness and holiness were opposites, that you cannot have them together when actually the Scriptures teach that the holy life is the happy life, that the Lord does not delight in wounding the hearts of His children but would much rather woo you and win you with His love. Which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone, or if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent? “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” God loves to be kind to you, believer in Jesus! Patient with us in His grace. Isn’t the proof of that the gift of His Son? “While we were yet sinners, deserving His wrath and displeasure, Christ died for us. If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but freely gave Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him graciously give us all things?” Do you think God is miserly, stingy, Scrooge-like towards you with His grace? Not at all. The proof? He’s already given the best He has, the greatest gift. He’s given His Son for you.
III. The Provision of Plenty
The provision; now the patience of grace - responding to the problem of dissatisfied hearts - and then notice finally the provision of plenty. The grumbling of the people is driven by dissatisfaction and by unbelief, but the need they’re complaining about, nevertheless, is real. Verse 13 - God, therefore, provides for them. “In the evening, quail came up and covered the camp and the morning dew lay around the camp. When the dew had gone up there was, on the face of the wilderness, a find flake like thing, as fine as frost on the ground. When the people saw it they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” And everyone, we’re told, has enough for his own household every day. Verse 17, “They gather some, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over. Whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.” Isn’t it easy to forget that the provision of God is always perfect? He gives us each day our daily bread. That’s what Jesus taught us to pray. Day by day He gives us enough.
What Provision Points To
“Do not be anxious saying, ‘What shall we eat or what shall we drink or what shall we wear?’ for the Gentiles seek after all these things. And your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” - Matthew 6:31-33. You cannot exhaust the generosity of God. you don’t have a need for which He is insufficient. There is no trial greater than the capacity of His grace. God always gives His people what they need and He always gives us enough. “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory.” And the great target of God’s provision for Israel here in our passage and among us in our lives isn’t ultimately food in the bellies of grumbling Israelites or a solution to our daily trials. His target in the end is what? Verse 6 - “At evening you shall know it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD.” Verse 12, “At twilight you shall eat meat and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.” What is it God is pursuing as He hears the cries of His people and provides for them with patience and mercy and grace. He wants them to see and to know the greatness of His love and kindness, that He is their Redeemer, and as they see His glory to find ultimate satisfaction there.
Brothers and sisters, God has rescued you from sin and death and hell as you believe in Jesus Christ. He is a perfect Savior for you and He will never, never fail to keep you and guard you and preserve you and bring you home to glory in the end. There is no need of yours greater than the capacity of His grace to supply. There is no trial that will leave Him bankrupt and unable to help. He wants you to see the greatness of His glory because when you see it, when He answers and delivers and showers His grace upon you and you say, “My God is great and glorious and mighty to save,” you are ultimately satisfied. That’s where true, lasting satisfaction is found. Not in food in your bellies nor resources to pay the bills, but in knowing God Himself who gives you His Son. And so God’s great agenda with Israel is that they might know Him and His agenda with you is that you might know Him, that your eyes may leave every idol behind and fix themselves always on Him for the joy of your soul and the glory of His name. May God bless to us the ministry of His Word. Let’s pray together.
Father, we confess how easily we are dissatisfied, how unbelief, how fear that You will not provide, that Your promises will fail, generates in our hearts dissatisfaction and a grumbling spirit. Forgive us, forgive us. Thank you that You are so patient with us, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. Even when we’re confused and complaining and doubting and panicking. You are constant and sure, merciful and gracious, teaching us to trust you and meeting our need. Thank You that the greatest need of our heart is for ultimate, lasting satisfaction you provide in Jesus Christ alone. Help us to look there, to find rest there, and to find true joy and peace and ultimate satisfaction in Him alone, the true Bread of heaven. For w ask it in His name, amen.
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