Oh, the Exodus. What a strange and troublesome blot on the story of God’s people . . .
Every time I read about how God delivered His people from slavery with dramatic interventions like plagues and the parting of the Red Sea I am amazed. But within a few pages, when God’s people start grumbling about petty issues like food, frankly I want to slap them silly.
How could they doubt God’s goodness after all they had seen? How could they gripe about the menu when God had delivered them from slavery? How could they consistently be such a stubborn people when God had demonstrated such a soft heart toward them? If I had been among them, surely I would have responded differently . . .
Hindsight has a way of distorting reality, doesn’t it? Since I can read the Israelites story from beginning to end, I tend to take on the role of backseat driver. I can see where they zigged but should have zagged. I can see where they grumbled but should have worshipped. I can see where they doubted but should have trusted. When I read their story, I start to feel a little self-righteous.
But lately, it has occurred to me that I don’t always do a good job of managing my manna. Manna are those things I beg God for, but once He delivers, I start complaining.
My children are a good example. I prayed and prayed for those little boys. I asked God to make them strong and healthy and brave. Oh, they’re strong all right—strong-tempered, strong-willed, and very skilled at strong-arming my day. I hear myself complaining to God about them when He has done exactly what I asked and given me exactly what I requested.
My marriage comes to mind. Ooh how I begged God to let me marry that boy fifteen years ago. And yet, my regular marriage prayers sound more like a gripe session about all that needs to change instead of an expression of gratitude for my husband.
My job is another example. I love what I do. I get to write and speak and occasionally travel. About eight years ago, I quit my job as a high school history teacher because I wanted to become a Bible teacher. For nearly a year I sat in an empty home office with nothing to do, nothing to write, and no one asking me to speak.
All day every day I begged God to give me opportunities to teach His Word. He has done it. And yet, with nearly every deadline or speaking engagement my first response is to grumble. It turns out that being a Bible teacher is hard work. It requires studying (and more studying), sacrifice, oh . . . and actual effort on my part. God gave me exactly what I asked for and yet, so often I complain about it.
What happened when the Israelites failed to manage their manna? What was God’s response when they complained after He gave them exactly what they asked for?
“Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship. When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and he prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So that place was named Taberah, because the Lord’s fire had blazed among them” (Num. 11:1–3).
The memory of that fire must have lasted about as long is my own memory of God’s goodness. Before long the people started complaining that they didn’t have fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Num. 11:5).
How ungrateful do you have to be to complain about a shortage of leeks? Moses got caught up in the collective misery and asked God to kill him in order to deliver him from the sound of the Israelites’ constant complaining (Num. 11:14).
What a hissy fit! And all over some herbs and meat!
There are loads of warnings in this story, but here’s my big takeaway:
1. My default is to complain, even when God gives me exactly what I ask for.
2. When I allow my heart to go there, I can expect anger to be God’s (righteous) response.
I wonder if you need the same reminder?
Are you managing your manna well? Do you receive the things you ask God for with a heart of gratitude and praise? Or are you more like me and those stubborn Israelites? Is grumbling your default? Do you tend to approach God always asking for more?