GOD DIRECTS BOTH OUR TRIALS AND HIS GRACIOUS PROVISION TO MANIFEST HIS SUPREME GLORY
The entire book of Exodus is all about God getting glory for Himself – enhancing His reputation in the eyes of both His covenant people and His defeated enemies. It is also a record of how prone God’s people are to forget His faithfulness and goodness and fall into the sin of grumbling and complaining. We will unpack this Big Idea statement by first considering the trial itself; then God’s gracious provision; and finally, the manifestation of His supreme glory.
Philip Ryken: By this point in Exodus, we have come to expect God to do things for his own glory. If we learn nothing else from this book, we learn that we are saved for God’s glory. At every stage of Israel’s deliverance, God did what he did—and did it the way that he did—to receive all the glory and praise. However predictable it becomes, there is no more important lesson than this: God disposes all things for the ultimate good of his glory. Every time he provides, he adds a little more weight to his reputation.
God does the same thing for us. There is glory in the ordinary providence of God. Every time he takes care of our needs or spares us from danger, every time he enables us to repent of our sins or to believe in his promises, every time he works things out in a way that seemed impossible, we see a little bit more of his glory. Or at least we ought to. If we are not giving God the glory, after all he has done for us, what more is it going to take?
I. (:1-3) GRUMBLING OF GOD’S PEOPLE OVER TRIAL OF LACK OF FOOD
A. (:1) Next Stage on the Wilderness Journey
“Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.”
Thomas Constable: The wilderness of Sin evidently lay in the southwestern part of the Sinai peninsula (Exodus 16:1). Its name relates to Sinai, the name of the mountain range located on its eastern edge. Aharoni believed that Paran was the original name of the entire Sinai Peninsula.
B. (:2) Next Round of Grumbling Against Spiritual Leaders
“And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”
David Guzik: They lost sight of God’s future for them, and they also twisted the past to support their complaining. This thinking is common among those who complain.
G Campbell Morgan: What a startling change from the song of yesterday! Therein the human heart is revealed. It seems incredible that so soon they should have descended from the height of glorious song, to the level of mean murmuring. Yet so it was, and so often still it is. What had happened? Had God changed? Was He not still the glorious King? Or had they encountered some enemy more powerful than Pharaoh, some obstacle more impossible to overcome than the sea? No, none of these things had happened. They were hungry! That was all. It is very mean and unworthy. Had they forgotten God? No, not wholly, but they were allowing the near, and the trivial, to make them for the moment unmindful of Him. This is a very revealing story. Again and again, indeed almost invariably, when the people of God are found murmuring, it is over some experience through which they are called to pass, which is of the most trivial nature by comparison with the great things of life. This kind of thing spreads. Notice that the whole congregation joined in the unworthy business. Unanimity is not always proof of wisdom or of rightness. In an hour when the prevailing mood is that of dissatisfaction, it is a good thing if some lonely singer celebrates the Lord in song. We may at least be perfectly assured that unanimous murmuring, whenever we hear it, is wholly wrong. Therefore let each one refuse to join therein. If singing is impossible, let there at least be silence. That is always better than murmuring. The sequel shows how unnecessary the murmuring was. It always is.
C. (:3) Next Expression of Despair
1. We Were Better Off in Egypt
“And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full;’”
Steven Cole: Grumblers often exaggerate how good life was when they were enslaved to sin and don’t see the eternal benefits of trusting in God. The grumblers compared their lack of food in the wilderness with the pots of meat and bread to the full that they enjoyed in Egypt (Exod. 16:3). Hello? They were slaves in Egypt, but they make it sound as if things were great back then! But life wasn’t as idyllic as they’re making it sound! But, let’s assume for the sake of argument, that life was smoother when you were an unbeliever. Maybe your job was going well, but when you became a Christian, you got fired and now are in a crummy job or no job. Maybe your romantic life was satisfying, but now you can’t find a suitable Christian girl or guy to date. Maybe your relationship with your parents was okay back then, but now it’s strained. You feel like life was a lot better back then and you’re tempted to “go back to Egypt”! Does the Bible address that situation? Read Psalm 73! The psalmist was despairing as he saw the prosperity of the wicked, while he was encountering new problems every day since he had begun to follow the Lord. He says that he almost stumbled, until he went into the sanctuary of God. There he gained the eternal focus: He realized that God would cast down the wicked to destruction, but He would receive the psalmist into eternal glory. So if you’re grumbling and tempted to go back to the world, get to “the sanctuary.” Get alone with God and His Word and regain the eternal perspective! God leads you into places of need so that you will look to Him to meet those needs.
Tim Keller: What you see in verse 3 is very important. It is the language of addiction. It’s the language of denial. When they were actually in Egypt, when they were actually under the lash, they hated it. They cried out against it. They were miserable, and now they’re out of there, and yet you see, when they think back about Egypt, they remember it fondly. They think of it as something good. They think of it as something desirable. They think of it as something they wouldn’t mind going back to. That is the language of addiction, in that they’re still addicted. When you think back into your addiction, when you think back into that situation with the delusional thinking that screens out all the misery and says, “That really wasn’t so bad,” even though they were technically out of slavery, in their hearts internally, in their spirits they were still slaves. This leads us to a principle. You can get people out of slavery in an instant. Zap! It happens like that. They cross the Red Sea. It’s a legal thing. It’s a political thing. It’s a military thing. You can get people out of slavery in an instant, but you can’t get the slavery out of people except through a long process. You can get the people out of slavery quickly, immediately, but you can’t get the slavery out of the people quickly. It takes a process. Though legally they were free, actually they hadn’t learned how to be and think and work out their liberation into their lives, and that’s the reason why they don’t go right to the Promised Land, and Moses knows that.
2. Your Leadership Has Been a Disaster
“for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Philip Ryken: The word “grumbling” hardly does the Israelites justice. The Hebrew word was not designed to express a disgruntled complaint. Quite the contrary, it described an open rebellion. When the people murmured against Moses, it was mutiny against Almighty God. They were repudiating their relationship with him. In fact, they wished that they were dead (Exod. 16:3). The way they figured, if they were going to die anyway, it would have been better to die back in Egypt. Starving in the desert was a fate worse than death. In effect, they were saying that they wished they had never been saved.
Douglas Stuart: As the Israelites saw themselves, their families, and their flocks growing thinner and as they saw day after day no likely source of food in the wilderness in which they were traveling, it became obvious to them that they were going to die unless something dramatic happened to reverse their plight. Their month’s journey had involved much care and effort, which now began to look to them as if it had all been expended in vain. So although their words were essentially rhetorical rather than literal (they didn’t really wish they had died in Egypt and didn’t want to die in the wilderness either but wanted something done to give them food to eat) they made a comparison in their complaint between the simplicity of dying where they were and the absurdity of going to all the trouble they had gone to in the past month and then dying anyway. This was the first time the Israelites made the “if only we had died in Egypt argument,” but it would not be the last (see Num 11:4, 18; 14:2; cf. 20:3; Josh 7:7). Their reference to dying “by the Lord’s hand” recalls the plagues and the destruction of the Egyptians at the sea—they had been spared from all of those dangers but were now rhetorically arguing that perhaps they would have been better off eliminated by a plague or by drowning.
II. (:4-5) GRACIOUS PROVISION FROM GOD IN RAINING BREAD FROM HEAVEN
A. (:4) Daily Provision
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will 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 or not they will walk in My instruction.’”
Steven Cole: The manna didn’t just float down into everyone’s mouth. It was free and abundant, but the people had to get up and gather it every day before the sun melted it. It was a test of faith to see whether they would obey God or not (Exod. 16:4, 19-20, 27-29). They were to gather about two liters each every morning, but on Friday morning, they were to gather four liters so that they didn’t need to gather any on the Sabbath. This wasn’t the full instruction regarding the Sabbath that would follow later, but it was a test to see if Israel would obey God’s command and trust Him to provide each day and twice as much for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was God’s gift so that the people could rest that day (Exod. 16:29-30).
Douglas Stuart: God was teaching them a concept: that he was their ultimate provider, the one who from heaven gave them not necessarily what they expected but what they really needed. Thus his satisfying them with the bread of heaven becomes a theme of Scripture that not only refers to the manna described in this account (cf. Ps 105:40; Neh 9:15) but to the ultimate provision of eternal sustenance, Christ himself (John 6:31–58).
This great gift also involved a test. The NIV translation of the end of v. 4 obscures the point of God’s statement. It should be translated “so that I can test them to see whether or not they will walk by my law.” In other words, the people’s willingness to obey the manna-gathering law (tôrāh) would show God whether or not they would be inclined to keep his covenant law (tôrāh) as revealed at Mount Sinai. It was not just a test to see if they could follow instructions but a test to see if their hearts were inclined to be his covenant people. The test itself required faith for an agricultural people. Farmers know that if one harvests only enough food in a day to meet the needs of that day, eventually one has no food because no crops or animals produce food every day. Now they were being asked to restrain their natural tendency to gather as much as was available to gather in anticipation of the time when no gathering would be possible. God was teaching them to trust him every day afresh, and they were challenged to think about his provision in a way that had never before been part of their planning pattern.
B. (:5) Double Portion on the Sixth Day
“And it will come about on the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
Philip Ryken: This was partly a lesson about contentment. By giving everyone the same rations, God was teaching his people to be satisfied with their daily provision. How much is enough? We live in a culture of accumulation, where enough is never enough—we always want a little bit more. But all we really need is our daily bread, which God has promised to provide. As God sustains us from one day to the next, we are called to live in daily dependence upon his providence. Why does God tell us to trust him for our daily bread? Maxie Dunnam writes, “He does it for our sakes, that we may know the peace and strength that come from continual dependence upon Him, the joyful life that is ours when we trust Him and see the truth of our trusting. The happiest people I know are not people who don’t have any needs, but people who experience the meeting of their needs by God.”
III. (:6-8) GLORY OF THE LORD MANIFESTED IN PROVIDING BOTH BREAD AND MEAT IN TIME OF TRIAL
A. (:6) Testimony of God’s Faithfulness Revealed Each Evening
“So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, ‘At evening you will know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt;’”
B. (:7) Testimony of God’s Faithfulness Revealed Each Morning
“and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?”
Woodrow Kroll: The truth is, most of us don’t mind complaining at all. Yet we need to remember that when we complain, ultimately the person we’re finding fault with is God. He is sovereign, so everything that comes into our lives must first meet His approval. When we complain, we are telling God, “You’ve made a mistake. You shouldn’t have allowed this to happen to me.” But God is too wise to make a mistake and too loving to permit unnecessary heartache.
When you are next tempted to complain, remember that you have a sovereign God who loves you. All that you experience is to shape and mold you into the best person you can be. Instead of complaining, be happy that God cares enough about you even to allow you hardship under His watchful eye.
Ultimately, all our complaints are directed against God.
Phillip Ryken: God gave his people bread to show that he was Lord. This was something that he had already proven to his enemies. He showed the Egyptians who was Lord by drowning them on their chariots in the sea. Now he was going to show his own people the same thing, only he would do it by meeting their needs. The meat and the bread would give them a personal, firsthand acquaintance with his lordship. The Israelites already knew that God was the Lord of Israel, but now they would learn it again by their own experience. Another way to say this is that God would show Israel his glory. God’s glory is his reputation. It is his honor, the weightiness of his character, the sum total of all his divine perfections. To know that he is the Lord, therefore, is to know him as the God of glory. To help his people see how glorious he is, God gave them a glimpse: “Then Moses told Aaron, ‘Say to the entire Israelite community, “Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.” ’ While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud” (vv. 9, 10). Once again Aaron served as God’s spokesman. He gathered the people into God’s presence and then pointed them to God’s glory. What the people saw was the Shekinah, the glorious cloud of God’s presence and protection. God was glorified in the cloud, which was a visible manifestation of his invisible majesty. But God was also glorified in sending the manna and the quail. His miraculous provision added to his reputation as the God who hears and the God who cares. Every time God provides for his people, it is for the praise of his glory. By this point in Exodus, we have come to expect God to do things for his own glory. If we learn nothing else from this book, we learn that we are saved for God’s glory. At every stage of Israel’s deliverance, God did what he did—and did it the way that he did—to receive all the glory and praise. However predictable it becomes, there is no more important lesson than this: God disposes all things for the ultimate good of his glory. Every time he provides, he adds a little more weight to his reputation.
C. (:8) Testimony of God’s Faithfulness Communicates Key Spiritual Lessons
1. Lesson #1 = God Provides Abundantly All You Need
“And Moses said, ‘This will happen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning;’”
2. Lesson #2 = God Hates Your Grumbling Against His Goodness
“for the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him.”
Philip Ryken: Israel’s attitude is a warning against the great sin of complaining. It is always wrong to make the worst of things or to make baseless accusations against good people. But when the Israelites complained to Moses, what they were really doing was grumbling against God. “They continued to sin against him,” wrote the psalmist, “rebelling in the desert against the Most High” (Ps. 78:17). Moses and Aaron recognized this. So rather than getting defensive, they helped the people see what they were really doing: “Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” “Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord” (Exod. 16:7b, 8b).
3. Lesson #3 = God Takes Your Grumblings Personally –
When You Attack Your Spiritual Leaders You Really are Attacking God
“And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us
but against the LORD.”
John Mackay: After Moses had received this message from the Lord, he presumably called a meeting of the elders, and, using Aaron as his spokesman, told them what the people were to expect. So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt” (16:6). The additional details contained in the message to the people show that verses 4–5 have only been a summary of what the Lord had said. The need to know the Lord (6:3) is again emphasized. The reality of his saving activity on their behalf will be emphasized by the provision he will make for the people in the evening. Also, at dawn the next day when they would begin their regular activities, there would be a further reinforcement of the lesson the Lord would teach them. And in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord. This is the first occurrence of the term ‘the glory of the Lord’. It refers to a visible sign of the Lord’s presence with his people. It is not limited to the theophanic presence that is described in verse 10 because that occurred immediately, not the next day, but takes in all that they would directly experience of the Lord’s power and love in the provision of the manna.
The Lord was impressing the Israelites with the reality of his presence and provision because he has heard your grumbling against him. Although their complaints had been expressed against Moses and Aaron, because they were being faithful to their divine commission, the people were in fact rebelling against the Lord himself. Who are we, that you should grumble against us? This protest of Moses and Aaron was designed to impress on the people the reality of their position as those redeemed and ruled by the Lord. So important was the need to recognize this that it is repeated in the next verse with additional information as to what would be given them in the evening and in the morning. This is the first mention of ‘meat’, that is ‘flesh’. Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord” (16:8). They had wrongly attributed their difficult situation to the bad intentions of Moses and Aaron. Now the Lord will conclusively demonstrate that all their circumstances were in his control, and that it was to him alone they should turn in difficulties.