by Bonnie Scasta, Women’s Ministry Director
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.” Exodus 16:1-3 (ESV)
Many of us cannot help but be shocked and disgusted with the accusations our spiritual ancestors bring against God in this passage. How could they utter such shortsighted charges against a God, who just before this encounter, rescued His people from 400 years of bitter slavery? Not only did he ensure their freedom by opening the Red Sea, but he also swallowed up their life long enemies in the wake of that same body of water, completely crushing their former oppressors. They were absolutely safe, utterly free. The Israelite’s initial response, and rightly so, was to worship and praise Him for His great works. This rejoicing, however, was short-lived. A mere 45 days into their journey, God’s people exchange their rejoicing for grumbling over their unmet needs.
Despite the obvious absurdity of the Israelite complaint, many of us find ourselves practicing the same logic found in this passage. We have seen the Lord do mighty works to save us and bring us to himself. We have experienced significant redemption and are now walking in a new life in Christ with great rejoicing. We have tasted his goodness and know that it cannot compare to our sin. Yet, when we encounter a need along our journey, we quickly dismiss what we know to be true about God and instead submit to the fear associated with scarcity, a tyranny of necessity.
Some may assert that my charge against the Israelites overlooks the desperation and reality of their plight. After all, they were indeed hungry and in need of food, a legitimate necessity for life. So, how should they have responded? Having just witnessed God’s great power on display—a miraculous depiction of His faithfulness to rescue—one would think they would simply bring their need to the Lord and trust him to save them from their hunger, turning to His faithfulness in the past as evidence to support their supposition.
However, like many of us, they responded by looking back longingly on their slavery and accusing the Lord of leaving them to die in need. They forgot the bitterness of their former bondage and the years of pleading with God for freedom. They looked back with rose-tinted glasses and desired to return to slavery so they could die with their hunger met. Worst of all, they blamed God and even accused him of trying to kill them because of their need.
What needs have you encountered on your journey? Maybe you need healthy connection and intimacy with other believers? Or a safe place to share and be vulnerable? Maybe you need affirmation, attention, and affection in your femininity or masculinity? Or stability in the midst of great uncertainty? Comfort through the pain? Maybe your needs are tangible and physical like the Israelites? You need financial help, a place to live, food to eat. Will you allow the reality of who God says he is and your experience of his past provision to guide your response to these legitimate needs, or will you let your fear of necessity fuel your doubt of him?
Fortunately, we know how God met the Israelite’s temporal need for food by reading the following chapters which describe God raining down manna from heaven. Even after their grumbling, God provides for their needs, a daily reminder of their dependence on Him.
Unlike the book of Exodus, we cannot quickly turn the page to discover how God will confirm his identity as provider and liberator in our future. We do not know exactly what tomorrow holds. Yet, we must ask the question, “How will I respond to the needs in my life?” Will I grumble and look back to my former bondage, like the Israelites, when I have unmet needs? Will I accuse the Lord of not caring and seeking to end me? Will I trust the Lord to provide for my needs, believing that dependence on Him is the best and most peace-filled way to live?