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Complaining - Exodus 15.22 - 18.27 (Part 7 in a Series of 11)

October 12, 1008

Introduction:  “A heavy wagon was being dragged along a country lane by a team of oxen. The axles groaned and creaked terribly, when the oxen turning around thus addressed the wheels, "Hey there, why do you make so much noise? We bear all the labor, and we--not you--ought to cry out!" Those complain first in our churches who have the least to do. The gift of grumbling is largely dispensed among those who have no other talents, or who keep what they have wrapped up in a napkin.”  - Charles Spurgeon

Transition:  The noisy axels and wagon wheels succinctly summarize the next section in our study through the Book of Exodus.  It all begins near the end of the fifteenth chapter with…

1.      The Bitter-Sweet Life (15.22-27)

Exodus 14:10-12 takes us back to the Egyptian side of the Red Sea:  “…When Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11Then they said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.’”

Moses led Israel from the banks of the Red Sea into the Wilderness of Shur.  Three days later, they hadn't found water save the bitter waters of Marah.  The children of Israel complained against Moses and Moses did what they should have done; he took it to the Lord.  The Lord directed Moses to cast a tree into the waters and the bitter waters were made sweet.

Marah is a significant landmark in the history of Israel.  Here, God tested (15.25) His children.  If they would diligently heed the voice of the LORD, do right, give ear to His commandments, and keep His statutes, the LORD would keep away the diseases which had been brought upon the Egyptians. 

When leaving Marah, Israel found Elim, a place of twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees.  It was here Israel camped and found a respite. 

In the song of Moses (recorded in the early part of Exo 15) the people expressed their faith and worship.  They had experienced God’s deliverance in a most miraculous way.  But the Promised Land would be gained through the wilderness as is often the case. 

Acts 14:22 records the activity of two missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, who strengthened “the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’”

While it is true that we will enter the Kingdom of God; it is also true that we will do so through many tribulations.  James put it this way:  “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (1.2-3). 

That Israel was in dire straits is not really up for contention.  They were.  The problem is they complained instead believing God would save them again. 

Psalm 106:7 gives us the reason why they so oft complained:  “Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, but rebelled by the sea—the Red Sea.”  They simply did not remember.  They were self-centered, ungrateful, immature, and rebellious. 

1 Corinthians 10:10 warns us not to repeat their poor example.  We should not complain about our circumstances in life “as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” 

·         One conservative commentator on the radio said this week that our society was built upon the attitude of ‘living beyond our means.’  That may be true to some extent; but it is not a good thing.  The real problem many face in our world today is a spirit of dissatisfaction. 

·         When dissatisfaction gives voice to verbal complaining, relationships break down and people no longer see Jesus in us. 

·         The bitter waters of Marah remind us of the bitter difficulties that come our way.  God could bring sweet waters but often chooses to test us by allowing the bitter. 

·         What should we do?  In this case, it’s what we shouldn’t do - complain.  Because when we complain, we bring into question the goodness of God.  God is good even when the waters of life are bitter!

·         Moses’ prayer of dependence turned bitter waters sweet.  He evidenced spiritual maturity and the spiritually immature reaped the benefit.  What is amazing about all of this is the grace that God manifested to such a discontent people. 

·         When you have great needs in life, rejoice because this is a test of your faith.  Wait for God, don’t be anxious, and see His gracious hand of provision. 

Isaiah 30:15-18 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;

In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.

But you would not, and you said,

No, for we will flee on horses—

Therefore you shall flee! And,

We will ride on swift horses—

Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift!

One thousand shall flee at the threat of one,

At the threat of five you shall flee,

Till you are left as a pole on top of a mountain and as a banner on a hill.

Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you;

And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.

For the Lord is a God of justice;

Blessed are all those who wait for Him.

Transition:  Our bitter-sweet lives may be met with a quietness and confidence even when the Lord waits.  Blessed are those who wait for Him.  Exodus 16 demonstrates…

2.      The Crux of Contentment (16.1-36)

When they left Elim for the Wilderness of Sin, complaints arose again because of their hunger for the pots of meat and bread in Egypt.  God met this complaint with a gracious provision of bread from heaven for them (16.4).  Note that this is the second time that God responded to their complaining with a gracious provision.

Again, He tested Israel in the Wilderness of Sin.  They were to gather a certain amount of this heavenly bread each day.  God gave such instructions to see who would obey.  Fridays were special because Israel was to gather twice as much as they normally did to provide for the Sabbath.  Morning and evening (16.6-7) marked the faithfulness and mercy of God as He continuously provided for the children of Israel during all the years they wandered in the Wilderness.  God heard the complaints and took them personally.  Moses knew that complaining against his leadership turned out to be a fruitless endeavor for Israel.  In fact, they were really complaining against God.

When Israel looked toward the wilderness, they beheld the glory of the Lord in the cloud.  The Lord addressed them through Moses and promised meat at twilight and bread in the morning.  Israel would learn that He is the LORD their God.  Then, the supernatural appearance of quail in abundance along with the small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground, confirmed God’s faithfulness. 

Israel did not obey the Lord.  They left part of the manna in their camps overnight as evidence of this disobedience.  The manna bred worms and stank (16.20).  They were also to gather and prepare the manna for the Sabbath on Friday.  Some of them went out on the seventh day (Saturday) in order to gather manna.  Again, this was contrary to the Word of God.  Of course, they found none.  The LORD said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?"  This indicated God’s displeasure over their lack of obedience. 

Aaron kept some of this manna as a memorial of the Lord's faithfulness.  It was laid up before the Testimony (the Ten Commandments; mercy seat), to be kept (16.34).  Israel ate manna until they came to the border of Canaan.

Complaining really was a snare for Israel.  Commenting on Philippians 4.4 (which admonishes us to always rejoice in the Lord), one man said, “Our complaints really are never caused by our outward circumstances.  Instead they reveal the inward condition of our hearts …Our joy in the Lord should not be circumstantial but fundamental” (Philip G. Ryken, 424). 

The children of Israel complained against Moses and the leadership because it is quite natural for people to take out the frustrations they have with God with those who minister His Word.  Complaints always reveal spiritual immaturity and are always closely related to our discontented relationship with God.

That God is infinitely patient with his people becomes very clear in the way he responds to their complaining.  He rains down heavenly bread upon them in the morning and thickens the horizon with flocks of quail in the twilight.  God provided what they needed.  Not too much and always enough; however, they always wanted more!

·         The ugly root of our complaining is found in this desire for more - never content with the provision of God.  Paul used Exodus 16.18 when admonishing the Corinthians to supply for those in need.  2 Corinthians 8:13-15 state “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.” 

·         The application of this is immediately clear.  The needs of missionaries go unmet by churches of America because often they fail to recognize that God has a plan.  The unfolding of that plan hinges upon our willingness to give what other believers need. 

·         When we try to gather too much and worry about tomorrow, it shows that we lack faith in God’s promise.  We cannot fail the test God gives to us by worrying about tomorrow.  This is the crux of contentment. 

·         We are going to be happiest when we are seeing God meet our needs not when we accumulate things with an attitude that it’s never enough!

·         At this place we find peace - “Morning by morning - new mercies I see!”  If we’re always working and never waiting to hear from God, we must recognize this is a result of our sinful nature.  The Sabbath for Israel demonstrated that God would have His people rest and reflect upon His goodness to avoid discontentment.  The Lord’s Day accomplishes the same for us.

Transition:  The crux of contentment is a steadfast reliance upon God to meet our daily needs not necessarily our daily wants.  This brings us to Exodus 17 where Israel’s life-dominating sin reappears in…

3.      The Sin of the Discontented (17.1-7)

Israel camped at Rephidim.  No water was available once again.  The people should have called upon a faithful God; instead, they contended with Moses.  They sinfully demanded water from Moses (17.2) but were actually testing the LORD.  Complaining, they sinfully denied the great faithfulness of God and accused Him of neglect and even attempted murder (17.3).  Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people?  They are almost ready to stone me" (17.4)! 

God responded with grace once again.  Moses would take leaders in Israel and the rod God had supplied and meet the LORD.  Remarkably, the Bible says that God would stand before Moses on the rock in Horeb.  Moses was to strike the rock, and water would flow from it for the people to drink (17.6). 

Moses did this, and God did what He said He would do.  Moses aptly named the place Massah (tested) and Meribah (contention), because of what the children of Israel did in accusing the LORD of neglect.  They said, "Is the LORD among us or not?"  They sinfully denied the presence of God.

Three very important attitudes are voiced by the Israelites here.  Ryken lists them as sins (449):

·         Demanding God’s Provision:  “Give us water, that we may drink” (17.2). 

o   It’s one thing to ask God to provide for us; it’s quite another to demand that He do so.

o   Complaining forms in the heart of a person who wants his own way on his own terms.

·         Denying God’s Protection:  A “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst” (17.3)?

o   The complainer often accuses God.  He doesn’t like what God is doing in His life. 

o   God is not good in his mind.  God is doing that which is harmful and doesn’t care for him.

·         Doubting God’s Presence:  “Is the LORD among us or not” (17.7)?

o   Often trials lead complainers to question whether God is with them or not. 

o   It just doesn’t seem that God is blessing them because they have no idea what the blessed life looks like. 

Transition:  So the sin of discontentment manifests itself in demanding God’s provision, denying His protection, and doubting His presence.  The second half of chapter 17 gives us…

4.      The Cure for Complaining (17.8-16)

An external foe named Amalek hits Israel hard at Rephidim.  Moses calls upon Joshua to lead in the fight against this people.  Joshua fought with the men as Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battlefield.  Aaron and Hur helped Moses prevail as He prayed in dependence upon the LORD for victory in the battle.  Joshua defeated Amalek in battle because of the prayerful support of Moses, Aaron, and Hur.  Moses gave God His honor due by building an altar named YHWH Nissi (The Lord Is My Banner; see 17.16).

·         Prayer is the difference.  When we fail to pray, we give into temptation, fear, doubt, and discouragement.  When we fail to pray, members in the church are divided, leaders fall into sin, missionaries are not supported, and the lost are not won.

·         When we pray, we acknowledge absolute dependence upon God to fight for us.  If prayer were not the acknowledgement of dependence, then you and I would have something to boast of. 

·         Prayer is difficult.  It is labor.  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26.41).  Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses and represented the importance of praying together. 

Transition:  Both individual and corporate prayer are critical keys to combating a complaining spirit.  Another key element is found in making sure there is a…

5.      Persevering Leadership (18.1-27)

Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought to Moses his wife and two sons.  After being reacquainted, Jethro heard of all that had happened since Moses had left him.  He rejoiced and praised the LORD for His deliverance and admitted that the LORD was supreme over all.  Jethro, a Midianite heathen priest, took up a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer them to God. 

During the next day, Jethro observed Moses judging the people from morning until evening.  Jethro could not fathom why Moses did not get help and delegate his responsibilities.  Moses replied that it was because the people came to him and he made known the statutes and laws of God (18.16). 

Jethro felt that Moses was not doing a good thing because he would surely wear himself out and the people with him.  Jethro told Moses to teach the statutes and laws of God to the people (18.20).  He also told him to select men of truth that feared God and hated covetousness to rule over numerical groups of people (100, 50, and 10; see 18.21).  This network of select men would judge the people at all times.

The great and weightier matters would still come to Moses, but the smaller matters would be resolved by the select men.  This would help others to bear the burden with Moses.  This would lead to perseverance for Moses and a place of peace for Israel (18.23).

Moses took his father-in-law's advice and Jethro departed and went back to Midian. 

·         Moses justified his actions for working the way he did by telling Jethro that he declared the will of God for the people of God.

·         Moses taught people the Word of God and made judgments concerning the will of God for them.  He taught and applied truth to their lives.

·         Jethro had sense to see that what Moses was doing was not a good thing - it would hurt Moses and the people with him by wearing them out.  Moses was taking on my work than he could handle and was facing burn-out.

·         Any time you get involved in ministry, you’ll have as much work as you can handle.  The work is a good work; the difficulty arises when we take on burdens that God never calls for us to bear. 

o   We are dependent upon the help of others within the local church.

o   The leadership cannot do the work all by themselves.  Attempting to do so is nothing more than pride.

Romans 12:3, 5-6 “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.  …so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…”

·         As the church grows, more spiritual leadership is needed.  The qualifications mentioned by Jethro are just as important today as they were then:

o   “Able men” (18.21) - spiritually mature

o   Men that feared God; men of truth who hated covetousness (18.21)

The Great Need:

Men who fear God and care about their relationship with Him.  Men who care enough about others that they keep their commitments.  They are reliable and trustworthy men.  These men not greedy for personal gain - men such as they are the great need of the hour.

Conclusion:  God uses at least five key elements through this narrative to help address our natural bent to complain and be overly critical.  He addresses these things through the negative example of the children of Israel.

1.      Realize life will often be bitter before it is sweet.  Trails must be handled with a mind that God is good all the time.

2.      Anxiety over the fact that we have not accumulated for tomorrow that which God promises only for today is caused by a lack of confidence in His ability to care for us.

3.      Demanding that God provide for us, denying that He is able to protect us, or even there with us is an egregious sin against His character.

4.      A critical key in addressing a inner discontentment is praying as individuals and corporately.

5.      Finally, leadership will persevere if they too learn to equip others to do the work of the ministry and enable them to use the gifts God has brought to the local church through them.

May God continue to challenge us in these areas.

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