Read verses 1-3
Q: This is not the first time grumbling has taken place. When did it occur even earlier?
A: See 15:22-25 below, three day’s journey into the wilderness. The place was called Marah, meaning “bitterness.” This means that the water was probably poisonous. That God instructed Moses to throw “a tree” into the waters is a type of cross. It is the cross of Christ that turns the unpalatable into the palatable, the bitter into sweet. Note, too, that it was three days into the journey. Not only is three days the limit for a human being to go without water, it is also the amount of time Christ spent in the grave after the cross.
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.
— Exodus 15:22-25
Q: How does the complaint of 16:1-3 differ from the first complaint? What is the same about the two grumblings?
A: First, the Hebrews are 4-6 weeks into their journey. They are running out of food. The maximum amount of time a person can go without food is about 30 days. This time, instead of water, the Hebrews are grumbling about the food, for they are hungry. The two events are similar in that Moses (and in the second case, Aaron) is the focal point of their anger.
Q: How are the claims of their discontent not in sync with reality?
- First, they easily forget how hard was their life in Egypt. It is unlikely that they had pots full of meat and “bread to the full.”
- Second, they state that it would have been better to die at the hands of Pharaoh than to exist in the present conditions (free from enslavement).
- Third, they accuse Moses of intentionally trying the kill them (cf. 14:11-12).
Q: What is the primary emotion driving the grumbling in both these events? What does God want the Hebrews to do in regard to this primal emotion?
A: Fear—fear of Pharaoh, fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing what’s going to happen next, fear of starvation. God wants the Hebrews to learn to fear Him more than Pharaoh, more than their circumstances, more even than their own fate.
Q: Do you think the people were prone to grumble before they left Egypt, and, if so, how has the focus of their grumbling changed?
A: It is highly probable that the people grumbled day in and day out against the Egyptians and the oppression to which they were subject. They have now simply changed the direction of their grumbling to their own leaders, rather than the Egyptian leadership. (This also tells us that grumbling can become a habit, a way of coping, even a way of life.)
Application: Why do leaders often suffer the brunt of people’s grumbling? What are some issues about which you are currently grumbling? Is the grumbling associated with the perception that leaders make your life or workplace more difficult or unbearable? What is the lesson God is trying to teach the Hebrews, and how does that lesson apply to your own life and living or working situation?