Exodus 16:1-21 • The Grumbling Game


Chapters 13-18 record the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, an event that began in chapter 12, verses 33-41. By chapter 16, the Hebrews have crossed the Red Sea and watched the pursuit of Pharaoh turn into a punishment by God for Egypt’s treatment of His chosen people. Now the Hebrews are facing the reality of wandering in a strange land, a hostile and harsh wilderness of which they have little knowledge. They have little in the way of possessions and only enough food and water for a few days. They suddenly find themselves ill-prepared, alone, scared, and, in spite of what they witnessed crossing the Red Sea, wondering if they had put too much faith in one man.

It didn’t take long for the grumbling to begin.

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?

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?

Read verses 4-8

Q: Against whom does Moses say the people are grumbling?

A: Verse 8: “Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord.” Moses warns the people clearly that they had better be careful, for their grumblings are not so much against Moses and Aaron as against the Lord Himself. In fact, Moses twice asks the question, “What are we?” meaning that he and Aaron are nothing; that God Himself is in charge and they are just His spokesmen.

Q: In verse 4, God states that on the sixth day the people are to gather twice as much as on the other days. What is God preparing the Hebrews for, and why is this unique to their former living situation? (See 16:22-26 below).

A: God is preparing for the introduction of the Sabbath, the keeping of which will be a “test” for them. This is unique to the Hebrews, and remains unique to Israel to this day. The only life they have known is to work seven days a week. That a day would be set aside for rest and devoted to worship exclusively would be unheard of.

Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, then he said to them, “This is what the Lord meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.”

— Exodus 16:22-26

Application: In what ways does this occurrence of grumbling resemble complaints or criticism against the pastor or leadership of your local church? What are the similarities and what are the differences? After that issue has been decided, ask the question, “Is grumbling in a local church ever acceptable behavior?” In what ways have you grumbled against the leadership of your church, and what should you do about it?

Read verses 9-21

Q: What unnerving fact does verse 9 tells us about our grumblings?

A: They are heard by the Lord, even if said in private or in confidence.

Q: How does God provide for the Hebrews, and on whose terms does He make the provision in spite of their grumbling?

A: God provides “manna” which is translated, “the thing which” came from heaven. Verse 31 describes the manna as “like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.” Verse 35 states that the manna sustains the “sons of Israel…forty years” and stopped when “they came to the border of the land of Canaan.” The terms of receiving the manna is that it is to be gathered daily and that which is not gathered is not to be used. Twice as much is to be gathered on the sixth day so that they do not have to gather it on the seventh, the Sabbath.

Read verses Matthew 6:11

Q: How does this request in the Lord’s Prayer relate to manna?

A: Jesus is stating that all we need is what we receive from day to day; that God is capable of providing for our basic needs in the same manner in which He provided for the needs of the Hebrews.

Therefore, there is no cause for grumbling or for worrying For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

— Matthew 6:25

Read verses John 6:26-35

Q: In what way is Jesus calling Himself the “bread of life”?

A: He is relating His own coming to earth in the same manner in which the manna came “from heaven.” God sent the manna; God sent the Son. However, He makes the clear distinction that those who ate manna in the wilderness were hungry the next day. However, he who “comes to Me” will never hunger again.

Overall Application