But What Have You Done for Me Lately, God? (Exodus 16:4-12)

When I read the section of text we are covering today, I am forced to think of myself — with considerable embarrassment! Here are people who have just witnessed the power of Yahweh at the Sea of Reeds — and now they're grumbling that he isn't doing enough for them today. I fear I've been guilty of the same thing. Let me explain . . .

Passover and the exodus have together been the defining moment to constitute Israel as a redeemed community for God. Born anew to him in that event, as it were, they are now ready to take their first steps of faith on the wilderness route that leads to a Promised Land. "Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?' " (Ex. 15:22-24).

What's going on here?

Personal Perception vs. Faith in God

The two recent miracles of Passover deliverance and Red Sea passage on dry land are only days behind them, and the Israelites are already whining about water! They are allowing their sense of place and circumstance to define their condition rather than the promise of God that started them on this journey in the first place.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?" And Moses said, "When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lordhas heard the complaining that you utter against him — what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord."

Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.' " And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God' " (Ex. 16:4-12).
Still, God Is Faithful!

The beautiful thing about this story is that God did not answer these grumbling, whining Israelites from his wrath but with a gentle lesson about his nature. God is faithful, even when his people are not. He gave them water. He gave them manna. He gave them quail. He gave them protection from Amalek. He gave and gave and gave.

He gives and gives and gives. Yet I am much more likely to judge God, his goodness, and my responsibility to him by my present circumstance than by a life history of his promises kept. I will more likely judge him by the pain of a bad circumstance than I will have enough faith to judge my circumstance by how God has told me to view it.

* Wasn't it a good thing that Noah didn't judge the need to build an ark by the local weather reports, but on God's forecast?

* Didn't it turn out better for Joseph that he chose not to ingratiate himself with Mrs. Potiphar, but to maintain his integrity before the Lord in Egypt?

* Don't we admire Daniel for daring the lions and his three friends for their willingness to be thrown to the fire?

* Wasn't Peter cowardly to put his fears before his faith in the high priest's courtyard that night?

* And aren't we foolish to think we'd be happy "if only I had a new car/house/job" or that we can't believe in God any longer because "God wouldn't let me get sick/lose my baby/have these problems"?

Fallen and foolish as we are, we tend to focus on the moment and forget eternity. We are inclined to grumble in our trials and to forget God's promises. We are more likely to be self-serving than Christ-trusting. But we're not the first! "Their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things," wrote Paul. Then he continued with this reminder and exhortation: "But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:19-20). Some circumstances won't be made right until Jesus returns.

"He Knows How We Were Made . . ."

Not only do circumstances test us, but so do certain relationships. Right in the middle of this early wilderness section is the story of Moses' near-burnout in trying to lead this great host of people. He likely wouldn't have made it through without the advice he got from his father-in-law.

The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?" Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God." Moses' father-in-law said to him, "What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace."

So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves (Ex. 18:13- 26).
With Moses already in over his head, his father-in-law gave wise counsel. The son-in-law listened. And the precedent was set for God's servants to share leadership duties and to learn how to delegate responsibilities. First water and food. Then deliverance from Amalek. Now wise counsel and assistants. For every crisis, there is a helpful response.

The lesson of this text is that God always does more for us than we recognize. He is constantly acting on our behalf. He is always dealing with us gently in our weakness. The Psalmist put it this way:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14).

What if God refused to bless today all of us who hadn't thanked him for what he did yesterday?

What if God were to abandon tomorrow anybody who isn't being faithful to him today?

What if God shut his ears tomorrow to anybody here who is not listening to his message today?

What if God were henceforth to love you only as faithfully and generously as you have been loving your family or your neediest neighbors in recent days?

I'm thrilled to tell you that none of these dire things is in the offing! He will still be the loving, patient, forbearing Father as always. But don't you think it's time we determined to grow up and quit presuming on him so? Let's try to look above the level of wilderness experience that may lie ahead this week and live to the level of our Promised Land citizenship.


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