Mumble! Grumble! Belly-ache!

Daily Readings: Exodus 16, Psalm 70-71, Mark 4

Have you ever given much thought to manna? It was an astonishing substance!! It tasted delicious. It appeared and disappeared miraculously. It came in double portions on the sixth day (or at least there was enough for them to gather double portions.) It was convenient. It was versatile and was made into sweet coriander-like cakes (v.31 & Numbers 11:8) It had the nutrition necessary (combined with quail) to keep people healthy in a desert/nomadic lifestyle. It was provided directly, daily by God’s own hand. It was sent for 40 years and stopped on the very day they first ate the produce of the promised land (Joshua 5:12) And wondrously, on certain days, no worms were in the manna! In a beautiful enacted parable of the Kingdom Age rest – the miracle bread becomes doubly miraculous by not spoiling on the Sabbath! Truly this was indeed bread from heaven! Unfortunately, the Children of Israel became dull to this blessing very quickly.

Today’s title comes from a children’s class I was in at a Bible Camp years ago. Our teacher dramatically stressed the pathetic attitude of the Israelites for most of their sojourning in the wilderness – Mumble! Grumble! Bellyache!!! Ten times they bitterly complained and reaped the sad consequences of their unbelief. It is important to remind ourselves that the Wilderness Journey of Israel is one of the biggest Bible parables illustrating how God is trying to deliver us from sin. We must listen to its lessons very carefully. Like Israel of old, fear still looms large in our collective consciousness. Food is just one of the many potential stumbling blocks. Like them, we are easily swayed by faithless, fearful thinking. And like them, there are consequences for our grumbling. Exodus 16 highlights this grumbling mindset – the word occurs 8 times in the first 9 verses – emphasizing the grave importance of this issue (no pun intended)!

Perhaps, thanks to my childhood teacher, I have always found this complaining of Israel almost too close for comfort. I confess I have joined their negative chorus all too often in not having my desires achieved, my convenience met, my comfort maintained or my taste buds tantalized to the degree I want. I am negative, demanding and spoiled like they were – not grateful for the blessings provided by God.

Like them, we all often meet the next obstacle/trial in life, and succumb to becoming sniveling whining heaps of anxiety. The antidote would have been rather to trust God, to remind themselves of His past great works in their lives, to believe He loved them and would provide for their daily needs. Not to feed their fears (unbelief) in a vicious cycle that quickly swept through the entire community over and over again.

What strikes me is that God’s response to this attitude was so tangible. In this case, He heard their grumblings but He reacted graciously by providing quail and miracle manna. When the matter comes up again later, however, “The anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased.” (Numbers 11:10) These stories should remind us that God does not take our attitudes lightly. We often excuse ourselves for negativity and grumbling – but it is clear that God acknowledges the thoughts of our hearts, and responds to them. He expects us to learn from our mistakes and to change. He expects us be people who grow in faith and courage – not doubt and fear which spreads like a wildfire.

I found it interesting to do a quick word study on the word “grumble.” This is the concordance definition of its meaning in Hebrew:

To stop (usually overnight); by implication to stay permanently; hence (in a bad sense) to be obstinate (especially in words, to complain)

So this was not a one-time grumble. It was their nature. It was what characterized their thoughts. This is an attitude of mind that is so easy to fall in to. We neglect to notice the daily blessings of our lives and focus on the lack. We exaggerate what we don’t have like them, noting they had “meat and bread to the full” forgetting entirely the SLAVERY part of Egypt! v.3 We are often just as ludicrous in our own thinking.

And the grumbling, like leaven, became crowd mentality for the whole nation. A political outlook, really. Negative. God doesn’t care about us. He’s led us out here to kill us from starvation. He should have just killed us in Egypt and gotten it over with! Moses and Aaron, you are lousy leaders!

– (Paraphrase of verses 2-3 )

The thing was that this food provided by God represented something. It represented life and salvation willingly given by a caring, responsive God to a sinful, grumbling rabble of people. It was a generous system God put in place to “test them” every day in order to “see whether they will walk in My instruction.” v.4 It was daily opportunity to be reminded and to choose to be thankful as they trusted faithfully in His provision and care.

The end of Exodus 16 tells us that one special super-duper miraculous omerful of manna was placed in a golden jar and kept in the Ark of the Covenant itself! (cp. Hebrews 9:4) It was for future generations “to see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.” v.32 To see provision, care, love. Interesting to discover that by the time of Solomon, the pot of manna was missing from the ark. 1 Kings 8:9 (Perhaps stolen by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 5-6?) This may have occurred so that faithful minds could focus on the future perfect provision of Bread from Heaven – the Messiah Jesus.

Jesus certainly meditated upon the wilderness journey lessons and grasped all of the implications of this miracle bread. He speaks of it more than once. Take, for example, when he expounded his wisdom about stress (and recall that God provided food, clothing that did not wear out, and fresh water in the wilderness):

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– Matthew 6:31-34

And again,

Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

– John 6:32-35

So all of the spiritual lessons that applied to the normal daily routine of gathering and preparing manna, the miracle bread, apply to Jesus. He is true bread. Straight from heaven. Coming to him brings appetite satiation and thirst-quenching life.

Let us consider more carefully, then, God’s daily provision in our lives. Let us determine not to join the crowd mentality of murmuring grumblers. Let us daily appreciate, and be humbly grateful for, His gracious provision of the bread of life that gives life to the world – His beloved son. Let us find true ways, spiritual ways, to de-stress and meet our troubles one day at a time, courageously, with faith. Elusive peace that passes understanding can only come through this mindset. Let’s replace the murmur of Mumble, Grumble, Belly-ache with a loud chorus of Blessed, Redeemed, Joyful!