Eight times, Moses notes the “grumbling” of the people (2,7–twice,8–thrice,9. 12). As they begin their migration from Egypt to Canaan, they come to a place called the Wilderness of Sin. “Sin has no relation to the English word ‘sin.’ It is simply the name of a place and possibly has some connection with the word ‘Sinai'” (Osborn & Hatton, USB, 384). However, Israel sins in this part of their desert sojourn. Grumbling (murmuring and complaining) is warned against in both testaments. It is rebuked through the example of this generation of Israelites by God’s response to it. It is spoken against in the New Testament through commands and admonitions like Philippians 2:14 (“Do all things without grumbling or disputing”), 1 Corinthians 10:10, referring to this generation (“Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer”), or 1 Peter 4:9 (“Be hospitable to one another without complaint”). What causes this deadly demeanor?
Grumbling is caused by worry (3ff). They accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing them out into the desert to “kill this whole assembly with hunger” (3). Their fear that they are not going to get what they need to eat creates panic. They see a journey before them with no obvious solution, so they worry. Their listening to their flesh and it eclipses their faith.
Grumbling is caused by a selective memory (3). They actually long for Egypt, where they sat by pots of meat and had bread to the full! That’s what they remember? Not beatings or unreasonable quotas or the fact of their slavery? Their grumbling whitewashed past problems and glorified past provisions. We should beware glorifying a past where we rewrite history.
Grumbling is caused by losing sight of the Lord’s power and glory (4-8). In verses 7 and 10, God and His spokesmen speak of His glory. By His provision, they would see His glory. They would see His ability to provide. They were not focused on that.
What’s remarkable is that despite the ingratitude and fear driving Israel’s irrational response, God, in His goodness and kindness, provides for them. He gives them manna (literally, “What is it?,” 15), bread from heaven (15). He also gave them quail as meat to eat (13). He gives them instructions, to gather just what they need and not to hoard it. Those that disobeyed found that their leftover manna “bred worms and became foul” (20). God wanted them to trust Him to give them their “daily bread” (21).
May we never be a people who are inclined to see life through storm clouds, always focusing on what’s wrong or what we do not have. Faith that helps us see the past with accuracy and that helps us see God’s power and glory will keep us from worry. It will also sanitize our speech and keep us from something God hates–grumbling!