Complain! Complain! Complain!
That’s all the Israelites seem to do throughout the book of Exodus. In the beginning of the book, life is indeed difficult for them. Not only have they become the slaves of the Egyptians, but the Pharaoh orders their baby boys to be thrown into the Nile River and drowned. “The Israelites groaned under their bondage and cried out, and from their bondage their cry for help went up to God. God heard their moaning and was mindful of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Ex 2:23-24).
The Almighty Lord sends ten plagues to Egypt, sparing the Hebrews from all of them, thus showing to all his mighty and merciful power. Finally, after the death of his first-born son, the Pharaoh lets God’s people go free.
As they camp by the Red Sea, the Hebrews see Pharaoh’s army coming after them. Now, despite witnessing the great miracles God performed in Egypt, the people despair. “To Moses they said, ‘Were there no burial places in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? ... Far better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’” (Ex 14:11-12). They lost their trust in God and his servant Moses, and actually wished they were enslaved back in Egypt!
Again, God shows his power by splitting the mighty sea in two. The Israelites pass between two walls of water. Furthermore, he swallows up Pharaoh’s chariots, horses, and men as the sea walls come crashing down upon them. Once again, God delivers his people.
Yet, not long afterwards, the Israelites are griping again: “If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettle of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!” (Ex. 16:3). God answered their complaints about being hungry by sending bread from Heaven, Manna, every morning and quail every evening for them to eat.
Water is important to have too, especially when traveling through a desert. Still, when the Hebrews need water to drink, they do not go to the Lord with their need and trust him to fulfill it. Nope, instead they complain again to Moses: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt? To die of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Ex 17:3). So, God provides them with water from a rock; moreover, this rock follows them throughout the rest of their journey so that they would never be without water!
All these miracles – the plagues, the parting of the sea, manna and quail, water flowing from a rock – are still not enough for the Israelites to keep their mouths quiet. When Moses goes up Mount Sinai to commune with God, the people whine that he delays in coming down from the mountain. They then make a god for themselves, an idol made from gold. God’s chosen people, after all God has done for them, choose to worship a molten calf!
As I read the story of the exodus, I find myself shaking my head. All their complaining led the Israelites to turn their backs on God. If only they had spent less time complaining and more time praising God for all the wonders he had worked for them.
Then I realize, I am not all that much different from the ancient Hebrews. How often I complain! Indeed, too often!
God has blessed me beyond all measure, yet when things get difficult, don’t go the way I plan, or people do not do things as I would have them do it, I mutter. I am no better than those dramatic, grumbling, short-sighted Israelites.
The Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain did not include “Thou shalt not complain” (though I bet Moses wished it did!). Nonetheless, complaining is not pleasing to God. I suppose such attitude goes against the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” When we want something we do not have – be it good health, recognition at work, money to do whatever with, a husband who anticipates our needs – and grumble about it, we sin against God’s goodness.
When we wish our circumstances were different, we lack trust in God. Has he not shown us repeatedly that he can get us out of any difficult situation? We doubt his Divine Providence which affords all our needs, physical and spiritual. We lose opportunities to unite our sufferings with Christ’s. We miss the chance to grow in holiness.
There are lessons for us in the story of Exodus.
Spend time everyday remembering the good things God had done for us.
Praise God for those blessings constantly. If we are praising, we can’t be complaining!
When we do catch ourselves complaining, immediately repent and reiterate our trust in God, knowing that he permits all things for our good.
After all, we have greater than Moses here in our presence. And he, who is the Bread come down from Heaven, the Living Water, and our Pascal Lamb, guides and provides for us on our journey to the Promise Land.