So why all the whining?

Yesterday we saw that God often reminded Israel of their deliverance from Egypt as a motivation. But that begs the question of why anyone in Israel would have wanted to return. Yet they did.

When they were hungry, they longed for the days of Egyptian captivity (Exodus 16:1-3): “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them,’Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’”

Now remember, this is on the heels of the Exodus, and they have just watched Pharaoh’s pursuing army drown, after which they complained because of a lack of water, which God provided from a rock.

Later, another complaint arose (Numbers 11:4-6): “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’”

When the spies who had scouted the land had given their fear-filled report, here is how the nation responded (Number 14:1-4): “Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”

What’s happening here? An obvious but incomplete answer is that humans long for the past when the present seems too difficult. We tend, at those times, to remember the good and forget the bad, and as they had been slaves in Egypt, there was plenty of bad!

But this longing for the things of Egypt, as warped and myopic as it was, was merely a symptom of the deeper, prevailing problem of unbelief. When God called them out of Egypt, He promised to bring them into another, better land in which they would be free. He promised to honor the covenant He had made with Abraham hundreds of years earlier. But they disrespected Him and spurned His promises.

We know this because of God’s response to their whining and His explanation of its source (Numbers 14:11): “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’”

We may write off our fears and weaknesses to our love of comfort. But the source could be our refusal to believe in (1) God’s goodness, (2) His plan for us, and/or (3) His promise to provide all that we need in Jesus.

Rather than wondering why Israel longed for Egypt, it might be good to ask ourselves why we so often doubt the Lord and are discontented with His provision.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”
2 Peter 1:3

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