Tag Archives: Moses

The Tragedy of Moses

 

Without question, Moses is the central (human) figure of the Old Testament.  Yes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the fathers of Israel are significant, and yes David is surely a key figure as well, particularly in his typological function as king, yet it is Moses, particularly in his role as the great redeemer, the law giver, prophet, priest, and the trailblazer through the wilderness to the Promised Land, who stands  head and shoulders above the rest.

We can see his significance in how the Jews of the New Testament held him in high regard, likewise, in his appearance with our Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration and most significantly in the book of Hebrews, which offers the comparison from the lesser, Moses/Old Covenant/Sacrifices/Temple, etc. with the greater, i.e. Christ and the New Covenant.

Moses appears on the scene of redemptive history at the introduction of book of Exodus.  His appeals to Pharaoh on behalf of Yahweh for the release of the Israelites is familiar to most people.  After securing their deliverance through the providential working of God, he leads them to Sinai, where they received the law, and continues leading them along their 40-year wilderness wandering, the consequence of their sin on the way to the Promised Land.  Throughout this arduous journey, we find Moses frequently appealing to God on behalf of the rebellious, murmuring people, yet there was one event in the wilderness that would forever haunt Moses and cost him greatly; an event which stands as a stark warning to those of us who live on this side of the cross of Christ.

We read of this tragic event in Numbers 20:2-9

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

Once again we find the wilderness congregation in want, this time of water, and once again we find them directing their complaint to Moses.  What a burden this man must have carried, not only have to lead a rebellious, murmuring people out of their bondage to Egypt, but to journey through the wilderness for 40 years because of THEIR sin.

In the passage above, despite being the object of the peoples scorn, Moses (and Aaron) petition the Lord for mercy on the people.  God’s instructions to Moses seem simple enough: take the staff, assemble the congregation, you and Aaron speak to the rock and tell it to yield water.  Then an interesting, glossed over note in Num. 20:9, “And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.”

In the next section from Numbers 20, we read of this event unfolding

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.”

Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck the rock, twice.  Let the heartbreak begin.  What seems like an innocuous oversight, or a slip of emotion, costs Moses greatly.  The Lord outlines his sin as: 1) Lack of faith 2) Failure to uphold the holiness of God in the sight of others.  Surely to even record this event and provide it in the book of Numbers for future generations must have been painful to Moses.

Here was a man called by God, a man who was a murderer no less, who had been faithful to do all that God had commanded for nearly 80 years no matter how difficult or insurmountable the odds may have appeared to the human eye, yet in this one event, he slips and falls.  One sin is all that it took to keep Moses out of the Promised Land.  Let that sink in for a minute. (We may also add that Aaron failed to enter the Promised Land as well)

This discipline is further recounted in Numbers 27 as God passes the mantle of Israelite leadership from Moses to Joshua

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) 15 Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 16 ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.'”

Hear we see that Moses’ sin was “rebellion” against the word of the Lord and a failure to publically uphold Him as holy.  Additionally, we get Moses’ first response to his discipline as he pleads, not his own case, but the case of the people that they might continue to have a leader after he dies.  Even in the legislation of his own discipline, Moses still implores God to extend mercy to the people.  This gives way to the command of commissioning Joshua in the remainder of Numbers 27.

Furthermore, as Deuteronomy, i.e. the “Second Law” is introduced, this episode is again brought to our attention in Deuteronomy 3:23-29.  As Moses recounts the history of Israel, he is forced to readdress his own discipline and prevention from entering the Promised Land.  In this passage we get more insight into the emotions of Moses at the word of his prohibition from the Promised Land

23 “And I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26 But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’ 29 So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.

This tragedy takes on another layer with the Lord’s reply, “But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me.  And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again.”

In some sense, this incident of discipline frames the book of Deuteronomy as it shows up again in Deut. 32 and again in 34.

48 That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, 49 ‘Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. 50 And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, 51 because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.'” Deut. 32:48-52

And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” Deut. 34:4-12

This last mention, includes Moses’ death and the epithet that the Lord leaves on “his grave” – “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt….”

One final passage for perusal on this incident may be found in Psalm 106:32-33

They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
    and it went ill with Moses on their account,
33 for they made his spirit bitter,
    and he spoke rashly with his lips.”

Here we find that perhaps Moses displayed an element of rash speaking with his lips.  This may indicate that he said something harsh towards the people without stopping to consider it, but perhaps most strikingly is that God had commanded Moses to speak to the rock, but instead he used his lips to speak rashly.

Thankfully this event captured in the noteworthy passages above was not the end of Moses.  In Matthew 17:1-3 we see him standing alongside another protagonist of tragedy, Elijah, as they witness the transfiguration of Christ and converse with Him in His glory.

As we read of this tragedy of Moses, and by tragedy I mean the radical effects and implications that sin, even one, may have on an individual and it’s subsequent ripple effects, I’m reminded of another tragedy where one sin cost the price of the Promised Land, that of Adam and Eve, which had profound generational effects.  Both of these accounts anticipate the arrival of a Last Adam and a Greater Joshua, namely Jesus Christ.

Applying this to our own lives, we quickly see the significance of sin, the seriousness in which God responds to sin, and the consequences, even physically/materially that sin brings.  I believe Adam was made righteous and I believe Moses was justified as well, nevertheless we cannot be so quick to dismiss the discipline that our sin deserves and often brings.  It sometimes can bring suffering, sometimes can cause blessing to be withheld, and yes even sometimes can bring death (physical).  We needn’t travel far from the beginning of humanity to see that the sin of Adam in the Garden brought death to ALL mankind.

The Old Testament saints provide for us an example (see 1 Corinthians 10:11) so that we might not stumble and fall as they did.  Surely as we live on this side of the cross, we are perhaps more aware of the grace that comes through Jesus Christ, but let us not be so quick to live as “free gracers” and sin such that grace may abound.

Let us be reminded that sin has consequences and that God deals with it justly, though the punitive justice has been meted in Jesus Christ.  Because of Christ we may be assured that our sin will not incur God’s wrath and we needn’t be fearful that because of one sin God might “zap” us.  However, we must also be assured that God has always desired for His people live holy lives as He Himself is holy.  This has not changed.  There is a tension here that must be maintained.

May we desire more grace from God to live a holy life.  And may tragedies like Moses’ generate in us a healthy, holy fear of Almighty God and a hatred for sin in our own lives, even one.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

The Builder of the House

 

In Hebrews chapter 1 we saw the Supremacy of Christ, the Son of God, in His exaltation as King (Son-King), a position superior to angels. In chapter 2 we read of the Humiliation of Christ, the Son of Man, in His suffering as the Last Adam. Now in chapter 3, the tide shifts to a strong exhortation based God’s revelation of who this Jesus is, followed by the entrance into the superiority of Christ over the elements of the Old Covenant, namely its mediator, Moses.

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” Hebrews 3:1

The Author’s exhortation begins appropriately with “therefore” signaling yet again the continuity with what has been expressed earlier and serving to link the previous exposition with the current one. Remember that in the original composition of this letter (or sermon), there were no chapter breaks, so, often the author is actually expressing a continuous thought and simply uses “therefore” to emphasize or reiterate a point to his audience. Though this audience of Hebrews, particularly their identification in the warning passages, has often been debated, here there is clear evidence that the intended audience, the recipients of the warnings, are believers, i.e. “holy brothers”.

This familial language introduced in chapter one between Father and Son and expanded in chapter two to include believers as the family of God and brothers of Christ, is evident yet again as chapter 3 develops. However here, this reference serves a two-fold purpose, first in identifying the recipients of the warning among the family of God, but it also serves to unite the theme of sanctification (holiness) alluded to in 1:3 and expressly stated again in 2:10-11.

Adding to this statement as a further modification of the family of God, or brothers, is that they “share in a heavenly calling.” This calling from heaven is a calling from God and a calling to God. It is an effectual, gracious call that does not extend to everyone and cannot be answered by anyone, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Likewise, this heavenly calling accomplishes all that God intends, namely in bringing many sons to glory. Similar language, for example to share, to partake, or even better to partner in, is used elsewhere, as in 1:9, and related in origin to the word used in 2:14. Likewise, it is the same word used in 3:14 (see also 6:4 and 12:8) and it highlights the various ways in which believers are partakers with Christ or better stated, in union with Him. Believers are literally united by a heavenly calling, the Gospel call, issued forth by the Spirit of God that is received by faith.

The exhortation of this section begins with the admonition to “consider Jesus”, followed by the reason for doing so, namely that He is the “apostle and high priest of our confession.” This is the only time in Scripture that Christ is referred to as an apostle, fitting though because apostle actually means “sent one”. He commissioned His own disciples in their apostleship, similarly He was commissioned for His own apostleship by His Father. When held in conjunction with the office of High Priest, we will see in subsequent verses that Christ in His official capacities were granted them by oath of God the Father.

In the verse that follows, the Author begins a series of comparisons and contrasts, similar to that of chapter 1 between Christ and angels, but here the object of comparison is with Moses, the fundamentally superior character on the pages of Old Testament Scripture. Moses stands head and shoulders above anyone else because he is viewed as the great redeemer and law giver. He is the one who met face to face with God on the mountain and in the tabernacle. He is the one who so often interceded to God on behalf of Israel for food, water, and God’s mercy. So then, when the author sets up the comparison and contrast of Christ with Moses, we must realize the significance of this, particularly from the perspective of Jewish tradition.

The comparison begins with the faithfulness of Christ, “who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.” This mention of Christ faithfulness picks up on the mention of His “merciful and faithful” high priesthood from 2:17 giving the reader an indication of its importance and the attention it will be given in subsequent chapters. We see that the object of Christ’s faithfulness was toward God the Father, “who appointed him.”

This appointment ties back with the earlier statement of Christ’s apostleship and high priesthood. Christ did not appoint Himself, nor did He come on His own authority, as He so often proclaimed during His earthly ministry, but came at the direction of the Father to do His will. The language of appointment is likely intentional to draw the readers minds back to 1 Samuel 2:35:

“And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.”

and 1 Chronicles 17:14

“but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever”

Additionally, the reference to appointment serves as a springboard into the citation of Psalm 110 by the Author in chapter 5, which will serve as the introduction to the discourse on the Priesthood of Christ.

The comparison then is the faithfulness of Christ with the faithfulness of Moses, who, as we are told, “was faithful in all God’s house”. This statement will eventually set up the first point of contrast in the following verse, but we should pause to ask, what is this house of God that Moses was faithful in? In Numbers 12:6-8 we find perhaps the foundation upon which this statement is made in Hebrews, “And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord.”   The house in reference here is sometimes referred to in two ways, the first being the House of Israel and the second being the House of God, i.e. the tabernacle. Both statements are true, but as Schreiner points out, “’house’” in this context refers to the people of God. As a member of God’s people Moses was faithful.”[1] This seems to correspond with the context, as we will see.

Continuing into the contrast, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself,” we see that Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses. Why? To answer that, the Author establishes a contrast by way of analogy, “the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself”. The implication here is that Jesus is the Builder of the house and that Moses is the “house”. Not that he is the house alone, but is a member of the house, as will be clarified in verse 6.

In verse 4 we read the following parenthetical statement, “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” When held in combination with the previous verse that established Jesus Christ as the Builder of the house, this verse declares the deity of Christ by saying all things are built by God and that Christ is that God. The syllogism reads like this: Christ built the house::All things are built by God::Therefore Christ is God. Perhaps it has Hebrews 1:2 in mind, or perhaps it isn’t a reference to creation in general, but to building the house of God specifically. Nevertheless it is a syllogistic statement setting forth the truth that Jesus is God.

The author of Hebrews then steps back into his contrast by positively stating the role of Moses, “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later”. Here we get a further statement concerning Moses’ position in the house, i.e. that of servant. In fulfilling his duty, he testifies to the “things that were to be spoken later.” What things are these? The things of Christ, i.e. the coming of the Messiah, i.e. the Gospel. Luke 24:44 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’”  There is much more that could be said regarding this, such as John 3:14-15; John 6:31-51; 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 9-10; Moses spoke and testified of Christ and despite some more modern theological systems claiming otherwise, the Gospel was present and preached in the Old Testament. This becomes more explicitly stated in Hebrews 4:1-2.

Continuing in our passage, verse 6 is the culminating verse that states the superiority of Christ, as Son, who in His position over the house is greater than Moses who serves in the house. If any lingering questions remain at this point regarding the substance of this house, whether it be a physical structure or in reference to a spiritual structure, that is cleared up in the remaining portion of this verse, “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” As we have seen, the author has included himself in the introduction of this warning statement and again, he aligns himself with his audience, “we are his house if indeed we”.

Believers are the temple of God; the place where God resides and dwells within (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). The Old Testament temple was but a type of the temple of Christ’s body (John 2:19-22). The New Testament uses this imagery to paint a picture of our relationship in union with Christ, the true temple.

The “if” used here is not necessarily a conditional statement, but is a statement of perseverance, “If we persevere, we are His house”. The second clause is not necessarily dependent, as in an if/then statement, but more so is clarified by the first statement. In other words, our inclusion in the house of God is evidenced by our perseverance, which is here referred to as “holding fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope”, all of which point to Christ as its source.

Moses was a member of the house of God and a faithful servant in it. Christ, as Son, built the house giving Him more glory and honor than a servant. We, like our first century brothers and sisters receiving this message, are called to consider this Jesus. Apostle. High Priest. Builder. Son. Merciful and Faithful in all these. Our Confidence and our Hope. Let us therefore persevere as members of the House of God built in Christ.

 

[1] Schreiner, Thomas R., “Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation: Commentary on Hebrews”. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2015. Pg 115

*Image Credit – Wikipedia

Silence is Golden

As the father of a 4-year old and soon of a newborn, there are certain non-negotiables regarding attitude and subsequent discipline that have been set down in stone, not the least of which is whining. There is something intensely irritating and disruptive about whining that flows out of the abundance of a dissatisfied heart. Yet for all the displeasure that whining brings a parent from their child, how often do we as Christians murmur and whine about our respective circumstances without so much as a thought toward how displeasing it must be to God.

In the Book of Numbers, Moses records for us several instances of Israel’s murmuring before the LORD. In Numbers 11:1, the chapter begins with the following, “And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.” From the time they left their enslavement in Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai recorded in this passage, Israel was a murmuring people. God’s chilling response to their murmuring is captured in this verse as His “anger was kindled” against them. I suppose in all the Bible there is not a more fearful description of the displeasure of God as directed toward man than the kindling of His anger. Note how God’s anger is not aroused because of an “obvious sin” such as murder, adultery, or even homosexuality. Instead, it is directed toward the grumbling and discontentment expressed by His covenant people. This should serve as a stark warning to us when we begin to classify particular sins as bottom-of-the-barrel, perhaps more obvious in their manifestation, while other sins that largely go unnoticed are overlooked, coddled, and accepted as normal personality traits. God is clear in this verse; His anger is kindled against grumbling and complaining.

In what appears to be a play on words, the kindling of God’s anger results in the “fire of the LORD” burning among the people and consuming “some outlying parts of the camp.” Think God doesn’t take the words we speak seriously? (As a reminder, Matthew 12:36 informs us that we will be accountable for every word we speak.) Interestingly, God doesn’t consume the entire camp, but strikes the outlying parts of the camp as a display not only of His sovereign rule in judgment, but speaks volumes of His mercy. God’s kindness here was meant to bring the people to repentance for their murmuring.
Continuing on in the passage from Numbers 11

“2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them.
4 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! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Num. 11:2-6

Upon witnessing the sampling of God’s displeasure toward murmuring, the people turn their attention towards Moses and plead for His intercession with God on their behalf. This passage indicates nothing of the contriteness of the people’s heart, yet God complies with Moses’ request and relents of His anger. This should have been a sufficient warning, but the sinfulness of sin and the hardness of man’s heart is not easily swayed apart from the sovereign, irresistible grace of God to remove the heart of stone. As in the case of the men who were struck blind in Sodom and Gomorrah yet they still groped for the doorway of Lot to fulfill their lusts, the rabble in the wilderness continued in their cravings and murmured once again against the LORD.

The Hebrew phrase, translated by the ESV as rabble, is generally understood to be a reference to the nature of the people who had assembled as a mixed multitude, i.e. of Jews and Gentiles, perhaps a reference to those whom had come out of Egypt alongside the Israelites. Regardless, it becomes evident in verse 4 that the fire sent from God did not serve as a lasting reminder to warn the people of their murmuring. Surely even those upon final judgment who are in the place of everlasting torment will continue to gnash their teeth in rebellion towards the all-holy God.

Through the murmuring of the people, this time over the kind of food (manna) that God in His graciousness and provision had given the people, Moses turns again to the Lord. His impatience and irritation with the people’s murmuring reaches its apex as he simply asks the Lord to kill him (Num. 11:14-15). Christian, we are not witnessing here the outpouring of gross immorality among the people. There is no indication of sexual depravity, murderous rampage, or illicit behaviors of the kind that so fixes our attention on a regular basis through the nightly news or the kind of sin that draws gasps from our mouths that so and so in the church has committed. It is complaining; murmuring against the providence of God from a discontent heart; dissatisfied with circumstances with which one is faced and it has sparked the anger of God, a warning of judgment, and a burden so great on their only intercessor with God that he has asked to be killed. Can you begin to feel the weight of how our grumbling and complaining must be a stench in the nostrils of God?

What happens next in the Numbers 11 account is simply stunning.

16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. 18 And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’” 21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

What condescension on God’s part to His servant Moses in providing him with additional help to ease his burden in hearing the complaints of the people. On the one hand, God’s graciousness is on display. However, on the other hand, we are about to witness the hatred of God towards sin in upholding His own holiness. In case you glossed over it above, return your eyes again to verses 19-20. God is not merely going to provide meat for the malcontents who are dissatisfied with manna, He is going to gorge them with it. God would provide them so much meat it would overflow out of their nostrils and “becomes loathsome to you.” This is not a “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” passage. This is the discipline and judgment of God in handing the people over to their sinful cravings. Similar in principle to Romans 1, God often gives people up to the desires of their flesh and it is the judgment that perfectly fits the crime.

It even becomes evident that the peoples murmuring has begun to infect the faith of Moses as he begins to vocalize his unbelief in the power of the Lord, thinking somehow that God has levied against him an even greater burden of providing meat for 600,000 people for an entire month. He was blind to the stunning statement by God that it was He who would provide the meat and it would be in a direct act of judgment against the people.

Concluding this account we read of the fulfillment of God’s promise

31 Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 32 And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. 35 From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth.

Just as He had indicated to Moses, God provided the meat for the people, though if ever there was a fitting time to say “be careful what you wish for” it was now. In similar fashion to the fire that burned outside the camp, judgment again rains outside the camp in the form of quail. Certainly at this point the people must be satisfied that their murmuring has been heard and has bent the will of the Almighty to meet their demands. Until we read of the startling account from verse 33, “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague.”

Psalm 78 offers commentary on this event in the following verses

In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all the night with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out
and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread
or provide meat for his people?”
21 Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath;
a fire was kindled against Jacob;
his anger rose against Israel,
22 because they did not believe in God
and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above
and opened the doors of heaven,
24 and he rained down on them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Man ate of the bread of the angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them,
and he killed the strongest of them
and laid low the young men of Israel.
32 In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe. (Ps. 78:14-32)

After reading through and meditating on this account, is it any wonder why Puritan Thomas Brooks calls murmuring the “mother of all sins”? If you’re yet unimpressed, think about how murmuring and complaining calls into question the goodness and kindness of God; about how it rejects the supply of God in His providence. Murmuring therefore is the external product of internal unbelief. It is a dissatisfaction with Who God is and What He has done or will do. It represents the height of idolatry that man in his finiteness could do more with less. Oh, how often we find ourselves murmuring Christian. How often we grow dissatisfied with circumstances that surround us. Whether this be God’s provision in our housing, food or clothing, jobs, health, the lack of a spouse or even something so trivial as “It’s too hot” or “Why did it have to rain today.” Oh that we would not kindle the anger of God with our murmuring. Let us instead, like Job, put our hands to our mouths and be content with almighty provision of God thanking Him for the slightest of crumbs that may fall from the Master’s table.