Exodus 16:1-3 If Only

Exodus 16:1-3            If Only. . .                                                                   WC McCarter
In chapter four of The Story, we read about God calling His people out of Egypt. By this time a new Pharaoh had come into power who did not know Joseph. There was no sympathy toward the Israelites. In fact, they were enslaved by the Egyptians and forced to do hard labor. They cried out to God from under the yoke of Egypt, and God heard their cries. He raised up Moses, a Hebrew man who had been raised an Egyptian prince, to lead His people. Moses was hesitant, but God strengthened him for this mighty work. After a long bought with Pharaoh, who had a hard heart, Moses led the people out of slavery and into the wilderness. They would be there for forty years being tested by God. Their faith was weak, superficial, and of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sort.
Just as the Israelites traveled through the desert as foreigners, we also struggle through this world’s wilderness as pilgrims in a strange land.  We are tested by God, tempted by sinful desires, tricked by Satan, sometimes hungry and other times full, but this is life. We are called to be faithful in all things and to glorify God. We are called to endure. Today, I would like to call your attention to Exodus 16:1-3 which is found on page 55. Here we find an account of Israel in the desert, challenged by hunger.
Scripture Reading (p. 55) – This is the Word of God
The Journey into the Desert
Exactly one month had passed since the beginning of the Exodus. They had been camping in Elim where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees. It sounds like a paradise compared to what they had been through in the past few weeks. Now the Israelites were heading south from Elim toward the Desert of Sin. As one preacher has said, “. . . the Lord never allows us to linger too long in Elim. He summons us to go forth, and our going forth sometimes takes us into the desert” (Dunnam, 192).
Along the way, the Israelites were camping along the east coast of the Red Sea (the opposite side from where they had originally crossed). The Israelites were apparently following an old road that the Egyptians used for mining. They probably knew this road well. How was it that the Egyptians did not know their location? It was not mining season, so there wouldn’t be many Egyptians traveling this route. Even if they hear of the Israelites’ location, they probably would not want to risk another defeat like they did the first time (on the other side of the Red Sea).
Grumbling in the Desert
This is actually the third time they grumbled against God and Moses. The first time was when they were trapped between the Egyptians and the sea (p. 53 at the bottom). Another time (p. 55) they grumbled against Moses about finding water to drink. After this, they grumbled again against the Lord and Moses about drinking water (p. 57). The problem of grumbling was not restricted to a handful, but was heard from “the whole community.” Everyone was affected to some degree by hunger. This episode highlights the fact that Moses and Aaron were constantly on the hot-seat. We cannot know the pressure they were under and the persecution they endured.
Certainly the people did not want to die in Egypt or out in the wilderness, but they make a silly comparison in their complaint. They state that it would have been much more simple to die in Egypt than to go through all the trouble they were enduring to die in the wilderness.
But God wouldn’t do all that He had just to let the people wander around in the wilderness for a month just to die from starvation, would He? They use the phrase, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt!” This makes you think of the disastrous plagues that took place and even the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. God was merciful to the Israelites during those previous events, but now the people claim, “that perhaps they would have been better off eliminated by a plague or drowning” (Stuart, 371). The people claimed that they had all the food that they wanted while in Egypt. They may have been hard-pressed by slave-masters, but they did not have to deal with starvation. They looked to the past and did not trust God for the future. They did not say, “I trust God.” They said, “If only we had. . . .”
The Other Side of the Sea
God was testing them, although they may not have known it. It is difficult to not sympathize with the Israelites. Surely they were hungry, their kids were crying, and their animals were groaning. We can almost feel their pain as we read their story. Of course, they should have known that God was taking care of them because His presence was leading them in the cloud. They should have known that God ordained for them to be there in that particular place at that precise point in time. Think of all that they have seen God do up to this point:
Plagues – Parting of Red Sea – All the water they needed at Marah for that time
***And He did it all in their behalf!
On the other hand, we do not always know what is a test or simply a tough situation. So, what should we do? Hold firm in what we believe. We should count every trial as an opportunity to glorify God by our perseverance in the faith. The sad realization is that the people were not simply grumbling against Moses and Aaron. They were grumbling against God.
Conclusion- Finding Your Story in God’s Story
I’m afraid that many Christians are the same way. They enjoyed the darkness so much that they wish they could go back. The light is too bright for them.
1) Enjoy the light. Do not look back to the darkness.
2) What “If only. . .” have you been using recently? Their grumblings and complaints came from hearts lacking faith.
3) Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The Israelites obeyed their stomachs rather than their God. How many Christians live this way? How many of you live this way? Your god is your stomach and you are never filled. We must forsake all lusts and sinful desires and turn to our God by faith in Jesus Christ.
4) What benefit is there for a man who gains the whole world and loses his own soul?
5) Lastly, let me point you to the grace of God in the passage. When you might imagine that God would not listen to their grumblings without raining down wrath upon them, instead God provides food for His people.