Summary: God patiently turns our cires of disgust into cries of delight.
“What is this?” Is that a question you would welcome from the judges if you were a cooking show contestant? If the judge has screwed up his face as if he’s just been punched in the stomach, “What is this?” is a cry of disgust. There goes your chance of winning the contest. You probably shouldn’t have drizzled soy sauce on your homemade vanilla ice cream. On the other hand if the judge says: “What is this?” while smacking his lips, you know that this is a cry of delight – a sentiment that every chef hopes to hear.
It’s not just judges on the Food Network that are in the habit of asking: “What is this?” We do it all the time. Catch a cold in mid-summer and you’ll be saying with a grimace: “What is this?” But receive an unexpected present from a loved one and you’ll cheerfully chirp: “What is this?”
“What is this?” is also a question we ask God – often with disgust because we think God should treat us better. The Israelites in our sermon text felt this way. How did God deal with their attitude? He patiently turned their cries of disgust into cries of delight. God still does this. Let’s find out how that we may once again thank and praise him for his amazing grace.
One of the greatest miracles in the Bible happened when God parted the Red Sea so that a couple million Israelites could cross over on dry land and escape the Egyptians who had enslaved them for four hundred years. There was much celebrating at the time but the mood was much different about a month later. By then all the food the Israelites had brought with from Egypt had run out and so they cried with disgust: “What is this?” Had Moses and Aaron brought them out into the wilderness to die from hunger? “We were better off in Egypt where we sat around pots of meat and ate our fill!” the angry mob exclaimed.
But weren’t the Israelites forgetting something? They had been slaves in Egypt. How much “sitting around” had they really done? Not a lot, I should think, because the Egyptians weren’t afraid to whip lazy slaves. The Israelites added that they would rather go back to Egypt and die there by the Lord’s hand. Really? Had they also forgotten about the frogs, the flies, the boils, the hail, the locusts, and all the other calamities God had unleashed on the Egyptians during the Ten Plagues? Did they really now want to become the victim of God’s judgment?
How do you suppose God felt when he heard Israel’s disgusted cry of “What is this?” It must not have been unlike the way you parents would feel if you scrimped and saved to take your kids to Calaway Park for an end of summer treat but on the drive home the only thing they can talk about is how they didn’t get cotton candy. Sure, they had been on all the rides and had been given money to pick out a carnival stuffy to take home but because there had been no cotton candy, the trip was a total waste of time…or so your kids would have you believe by their incessant cotton candy complaining. It would make you wonder why you even bothered trying to do something fun with your children. Did God too wonder why he had bothered saving the Israelites?
Israel’s murmuring and complaining was not just bad form; it was sinful. God didn’t owe the Israelites a thing. He could have let them be so that the Egyptian pharaohs eventually worked them to death. Sadly Israel’s disgusted murmuring is often heard among us. “Can you believe these mosquitos? They’re driving me crazy!” That may be but we can be thankful that the same rain which has helped hatch so many bugs also nourishes our gardens and crops. “Road construction! When is it going to end?” But aren’t you glad they fix roads around here? Life isn’t perfect but it would be worse…much, much worse if God didn’t continually provide for us. Don’t lose sight of his blessings.
How did God deal with Israel’s cries of disgust? With amazing patience and grace. God said to Moses:
“I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God’” (Exodus 16:12). There was no rebuke. No “You want me to stop this car and come back there!” threat. God actually sounded excited to provide for his grumbling people. And why not? Because of their desperate hunger, all eyes were now on him. When food was delivered, there would be no question where it had come from and this would result in great praise and in the acknowledgement that the one true God was indeed Israel’s loving Lord.