Sermon on Exodus 16:1-36 – “Complaining and Contentment”

Sermon for Sunday, July 11th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 15:22-27 ESV] 22 Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, 26 saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” 27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.

New Testament reading:

[2Co 8:8-15 ESV] 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 6:52-59 ESV] 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

Sermon Text:
[Exo 16:1-36 ESV] 1 They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 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.” 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him–what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.” 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.'” 10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 And the LORD said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'” 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. 22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'” 24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.” 27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day. 31 Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. 35 The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 (An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.)

Introduction

Contentment. The word itself makes us feel at ease. Contentment.

But it is not easy. We must battle against complaining and seek contentment.

I. The People Complain.

As you recall, Moses and all the people were just singing the praise of God for His deliverance of them from the Egyptians and their chariots, having brought them safely through the Red Sea waters.

They sang, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

But only 3 days later the people begin to grumble. It first happens because they are not finding any water and when they do find some it is bitter and undrinkable. And though the Lord provided for them by turning the water sweet, they’ll soon again complain abut lack of water.

But in between the two times complaints, we find a longer section — all of chapter 16 — regarding the time that the people of Israel complained about lack of food.

It is now one full month that they have been gone from Egypt. And perhaps their food stores are now running low. They took a lot with them, and did not complain for want of food for the first month. But, as they do time and time again, they fail to trust in God’s provision for them. And so they complain.

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 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.”

They bring these complaints to Moses and Aaron; perhaps they are too afraid of the Lord to bring the complaints directly to Him! And remember this Biblical distinction – we can (and should) bring our troubles to the Lord in prayer. We see such prayers throughout the Psalms, for example. But it is when people do not bring the complaints to God, but to man, that it is said that they grumble.

They grumble against Moses and Aaron, but they sin against God.

And they remember only the good time they had in Egypt, as if they were also sitting by pots of meat, rather than slaving away for their masters.

II. The Lord Provides

So the Lord then responds to their complaints, not with punishing them, but by providing for them. And His purpose in doing this is expressly stately – “that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”

So the Lord provides and He wants His people to trust in Him.

And we’ll be looking at 3 ways that God provides for his people. [REPEAT: Three ways that God provides for his people)

A. He provides for physical needs (in the manna from heaven)

B. He provides a day of rest.

C. He provides Christ, the bread of life.

First,

A. He provides for physical needs

We all know the story; God provides the Israelites with bread (cakes called manna) from heaven as well as quail for meat.

And it might be awesome (in the true sense of that word) to think just how much manna and how many quail the Lord would have needed to provide for 2 million people in the wilderness. The manna falling would have looked like a heavy snow; and the flock of quail must have been immense rivaling the flocks of passenger pigeons in early America and making the numbers in Alfred Hitchcocks “The Birds” look modest in comparison.

The point is clear. God can provide, even for such a mass of people in the wilderness; the place where there is the least provision naturally. The people are to learn, here more than anywhere, to quite literally trust in God for their daily bread.

The manna and quail would indeed come in a daily amount, and they were to take only that which was needed. If they gathered too much, it would go bad. And such over-harvesting was a sign of greed; a sign that they did not trust in the Lord.

Only on the sixth day were they to gather double, and then it would last for the seventh.

The Lord indeed did provide for their physical needs in the provision of sustenance, but He also provided for both physical needs and spiritual needs in the day of rest on the seventh day

B. He provides a day of rest.

God says, “5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

And Moses explains to the people,

‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.” “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”

But realize this: this is before the Ten Commandments are given. What does that tell us? It tells us that Sabbath observance did not begin when the commandments were given. In fact, Sabbath observance — along with labor and marriage — are creation ordinances. God did from the earliest chapters in Genesis institute marriage (the joining of one man and one woman together for life as one flesh) and he institute labor (both man’s physical working and a woman’s pain in labor). But before any other ordinance, God set the pattern of work and rest in Himself creating the world in 6 days and resting on the seventh.

When God later through Moses gives the Ten Commandments, the command to obey the Sabbath is not new. It had been instituted at creation. He says “Remember” the Sabbath.

And here in Exodus is one of many places where we see the Scriptural understanding that the Lord created the world in six actual normal days and rested on the seventh. I, for one, and our confessions as well, have no room for any of the theories that deny six-day creation. The Scriptures are clear.

God set the pattern for us. He created the word in six day and rested on the seventh. Remembering this, we also are to rest one day in seven; not as an obligation but as a joy – for the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

So God provided food for the Israelites and He provided a day of rest and worship. And he told them to gather double on the day before the Sabbath.

And this is a good practice for us today. An application we should consider. You should do extra work on Saturday to avoid having to work on Sunday. Make a meal ahead of time that can be reheated on Sunday. (other examples). Get your projects to a good stopping point on Saturday, so that they can wait until Monday for you to resume them. Let Sunday be a day of rest for you and a day of worship of our great God who provides.

We need to be counter-cultural warriors. The culture says repeatedly “we are busy; certainly too busy to come to church on Sunday.” We are not to fall into that trap. I’m convinced that we do better — and the Lord has designed us this way — if we work 6 days a week rather than 7. The hiker that hikes 7 days a week soon exhausts himself and injures himself. Rest is needed as an essential element of our makeup.

[Lev 23:3 ESV] 3 “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.

So be a rebel and come to church. Take the day off from all the cares of the world. It will go a long way towards your contentment.

C. He provides Christ, the Bread of Life

The Lord provided bread from heaven, and quail to eat, and He provided a day of rest for His people. But we know that He provides something even greater, something which all of these passage foreshadows, and that is Jesus Christ Himself, the Bread of Life.

And it is a custom of Presbyterian tradition to occasionally preach a sermon on the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday, like this one, when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. And this text is one that is quite appropriate for a Sunday such as this.

That is because, as God provided manna from heaven to the Israelites, so He has provided His Son Jesus Christ, as the Bread of Life, for all who believe in Him.

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

God has provided for our salvation in His providing Christ for us.

As manna came from Heaven, so did Jesus Christ.

As manna never failed to be there for the people, so Jesus never forsakes us.

As manna came by the free grace of God, so is our salvation in Christ given freely by God’s grace.

And in God’s provision of Christ for us, we have something far better than manna. We have not the bread which fills us for a day, but the bread of life which fills us for all eternity. This is what God has provided! How He must love us, His people!

And how we must love Him! Not complaining, not grumbling, but living in great contentment knowing that God provides for us.

We have true contentment in nothing of this world, but only in Jesus Christ.

III. True Contentment

The Israelites grumbled about lack of water, and God provided.

Then the Israelites grumbled about lack of food, and God provided.

Does this end their grumbling? Sadly not. In the next chapter we’ll find them grumbling again.

And in this it is apparent that while worrying about their bellies, their deeper problem is in their hearts.

They’ve seen the Lord work miracle after miracle and yet they doubt Him.

He provides for them day by day and yet they grumble.

But this is our sinful human condition; we are never satisfied with any quantity. The man who has little wants a lot, the man who has a lot wants more. But never does anyTHING satisfy.

The advertisers want you to believe otherwise. The advertising in our society is designed to make you jealous for what others have. All to create discontentment. So here is some practical advice: Get away from the advertisement of the world. (REPEAT: get away from the advertisement of the world) You are assaulted by advertisements. You might not even notice how much advertising there is, until you go somewhere where this is not. For example, four states (Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and Alaska) have banned billboards. While an ardent free-marketeer myself, it sure is peaceful to drive without distraction. Let us live also without distraction and be content.

In the 1980s Neil Postman wrote a book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” He argued, in short, “Kill your tv.” That same message goes to other forms of media. Limit your exposure to radio commercials, to internet advertising, and whatever other insidious things in our modern world that seek your discontent that you may buy their product! You probably don’t need their product.

Things never satisfy, and things all fade away.

James 5:2-3 says “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.”

So while the unbeliever is known by his complaining; his constant grumbling for “MORE, MORE”, let us be known by our contentment. Let us be satisfied with what we have because we have Christ.

Let us seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Let us be content in whatever circumstance God has given us. Consider Paul, who while in prison, yet wrote:

[Phl 4:11-12 ESV] I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

And we should take his advice from 1 Timothy to

“flee (from the pursuit of wealth and power). (But rather) “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)

Today as we come the to Lord’s Table, we are to be remind that Christ has provided for us, once for all in the sacrifice of Himself for our sins.

We see in the Lord’s supper that we have Christ, and thus have the contentment that no unbeliever can have. We have the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Our souls rest because they rest in him. And we are content because we know that God provides. He provides for all our needs.

Conclusion

What then shall we conclude? Let us pray for contentment.

Be content. Do not be upset when someone interrupts your work, but think “The Lord has planned this” , “how can I respond in love.”

Be content. Do not be upset when something doesn’t go your way.

Be content with what the Lord has given you; whether wealth or poverty, much family or none, many skills or few, heath or sickness, joy or sorrow, marriage or singleness, property or none, much education or little, authority or subjection, all that you desire or nothing at all.

Be content, for otherwise you will always seek more and more and nothing will be enough.

Be content in all circumstances because have something, someone, greater than all else, you have Christ.

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