The host of Israel, it seems, took along with them out of Egypt, when they came thence on the fifteenth day of the first month, a month’s provisions, which, by the fifteenth day of the second month, was all spent; and here we have,
I. Their discontent and murmuring upon that occasion, Exod. 16:2, 3. The whole congregation, the greatest part of them, joined in this mutiny; it was not immediately against God that they murmured, but (which was equivalent) against Moses and Aaron, God’s vicegerents among them. 1. They count upon being killed in the wilderness—nothing less, at the first appearance of disaster. If the Lord had been pleased to kill them, he could easily have done that in the Red Sea; but then he preserved them, and now could as easily provide for them. It argues great distrust of God, and of his power and goodness, in every distress and appearance of danger to despair of life, and to talk of nothing but being speedily killed. 2. They invidiously charge Moses with a design to starve them when he brought them out of Egypt; whereas what he had done was both by order from God and with a design to promote their welfare. Note, It is no new thing for the greatest kindnesses to be misinterpreted and basely represented as the greatest injuries. The worst colours are sometimes put upon the best actions. Nay, 3. They so far undervalue their deliverance that they wish they had died in Egypt, nay, and died by the hand of the Lord too, that is, by some of the plagues which cut off the Egyptians, as if it were not the hand of the Lord, but of Moses only, that brought them into this hungry wilderness. It is common for people to say of that pain, or sickness, or sore, of which they see not the second causes, “It is what pleases God,” as if that were not so likewise which comes by the hand of man, or some visible accident. Prodigious madness! They would rather die by the fleshpots of Egypt, where they found themselves with provision, than live under the guidance of the heavenly pillar in a wilderness and be provided for by the hand of God! they pronounce it better to have fallen in the destruction of God’s enemies than to bear the fatherly discipline of his children! We cannot suppose that they had any great plenty in Egypt, how largely soever they now talk of the flesh-pots; nor could they fear dying for want in the wilderness, while they had their flocks and herds with them. But discontent magnifies what is past, and vilifies what is present, without regard to truth or reason. None talk more absurdly than murmurers. Their impatience, ingratitude, and distrust of God, were so much the worse in that they had lately received such miraculous favours, and convincing proofs both that God could help them in the greatest exigencies and that really he had mercy in store for them. See how soon they forgot his works, and provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea, Ps. 106:7-13. Note, Experiences of God’s mercies greatly aggravate our distrusts and murmurings.
II. The care God graciously took for their supply. Justly he might have said, “I will rain fire and brimstone upon these murmurers, and consume them;” but, quite contrary, he promises to rain bread upon them. Observe,
1. How God makes known to Moses his kind intentions, that he might not be uneasy at their murmurings, nor be tempted to wish he had let them alone in Egypt. (1.) He takes notice of the people’s complaints: I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, Exod. 16:12. As a God of pity, he took cognizance of their necessity, which was the occasion of their murmuring; as a just and holy God, he took cognizance of their base and unworthy reflections upon his servant Moses, and was much displeased with them. Note, When we begin to fret and be uneasy, we ought to consider that God hears all our murmurings, though silent, and only the murmurings of the heart. Princes, parents, masters, do not hear all the murmurs of their inferiors against them, and it is well they do not, for perhaps they could not bear it; but God hears, and yet bears. We must not think, because God does not immediately take vengeance on men for their sins, that therefore he does not take notice of them; no, he hears the murmurings of Israel, and is grieved with this generation, and yet continues his care of them, as the tender parent of the froward child. (2.) He promises them a speedy, sufficient, and constant supply, Exod. 16:4. Man being made out of the earth, his Maker has wisely ordered him food out of the earth, Ps. 104:14. But the people of Israel, typifying the church of the first-born that are written in heaven, and born from above, and being themselves immediately under the direction and government of heaven, receiving their charters, laws, and commissions, from heaven, from heaven also received their food: their law being given by the disposition of angels, they did also eat angels’ food. See what God designed in making this provision for them: That I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or no. [1.] Thus he tried whether they would trust him, and walk in the law of faith or no, whether they could live from hand to mouth, and (though now uneasy because their provisions were spent) could rest satisfied with the bread of the day in its day, and depend upon God for fresh supplies to-morrow. [2.] Thus he tried whether they would serve him, and be always faithful to so good a Master, that provided so well for his servants; and hereby he made it appear to all the world, in the issue, what an ungrateful people they were, whom nothing could affect with a sense of obligation. Let favour be shown to them, yet will they not learn righteousness, Isa. 26:10.
2. How Moses made known these intentions to Israel, as God ordered him. Here Aaron was his prophet, as he had been to Pharaoh. Moses directed Aaron what to speak to the congregation of Israel (Exod. 16:9); and some think that, while Aaron was giving a public summons to the congregation to come near before the Lord, Moses retired to pray, and that the appearance of the glory of the Lord (Exod. 16:10) was in answer to his prayer. They are called to come near, as Isa. 1:18; Come, and let us reason together. Note, God condescends to give even murmurers a fair hearing; and shall we then despise the cause of our inferiors when they contend with us? Job 31:13. (1.) He convinces them of the evil of their murmurings. They thought they reflected only upon Moses and Aaron, but here they are told that God was struck at through their sides. This is much insisted on (Exod. 16:7, 8): “Your murmurings are not against us, then we would have been silent, but against the Lord; it was he that led you into these straits, and not we.” Note, When we murmur against those who are instruments of any uneasiness to us, whether justly or unjustly, we should do well to consider how much we reflect upon God by it; men are but God’s hand. Those that quarrel with the reproofs and convictions of the word, and are angry with their ministers when they are touched in a tender part, know not what they do, for therein they strive with their Maker. Let this for ever stop the mouth of murmuring, that it is daring impiety to murmur at God, because he is God; and gross absurdity to murmur at men, because they are but men. (2.) He assures them of the supply of their wants, that since they had harped upon the flesh-pots so much they should for once have flesh in abundance that evening, and bread the next morning, and so on every day thenceforward, Exod. 16:8, 12. Many there are of whom we say that they are better fed than taught; but the Israelites were thus fed, that they might be taught. He led him about, he instructed him (Deut. 32:10); and, as to this instance, see Deut. 8:3; He fed thee with manna, that thou mightest know that man doth not live by bread only. And, besides this, here are two things mentioned, which he intended to teach them by sending them manna:—[1.] By this you shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt, Exod. 16:6. That they were brought out of Egypt was plain enough; but so strangely sottish and short-sighted were they that they said it was Moses that brought them out, Exod. 16:3. Now God sent them manna, to prove that it was no less than infinite power and goodness that brought them out, and this could perfect what was begun. If Moses only had brought them out of Egypt, he could not thus have fed them; they must therefore own that that was the Lord’s doing, because this was so, and both were marvellous in their eyes; yet, long afterwards, they needed to be told that Moses gave them not this bread from heaven, John 6:32. [2.] By this you shall know that I am the Lord your God, Exod. 16:12. This gave proof of his power as the Lord, and his particular favour to them as their God. When God plagued the Egyptians, it was to make them know that he was the Lord; when he provided for the Israelites, it was to make them know that he was their God.
3. How God himself manifested his glory, to still the murmurings of the people, and to put a reputation upon Moses and Aaron, Exod. 16:10. While Aaron was speaking, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The cloud itself, one would think, was enough both to strike an awe upon them and to give encouragement to them; yet, in a few days, it had grown so familiar to them that it made no impression upon them, unless it shone with an unusual brightness. Note, What God’s ministers say to us is then likely to do us good when the glory of God shines in with it upon our souls.