Who’s Testing Who?

I’m reading in Exodus this morning. God has shown Himself full of power to Pharoah. God has shown Himself full of grace, through the Passover, to His people. The children of Israel have been delivered from Egypt . . . and Pharoah’s army has been destroyed by the Red Sea. The celebration party has been had and now it’s about the day-to-day business of pursuing the promised land. And between here and there, it’s about doing life in the desert. And as they head out from the Red Sea, God determines to test His people . . . and His people, unfortunately, default too quickly to testing their God.

God uses the wilderness as the place where He tests those He has redeemed out of bondage. The word translated “test” has the idea of “trying” something. It’s the word for “assay,” for proving the characteristic or nature of something and its associated qualities. For His people, God tests their obedience. He knows Mt. Sinai is coming . . . that He will deliver to those He has called to be His own, the framework and statutes necessary for mortal men to know communion with their eternal God. And so, in anticipation of the full-on commandments and statutes, God starts small . . . using the hardships of the wilderness . . . and the basic need for food . . . as His proving ground.

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.”    (Exodus 16:4 ESV)

The rules of engagement are simple. The people need food everyday. God has owned them His people and knows their need. Everyday He will rain down bread from heaven to meet that need. Everyday the people are to gather what they need for that day . . . they are not to hoard it and keep some in storage just in case the bread doesn’t show up on the next day. On the sixth day, they are to gather twice what they need, so that on the Sabbath, God’s declared day of rest, there is no need to rain down bread and no need to be out gathering it. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not for some.

Some failed the test. Some tried to keep the manna over night . . . either because they didn’t trust the Lord to provide the next day, . . . or because they didn’t want to depend on the Lord for their daily bread, . . . or because they were too lazy to go to the Lord every day for their provision. And some, went out to gather on the Sabbath, though God had said He would provide for them to rest. Some failed the test . . . some were proven and found wanting . . . the impurities of disobedience revealed in God’s laboratory of His call to faith.

But as I read on in Exodus, I noticed that the people also presented a test for God of their own.

And [Moses] called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”   (Exodus 17:7 ESV)

Grumbling quickly became a core skill for the God’s delivered people. Complaining about a lack of food and water soon surfaced as a defining attribute of the congregation. Contending, quarreling, and questioning the Lord’s presence and care for them became an all too common theme of their interactions with Moses. And, the Scriptures say, because of it, they tested the Lord. They were trying His character . . . proving His nature . . . assessing His attributes.

And in response to their grumbling, God provides bread from heaven and water from a rock. Grumbling is met with grace. Complaining is met with compassion. On-going quarreling is met with daily quotas. That’s the nature of our God. Not that He can be tried and presumed upon forever. He will also judge rebellion which doesn’t yield to grace. But God is patient with those delivered from Egypt . . . and seeks to make Himself known even in our most basic of needs . . . responding to our murmurings of discontent with His gracious daily provision.

Oh, may I grumble less . . . and glory more in His grace. Amen?

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