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Grumbling | Wilderness Wanderings

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’
Exodus 16:2-3

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarrelled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’
Exodus 17:1-2a

Sometimes, I find it hard not to judge the Israelites. They’ve just been miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt. Not only that, but God has also just parted an entire sea for them to cross through, destroying their enemies in the process. And yet, here they are, grumbling. Moaning. Whining. Doubting. Wishing that they were back in slavery.

Sometimes, I find it hard not to judge the Israelites. But then I find myself dehydrated, or forced to take a late lunch, and I am a horrible person. Hungry, thirsty, and horrendously grumpy. It is in those moments that I completely understand the Israelites’ moaning. I, too, am a ‘hangry’ person.

Of course, the Israelites’ grumbling makes sense up to a point – they were only human, after all, and they did need food and water to survive. But it’s the foolishness and ingratitude of the wish that they had ‘died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt’ that makes their moaning quite so difficult to swallow. They were free from tyranny! How could they possibly wish themselves back into slavery? Is death really preferable to a short amount of hunger and thirst?

But, they were only human, and the grass is always greener on the other side. Familiarity is often more attractive than uncertainty. Change is hard. And this? This is a typically human reaction towards God – ingratitude, moaning, doubting, wishing that someone else was in charge.

I know I’m like that – and not just when I’m hungry. And chances are, you probably are too, at least occasionally. Maybe you’ll be like that today. I probably will.

Grumbling is a very human response to difficult situations. But grumbling is different from submitting requests. Grumbling comes from lack of belief in provision. It is – let’s be honest – a classic British pastime. Submitting a request – ‘asking nicely’, if you will – comes from an expectation that your needs will be met.

Moaning and doubting God’s goodness can be the easy response when we are faced with difficult situations, unmet physical needs, or an uncertain future. But what if instead of grumbling, we adjusted our perspective, made known our needs, and presented them to God? What if we adopted the prayer that Jesus taught us, and simply asked: ‘give us this day our daily bread’, trusting today that God will provide for us, despite our wavering and ungrateful hearts.


Nell Goddard