Sunday Morning Sermon — Our Gracious God — Exodus 16:4-21

17 Sep

Exodus
Exodus 16:4-21
Our Gracious God

INTRODUCTION: Last Sunday, we looked at the Anatomy of a Complainer in Exodus 16:1-3. The reason we landed on that topic was that I believe from the evidence of Scripture and from my own experience that a complaining spirit is one of the chief things that steals our joy in God and our satisfaction in Christ. We talked about the four faulty foundations of a complaining spirit; misplaced blame, an unrealistic view of past and present and no hope for the future. This message is online at westhickory.org if you want to listen to it this week. The difficult thing about last week’s message is that it was really incomplete. Originally, I wanted to preach last week’s message and this week’s message as one sermon, because I believe that Exodus chapter 16 is trying to show us a contrast between the complaining spirit of the Israelites and the gracious character of our God.
So think of this morning as a kind of part two to last week, the flip side of the complaining spirit. Think of it also as a kind of antidote to complaining. When we ponder the gracious nature of our God, it does a lot to squelch complaining. In fact, if you were able to get inside the life of a complainer, I would be willing to bet, if I were a betting man, that there would be little to no real pondering of the character of God in their life. Maybe an outward knowledge, but no real heart-probing, emotion-moving, affection-building meditation over God and His ways. So look at this passage as strong medicine for a complaining spirit and rejoice with me as we consider together from Exodus 16 our gracious God.

The first aspect of God’s gracious character we see in this passage is that;
    A.    Our Gracious God Loves the UNGRATEFUL (16:4).
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,
Now do you remember verses 1-3? The whole assembly of the Israelites was railing on Moses and Aaron because of their perceived lack of food. They were even accusing Moses of bringing them out into the wilderness to die. Now, of course, the Israelites were placing the blame in the wrong place. Moses and Aaron hadn’t delivered them from slavery and brought them into the wilderness, God had. But rather than go to God in prayer, asking Him to provide, they complained against Moses and Aaron. Why? Because it’s always easier to complain than to pray. But here’s the good news, even with an ungrateful and prayerless people, God showed grace. He provided for them. God loves even the ungrateful. He even loves us when we are prone to complain and fail to come to Him in prayer.
God would rain down bread from heaven for the Israelites. He would teach them that there was no need to complain, no need to find someone to blame, and every reason to trust Him and His sufficiency. This is probably what would have come to them had they prayed, but God gives it anyway, because He is gracious. Yes, it is true that God rewards faithfulness. God blesses us when we walk in His ways. But He is so good that sometimes He blesses us when we don’t. This is not an excuse for us to complain or neglect trusting God. We would never say, “Let us sin that grace may abound.” But on the other hand, aren’t you glad that God’s favor to you does not rest on your perfect performance? If God’s favor to you were totally based on how obedient you were to Him or by how thankful you were toward Him, how would the quality of your life measure up? The very hope of our salvation and our life in God is dependent on grace.
You do not belong to God because of anything in you. You were not more special than anyone else. You were not better than anyone else. You were, as I was, dead in transgressions and sins, and God made us alive in Christ Jesus. We are debtors to God, He is not in our debt. Even our good works are empowered by His grace. In us, there is no place for boasting. In God, there is every reason for rejoicing, because He is so good.
Are you rejoicing this morning that God has displayed His grace to you time after time even though you were ungrateful?

Second, we see in this passage that . . .
 B.    Our Gracious God TESTS Us for Our Good        (16:4-5).
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.”
The end of verse 4 tells us that this grace of bread from heaven is not only an act of love but that it was also a test. God, though He is gracious, cares about our obedience, because our obedience to the God who saved us is good for us and brings glory to God. So God gives us tests, obedience tests, to see if we will be faithful to Him. In the case of the Israelites, they would be instructed to only gather what would be needed for each day and then on the sixth day they would be charged with collecting enough for two days, as they would not gather on the Sabbath day. The instructions are not numerous but they are specific and they provide a test for the Israelites. Will Israel trust God to provide for them daily? This would have been a difficult test for a people who lived in an agricultural society. Farmers don’t go out into the fields and gather one day’s worth of the harvest, because they know that crops don’t produce every day. If there is extra milk or extra eggs, they don’t leave it behind but they get them and use them. So this test God gives went against the natural way of the Israelites. They are learning to trust Him for their daily bread. Every day, they would have to trust God afresh. They could not afford, for their own well-being, to ignore trusting God. If they failed to trust God for too many days, their very lives would be in danger. And this was at the heart of God’s test. It was not about God playing games with His people, it was about shaping them for His glory and their joy.
God often gives us tests like the one the Israelites faced. God puts in our lives challenges at work, a difficult boss. God gives us a child who just won’t behave, no matter what we try. God puts in our lives health challenges that stretch the limits of our faith. God puts us in a financial situation where we can never quite seem to get ahead. And of course, God gives us many clear commands in His Word which cut against the way we think is right. Remember, there are ways that seem right to us, but they lead to death. So many of God’s commands to us, just as His commands to the Israelites, exist for us as tests. The command to a young person (and to us older people as well), “Flee sexual immorality.” Totally rejected by our culture. Often dismissed in church life. The world says, “Live and let live” and “Do what comes naturally.” And this is a test. Will you fight for sexual morality or will you compromise? One way leads to joy the other to grief. But sometimes we don’t believe God’s path is best because our view is so short-sighted. We choose short-term pleasure and get long-term grief instead of choosing God’s commands which are difficult in the short-term but lead to long-term blessing. If you’re under 50, ask some of the older saints here how it worked for them in their lives to live for the short-term. I would almost guarantee that much of the personal hardship people in this room have faced was rooted in choosing short cuts of sin over the long-term obedience God calls us to. Most of our regret comes from the tests God has given us which we have failed. God is still gracious, we are still saved, we have still received many blessings, but our lives are so much better when we trust God through the tests. And our lives are especially much better when we don’t complain to God when we face a test but trust Him in hard times, knowing He is for us, He wants to use these things to take us deeper with Him. I am reminder of the great old Isaac Watts hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Especially meaningful to me are the last three verses . . .

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

What is often at the heart of God’s tests is our third point today, from verses six through twelve . . .
 C.     Our Gracious God Has a PASSION for His Glory (16:6-12).
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.'”
Notice in verses 6-12 the repetition of the word “Lord.” It’s used 10 times in the space of seven verses. The center of this section is a concern for the glory of God. Moses and Aaron tell the people that they will know God is their deliverer and they will see His glory because of their grumbling. God will manifest Himself to Israel in an especially powerful way to meet their grumbling. This will happen on one level to make it clear to the Israelites that their complaining is not against Moses and Aaron but against God. Their complaining is not a sign of Moses’ and Aaron’s failure, it is a sign of the Israelites lack of faith in God who has repeatedly provided for them all along. So we have in this section grumbling people and the glorious God, who reveals His glory to Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness. The whole assembly was gathered, which is a sign that the whole assembly had been grumbling. And God reveals Himself. But God doesn’t punish them. God is longsuffering. He is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. There would come times that Israel’s rebellion would bring them under God’s judgment, but this is not one of those times. Instead, God would show Himself to the Israelites and provide meat for them in the evening and bread for them in the morning, the very things they had been craving in their false remembrances of Egypt in verses 1-3. The same word “filled” is used here that is used in verses 1-3 when Israel talked of eating bread to the full. God would exceed even Israel’s rose colored memories by providing for them richly.
The purpose of this provision was so that the people would see the glory of God and trust Him and know Him. God is passionate to make His glory known and He will show Himself to us in times of testing and in times of blessing. But it seems that testing has a particularly powerful effect in our hearts. This past week was the 11th anniversary of 9-11. Those days following that attack were days when a certain seriousness took hold of our nation. We thought less about trivial things and, at least for a while, more about spiritual things. This is one of God’s intended effects in hardship, to drive us to Him. C.S. Lewis put it so well when he said, God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God brings us through these times for His glory. He blesses us for His glory. He saves us from devastating lives of sin for His glory. He blesses churches all over the world for His glory. He carries on the work of missions, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
John Piper says, “We are all starved for the glory of God, not self. No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase self-esteem. Why do we go? Because there is greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self. Indeed, what could be more ludicrous in a vast and glorious universe like this than a human being, on the speck called earth, standing in front of a mirror trying to find significance in his own self-image? It is a great sadness that this is the gospel of the modern world.”
“The created universe is all about glory. The deepest longing of the human heart and the deepest meaning of heaven and earth are summed up in this; the glory of God. The universe was made to show it, and we were made to see it and savor it. Nothing less will do. Which is why the world is as disordered and dysfunctional as it is. We have exchanged the glory of God for other things.”
And C.S. Lewis again, says, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
God puts His glory on display in the world to awaken us to reality. Most of the time we are like that guy in the cell, scribbling ‘darkness’ on the walls as we look at our circumstances and say “where is God?” And we don’t see him because we’re staring at those four walls, not realizing that the door to the cell is open. We are free to walk out because Jesus holds the keys to death and hell through His work on the cross. The risen Christ calls us to walk out of slavery to sin into the fullness of life. The Spirit of God reveals to us the glory of God we’ve missed through all the years of trying to make our own way.
God’s passion for His glory is an act of grace because He is the most glorious of all. There is nothing better than knowing Him. There is nothing richer in all experience than being held in His care, led through life by His steady hand. Children are not God. Our spouse is not God. Nothing can take His place. Nothing can satisfy our souls like God. Not football, not flowers, not music, not sex, not good grades or a raise, not food or vacations. God alone is God. He alone is worthy of all praise. His glory is the center of our joy and the hope of our lives. And He knows this. And that’s why He has a passion for His glory, because for Him to do so accords with reality and is good for His people.

There is a final goodness in this passage. We see finally this morning that:

D.    Our Gracious God PROVIDES for His People (16:13-20).
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.
The quail are only mentioned here in the chapter as they come in and cover the camp. It seems that the quail are a less prominent feature of this passage but their presence is important. First, they point to the goodness of God. God is so good that he gives Israel not just the manna, the little flakes that were like bread, but he gives them meat, on at least a couple of occasions. The quail staved off their hunger and gave them special joy, all a gift of God’s goodness.
It is also evident that the quail are a natural providence directed by God, whereas the manna was a clearly supernatural provision. There are those who think that the manna was a natural providence as well. Actually, some believe the manna was the excrement of insects. But the text is clear that it is bread from heaven. There is no sense in which the text says this was a naturally occurring thing God gave in His providence.
I know there are some here who would scoff at such an idea as God providing bread from heaven. It just seems unbelievable to you. I just want to say to you, if God is who the Bible says He is; almighty, all-knowing, eternal and unchanging, is there any reason these things could not have happened? Is it possible that because you haven’t seen such things happen that you assume they can not happen? And is it just possible that you are not all-knowing, but God is? I affirm the miraculous because I believe in almighty God.
At the same time, it is clear that sometimes God provides through ordinary means. I think the provision of quail was one of those times. The timely migration of the quail, which ancient sources outside the Bible confirm migrated in that region and could be observed to hover at the ground, is God taking an ordinary event and turning it to the favor of Israel. But other times God provides in miraculous ways. There is a sense in which everything is miraculous, if we mean that everything is rooted in our supernatural God as He upholds the universe. There are miracles of timing like the quail and there are material miracles like the manna. Both are under the sovereign hand of God and both are expressions of His goodness and power. I don’t want to minimize either effort as not being God’s work. I think it is helpful to note this because in our lives many of the provisions we experience are God using natural occurrences for His glory and our good. God has created and sustains all things and often He is working through the timing of ordinary things or the turning of ordinary circumstances.
I say all this not only for the skeptic but because sometimes even committed believers tend to play a zero-sum game with God, where either He is doing a miracle or He is doing nothing. This is a mistake. God is working through ordinary means all the time and sometimes He breaks through in a clearly miraculous way. The Israelites under Moses experienced a period of history that was particularly filled with the miraculous. I find this often in the Bible when God is powerfully moving forward His plan of redemption. But there are whole sections of the Bible where nothing clearly miraculous is noted. God is just working through ordinary means. But what you don’t find in the Bible is God not working. God is always working, moving in things, turning hearts, providing, caring, growing us in grace, finishing His work.
There are people in this room who could testify to clear miracles of God in their lives. And of course the greatest miracle we could ever experience is the one all of us who have trusted Jesus have experienced; we have been raised from the dead. Dead in sin, alive in Christ. But aside from this, many of the rest of us would say, we haven’t seen a miracle, but we’ve seen God’s hand so many times in His provision for us.

CONCLUSION: Isn’t focusing on these great attributes of our gracious God a wonderful antidote to complaining? He is gracious to us even though we are ungrateful. He is testing us for our good, He is passionate for His glory, He is providing for us daily, as Peter says in 2 Peter 1, “Everything we need for life and godliness.”

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