Despite the abundance of material wealth and goods we have in America, discontentment is a major temptation for God’s people. We know we should be thankful, but we can’t seem to shake the temptation to want things to be more comfortable, less difficult, and better suited to our desires. Grumbling is so common in America, we greet people with it. They ask, “How are you doing?” We respond, “Doing fine. Busy. Wish this weather would cool down… I wish work would slow down… I wish I didn’t have such a hectic schedule.” Okay, maybe it’s just me.
This isn’t to say that we don’t have real struggles. Rather, it’s how we handle them that matters. Moms are busy and exhausted. Dads are drained and in need of a nap. Teachers are burning out. Students are overburdened with homework and sports. Shift workers are in a sleep-deprived daze. We all face hardships on a regular basis, yet most of us have all of our basic needs and many of our wants met.
If we struggle with grumbling with all of this abundance, how will we survive a test of our faith? This is one of my biggest struggles. Fear often sets in. I wonder to myself, “If I can’t be content and stop complaining with all the blessings I currently have, how will I respond to a crisis or a test of my faith?” That’s what Moses and Israel show us in Exodus 15.
Testing and Grumbling
In Exodus, the Israelites found themselves tested at the most basic level of human needs: thirst. After escaping from Egypt and journeying into the wilderness, they went three days without finding any water. Imagine the desperation they must have felt, knowing that they needed water not only for themselves but also for their families. When they finally found water at Marah, their relief quickly turned to disappointment as it was too bitter to drink. Their response was a mixture of a valid question and a sinful attitude: “What are we going to drink?” (v. 24). It was a legitimate question given their circumstances, but their grumbling against Moses revealed their sinful attitude.
Grumbling is common to us all when we face difficulties. We complain about our circumstances, question God’s provision, and often direct our frustration at others. However, Scripture warns us against grumbling, emphasizing that it is a sinful attitude. It rejects God as our Provider, expresses discontentment and pride, and reveals a lack of faith and joy. Grumbling reveals eyes that aren’t fixed on Jesus, leading us further away from God’s face.
The first lesson we can draw from this story is the importance of seeking God in the midst of our tests. Instead of grumbling, we should turn to Him with our concerns and questions. We must acknowledge that the LORD is the ultimate provider and trust that He can either change our situation, grow us in the situation, or do both.
Praying for God’s Gracious Answer
The Israelites’ experience at Marah teaches us not only to avoid grumbling but also to pray earnestly for God’s gracious answer. Moses didn’t argue, fight, or defend himself when the people grumbled; instead, he cried out to the Lord. He prayed with earnest emotion and sought God’s power and help.
This response serves as a powerful lesson for us today. When we face challenges or when others grumble against us, our first instinct should be to pray. Prayer could prevent a lot arguments, fights, defensiveness, or grumbling. God’s response to Moses was both tangible and powerful: He showed Moses a log, instructing him on what to do with it. Moses obediently followed God’s guidance, though even Moses may have wondered how this tree would purify the undrinkable water. As a result, the bitter water turned sweet, demonstrating God’s miraculous power.
From this, we learn three essential aspects of prayer during tests. First, we should pray earnestly, using the appropriate emotions to match our circumstances. Second, we should look for an answer, expecting God to step in, even when His ways don’t align with our understanding (Isa. 55:8-9). Third, we must obey God’s instructions when He answers our prayers. Sometimes, obedience is the key to experiencing the transformational power of God’s grace, and the power to obey comes by the grace of God.
Committing to Grace-Driven Obedience
This scene at Marah also highlights the importance of obedience in our walk of faith. In response to their testing, God gave the Israelites a rule and a statute, setting out four “ifs” that outlined His expectations. He called them to listen to His voice, do what was right in His eyes, give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes. If the Israelites obeyed, they would be spared from God’s judgment and know Him as their healer.
It’s crucial to understand that God’s laws are not given to harm us but to help us thrive. They reveal the righteousness of God and our need for Christ’s perfection. The commands of God ultimately point us to Jesus’ active obedience and perfection on our behalf. When we recognize our inability to keep the law perfectly, we can turn to Christ, who lived a perfect life and paid the price for our sins. He created the world, passed the test we couldn’t pass, took our penalty for failing, rose again, and will return to make the world perfectly new. One day there will be no more testing and no more bitter water because He will make all things new.
Grace-driven obedience, then, is the natural response to God’s grace in our lives. We were once slaves to sin, but God set us free through His grace. We have been redeemed and purified for the purpose of good works. This gospel transformation leads us to seek God’s will in every aspect of our lives, striving to obey Him joyfully.
Abiding in the LORD and His Abundance
After the test at Marah and the command to obey, God led the Israelites to Elim, a place of abundance. Elim was named for its towering terebinth trees, offering not only twelve springs but also seventy palm trees. It was a place of perfection and plenty, a stark contrast to the waterless journey and the bitterness of Marah on the way.
Elim serves as a reminder to us that God provides for His people both physically and spiritually. He meets our physical needs, ensuring that we lack no essential needs. Of eternal importance, He offers spiritual rest and restoration, inviting us to come to Him and find rest for our souls (Mt. 11:28). Elim teaches us to rest in God’s abundant provision and to abide in His presence, recognizing that He is our Shepherd who leads us beside still waters (Psalm 23:1-6).
What Will We Choose?
In times of testing, we can either grumble in despair or cry out to God in faith, trusting in His grace to meet us in our need. The story of Marah in the book of Exodus illustrates the transformative power of God’s grace when we seek Him in our trials, pray earnestly for His guidance, commit to grace-driven obedience, and rest in His abundance.
No matter what challenges we face, we can take comfort in knowing that God’s grace is sufficient. His grace can make the bitter sweet and give rest to those who are exhausted. So, as we encounter tests of our faith, let us remember the lessons from Marah and trust that when we seek God, He will indeed meet us with His grace.
Reflection Questions: 1. How can we turn moments of suffering into opportunities for seeking God’s grace and guidance? How might this help us move from grumbling to gratitude?2. In what ways can we practically cultivate a habit of grace-driven obedience in seasons of difficulty? How can we put off grumbling as we obey God in times when obedience is tough?3. What practical steps can we take to rest in God’s abundant provision and find contentment, even in the midst of life’s trials and challenges?
- Confess the times that you’ve grumbled against God or others for your circumstances. Pray that God would help you see grumbling as He sees it. Ask for the transforming grace to turn away from it.
- Are you in a time of testing? If yes, pray earnestly for the LORD to provide for you and comfort you. If no, pray earnestly for someone else who is going through a trial.
- Seek the Spirit’s power for obedience. Ask Him to reveal at least ONE specific way that you can be more obedience, and commit to obedience with God’s help.
- Abide in the presence of Christ. Take some time to acknowledge God’s presence. Be still in the presence of God and enjoy a few moments of solitude. Don’t rush away. Don’t let your thoughts linger. Focus your heart and soul on God.
Republished with permission from Blogs.crossmap.com, featuring inspiring Bible verses about FInding Grace in Suffering (Exodus 15:22-27).