And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin…
In the "Wilderness of Sin," between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after the departing of Israel out of Egypt (ver. 1). One short month, but how much can be forgotten even in so brief a space of time! (cf. Exodus 32:1). Egypt now lay at a little distance. The supplies of the Israelites were failing them. God lets the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil run out (1 Kings 17:12), before interposing with his help. Thus he tries what manner of spirit we are of. Our extremity is his opportunity. Consider here -
I. THE PEOPLE'S MURMURINGS (ver. 2). These are brought into strong relief in the course of the narrative. "The whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured" (ver. 2). "He heareth your murmurings against the Lord, and what are we that ye murmur against us?" (ver. 7). "The Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him, and what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord" (ver. 8). "He hath heard your murmurings" (ver. 9). "I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel" (ver. 12).
1. They murmured, and did not pray. They seem to have left that to Moses (cf. Exodus 14:15). Remembering what Jehovah had already done for them - the proofs he had already given them of his goodness and faithfulness - we might have thought that prayer would have been their first resource. But they do not avail themselves of it. They do not even raise the empty cries of Exodus 14:10. It is a wholly unsubmissive and distrustful spirit which wreaks its unreasonableness on Moses and Aaron in the words, "Ye have brought us forth into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (ver. 3). We who blame them, however, have only to observe our own hearts to see how often we are in the same condemnation. (See Hamilton's "Moses," Lect. 14. - "Murmurs.") It is ever easier, in times of difficulty, to murmur than to pray. Yet how much better for ourselves, as well as more dutiful to God, could we learn the lesson of coming with every trouble to the throne of grace.
"But with my God I leave my cause;
From Him I seek relief;
To Him in confidence of prayer
Unbosom all my grief" Had Israel prayed more, relief might have come sooner.
2. Their behaviour affords some interesting illustrations of what the murmuring spirit is. Distinguish this spirit from states of mind which bear a superficial resemblance to it.
(1) From the cry of natural distress. When distress comes upon us, we cannot but acutely feel the pain of our situation, and with this is connected the tendency to lament and bewail it. The dictates of the highest piety, indeed, would lead us to imitate David in studying to be still before God. "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth because thou didst it" (Psalm 39:9). Yet listen to this same David's lamentations over Absalom (2 Samuel 18:19). There are few in whom the spirit of resignation is so perfectly formed - in whom religious motives so uniformly and entirely predominate - that a wail of grief never escapes their lips. It would, however, be cruel to describe these purely natural expressions of feeling as "murmurings," though it is to be admitted that an element of murmuring frequently mingles with them.
(2) From the expostulations of good men with God, caused by the perplexity and mystery of his dealings with them. Such expostulations, e.g., as those of Moses in Exodus 5:22, 23; or of Job, in several of his speeches (Job 7:11-21; Job 10:1-22, etc.); or of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:10; Jeremiah 20:7). As Augustine says of Moses, "These are not words of contumacy or indignation, but of inquiry and prayer."
3. Even from the desperate speeches of good men, temporarily carried beyond bounds by their sorrow. Job enters this plea for himself - "Do ye imagine to reprove words, and the speeches of one that is desperate, which are as wind" (Job 6:26); and we feel at once the justice of it. This was not murmuring. These wild speeches - though not blameless - were but a degree removed from raving. What elements, then, do enter into the murmuring spirit - how is it to be described?
(1) At the basis of it there lies distrust and unsubmissiveness. There is distrust of God's goodness and power, and want of submission to his will in the situation in which he has placed us. The opposite spirit is exemplified in Christ, in his first temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).
(2) Connected with this, there is forgetfulness of, and ingratitude for, benefits formerly received. This is very conspicuous in the case of these Israelites (ver. 3).
(3) The characteristic feature of this spirit is the entertaining of injurious thoughts of God - the attempt to put God in the wrong by fastening on him the imputation of dealing harshly and injuriously with us. The murmuring spirit keeps the eye bent on self, and on self's fancied wrongs, and labours hard to make out a case of ill treatment. Its tone is complaining. It would arraign the Eternal at its puny bar, and convict him of injustice. It is narrow, self-pitying, egoistic.
(4) It expresses itself in accusations and reproaches. The mental point of view already indicated prepares the way for these, and leads to them being passed off as righteous charges. God is charged foolishly (Job 1:22).
(5) It is prone to exaggeration. The Israelites can hardly have been as well off in Egypt as they here pretend, though their words (ver. 3) show that their rations in bondage must have been fairly liberal. But the wish to make their present situation look as dark as possible, leads them to magnify the advantages of their former one. They did not think so much of it when they had it.
(6) Murmuring against God may not venture to express itself directly, and yet may do so indirectly. The murmuring of the Israelites was of this veiled character. They masked their rebellion against God, and their impeaching of his goodness, by directing their accusations against his servants. It was God against whom they murmured (ver. 7, 8), but they slightly veiled the fact by not mentioning God, but by speaking only of Moses and Aaron. We should remember this, in our contendings with Providence. The persons on whom our murmuring spirit wreaks itself may be secondary agents - the voluntary or involuntary causes of our misfortunes - or even persons in no way directly concerned with our trouble - but be they who they may, if the spirit be bitter and rebellious, it is God, not they, whom we are contending against (cf. Genesis 50:19, 20; 2 Samuel 17:10).
II. GOD'S SURPRISING TREATMENT OF THESE MURMURINGS (ver. 4). It is a most astonishing fact that on this occasion there is not, on God's part, a single severe word of reproof of the people's murmurings, far less any punishment of them for it. It could not at this time be said - "Some of them also murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer" (1 Corinthians 10:10). The appearance of the glory in the cloud warned and abashed, but did not injure them (ver. 10). The reason was not that God did not hear their murmuring, nor yet that he mistook its import, as directed ostensibly, not against him, but against Moses and Aaron. The Searcher of Hearts knows well when our murmurings are against Him (vers. 7, 8). But,
1. He pitied them. They were really in great need. He looked to their need, more than to their murmurings. In his great compassion, knowing their dire distress, he treated their murmurings almost as if they were prayers - gave them what they should have asked. The Father in this way anticipated the Son (Matthew 15:32).
2. He was forbearing with them in the beginning of their way. God was not weakly indulgent. At a later time, when the people had been longer under training, they were severely punished for similar offences (cf. Numbers 21:5); but in the preliminary stages of this wilderness education, God made large and merciful allowances for them. Neither here, nor at the Red Sea, nor later, at Rephidim, when they openly "tempted" him (ch. 17:1-8), do we read of God so much as chiding them for their wayward doings: he bore with them, like a father bearing with his children. He knew how ignorant they were; how much infirmity there was about them; how novel and trying were the situations in which he was placing them; and he mercifully gave them time to improve by his teaching. Surely a God who acts in this way is not to be called "an hard master." Instead of sternly punishing their murmurings, he took their need as a starting-point, and sought to educate them out of the murmuring disposition.
3. He purposed to prove them. He would fully supply their wants, and so give them an opportunity of showing whether their murmuring was a result of mere infirmity - or was connected with a deeply ingrained spirit of disobedience. When perversity began to show itself, he did not spare reproof (ver. 28). - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.
WEB: They took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.