And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled…
We have here a very painful self-revelation. Through prophets and apostles, and especially through his Son, God has said many humiliating things of the children of men, but nothing more humiliating than by their own actions they have written down against themselves. Note -
I. A SPIRIT UNAFFECTED BY CHASTISEMENT. The people run away from pain, but do not cease from lust. They forget the blow of Jehovah almost before the wound is healed. Nor let us wonder at their stupidity, for this fire of God was only a more rapid and more manifest form of that fire of Divine chastisement which comes in some form to us all. We treat all pain as the Israelites did. As they cried to Moses, so we cry to our fellow-men, and make no mention of our sin against God. We never stop to think of the fire of God as having his anger in it, or a check upon us in our selfish career (Psalm 78; Isaiah 1:2-6; Isaiah 9:13; Jeremiah 7:23-28).
II. A SPIRIT UNCHANGED BY BENEFITS. So far as any word or action here shows, they might have utterly forgotten everything God had done for them. They do recollect the manna, but only to grumble at it and despise it. God had indeed abounded toward them in grace and power, wisdom and prudence, yet not one of all his doings is remembered to his glory. What then of our state of mind in regard of the wonderful manifestations of God in Christ Jesus? We, even more than the Israelites, are the objects of God's gracious interposition. It seemed of no use to remind them of God the Deliverer and Provider. And so now, although Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, although he has conquered sin and death for all mankind, yet mankind is far more concerned about matters a long way less important. The truth was, the Israelites had not yet been delivered, in the highest sense of the word. The body was free but the spirit was in bondage. Egypt had still a strong hold upon their hearts. Their experience there must have been a strange mixture of oppression and pampering. Compelled to make bricks without straw, and yet they had flesh to eat.
III. A SPIRIT THAT SOON FORGOT PAST GRIEVANCES. It was not so long ago that they had been sighing and crying by reason of their bondage (Exodus 2:23). Then their lives were bitter, and all the flesh they got could not sweeten them. These past grievances were immeasurably greater than anything they had to complain of now. Then there was really no comfort in life at all - oppression and injustice gave wormwood flavour to everything; now they are but minus some old comforts. They have plenty to eat, and that of special miraculous food, by which God said to them at every meal, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." It was well for them even in the wilderness troubles that they were not as Egypt; for though Egypt might have flesh to eat, it was surely eaten amid many groans and sighs. The ten plagues and the destruction of Pharaoh and his army were a very serious set-off against the most savoury of creature comforts.
IV. A SPIRIT UTTERLY INSENSIBLE TO THE GLORIOUS VOCATION WHEREWITH GOD HAD CALLED THEM (Ephesians 4:1). What a difference is here revealed between Moses and the people! As Moses talks with Hobab, and lifts his prayer to God, all is expectancy, ardour, and exultation. No complaints of the manna, no hankerings after Egypt, come from that noble soul. But as for the people, Paul exactly describes them in Philippians 3:18. Their end was destruction, their God was their belly, their glory was in their shame, they minded earthly things. Even though the ark rested on the many thousands of Israel, they are blind to the glory and profit coming from the presence of it. They will go anywhere if only they can get the lost delicacies of Egypt. Such a table as Milton represents the tempter spreading out before Jesus would just have been to their taste ('Paradise Regained,' 2:337-365). Their cry is not that of natural hunger, but the passionate screaming of a pampered child. Plain living and high thinking, the Nazarite vow and the Nazarite aspiration, manna for the body and true bread of heaven for the spirit - with these things they had no sympathy. Practical truths: -
1. Let every pain that comes to us have its proper effect in the way of discipline. Thus that which otherwise will be loss is turned to substantial gain.
2. In the midst of the greatest privileges we may be near to the most subtle temptations. Where God is nearest, there Satan also may be most active.
3. We need a great work of God to bring us to a due appreciation of the spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It takes a great deal to make us see that godliness is profitable, having the promise of the life that now is.
"Trouble is grudgingly and hardly brook'd,
While life's sublimest joys are overlook'd."
4. Let the estimate of our wants and the provision for them be left to God. For us to live is Christ, and the highest occupation of life to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness; then all other needed things will be added unto us. Never fear but God will give food convenient for us. N.B. John 6. gives a most instructive New Testament parallel to this passage. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.