November / December 2017 Volume 99, Number 6
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18. All scriptures from NASB unless noted otherwise).
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Thanksgiving and murmuring are words that contrast the Christian’s attitude toward the experiences that the Heavenly Father gives them as they walk the narrow way. This conflict can have a profound effect on the believer, fostering or trying God’s purpose through these experiences. Those who have a thankful heart gain comfort from knowing that the Heavenly Father knows best. On the other hand, those who complain find comfort in nothing with which they have been provided.
When we experience adverse circumstances, it can be difficult to give thanks at that time. Still, we are given this assurance, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Sometimes, it may be months or even years before we understand the purpose behind the experience the Heavenly Father permits.
Apostle Paul, writing to young Timothy, instructs him “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This is true when it comes to thanksgiving or murmuring. God’s freeing of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery contains many lessons for the Bible Student today regarding this subject.
God’s Intervention for Israel
This was a miraculous act by God. Why He decided to intervene on the behalf of this nation above all the other nations of the earth is still questioned by many people. Some Christians consider this to show lack of impartiality and discrimination against other nations.
However, God gives His reason in scripture. “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
What a wonderful blessing the nation of Israel had been given! “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own pos- session out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2). Israel was to receive, as a nation, the blessings prom- ised to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Surely, they should have continually given thanks to God, and daily counted their blessings.
The freedom from slavery in Egypt included favor in the sight of the Egyptians so that Israel received articles of silver and gold as well as clothing. God then showed His protection by guiding them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. “He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:22).
With all those miraculous plagues which resulted in their release, surely the Israelites should have counted their blessings and rejoiced in the power of God. Yet, as soon as Pharaoh came into their sight, they murmured to Moses saying “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12).
Once again God blessed the Israelites by parting the waters of the sea, allowing them to cross on dry land. The returning waters drowned the pursuing Egyptian army. Israel’s response is recorded in Exodus 14:31: “When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.” This was followed by the song of Moses, recorded in Chapter 15.
Three days later Israel again murmured against Moses, God’s representative, “What shall we drink?” Again God blessed them by turning the bitter, undrinkable water sweet, followed by His promise “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer” (Exodus 15:26). What a wonderful blessing they would receive if they were faithful and obedient to God!
With all the blessings that Israel had received, one would expect that they would be thankful or, at least, prepared to wait on God. Yet, just 30 days into the journey to the Promised Land, the sons of Israel again murmured against Moses and Aaron, recorded in Exodus 16:3. Commenting on this, Pastor Russell wrote: “Human nature is vividly illustrated in the cry of the Israelites against Moses; their plaint was “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, when we did eat bread to the full! for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” They forgot all about the bitter bondage of Egypt; the making of bricks without straw; the task masters; and how they had cried out to the Lord for deliverance; they remembered only some of the pleasant things” (Reprint 3036).
God once again gave his blessing through Moses: “At evening you will know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt; and in the morning, you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?” (Exodus 16:6-7). At evening the quail came and covered the ground and in the morning after the dew evaporated the ground was covered with manna for the Israelites. God miraculously provided for His chosen people for 40 years, until they came to the border of Canaan. Surely, they would now be assured of God’s faithfulness in blessing them!
Yet at Rephidim, they quarreled against Moses because they lacked water. There appears to be no giving thanks for what they had already received, no prayerful request to God to provide them with the water they needed, but just an accusation against Moses. “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3).
When, in the third month of travel, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, God again reminded them of his care while Moses went up the mountain to meet with God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exo- dus 19:3-6 ESV). How easily they answered “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). Unfortunately, Israel’s desire was greater than its ability, and the nation failed to keep its commitment.
Lessons for the Narrow Way
Do we expect our Heavenly Father to provide our every need, miraculously, even when we have the capability to provide for our own needs? It is interesting that the Israelites left Egypt “with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock” (Exodus 12:38). Yet, just thirty days into the journey they were murmuring against God, complaining of no food. We are to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). We are not to ask for delicacies (Reprint 5311). Let us not murmur as the Israelites of the Exodus, stipulating that they wanted something as good as the fleshpots of Egypt (Reprint 4012). We are to show gratitude for all the blessings, great and small. If we forget the blessing, and murmur at the trials or difficulties we encounter, we will be like the Israelites who so easily forgot the blessing that God had bestowed saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Do we test our Heavenly Father, requesting that we be granted less trials rather than the ones that He has deemed necessary to develop the new creature?
As we look at the troubles in the world, we should realize just how blessed we have been to be called of God and that, through the gift of His holy Spirit, we know that all these trials and difficulties have a purpose. God is preparing those who make a covenant of sacrifice during this time to become a “Kingdom of Priests,” tested and proven to be worth assisting mankind up the highway of holiness.
While the Israelites were murmuring, it was Jethro, a Gentile and Priest of Midian, who saw what they could not see. “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. So, Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the LORD who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people’” (Exodus 18:9-11).
As we travel on the narrow way, we need to stop and realize that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:17-18).
What a wonderful blessing we have received!