In November 2006, Ed Klein, a teacher at West Philadelphia High School, was physically attacked by students during the school day. He had been making phone calls home to parents, notifying them of their children’s poor behavior and performance in class. His students warned him to stop, and when he persisted, he suffered a string of attacks that culminated in a broken jaw and severe nerve damage.
Klein experienced the cruel reality of human depravity. As sinners, we don’t like being told what to do. We’ll challenge authority at every possible turn. At its most extreme, this spirit of rebellion can lead to violence. In today’s reading, the people rebelled against Moses and inflicted verbal lashings.
The Israelites were hard-hearted toward God and toward Moses. Again, they found themselves doubting that God would provide for them, this time for bread. They fell into a wistful and deluded nostalgia about life in Egypt. How good they had it! Their torment as slaves under an oppressive Pharaoh was conveniently forgotten. Even when God did provide the manna in the desert, it did not lead them to greater obedience. They still willfully disregarded God’s instructions to keep only enough manna for each day with the exception of the sixth day. And when they were commanded to stay home on the seventh day, some still left their tents thinking by chance there just might be manna.
We’ve already seen how the Egyptians executed their power and authority over the Israelites: beating them into submission, dominating them by sheer physical force. But God had a new way for His people. He wasn’t going to force them to obey. He was leading by “instructions” (vv. 4, 28).
Moses had a difficult job then—to make himself heard over the din of grumbling. He was dealing with people (not unlike us) whose appetite dominated all their senses. When their stomachs were growling, they somehow forgot all of the previous miracles God had performed.