to mutter in discontent, complain sullenly (in gloomy silence), or to growl (uttering low, indistinctive sounds), express unhappy murmurs
Let's see what was happening...
In this scene, Moses had led the people to the Desert of Sin (which translates "the moon" and has no reference to sinfulness). It appears it was a barren land as now they are grumbling about not having food. Understandable to some extent. Food is a necessity for survival, but God wanted them to trust Him to meet even their most basic needs. They quickly began to reflect on the "pots of meat" they had in Egypt and talked about them as though they had feasted in Pharoh's palace. Their meals were not all that, but in a time of desperation, looking back they seemed better and better. So they whined and complained to Moses saying, "...you have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death."
They didn't think they were grumbling directly at God, but to Moses and Aaron about their circumstance. But Moses answered directly to the Lord. If they complained to Moses, or about him, they were in essence complaining about God and the direction He had given him in leading the Israelite people. They panicked the moment things got hard and feared the worst. Matthew Henry's Commentary expounds on this saying they claim it would have been "better to have fallen in the destruction of God's enemies than to bear the fatherly discipline of his children! [Their] discontent magnifies what is past, and vilifies what is present, without regard to truth or reason." To "vilify" is to speak ill of, slander, or defame. In other words their words were of complaint, lack of gratitude, impatience and discontent. They were grumbling. In a roundabout way they were showing their lack of trust in God.
The Lord had just delivered them mightily from their enemies the Egyptians whom He had drowned in the Red Sea. They celebrated with dancing and shouting and singing songs of praise. But having not yet reached their destination, they had to move on. After traveling for three days without finding water, they happened upon a watering hole in the Desert of Shur, but it was bitter. They began to grumble against Moses saying, "What are we to drink?" So he cried out to the Lord on their behalf. Hearing their murmurs, God directed Moses to throw a log into the lake and it became sweet. I love that part. It reminds me that we cannot stay on the mountain tops. There will be bitter trials along the way. But God can take what is bitter in our lives and make it sweet.
Matthew Henry says of this passage, "The greatest joys and hopes [as experienced at the Red Sea] are soon turned into the greatest griefs with those that live by senses only and not by faith." Yet we note that even in their lack of faith, the Lord heard Moses' cry and was gracious to them. Then He poses to them one of the "If, then..." statements in the Bible. If you do this, I will do that. Here it is a decree and a law meant to test their willingness to submit to His commands.
"There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, 'If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you."' Exodus 15:26
More tests and trials were coming. They needed to be found faithful. They needed to be obedient. Period.
After complaining in the desert they were led to Elim where they drank to their hearts content from twelve springs and rested under the shade of seventy palm trees. In spite of their complaining, God had been gracious toward them. Yet how quickly they forget when they happen upon the next hard place.
Now in the Desert of Sin where food was lacking, regardless of how faithful God had been, we find the people doubting His goodness and power yet again; His ability to care for them. Once more they feel unnoticed, forgotten by God, and blame Moses for bringing them out of Egypt in the first place. In response, Jesus might have justly said, "I will rain fire and brimstone upon these murmurs, and consume them; but, quite contrary, he promises to rain bread upon them" instead. "Note, when we begin to fret and be uneasy, we ought to consider that God hears all our murmurings." (M. Henry) Even the silent murmurings of the heart. Pause. Even the silent murmurings of the heart. Your heart. My heart. And yet God showed the Israelites mercy. He rained down manna from heaven and cared for their most basic needs.
Surely their grumbling did not please the Father, but grieved Him. Yet He was gracious toward them, tending to their needs just the same, the way a parent would tend to a headstrong child. He rained down quail in the evening and bread at daybreak. The Lord told Moses to instruct the people to go out each day and gather just enough for that day. No more. No less. Unless it was the day before the Sabbath, when they were to gather double. God was testing their obedience, to see if they would heed His instruction, without complaint.
As with the Israelites, God has taken my family and I through more than one season of "daily bread". Seasons of lack where we wonder how we will get by. Yet God is always faithful to provide what we need each day. Sometimes no more, and no less, but just enough. In such seasons when I begin to fret, I sense a prompting from the Holy Spirit to ask myself, "Pamela, do you have what you need for today?" When I answer, "Yes, Sir" He replies, "Then press on!" I'm not to worry about Friday's bills on Monday. Or grumble about not having such and such. If I want to be more like Christ, I have to trust Him. Dependence upon Him builds faith. As faith increases, I resemble my Father more and more.
"...as it is written: 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" Romans 1:17 (ESV)
I am learning that the discontented heart grumbles. It complains "I don't have (fill in the blank)" or "I need (something more than I have)." Sometimes we have a hard time separating needs from desires. God knows what we need before we know that we need it. And He is faithful to take care of our needs. Anything more is icing on the cake! In some seasons we just get cake, no icing, because cake is all we need. Plain cake sustains us. Plain cake gets us by. And at other times God stacks the cake layer upon layer, making it rich with mousse filling, frosting it thick with decadent ganache, drizzling it with the finest chocolate, and topping it off with the sweetest fresh berries. Because He is gracious. And He can. Our God is Able!
He longs to be gracious to us, but wants to know that in the desert, when he serves us plain cake, we will be grateful, obedient and faithful. Not grumbling. It is in those places of "lack" that He tests and tries our hearts. May we be found faithful. May I be found faithful, doing what He has called me to do.
Father God, I pray the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart would be pleasing in Your sight. Help me Jesus not to grumble, even under my breath or in my heart. I want to have an attitude of gratitude that spills up out of me. Your Words on my lips to encourage those in my path. I want to be found faithful doing what You've called me to do with a happy heart. In Jesus' name I pray these things, amen.