Most people have heard about the ten plagues with which God struck Egypt to break Pharaoh’s will and cause him to release the Israelites from their enslavement (Exodus chapters 7 through 12). Far less known are the ten times the released Israelites put God to the test in the days following their exodus. But God certainly knew about them. As Numbers 14:20-23 says:
Then the Lord said: “I have pardoned, according to your word, but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord — because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it.” (N.K.J.V.)
Okay, so when were those ten times the Israelites tested God? The list goes as follows:
- When the Israelites are trapped between Pharaoh’s army behind them and the Red Sea in front of them, they cry out to the Lord and complain to Moses, saying, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have led us out into this wilderness to die? Didn’t we tell you when we were in Egypt to leave us alone so that we could continue serving the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to have died back there than to die here.” (Exodus 14:10-12)
- After the Israelites have been in the Wilderness of Shur for three days without finding water, they come to Marah. There is water in Marah, but it is so bitter no one can drink it. So the people complain against Moses again. (Exodus 15:22-24)
- On day 15 of the second month after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites grow hungry and complain against Moses and Aaron, saying, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate bread to the full. Now you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill us all with hunger.” (Exodus 16:1-3)
- When God starts sending the Israelites manna to eat every morning, Moses warns them against trying to save some of their daily portion and eat it the following day. Despite the warning, however, some of them try it and learn that the manna breeds worms and starts stinking if left overnight. (Exodus 16:11-20)
- Also concerning the gathering of the manna, Moses tells them that they should gather twice as much as usual the morning before each Sabbath morning because God won’t send the manna on the Sabbath. Still, despite the fact that the Sabbath is to be a day of rest, some of the Israelites go out to gather manna on the first Sabbath morning following that command. Of course they find none. (Exodus 16:25-30)
- When the Israelites come to Rephidim, they complain because there is no water to drink. They ask Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt? Was it to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” Their complaints are serious enough for Moses to think they are going to stone him. (Exodus 17:1-4)
- When the Israelites are encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, Moses goes up into the mountain to be alone with God and receive revelation. Moses is gone so long, 40 days, that the people figure he is never going to return. So they, with the help of Aaron, create a golden calf to serve as their new god. They worship it and offer sacrifices unto it. (Exodus 32:1-6)
- Three days after their departure from Mount Sinai, the Israelites complain again. The Bible doesn’t tell us precisely what they complain about on this occasion, but the complaints are infuriating enough to God to cause Him to burn some of the people to death with fire. (Numbers 11:1-3)
- Shortly after the deaths by fire, the Israelites complain again about the food situation. This time they are tired of eating the manna and long for the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt. (Numbers 11:4-34)
- When Israel’s 12 spies return from studying the land of Canaan, they tell the people that Canaan is a land of giants that devours those who try to inhabit it. This causes the people to complain against Moses and Aaron, saying, “If only we had died in Egypt or in the wilderness. Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword and watch our wives and children become victims? Wouldn’t it be better if we all just returned to Egypt?” Then the people start making plans to select a new leader, one who will lead them back to Egypt. (Numbers 14:1-4)
As we read the full accounts of these ten times Israel tested God, we see God’s increasing frustration and decreasing patience with them. Notice the trend:
- Test #1? He parts the Red Sea.
- Test #2? He shows Moses a tree that, when cut and cast into Marah’s bitter waters, makes the waters sweet.
- Test #3? He begins sending them manna each morning except the weekly Sabbath morning.
- Test #4? Despite their blatant attempts to break the rules concerning the manna, He keeps sending it.
- Test #5? See the response to test #4.
- Test #6? He has Moses strike a certain rock with his staff, after which water comes gushing out of the rock.
- Test #7? He tells Moses what is going on in the Israelite camp and agrees to show the nation mercy they surely didn’t deserve.
- Test #8? With His patience now wearing thin, He kills only a few of the people as a warning rather than killing all of them.
- Test #9? He has a tremendous flock of quail blow into Israel’s camp to be killed and eaten for food, but even as they are eating the meat, He puts a number of them to death by way of plague.
- Test #10? He tells Moses the Israelites will wander in the wilderness for 40 years, during which time every Israelite 20 years old or older (except for Joshua and Caleb) will die off systematically so that Israel’s younger generation can eventually conquer and settle Canaan.
The application for us from all this isn’t hard to grasp. How often do we test God by griping and grumbling about our circumstances? Speaking for myself, I do it far too much.
I’ll admit that I’ve seen a few figurative waters parted and a few bitter ones made sweet. I’ve tasted some personalized manna and had some other needs met. I’ve been shown mercy that I didn’t deserve and received my share of instructive warnings. I’ve also eaten some figurative quail that tasted good for a moment but came with severe consequences and missed out on some wonderful opportunities because of my sin.
So, really, I’m not that much better than the Israelites in regards to grumbling, murmuring, and testing God. That’s why I need reminders like this post. And my guess is that I’m not on an island of one. As Philippians 2:14 tells us, “Do all things without complaining and disputing…” I ask you, Christian, how are you doing on that these days?