I once had the privilege to spend some time with a “Bible virgin.” He'd gotten saved at a later time in life, and he'd had absolutely no background in the Bible. He started reading the Bible through from cover to cover, and I asked him about what he thought. One time, after he finished reading one of the prophets, I asked him about his impressions, and he summed it up like this: “Man, God was really ticked off at them!” (actually that’s the edited version, but you get the idea). I can certainly understand his reading on the Old Testament (especially in contrast with the N.T.), but we need to dig a little deeper.
First off, whenever we read about God’s punishment of someone, we need to immediately ask ourselves, “What did God really owe them?” The answer is always “Nothing except judgment.” Ever since Adam’s fall, all of us are under the death sentence because of sin. If the Lord either puts off our punishment or forgives us, then that’s his prerogative, not something he owes us.
Second, in this case, God displayed his grace and mercy even while they were being judged. All their complaints about Manna were really showing lack of gratitude, especially when you consider that feeding them Manna for forty years was not God’s expressed will at all. If they'd obeyed and trusted him at the border of Canaan in the first place, they would've eaten it for a few months at most. The reason their diet was so restricted for forty years was their fault, not God’s. On top of that, look again at how the Lord provided for and protected them. Over forty years, their clothes and shoes didn’t even wear out. Again and again he showed himself to be “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."
Their story is ours. He's so good to us, and we disobey and mistrust him. He reaches out his hand to us, and we try to bite it. He sends his only Son to us, and we crucify him. He forgives, restores, and adopts us as his beloved children, and we forget how good he’s been to us. Thank the Lord, however, over time he changes us into the image of his perfect Son. I’m not what I need to be, but thanks to him I’m not what I used to be, and I’m not what I one day will be.
Father, please give me what you didn’t give Israel--a mind that understands, eyes that see, ears that hear, a changed heart.