In Exodus 15, 16, & 17 we see the Children of Israel acting in a way that seems unbelievable. Having just seen God free them from slavery by sending ten plagues upon Egypt, being led by God in a pillar of cloud/fire, and being saved from the Egyptian army by passing through the Red Sea on dry ground, they then spend the next two months complaining every time something doesn't go just right.
In 15:22-27 they camp at Marah after a three day march and cannot drink the water because it is bitter. At this point all it says the people did was grumble a bit and ask what they were supposed to drink. Moses prays and God miraculously sweetens the water. God doesn't seem perturbed here because after sweetening the water He offers them a sort of preliminary covenant saying if they obey Him He will allow none of the diseases of Egypt to afflict them. So far they've only been a bit grumpy in a nasty situation. Understandable.
Then comes chapter 16. Here, exactly (and only) one month after they were freed from Egypt the people begin murmuring because they don't have enough food. vs 3 “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Essentially they are saying that instead of freeing us and leading us to a Promised Land as His chosen people, we wish God had just killed us while we were slaves. They are complaining about their salvation because they are hungry! Moses warns them that they are complaining against God, not himself and Aaron. God makes a show of His glory to let them know He has heard their grumbling, then feeds them with manna from heaven (literally).
Chapter 17 really tops it off. In verses 1-7 the people again become angry because they don't have enough water. This time their complaint goes beyond an understandable grumbling during a tough situation. They accuse Moses of trying to kill them all in the wilderness. They are so clamorous that Moses fears he is about to be stoned. They even begin to question God's concern: "Is the LORD among us or not?" (vs 7). Again, God displays His glory to scare them straight and then provides the needed water.
What makes chapter 17 so dumbfounding is that twice in the previous month-and-a-half they had been lacking and God had provided and yet, when they found themselves in need again, they didn't remember God's previous care. They complained even more vehemently than ever. Instead of reveling in God's salvation, they are complaining about it (16:3). WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE??!!!!!
Yet, how often do we do the same thing? We accept God's blessings all our lives with hardly an acknowledgment, but the first time that something bad happens we wail, "How could God do this to ME?" We forget the abundance of food we over-eat, the homes with indoor plumbing, electricity and air-conditioning, the closets full of clothes and the nice vacations. Instead we whine about how God is mistreating us because of one trial we have to make it through. Worse, how often do we join in with the Israelites who asked "Is the LORD among us or not?" by declaring, "I just can't believe in a God who would let this happen."?
It is easy to read Exodus and see how foolish the Israelites were in their complaints. It is easy to cluck at them and wonder at their little faith when seeing such wondrous workings of God, but then, I'm not thirsty as I read these passages. I'm not listening to my children crying from hunger. Not to justify their lack of faith, but instead to again ask the question "Do I do any better when in the same situation?" Is my faith really stronger? Or am I self-righteously self-assured as I drop pearls of wisdom on my suffering friends only to cry out louder than any of them when my time for testing comes? If I don't have faith in God when suffering, then I don't have faith in God. Instead I am like the faithless Israelites who spent their lives whining and ultimately died in the wilderness far from the Promised Land.
Finally, remember that God isn't a sadist. The point of trials is to make us stronger, not just to let us suffer.
Heb. 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. . . he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.