The Israelites were gunny-sacking. Gunny-sacking occurs when we store up a list of grievances instead of dealing with them in the order they happen. It is a common experience among married people. A sock left on the floor, the cap left off the toothpaste, or a dish filled with dirty dishes becomes the fodder for the argument that erupts. Before long, the couple no longer knows what started it all. It is as if they had been carrying invisible burlap sacks on their shoulders, throwing grievances in, until finally something as small as a toothpaste cap causes the sack to bust and grievances spill all over.
One might sympathize with the Israelites quarrel with their leaders. They were in a hellish place. For forty years they suffered the hardships of wilderness travel, oftentimes finding themselves in places where food and water were scarce. They needed water for their one million or so person caravan and their animals. Again they did not have any. Yet, this quarrel with their leaders was about more than water. It was about everything: All the hardships. All the stresses and anxieties. “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord (Numbers 20:3),” they yelled at their leaders.
Gunny-sacking had a terrible effect on the camp. Gunny-sacking inhibited their ability to learn to trust God. The Lord had delivered them from Egypt and allowed them to walk on dry land through the Sea. He provided for them manna and even gave into their begging by giving them meat. They had even been here before. Already the Lord had provided for them water from a rock (Exodus 17:1-7). Yet, they failed to learn to trust the Lord.
Gunny-sacking also blinded them from their own complicity in the problem. They yelled to their leaders, “This place has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates (Numbers 20:5).” These were the foods of the Promised Land. Now forty-years in, they had seen no Promised Land. However, they forgot that they had many years earlier refused to enter that Promised Land. “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are (Numbers 13:31),” they said.
In many ways, we are no better than Israel. We too gunny-sack against the Lord, often neglecting to trust him and admit our own complicity. Thank God that God’s grace is greater than our gunny-sacking against him. He provided for Israel abundant water from the rock. He provides for us the true Rock, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). He is our wellspring in the wilderness.