A Little Innocent Complaining?
“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.” Numbers 14:27
Grumbling. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Synonyms of grumbling include complaining, whining, moaning and griping. I have three young kids. I am no stranger to being grumbled at. And nothing ruffles my “mom feathers” more than whining, moaning and complaining.
So I felt like I could really identify with God's frustration with Israel's grumbling as I read Numbers 14 as part of my daily Bible reading. In this chapter, we see Israel grumbling against Moses and Aaron but ultimately against God.
Now, its striking that they are complaining. Twelve Israelite spies had just been sent to scout out the land of Canaan. God has promised to give this land to Israel as their Promised Land, and God has been altogether faithful up to this point. The twelve spies come back reporting that the land “flows with milk and honey.” It was excellent land. But only two of the spies trust in God’s promise to bestow the land to them. The other ten report with fear that it will be impossible to defeat the Canaanites.
Numbers 14 picks up from here. The Israelites believe the word of the ten, and weep over their situation. They don’t believe that they can go and conquer the land. Thus, they begin to grumble.
They wish that they were still in Egypt, or that they had died in the wilderness. In fact, they decide to appoint a leader to take them back to Egypt. This is madness! Their faithful God led them out of Egypt and has provided for their every need. God remained faithful to them even as they proved their unfaithfulness time and time again. But we can relate. Like them, so often our rose-colored glasses render us blind to the true reality of the past…
Moses and Aaron attempt to curb their moaning and ridiculous self-rescue plans. They plead with the people to remember the truth and trust in God’s goodness. They remind them that God is for them and that he will do everything he promises. How do the people respond? They are ready to stone Moses and Aaron.
Until God steps in. His answer to them is in the form of a question: “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11) His anger is stirred because his chosen people forget his character so easily. Moses intercedes for the people, pleading for God's mercy upon them.
God relents. Sort of. He does not wipe out Israel on the spot. He exercises great mercy once again. But he does give Israel consequences. Those who doubted him will not enter the Promised Land. They will die wandering in the wilderness. The Lord does not take it lightly when his people question his character.
Who Do I Identify With?
My reflections as I read this account went immediately to my grumbling household. “God, I get it. It’s not easy being unappreciated. I feel ya.” Whoa, hold on. If there is one thing I have learned about Biblical interpretation, it’s that I shouldn’t read Scripture and identify with God. I should be identifying with those God must put up with.
And suddenly, I got it. I may have grumbling children, but I too am a grumbling child. I am like Israel. I constantly forget and doubt God’s faithfulness and provision. I begin to think that I would be better off somewhere else, doing anything but what he has called me to do.
In fact, this was totally my situation as I read Numbers 14. I had been asked months ago to speak at a women’s retreat. I was thrilled and excited to do so. However, this is an extremely busy season for my family, and I was not at all sure how I would find time to prepare. Each time that I worked on my materials, I felt confident that the Lord would be faithful to give me everything I needed to prepare and teach well. But as soon as I walked away, I would start to panic and stress again.
I doubted the Lord’s provision. I forgot that when he gives me a task to do, he provides me with exactly what I need to accomplish it. I overlooked the many other times that I panicked about teaching, only to find that God was altogether faithful and sufficient. I forgot grumbling accomplishes nothing except drawing me away from the exact thing I need – Jesus.
When I am whining, I am believing him to be so small and inconsequential. Israel grumbled because they had forgotten God's faithfulness in leading them out of Egypt. When I grumble, I am forgetting both God's proven faithfulness to Israel and Jesus' work on the cross. In perfect obedience Jesus gave his life to free us from slavery to sin and to redeem a people for himself. Jesus loved me when I was faithless, and his faithfulness covers my sin, including my grumbling. If he did not fail at this task, why should I worry that he might fail me now? And if Jesus would willingly lay down his life for me, why would I choose to grumble and complain in return?
Because of Jesus' great love for me, I can follow his example. Not out of fear, or guilt or obligation. But because he is so worth it. And I can do so knowing that when I slip up and start to grumble, his grace is always sufficient.
God gives us work to do, ministry opportunities. We get to serve, teach, encourage and train others. It is a great privilege to engage in ministry. But it is also hard and sometimes inconvenient work. Be reminded in these moments that our God is always faithful, completely sufficient and he will never fail us. Let’s cling to truth so that we won’t find ourselves grumbling and complaining.