It’s always amazing to me how often the people of Israel complained after their escape from Egypt. In Exodus 15, the waters have barely come to a rest after swallowing the Egyptian army in the bottom of the Sea, and the final notes of the victory songs by Moses and Miriam have just begun to fade away when the Israelites began to complain. Only three verses after Miriam finishes her song the Bible reads that the people complained against Moses because of the bitter water they had to drink. Less than ten verses later they are complaining about not having enough food to eat. While food and water are necessities for life, it’s shocking how quickly the people of Israel begin to complain after God heard their cries and rescued them from slavery.
In the book of Numbers the story of complaining becomes tragic. Numbers picks up the story around a year later. The people of Israel have camped at Sinai for almost a year. Even with all that had taken place, it would be easy to become frustrated sleeping in tents everyday for a year waiting for the promised land. Yet, as the story begins in Numbers, the people are ready to move. The year-long wait is over, the cloud has risen from the tabernacle and the trumpets have blown; it’s marching time. The people of Israel are heading to the Promised Land to claim their inheritance.
Deuteronomy tells us that it’s an eleven day journey from Mt. Horeb (Sinai) to Kadesh-Barnea, their entrance point to the land. They could possibly see the outline of the mountains during the entire journey. They were so close they could almost taste the food. Still, even though they were so close, the entire time was filled with complaining. The trumpets blast in Numbers 10 and the departure begins a few verses later. But chapter 11 begins with the people complaining about their misfortunes. What misfortunes could they possibly have right now as they are marching toward the Promised Land, yet they complain. In response, God sends fire to burn the outsides of the camp; a warning to get back in line. As soon as the fire is gone the people complain about food again. God has been sending them food everyday, but now they want variety. The manna isn’t good enough, they need more. In chapter 12 even Aaron and Miriam join in on the complaining and become jealous of Moses. Miriam is struck with leprosy because of the ordeal, and the entire nation has to wait for her cleansing. Then comes the biggest disappointment of all when the spies come back from the land and spread a bad report. The people of Israel become fearful and refuse to enter the land. They turn back toward Egypt, not willing to follow God any longer. The complaining will continue however; no matter what God does, the people are never satisfied.
It’s easy to be shocked by the actions of the Israelites. How could a people who have so clearly seen the hand of God in their lives continue to complain? How could a people who have been rescued from slavery, and been fed miraculously everyday, complain to a God who is not treating them fairly? How could a people who have seen their enemies crushed by the mighty hand of God fail to trust that same God to crush future enemies, and instead turn and complain? It’s shocking behavior. When will they stop complaining?
I then ask myself, when will we stop complaining? When will we stop complaining about worship styles or preaching styles? When will we stop complaining about not getting to go on vacation or buy a bigger boat? When will we stop complaining about the way the government is treating us, or our bosses are treating us, or our co-workers are treating us? When will we stop complaining about how someone treated us twenty years ago and blaming that moment for how we respond today? When will we stop complaining that God hasn’t given us the “perfect” life? And when will we remember all of the good things that God has done? We need to focus on the positive moments. When have we seen God’s hand at work in our lives? When have we seen God provide financially, physically, or emotionally? When have we seen God answer prayers? If God has provided in the past, why are we convinced God won’t provide in the future? Perhaps it’s time to stop complaining and find peace in a God who continually provides.