Even in the desert, trust God. God promised that the Jews’ initial journey would be only three days, less than 20 miles for the initial hike (Nu. 10:33). Thus, their grumbling or murmuring began only a day or two into their journey. Up until this point, God had freed the Jews from bondage with ten plagues against the Egyptians (Ex. 7:6-11:10). He brought them safely across the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) and crushed the Egyptian army (Ex. 13:7-15:21). He also transformed the waters of Marah (Ex. 15:22-27). He also guided them by a visible pillar of light both by day and by night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). He even protected their feet from swelling (Dt. 8:4). Nor was their entire journey expected to be long: “It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.” (Dt. 1:2). Matthew Henry asks: “What more could have been done...?” From the Jews’ complaints, God reveals seven important lessons about complaining.
(1) Complaining can stem from a lack of faith. Moses previously warned the Jews that their complaints against him was in fact a sin against God: “8 Moses said, ‘This will happen when the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the Lord hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord.”’ (Ex. 16:8). Their grumbling was in part caused by a lack of faith. No matter how many times God provided for them, they failed to trust Him with each new challenge: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). Do you trust God when times are tough?
(2) Complaining may come from expecting God to provide for your wants, not your needs. God provided for all the Jews’ physical needs when He gave them manna. Some people claim that the manna was really a gum like substance that came from a shrub called Tamarix gallica. Others claim that it came from insects. But a natural explanation cannot describe all of its attributes. It had all the nutrients that people needed. The manna was also said to taste like wafers made of honey (Ex. 16:31). The people were able to boil or bake the manna that they received (Nu. 11:8). They also never needed to worry about whether they would receive it. With the exception of the Sabbath, it came every night like the dew (Nu. 11:9; Ex. 16:22, 27). Thus, they were not under the original curse, which required them to toil in the Earth, while they received it. Yet, not long after they left Mount Sinai / Horeb their “appetite” for the manna was gone (Nu. 11:6). They were no longer satisfied having their needs met. Do you crave the taste of God? Or, is your appetite for Him gone?
(3) Complaining can also stem from a failure to recognize God’s grace. After the Jews’ multiple rebellions, God could have punished the Jews. Instead, He showed them mercy and grace: “11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 ‘I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” (Ex. 16:11-12). God is quick to bless and slow to punish: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). When you complain for more than what you already have, you are in effect complaining that what Christ has done for you is not enough.
(4) Complaining can also stem from a false sense of entitlement. The Bible makes clear that every good and perfect gift comes from God: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jam. 1:17). A “gift” is something that is not earned. Many times people expect God to provide certain things. Yet, something you expect is not a gift. If you expect God to fulfill your wish list, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Are you treating every good and perfect thing in your life as an unearned gift from God?
(5) Complaining can further stem from distorted perceptions. After leaving Egypt, the Jews had come to deceive themselves that they had left the good life in Egypt for something inferior in the wilderness. Satan deceived them into believing that they “sat by the pots of meat” and that they “eat bread to the full.” (Ex. 16:3). Yet, their memories of their old life in bondage was distorted. Pharaoh tried to kill every first-born Jewish boy (Ex. 1:22). Their work was hard, and their lives were bitter. (Ex. 1:14). Jesus warns that those who yearn for their old lives are not fit for the kingdom: “But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Lk. 9:62). If you long for your old life of bondage, you will never be satisfied. Is there any sin that you are refusing to let go of?
(6) Complaining can also stem from a failure to submit to God. Sometimes, the reasons for a trial may not seem clear. Yet, even when we don’t understand the reason for a trial (like the death of a loved one), we have no right to question God. After Job questioned God, God responded: ‘“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding’” (Job 38:4). We are the clay, and God is the Potter: “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?” (Is. 45:9). God’s thoughts and ways are also above our thoughts and ways: ‘“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Is. 55:8). If you think you can predict or explain God’s every move, you are bound to be disappointed. Even worse, you also will not be effective in helping someone cope with a tragedy. Will you trust God and find joy even when a tragedy cannot be explained?
(7) Complaining can also stem from a dissatisfaction with what Jesus offers. The Jews later rejected God’s manna (Nu. 11:6). This foreshadowed their rejection of Jesus, the manna from heaven (Jo. 6:35-51). They expected the Messiah to free them from the Romans. The religious leaders were also jealous and felt threatened by Jesus. Thus, both the masses and the elites were not satisfied with what Christ offered. Sometimes, our complaining stems from a desire for things of the flesh that God has prohibited. Are you satisfied with what Christ has provided you? Or, are you still longing for the things of the flesh?
Where God guides, He provides. Although the Jews did not deserve God’s provision, He promised to provide for them by raining down bread from heaven (Ex. 16:4-5). If you seek His kingdom and His righteousness, He also promises to provide for your needs: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6). “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4). If you feel God’s provision is lacking in your life, are you seeking after His Kingdom and His righteousness?
Jesus is the true bread of life. Jesus revealed that He was the bread of life that rained down on the Jews in the wilderness: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’” (Jo. 6:35). “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (Jo. 6:48-51). Are you seeking satisfaction from the temporary things of this world or the permanent things of God?
Read the Word daily to consume the bread of life. Jesus is the Word who became human (Jo. 1:1, 14). To consume the bread of life, you must read the Word. Moreover, you must do so on a daily basis. Manna could not be stored on any day except the day before the Sabbath (Ex. 16:19-20). Are you eating the bread of life each day?
Purge your old self, you are a new creation. The “rabble” (NASB) among the Israelites demanded to know who would give them meat (Nu. 11:4). Yet, at the time, flocks of cattle and sheep traveled amongst them (Ex. 12:38; 17:3; Nu. 11:22). These people also complained just after they were saved at the Red Sea (Ex. 16:1-21). These people were of mixed descent. Their loyalties were divided equally between Egypt and Israel, i.e, the flesh and the Spirit. When we accept Christ, the Bible says that we are a “new creation.” The desires of the old self should fade away (Ro. 6:6). Sometimes, however, the old desires of the flesh do not fully burn away without Christ’s help (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). You must always fight the works and desires of the flesh because they are unacceptable to God (Gal. 5:19-21). When you entertain the desires of your old flesh, your walk with Him will suffer. Christ warns that “the flesh profits nothing.” (Jo. 6:63). It only brings misery. Are there any parts of your old self that need to be burned away?
Sin spreads if left unchecked. The murmuring began with the people of mixed heritage. But it quickly spread throughout the tribes. The same was true when the Jews complained during the first part of their trip. During their third rebellion, “the whole congregation complained.” (Ex. 16:2). Sin is like a communicable disease. It spreads when it is left unchecked. If you gossip or complain, you are helping to spread the sin of grumbling to others.
Satan provides counterfeit pleasures. As stated above, the manna tasted like wafers made of honey (Ex. 16:31). The people were able to boil or bake the manna that they received (Nu. 11:8). With the exception of the Sabbath, it came ever night like the dew (Nu. 11:9; Ex. 16:22, 27). But their “appetite” for the manna was gone (Nu. 11:6). Yet, with the exception of the fish and melons, the cucumbers, leeks, onions and garlic that they longed for were condiments (Nu. 11:5). In the Promised Land, they were promised: “a land of wheat and barley of vines and fig trees pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity.” (Dt. 8:8-9). They would also be free of bondage. Satan wanted them to forget their bondage, the whippings and the toil that they experienced under the hot sun in Egypt. He wanted them to instead cling to his counterfeit pleasures. People frequently believe that Christians must give up the fun of life. Yet, this is not true. What God promises does not fade away. By contrast, the sin that Satan promises is only pleasurable for a season (Heb. 11:25). Jesus warns that you cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). Are you enticed by any of his counterfeit pleasures in your life?
Responsibility is an honor. Moses did not appear thankful for the privilege that God had given him to lead the people. He was no less of a sinner than the people who longed for the things of Egypt. He had murdered an Egyptian, a far more serious crime (Ex. 2:11-12). If you have been given a job, a family, or other responsibilities and you complain about your burdens, you are complaining against God. Are you giving thanks for the privilege of being a parent or leader? Or, are you complaining about your duties?
God will never give you a burden that you can’t handle. God gave Moses the counsel of 70 because of his complaints. He also gave Moses Aaron after Moses complained at the burning bush. Yet, Aaron later built the golden calf. The counsel of 70 later became the Sanhedrins, the body which falsely convicted Christ. God will never give you a burden that you cannot handle: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13). If you force Him to give your tasks to others, you may not like the outcome. Thus, give thanks the next time you are tempted to complain.
Have compassion and pray for your leaders. The constant complaints of the people was too much for even Moses to bear. When your church murmurs against your leader, your leader is no less prone to buckle under the pressure. When was the last time you prayed for instead of complaining about your leader? Are you stopping gossip when you hear it?
God will hand an unrepentant sinner to his or her lusts of the flesh. In that day, the people could not store or preserve the meat they had. They had to eat it or it would spoil. God promised to give the complaining Jews meat for an entire month, until it went out the peoples noses. He promised that it would become loathsome to them (Nu. 11:20). Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “meat,” “basar,” can also be translated as “flesh.” If you seek fulfillment through the flesh, God will eventually hand you over to your desires (Ro. 1:27-31). From the example of Israel, we see that this can also be true of an entire nation. Are you praying for the chains of bondage to be broken from the nation?
The lusts of the flesh only please for a season. God promised that the meat the people craved would eventually become loathsome to them (Nu. 11:20). Satan’s pleasures also pass quickly (Heb. 11:25; Lk. 12:19-20). The pleasure of alcohol or drugs quickly fade. The same is true with adultery or theft. David, a man who fell into his own sins, reveals that: “He [God] gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (Ps. 106:105). If your soul feels empty, are you willing to starve it of the things of the flesh?
God will keep His promises. Moses questioned how God would provide meat for a month. He asked if he would need to sacrifice the herds that they had (Nu. 11:22). A literal translation of God’s question to Moses is “Has the hand of the Lord become shorter?” (Nu. 11:23). After witnessing God’s many miracles, Moses did not appear to show much faith in His promises. In a similar way, the disciples later questioned the ability of Christ to feed the masses (Jo. 6:5-13; Matt. 15:29-39). Are you questioning God’s ability to provide for you?
Meditate on God’s wonders when you lack faith. David wrote that he meditated on “all Your work and muse on Your deeds.” (Ps. 77:10-12). God had at this point provided manna for approximately a year. If Moses had meditated on all that God had done in his life time, he would not have doubted God’s power. If you are lacking in faith, have you meditated on all that He has done in your life? When was the last time you created a list of all the things that He has accomplished in your life?
Any sinner can be a leader in God’s army. As stated above, Moses killed an Egyptian. He also murmured and complained against God. God, nevertheless, used him to lead His army. Are your sins any worse? Is there any reason that He cannot use you?
Don’t despise the blessings of others. Joshua asked Moses to stop Eldad and Medad, two of the 70, who continued to prophesize after the Spirit left the camp (Nu. 11:26-28). In life, we will always find brothers or sisters who have received greater blessings here on Earth. We should never be jealous of these blessings. If God gave you every desire of your heart, your walk with Him would fade in intensity. Are you giving thanks for the accomplishments of others? Or, do they cause you to be jealous?
Be grateful about God’s blessings for others. Although some believe that the first mass outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place in the book of acts, it actually took place here with the first Sanhedrin. Moses was happy for the gifts that God had given to others. Here, Moses foreshadowed Christ. Christ is happy to share the Holy Spirit with as many as possible (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29). God meant for the Jews, like us, to be a light unto the nations (Is. 42:6). Paul warns: “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” (Phil. 1:15-18). Are you grateful for the blessings God has given others?
Hoarding God’s talents is robbery from God’s kingdom. God became angry when His people – instead of thanking Him – horded all the meat that He provided (Nu. 11:34). This was also not the first time the Jews hoarded manna. This was the second time that they tried to hoard their manna after God warned them not to do so (Ex. 16:13-21). The Jews’ act of hoarding stemmed from a failure to trust God. He warns that hoarding is an evil act in His eyes: “There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.” (Ecc. 5:13). When you hoard and fail to tithe, you rob from God’s kingdom: ‘“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.”’ (Mal. 3:8). In the parable of the talents, God rebuked the person who hoarded the one talent that was given to him: “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’” (Matt. 25:26-28). Instead of hoarding money here, Jesus advises to hoard up your treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20). If God has given you money, the ability to sing, to write, to teach, to pray, to heal, to encourage, prophesying, or preaching and you are not using those gifts, you are hoarding them. Those gifts could be used to bring people to God. Are you hoarding His gifts?
Our society is a grave of greediness. The place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (Nu. 11:34). It means the “graves of greediness” or “craving.” It was a place were the entire society became consumed with greed. Does our country seem much different than that place? Are we any less deserving of God’s wrath?
Ask only out of gratitude. God purified the sins of the people with fire (Is. 48:10; Ezek. 10:1-2; Dt. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). When we sin, God allows us to experience punishment to correct our behavior (Mal. 3:2). Paul tells us to make our requests known to God with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6). Do all things “without grumbling or disputing.” (Phil. 2:14). In “everything”, you are to “give thanks.” (1 Thess. 5:18). Paul adds: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction.” (1 Cor. 10:10-11). Do you give thanks for everything?
Repent when you fail God’s tests in the wilderness. When you face a trial like the Jews did, rejoice that God has given you the chance to learn and change from your prior mistakes: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (Jam. 1:2). God cannot tempt you (Jam. 1:13-14). He does, however, test you (Jer. 17:10; 20:12; Ex. 15:25; Dt. 8:2; Jer. 17:10; 20:12; Ps. 11:5). He tests you to show you where your heart is evil (Jer. 17:9). David invited God to search his heart to expose his sins (Ps. 139:23). His openness to learning from his sins is what made him a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). The key to succeeding in God’s tests is to find joy no matter what trial you face: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (Jam. 1:2). Are you inviting God’s testing and treating your trials as growth opportunities? Do you find joy in your trials?
Pray for the sins of others. It might be tempting to mock the Jews as being undeserving of God’s actions. Yet, your acts of self-righteousness are no better in God’s eyes (Is. 64:6). When confronted with their sin, Moses prayed for them (Nu. 11:2, see also 21:7). Christ gave you access to the Holy of Holies when He ripped the Temple veil after His death (Heb. 9:8-15; Matt. 27:50-51). Have you used this access to pray for the forgiveness for the sins of your family (like Job did), your friends, and your leaders? Are you praying for your nation and your enemies? Or, do you pray for only yourself?