Summary: Three lessons the children of Israel teach us about complaining
Shiloh Bible Church
An Attitude of Gratitude
A man dreamed of joining a monastery. His life’s goal was to become a monk. So one day he went to a monastery and talked to the head monk. The man asked, “What do I need to do to join?” The abbot told him that being a monk was challenging. He said, “In our order, monks take a vow of silence—they are only allowed to say two words every year.” The man responded, “That sounds a bit extreme, but I’ve always wanted to be a monk so I’m going to give it a try.” So he was shown to his room in the monastery. And for the next twelve months the man never said a word. At the end of his first year he was taken to the abbot, and was told he could now say his two words. The man said, “Bad food!” He went back to his room, and was silent for another twelve months. At the end of his second year he again was taken to the abbot for his two words. This time he said, “Hard bed!” And the man went back to his room. Another twelve months of silence passed. He was brought again to the abbot for his annual two words. This time the man said, “I quit.” The abbot looked at him and said, “Well, it doesn’t surprise me. Ever since you got here all you’ve done is complain.”
Complaining is commonplace in our society. It’s an ordinary, everyday experience. We hear it all around us. But complaining should not be a characteristic of the child of God. That’s what the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews chapter 3.
The writer of Hebrews addresses his book to a congregation of Hebrew Christians who were struggling. So in 3:1, he encourages them to fix their thoughts on Jesus. Then in verses 7-11, he warns them of what can happen when you take your eyes off the Lord. He does this by reminding them of an episode in the life of their ancestors—the nation of Israel. And so we read in Hebrews 3:7: “So, as the Holy Spirit says …”
Let me stop there for a moment. In verses 7-11, the writer of Hebrews is quoting a passage of Scripture from the Old Testament. Remember, the author of this New Testament letter is writing to a congregation of Hebrew Christians. So he relies heavily on Old Testament quotes to prove his point. And this is the 13th Old Testament passage that he quotes thus far in the epistle—and we’re only in chapter 3!
Well, verses 7-11 are a quote from Psalm 95:7-11. And that psalm contains God’s warning to the people of Israel not to harden their hearts against Him as their forefathers did in the wilderness wanderings.
By the way, when the writer of Hebrews states in verse 7, “So, as the Holy Spirit says,” he is confirming the inspiration of Scripture. This book was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God Himself. It is not a collection of quaint, ancient stories and wise, old sayings. Rather, it is the very Word of God to you. And so we must pay attention to what it says.
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’”
These verses recall the nation of Israel’s wilderness wanderings for 40 years. During that time, the nation committed many horrendous sins against God. But one of the most basic, reoccurring sins was that of complaining—murmuring—grumbling against the Lord.
And the writer of Hebrews warns us not to follow the same path that Israel walked. The writer wants us to learn from Israel’s sin and misfortune. Well, what lessons can we learn? What lessons can Israel teach us about complaining? Please turn with me to the second book of the Old Testament—the book of Exodus—Exodus chapter 16.
Now, please understand that when I use the word “complain,” I’m not talking about verbalizing a legitimate concern. There is nothing wrong with going through the proper channels to rectify a bad situation. There is nothing wrong with talking to your spouse or your neighbor or your boss about a concern that you have. That’s not what I mean when I use the word “complain.” Rather, complaining means to express resentment in a negative, unproductive manner. And that’s what the children of Israel did.