Summary: The whining of the people of Israel following God's deliverance from slavery is too often echoed among the churches of this day. Grumbling is a serious sin against God, inviting His divine judgement.

“The people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. So, the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them.” [1]

God delivered His people from slavery. He displayed His might and power in a decisive contest with the gods of Egypt, and each of the pagan gods was in turn bested by the LORD God. God opened a way for Israel when there was no way, bringing His people through the Red Sea on dry land. When the Egyptian forces attempted to pursue them, God destroyed the most powerful army in the world by bringing the waters of the sea back on them. The LORD fed His people with food delivered with the morning dew each day. God brought water out of a rock for the people in the midst of a desert land. He led them with a cloud that flamed brightly throughout the night, standing with imposing majesty in front of them each day.

The people had been on the journey that would lead them to the land God had promised. That land was occupied by pagan nations, but the LORD promised that He would defeat them. Israel had travelled only a short while as the LORD led them toward the land He had promised, and the people complained! They complained! What did they have to complain about? The Word informs us that they complained “about their misfortunes!” Their misfortunes? Delivered from slavery? Delivered from a mighty pursuing army? Fed with the bread of Heaven? Drinking water from a rock? Misfortunes? What misfortunes?

We will discover by reading a little farther in the Word that the complaining began with a group identified as “the rabble.” And the complaint was over food. The Word reveals, “The rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’” [NUMBERS 11:4-6].

Like the seasoned grumblers that persist among us to this day, the people began to whine, “What has God done for us lately?” It didn’t matter that He had set them at liberty. Liberty meant they had to accept responsibility. It didn’t matter that the LORD had opened a way for them through the sea; they feared new challenges they would soon have to face. It didn’t matter that God had delivered them from a mighty army. From this point they would have to anticipate more battles. It didn’t matter that God had brought them water from a rock. They would be thirsty again. It didn’t matter that the LORD had fed them with manna. They wanted cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic! “What has God done for me lately,” was their pathetic cry.

The pathetic cry of the discontented souls sounds suspiciously like the discontent of many ensconced among the churches of Christ’s Zion. “Yes, God has been good in the past, but what has He done for me lately?” Focused on their own comfort and ease, they have no appreciation for what God has promised that He will yet do. So, they complain, whinging and whining because they want something more from God.

COMPLAINING ABOUT OUR “MISFORTUNES” — “The people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes” [NUMBERS 11:1a]. No one should construe this passage as a plea to become stoic, accepting every disappointment without showing emotion or walking through life without revealing any emotion. The strong, silent type is not favoured by what is written here. What the passage does demonstrate is that grumbling about God’s mercies by trying to cling to what is past invites divine censure.

Have you ever considered the blessings we enjoy in this modern world. Here in the west, even the poorest among us enjoy comfort and pleasure that was unimaginable to our parents, and we enjoy richness what would have made Solomon envious. As Solomon begins the Book of Ecclesiastes, he writes of the futility of work. He devoted himself to acquiring knowledge, and he found it unsatisfying. He wrote, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” [ECCLESIASTES 1:14].

Since work failed to satisfy him, he focused on amusement, on pleasure. He hired comedians [see ECCLESIASTES 2:2a]. All we need do is turn on the television and the Comedy Channel will give us all the mirth we can stand. Truthfully, it doesn’t take much to make us want to turn it off. Solomon gave himself with every imaginable pleasure—houses, singers and musicians, gardens. Yet, he did not have central heating. Seventy years ago, less than fifteen percent of houses had central heating; but today it is well nigh universal. Solomon never had air conditioning; but if you live in warmer climes of North America, even the most impoverished have air conditioners. He had hundreds of concubines to gratify every sexual imagination. None of us have concubines, but pornography is ubiquitous both via the Internet and on television so that few perverse acts are beyond the imagination of modern people. Middle-class Canadians have everything that Solomon had—and more! And yet, we’re not satisfied. Most of us will complain about our misfortunes when we have to call a repairman to keep our conveniences running. We quickly become bored with the programming on television, and though we have two hundred plus channels, we will often complain, “There’s nothing to watch.”

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