The story is told about a Russian Jew who immigrated to Israel during the Soviet period, which was a rare occurrence. When he landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, a reporter met him. First, the reporter asked, “How was life in Russia?” The new emigrant replied, “I do not complain.” The reporter asked a second question, “How was the housing situation in Russia?” The man replied again, “I do not complain.” The reporter posed another question, “What about working conditions?” Again, the man replied, “I do not complain.” Exasperated, the reporter demanded, “If you don’t complain about life in Russia, why do you come to Israel?” The Russian retorted, “Because in Israel I can complain!”
We don’t consider grumbling or complaining to be an issue. It is not found on the list of the 7 deadly sins. There are no support groups like Grumblers Anonymous or 12 step programs to free you from an addiction to complaining. Not only do we not see it as a problem, we believe we are entitled to grumbling and complaining. In fact, we think it is our God-given right.
In contrast, Numbers 11 describes why complaining is a problem and why God deals with it so severely. The chapter points out that when we complain, we are a self-centered, ungrateful, jealous rebel. Rather than complain about what we don’t have, we are to give thanks for what God has provided.
After spending one year camped at Mt Sinai, Israel breaks camp and starts to move (Numbers 10:11, 17). Following God’s leading, the nation marches for three days (10:33-36). And the complaints begin (11:1). “Life is so hard!” “Do we have to eat this again?” “I’m so overworked!” “I’ve been replaced!”
Complaint #1: “Life is so hard!” (11:1-3). In the absence of vision, people complain about petty issues. When we get our eyes off of God, we complain about our problems and misfortunes. Our complaining ultimately reveals an attitude of rebellion against God. Consequently, God brings judgment against a critical spirit.
Complaint #2: “Do we have to eat this again?” (4-9, 18-20, 31-33). Complaining is an infectious disease. It spreads from a few people on the fringes to the nation as a whole and ultimately infects Moses and Joshua. In large part, it stems from idolizing the past which causes us to lose sight of what God is doing in the present. Rather than thanking God for his provision of manna, the people pine for the “good-old-days” of slavery in Egypt when food was plentiful. Again, complaining reveals an attitude of rebellion and rejection of God. It also demonstrates that a blessing that is not appreciated can turn into a curse.
Complaint #3: “I’m so overworked!” (10-17, 21-25). If a leader constantly listens to the complaints of his followers, he will eventually turn inward and implode. That certainly happens to Moses as he complains to God about “I” and “me.” He loses sight of God’s presence and power. God’s response is to offload some of Moses’ responsibility to others, which means Moses now will share both the responsibility and the credit with others.
Complaint #4: “I’ve been replaced!” (26-30). Joshua becomes jealous when he sees others are doing Moses’ ministry. Moses is able to break the cycle of complaining by keeping his focus on God.
We need to keep in mind the instructions of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:14-16.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 24, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.