Pursuing Gratitude – Numbers 16-17

Reading from the book of Acts, we see that despite God’s love and care for the Israelites, they continually tested His patience with complaining.

18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. Acts 13:18 ESV

For forty years, God “put up” with the people of Israel, keeping them alive and healthy in the desert wilderness despite their lack of faith and a spirit of ingratitude.

The Lord had delivered them with a mighty hand from slavery in Egypt, provided for their every need, loved them with His whole heart, and basically all He got in return was an earful of complaints. Though their complaining was usually directed at Moses, underneath was an underlying dissatisfaction with the life that God was providing for them.

We can sometimes relate to God and Moses’ position. Serving others can be tough – we may at times feel that we are bending over backwards to do good things for someone, and in return, they may be unsatisfied and only complain about our efforts.

Unfortunately, this experience is all too common for anyone working in the service industry.  We customers can be a pretty difficult lot to deal with, especially if things are not going our way that day.

One tricky part for me is when I am tempted to complain while in the service of God.  Over the course of time, I can become unsatisfied if there is, say, a lack of support from others around me, and I can begin to complain even as I try to be of service to God’s kingdom.  When this happens, any good benefits of service can devolve into negative feelings of resentment or self-pity.

If I permit these feelings to internally fester and grow, am I not being just like the Israelites who were complaining in the desert?  God had delivered them from slavery then put them in a position that they found undesirable, so they complained about it.  When I complain about the role God has put me in, am I not doing the same thing? Something needs to change, and often, that something is me.

In the desert, there was a group of 250 Levites responsible for the daily care of the tabernacle in service to God who now wanted positions of greater prestige. They saw that Moses was in charge and that Aaron and his family had been given authority to lead the daily offerings and sacrifices, so they felt that they, too, should be given a “greater” role. They revolted against Moses and Aaron and challenged their authority to lead.  It came down to a showdown between these two groups, with God set to make the call the following morning as the 250 presented their censors of fire and incense before His tabernacle.  A large group of witnesses surrounded this power encounter.

It did not go well for the complainers.  The earth parted beneath their leaders, plunging them into their eternity as it closed up on them. Then, those holding the 250 censors of fire were overcome with another fire coming out from the tabernacle and were all consumed by its blaze. The witnesses fled in fear of also being swallowed up by the earth or consumed by the fire.

There was then a further demonstration of God’s preeminent authority to select His own representatives to achieve His will and purposes: Aaron’s wooden walking stick was placed alongside several others and left overnight before the the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle, with each staff bearing the name of one of the twelve tribes.  The following morning, Aaron’s stick was found to have come back alive, miraculously covered with fresh buds and blossoms. It was even bearing fresh almonds.  The other tribes’ walking sticks were all as dead as they had been the night before.

10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Bring Aaron’s rod back before the Testimony, to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put their complaints away from Me, lest they die.”  Numbers 17:10 (NKJV)

So even God has His “pet peeves”, and excessive complaining is one of them!

As God’s beloved children, we are free to come into His loving presence at any time and present to Him our needs and requirements, even our occasional complaints – He wants that! But it is best that we do this with a heart of thanksgiving, gratitude and praise. If we constantly reject His will and rebel against Him with an unending litany of complaints, there is evidence in His word that He does not enjoy that.

God is right here among us and has a good plan for our lives, whether we realize it or not.  In His grace, He always loves us with an unmerited love. The voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross covers all of our sins, and through it God pardons us abundantly today.

20 Then the Lord said: “I have pardoned, according to your word; 21 but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Numbers 14:20-21 (NKJV)


One lingering shortcoming of the people of ancient Israel was their practice of ungrateful complaining.  Things were almost never the way they wanted them to be, and they rarely failed to let Moses know about it.  At one point, Moses even asked God to kill him so he didn’t have to put up with their complaining anymore!

Unfortunately, we are not immune from the practice of spreading around our own dissatisfaction.

What situations or people in my life lead me to complain? Is there a resentment or root of bitterness in my heart?  How can I address my frustrations in a more healthy manner?

Father God, show me where my complaining is displeasing to You and to others, and help me to stop doing it. Grant me the wisdom and strength to improve my attitude and manner to be more reflective of Your gracious character of love and tolerance. We ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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