Complaining – Numbers 16-17

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 in the desert wilderness.

He delivered them from slavery, provided for their every need, loved them with His whole heart, and basically what He got in return was an earful of complaints.  No matter how much He did for the Israelites in the desert, they always found something to complain about, and to resist the will of God.  Even though their complaints were usually addressed to Moses, underneath was an underlying dissatisfaction with the life that God was providing for them.

Serving people can be very tough. We sometimes feel that we are bending over backwards to do good things for them, and they can be unsatisfied and complain to us in return.

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

The tricky part for me is when I am tempted to complain when in the service of God.  Over the course of time I can become unsatisfied if there is a lack of support by those around me, or I can begin to complain even as I try to be of service to others.  When this happens, it can quickly evolve into a feeling of resentment or self-pity.

If I allow this to happen, am I not being just like the Israelites that were complaining in the desert?  God delivered them from slavery and then put them in some position that they found undesirable, and they complained about it.  When I complain about the role God has put me in, am I not doing the same thing?

There was a group of 250 Levites who oversaw the daily care of the tabernacle in the service of God who wanted positions of greater authority.  They saw that Moses was in charge and that Aaron and his family had been given responsibility for leading the daily offerings and sacrifices, and they felt that they, too, should be a greater part of these.  They revolted against Moses and Aaron and challenged their authority.  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 the tabernacle.  A large group of witnesses surrounded the encounter.

It did not go well for the complainers.  Their leaders found the direct route to Sheol (Hades) as the earth parted beneath them and they plunged into eternity. Those holding the 250 censors of fire were overcome with a fire coming out from the tabernacle and were all consumed by its blaze. The rest of the witnesses fled in fear of also being swallowed up by the earth or consumed by the fire.

As a further demonstration of God’s preeminent authority in selecting His representatives and purposes, Aaron’s wooden walking stick was placed alongside several others before the Testimony (the Ark of the Covenant) in the tabernacle and all were left overnight, each bearing the name of one of the twelve tribes.  The following morning, Aaron’s stick was found to be alive again, covered with fresh buds and blossoms, and even bearing fresh almonds.  The other walking sticks were all as dead as 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

Even God with His great love for us has His pet peeves, and excessive complaining is one of them.  As His children, we are free to come into His loving presence at any time and present to Him our needs and requirements, along with our thanksgiving, gratitude and praise.  But if we constantly reject His will and rebel against Him with an unending litany of complaints, there is evidence that He does not enjoy that type of fellowship.

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

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9 ESV

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

Reflection:

One constant with the people of Israel was the practice of complaining.  Things were almost never the way they wanted them, and they let Moses know about it.  Moses even offered to have God kill him, so he didn’t have to put up with their complaining anymore!

When am I likely to complain?  What situations or people have I been complaining about lately?  Have I allowed a resentment or root of bitterness to grow about it?  How can I address it in a healthy manner?

God, show me where my complaining is displeasing to You and help me to stop doing it and to adjust my attitude about the situation to one more reflecting of Your character and loving tolerance.


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