The great theme of the book of Numbers is my unfaithfulness against the backdrop of God’s great unchanging, unfailing faithfulness. I can be expected to be self-willed, unbelieving, even rebellious. God can be expected to be always faithfully providing, loving, leading, disciplining, and chastising. The book of Numbers identifies many sins of mine and the children of Israel. It seems that one sin is highlighted: murmuring. Murmuring would include grumbling, complaining, griping, ungratefulness, etc.
It seems that the book of Numbers mentions at least nine episodes of murmuring in the Wilderness. The children of Israel murmured and complained against a wide variety of things. The people murmured against circumstances and against their leaders. The leaders murmured against the people. God condemned every instance of it. The Bible is very plain in Numbers 11:1, “Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.” (NASU)
What is so bad about murmuring? God first brought up the topic in Exodus 16:7-8, “In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, for He hears your grumblings against the Lord; and what are we, that you grumble against us?" Moses said, "This will happen when the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the Lord hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord.” (NASU) It seems that because we serve a sovereign God, all grumbling and complaining is in the final analysis against God Himself. If we consider that nothing is outside the reach of God, we will conclude that every complaint is a denial of His sovereignty. I must admit this truth is much easier understood in theory than in reality.
What if all Christians never complained again? What if I never complained again? Conflict would be in great decline. Peace and joy and happiness would be in much greater supply. Surely there are times when wrongs need to be righted. Certainly, there is a proper way to register legitimate complaints. However, we are prone to murmur in the background, delivering personal attacks against people instead of reasonably discussing needed changes in policy or methods. I imagine that we could all agree that we are inclined to approach these situations in a negative spirit, with a sour attitude. The fact that this is such a difficult thing to control provides Christians with a tremendous opportunity. This is hard teaching that cuts across the grain of the sinful heart of man. It is a great testimony when God’s people accept what comes to them in a spirit of thankfulness, recognizing the sovereignty of God. Surely God has not decreed explicitly all the things that have happened to me, but He has at least permitted them.
What is the cure for murmuring? As fallen human beings we seem to think that changing the object of the complaint is the answer but it is not. If I complain about bad food, substituting good food will not cure my problem. Bad food is not the problem; thinking I deserve something better than I have received is the problem. It is a matter of the heart. Looking to Jesus, considering what He received in my place, is the cure. As the hymn writer has rightly observed, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus and the things of earth will grow strangely dim.” One glimpse of His dear face should stop my murmuring.