We all know what it is like to not have things go the way we think that they should go. It happens all the time. It is a natural part of life. If you have never had something not go the way you wanted it to go then we need you to share with us the secret to that kind of living. We all know what it is like to not have things go our way. This is easy to admit and no great revelation to anybody hearing this message today.
I brought this issue up because the real problem is not in how things do not go our way. The problem is how we respond when things do not go our way. When things do not go our way our default response is to complain. We complain when the whether does not acomodate our plans. We complain when a server doesn’t refill our drinks in a timely manner. We complain when our bosses and/or coworkers are not doing as we think they should. We complain about people, politics and even our churches when they are not doing as we think they should. Complaining has become so commonplace in our lives that some have labeled it as our “national pass time” and complaining has become so common that many think that it is a God given right. If we had a whiteboard up here and I asked everybody in this room to list one thing that we know to be a sin according to the Scriptures, I’m not sure that complaining would make that list. That is how common complaining is.
Regardless of its frequency, God is not a fan of complaining from His people. Today we are going to see how God, in preparing His people to experience life with Him, responds to His people when they begin to complain about His sovereignty and providence. Our time will be shaped by three things today. First, we are doing to see the power of complaining. Second, we are going to see the consequences of complaining. Third, we are going to see God’s remedy for complainers.
1 Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship. When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and he prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. 3 So that place was named Taberah, because the Lord’s fire had blazed among them. 4 Contemptible people among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites cried again and said, “Who will feed us meat? 5 We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!” 7 The manna resembled coriander seed, and its appearance was like that of bdellium. 8 The people walked around and gathered it. They ground it on a pair of grinding stones or crushed it in a mortar, then boiled it in a cooking pot and shaped it into cakes. It tasted like a pastry cooked with the finest oil. 9 When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it. 10 Moses heard the people, family after family, crying at the entrance of their tents. The Lord was very angry; Moses was also provoked. 11 So Moses asked the Lord, “Why have You brought such trouble on Your servant? Why are You angry with me, and why do You burden me with all these people? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so You should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nursing woman carries a baby,’ to the land that You swore to give their fathers? 13 Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying to me: ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If You are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now. If You are pleased with me, don’t let me see my misery anymore.”
The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Wilderness of Sinai, on the first day of the second month of the second year after Israel’s departure from the land of Egypt: “Take a census of the entire Israelite community by their clans and their ancestral houses, counting the names of every male one by one. You and Aaron are to register those who are 20 years old or more by their military divisions—everyone who can serve in Israel’s army. A man from each tribe is to be with you, each one the head of his ancestral house. These are the names of the men who are to assist you: Elizur son of Shedeur from Reuben; Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai from Simeon; Nahshon son of Amminadab from Judah; Nethanel son of Zuar from Issachar; Eliab son of Helon from Zebulun; from the sons of Joseph: Elishama son of Ammihud from Ephraim, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur from Manasseh; Abidan son of Gideoni from Benjamin; Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai from Dan; Pagiel son of Ochran from Asher; Eliasaph son of Deuel from Gad; Ahira son of Enan from Naphtali.
COMPLAINING IN THE CAMP: As we reflect upon this experience in the lives of God’s people as recorded here in the Scriptures I think we can all connect with the complaining that is revealed to us. First, by way of introduction, we are told that God’s people were complaining about their hardships in the Lord’s hearing. We get this feeling that, much like today, complaining about life had become a “national pass time” for the Israelites much like it has become a “national pass time” today. As we continued reading, we find that the general attitude of the whole produced a specific demographic of people that the Scriptures identify as being riff-raff/contemptible/rabble depending on your translation. This is the only place in all the Scriptures that we find this particular word used and that contributes to the different words/phrases used to convey the meaning of it. At the end of the day, what we can be certain about is that those who are chronic complainers certainly do not find favor in the eyes of God.
GOD’S RESPONSE TO COMPLAINING. So the issue of complaining by the people, if we are honest, is not the real striking/standout issue of this passage. This is because we know what it is like to offer up our own complaints. We know what it is like to live in a world where complaining is a cultural norm. We even know what it is like to experience those who are chronic complainers. They are never happy unless they are unhappy about something with which they can complain. Therefore, this isn’t the real striking thing about this passage. The thing that stands out so much is God’s response to the complaining. We find that God responds to His people’s complaining in a very serious way whenever He sent fire to rage among them.
The dichotomy that exists between the commonness of complaining and the seemingly uncommonness of God’s response to complaining begs us to consider why God responds the way He does to complaining by His people. The answer, I think, lies in what complaining reveals: