I’ll admit: I am a grumbler. I don’t want to be one, but I am at times.
It is all too natural to me, even if I’m the only one who knows I’m doing it. I can grumble about what I’m planning on having for dinner, my “too busy” schedule (which is my own fault), or pretty much anything really. I was reminded of this (again), when I was preparing for this weekend’s teaching session in children’s ministry.
This morning, I’m teaching on Numbers 20-21, which is arguably the culmination of the Israelites’ grumbling during their journey through the wilderness. For 40 years, they wandered in the wilderness, and for 40 years, they had been complaining: They complained they had no food, and God provided by literally making it rain food (Exodus 16:4). They needed water, so God made water pour out from a rock after Moses struck it (Exodus 17:6). Every need they had, God provided. You’d think that, after 40 years, they would know that they could trust God for everything they needed—that they could trust that God would take care of them.
Evidently not. Instead, in Numbers 20, they once again complained they had no water to drink. And so they once again started comparing life in the wilderness to life in Egypt1 God instructed Moses to tell the water to spring forth from a rock (Numbers 20:8). But Moses, after 40 years of leading this stiff-necked people, apparently had had enough. Instead of obeying God and speaking to the rock, he took his staff and struck the rock. Twice. Moses disobeyed God in his anger, he did not treat God as holy, and as a result was barred from entering the promised land (Numbers 20:12). And God still provided water. Some time later, they once again complained, calling the food God provided—you know, the stuff that rained out of the sky for 40 years!—”wretched” (Numbers 21:5).
I’ll admit, it gets tempting to look down on the Israelites when I read passages like this. After all, one would think that after seeing everything God had done for them—parting the Red Sea, giving them victory over armies, making it rain food, making water come from a rock and so much more—they’d have started to realize that they could trust him.
But that’s not how things work in a world filled with people who have a sin problem, is it? This is the problem of every single person, ever since Adam and Eve first sinned against God. People like you and me. We grumble and complain about anything and everything. We grumble because we’re not content with what God has provided. We grumble because we don’t trust God.
This is serious business. Sin, failing to trust God, failing to appreciate what he has provided for us, failing to honor him as holy, deserves death. Moses was told he would die without entering the promised land. The grumbling Israelites were attacked by poisonous snakes. And this punishment caused at least some to come to their senses and realize the depth of their sin. And God showed them mercy by telling Moses to “make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover” (Numbers 21:8).
So Moses did it. He made a bronze snake, mounted it on a pole and whenever someone was bitten and looked at the bronze snake, he recovered. Instead of dying like they deserved because of their sin, they were saved from death. Now, this bronze snake wasn’t magical. It didn’t have special powers. What made it “work” was that looking at it was an act of faith. It required them to trust that God would save them.
I am no better than the grumbling Israelites in Numbers 20-21. I deserve death just as they did. But praise God that he is just as merciful to me as he was to them. This fills a grumbler like me with a lot of hope, because even when I fail to treat God as he deserves—when my natural habit of grumbling shows me as ungrateful for what he provides, even when he disciplines me, God is still merciful to me. Why? Because of Jesus, who was “lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 3:15). My tendency to grumble deserves far more than the consequences I receive. But because of the cross, I am forgiven. I am reminded that God has been so good to me, not just in providing for my daily needs (which he has in abundance), but by providing a way for me to be forgiven, sending Jesus to take the punishment I deserve and reconciling me to the Father.
- Which strikes me funny since the people complaining may have been the full-grown children of the adults who left Egypt. And if that’s the case, a good number may never have lived in Egypt at all. ↵