On Complaints and Concerns

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Now the people complained…” (Numbers 11:1).

There is always something we can find to complain about, isn’t there? The classic complaint is usually about too much winter. Then, when summer comes, it’s too hot! For the Hebrews the issue was hardship. Perhaps packing and unpacking their tents was getting on their nerves. For that, (and it was something I hadn’t paid any attention to before) “…fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.

Not having learned the lesson, the next complaint was about the food (11:4). Now that has a familiar ring! They were getting bored with the manna that the Lord provided for them. They wanted something to chew, not something that dissolved to mush in their mouths.

Even Moses seems to have gotten caught up in the vicious circle of “why, me?” Why hardship? Why can’t life be easier? Why can’t I eat what I really want instead of what I have? For Moses the complaint became: “Why do I have to get stuck with these complainers? Why this heavy burden of responsibility? They aren’t my children!” (11:11-15).

The last event recorded ends up to be a near miss as far as complaints are concerned. The Lord sent His Spirit upon the elders He had assigned to lighten the burden of leadership that Moses was carrying. They began to prophesy and Joshua, eager to protect the position of his leader and mentor, asked Moses to stop them from what they were doing. This was a prime moment for Moses to wrap his cloak of position, power, and person around himself and complain that he, and he alone, should be the one people looked to for messages from the Lord. Was he now being bypassed?

But he didn’t. “But Moses replied, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’” (11:29).

As I thought about these incidents this morning, I was remind of recent events in my own life where complaining came easy. Unhappily I wasn’t very Moses-like on the last one, and fell into the trap that he avoided.

The Israelites got their meat—though they got a plague along with it (11:33). But Moses’ “complaint” did not get the same response from God as the complaint of His people did. Perhaps because we are reading the words Moses said, and not hearing the tone of voice with which they were said, we don’t hear his statement as being about legitimate concerns rather than equal to the bitter complaints of unfairness directed at God that were coming from the people. Certainly Moses’ expression reveals a realization on his part that he was trying to be “all things to all men” and that he was coming to the understanding that he really couldn’t do it all alone. In any case, God provided him with help via the elders of Israel.

Of the many things I appreciate about Scripture is this one: it never gets stale when it comes to revealing to us the truth we need to know about ourselves, and rebuking us when we need it. And that’s a good thing because it is a sign that we are loved—believe it or not!

The writer to the Hebrews tells us: “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’…God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees…” (Hebrews 12:5,10-12).

As it turns out, to embrace the reality of our sin and our weakness is to embrace the wonder of just how much God cares for us and just how far He is willing to go to make His children everything that they can be—images that reflect their Father.

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