Are you ready for a pop quiz? Good! Here we go: Read the following verses. Which do you think represent examples of sinful grumbling? Please explain your answer.
A) And the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt … for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3)
B) Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” (Exodus 5:22-23)
C) Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” [They] grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3)
D) The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me? (Numbers 14:11)
E) Moses was displeased. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? … Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child?’… I am not able to carry all this people alone. (Numbers 11:10-15)
F) And the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? … Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2-3)
G) “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them.” (Exodus 32:9-10)
I don’t know how you answered, but I’ll let you know what I thought. Everyone seems to be complaining! When I read Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, it seems to me that somebody is always agitating about somebody else. Sure, we know the Israelites were whiners. They were barely five minutes out of Egypt when they were already complaining. God didn’t like it. Moses didn’t like it. New Testament writers centuries later like it either (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13).
But honestly, doesn’t Moses sound kind of grumbly himself? (See B and E above). Yet God doesn’t seem bothered by Moses’ grumbling. In fact, Moses had such an intimate relationship with God that God spoke with him as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11).
I know I’m being kind of bold to say this, but God doesn’t seem terribly positive and affirming in examples D and G above, either. I am not saying God was complaining! But He obviously doesn’t mind telling Moses just how unhappy He is about how those “stiff-necked people” are treating Him.
So does that mean grumbling is okay? Of course not! Clearly God views grumbling as sin. On one occasion, He struck 14,700 Israelites dead because they grumbled (See Numbers 14:41, 49). In Philippians 2:14 Paul commands us to “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” And in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul lumps grumbling right in there with sexual immorality and idolatry (7,8,10). If anything I, probably take grumbling too lightly.
So, if I’m not supposed to grumble what can I do with my frustration when people mistreat, take advantage of, or disappoint me?
I think what Moses teaches me is that God doesn’t expect me to stuff it. He doesn’t expect me to somehow magically just be okay with the fear, hurt, or annoyance I’m experiencing. The problem wasn’t so much that the Israelites were anxious and concerned about where they would find food and water in the wilderness. The real problem was what they did with it. Full doubt and criticism, they complained to (and about) Moses instead of taking their grievances and worries directly to God.
Let me show you how I’m trying to apply this. I know you’ll be shocked by this, but there are people who sometimes frustrate me. I am sorry to admit that I sometimes mention to someone else the various ways these people irritate me—in other words, I grumble.
After reading how blunt Moses and God were with each other about the frustrating people in their lives, however, I had an a-ha moment. It’s not okay to complain about people to other people. But it is okay for people to be brutally honest with God about them.
So I tried it. I told God how certain people were aggravating me. I listed all my grievances, including my fears about how these people could potentially damage me. While I was pouring this out to God, I realized that the irritation and fear were draining away. I was able to tell Him about it and let it go.
Granted, I’m very new at this, but grumbling to God—if that’s what you want to call it—seems to have a different effect on me than grumbling to people does. I feel lighter, less anxious, more hopeful. I guess if Moses can put it all out there with God—and even God can put it all out there with trusted friends like Moses—then I can, and probably should, too!