A month had passed since the Israelites departed from Egypt. During their traverse through the wilderness, they had run out of water. And now they have run out of food. The only provisions they were able to bring with them were some unleavened bread. By this time, they would have been completely consumed. As you can imagine, their stomachs were beginning to growl. And as their stomachs growled, their hearts and mouths started to grumble.
I think you would agree with me that grumbling was not only a problem then, but is is also a problem in our lives as well. Hence, I believe, it would be worthwhile to point out some of the characteristics of Israel’s grumbling in this incident. Prayerfully, we would learn from their errors, and not repeat them ourselves.
1. Grumbling is a problem with pain or problems.
Grumbling almost never occurs when we are experiencing pleasure. I stress the word “almost”. That’s because there are those who have the special ability to grumble under all sorts of circumstances – both good and bad. Grumbling usually occurs when we are inconvenienced or experience pain. In this incident in Exodus 16, there is definitely a relationship between Israel’s growling stomachs and their grumbling lips.
We grumble because we we do not like the pain or discomfort of the situation we are in. We grumble because we think that we should experience pleasure rather than pain, affluence and ease rather than adversity and deprivation.
When people grumble, it is usually targeted at someone. People do not grumble to themselves. They want their complains to heard by others so that, hopefully, someone else would provide a solution or some relief to their plight. In the case of the Israelites, they “complained against Moses and Aaron” (verse 2).
2. Grumbling is a problem of perception.
Grumbling is the result of wrong perception. This was the case with the Israelites. First, they greatly exaggerated the benefits of Egypt. They said they “sat” (verse 3) by their flesh pots, and that they ate “all they wanted” of a great variety of food and meat. This is, quite frankly, hard to believe. If the Egyptians, their oppressors, made them gather their own straw to make bricks and were attempting to kill their baby boys, why would they be so generous to the Israelites in terms of food? In contrast to this, their hunger was interpreted as starvation. Taking this perception further, they believed that Moses (and Aaron) had led them into the wilderness to kill them.
3. Grumbling is the result of a failure of faith.
Grumbling is symptomatic of something deeper. It reveals a lack of faith, for the grumbler does not see the hand of God in a particular situation, refuses to accept the adversity (as a means God uses to refine his faith), and sees disaster rather than blessing as the outcome of their circumstances. In fact, we can go further and say that grumbling is allowing our present circumstances to nullify our confidence in God’s purpose and promises.
4. Grumbling is a problem of submission.
Although it was to Moses and Aaron that the congregation of Israel brought their complaints to, in their hearts they knew that they were complaining against God Himself. This is true all the time. Men are instinctively afraid of God and would not dare point an accusing finger at Him. So, instead, they would grumble and complain against God’s appointed representatives. Hence, Moses hit the nail on its head when he said, “Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord” (verse 8).
5. Grumbling is a form of evil, which is closely related to disobedience.
To better understand grumbling, we will look at Jonah who is The Messenger Who Grumbled (Wolff).
As the story goes, Nineveh was a city that had done great wickedness. Jonah was therefore sent by God to “cry out against it” (1:2). But Jonah refused. He “arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (1:3). Eventually, Jonah obeyed and warned the city of the impending judgment of God (3:4). Jonah’s message was heeded and the people of Nineveh “believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them” (3:5). The king of Nineveh himself “arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes” (3:6). The corporate repentance of the city from its wickedness caused God to relent from bringing disaster on them as planned. This turn of events made Jonah “very angry” (literally “burn” with anger), and he began to grumbled before the Lord.
There is a pattern in all of this which, unfortunately, is not obvious in the English translation of the Bible. The Hebrew word “ra”, which means “evil” or “wickedness” is used here in relation to Nineveh, God and Jonah. God relented from His “ra” (disaster) because Nineveh repented from its “ra” (wickedness). As a result, Jonah became “ra” (exceedingly displeased and angry).
The point is this: grumbling is a form of wickedness; it is evil; it leads to disobedience – Jonah ran away so that he did not have to do what God wanted him to do – and sin.
6. Grumbling is a communicable disease.
Although the Bible states that it was “the whole congregation of the children of Israel” that grumbled and complained, this was more likely the final outcome than how it began.
Grumbling is contagious, like a communicable disease. Amongst the Israelites, there must have been some who were very unhappy about the circumstances they were in. And being more vocal than the rest, they started to grumble. This emboldened others who were also disgruntled but lacked boldness to verbalize their opinions. And like a bush fire, the grumbling spread till the whole congregation was “ablaze” with resentment.
In the course of our lives, surely we will experience some pain and discomfort. It is during such times that we need to remind ourselves of what Paul said:
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning” (Phil 2:14)
Wolff, Hans Walter. Jonah – The Messenger Who Grumbled.
This is an example of what members of the Torah Club will learn. Contact me if you wish the Torah Club today.