Regarding Scripture: Numbers 11.1-3; 31-32
This week, we begin a three part series that will investigate God’s reaction to Israel in Numbers 11-14 and what the KJV calls murmuring. This series is designed in hopes that it will cause each of us to consider the scriptural account and then contemplate its meaning for us as Christians. We exist in a culture that is saturated with complaints, so this may prove to be a challenging study. May these articles engage our spirits to prayerful meditation and proper correction where needed.
Considering the scriptural evidence1 against Adam and Eve, it seems that grumbling has been around since the fall of humanity – Eve grumbled against the serpent; Adam grumbled against God. Consider our situation: we live in and are influenced by a society that endorses, supports and seems to have brought to new heights the art and act of complaining, grumbling, and moaning. While the First Amendment protects this type of speech, does this protection permit us to engage in such behavior? For example, consider when you are displeased with your boss? What do you do – do you commend or condemn? When your life becomes common and routine (i.e. a rut), how do you respond – with grace or grumbling? Because grumblers surround us, it becomes very difficult not to fall into lockstep with society. As we enter into our study, we will be challenged to soberly consider the grumbling condition2 that condemned ancient Israel during her time in the wilderness.
Let us first define what has been referred to as grumbling. In Numbers 14.27, the KJV uses the word murmur, and murmurings, but for us, the modern reader, the KJV use of these words seems meaningless and non-descript. While dictionary.com defines murmur as a mumbled or private expression of discontent, many people probably think of murmur more like to speak softly as in a whisper, like the Microsoft Thesaurus. For the modern reader murmur does not necessarily mean complaining. That is why the NKJV use of complain and complaints and the NASB use of grumbling and complaints really widens our perspective of the issues at hand concerning Israel – she was discontent with many things. As we will see, they expressed their disgruntlement both privately and publicly. The question we should be asking is: how did God view such behavior?
In Numbers 11.1-3, Israel’s specific complaint seems somewhat abstract, but upon reading Numbers 10.33-36, it seems that they were complaining about something during their travels. Perhaps it was about the difficulties of travel, Israel’s organization, their responsibilities, or something else, but the specific complaint is not known. What is important is that the first verse tells us that Israel became a group of complainers. One commentator states, “Apparently Israel had traveled for only three days when the complaints started. The people [publicly] grumbled about their hardships…, and [the Lord] was moved to anger against them.”3 The Scriptures record Jehovah’s response was with fire that burned among them. Depending on the translation, the fire either consumed only a portion of the outskirts of the camp, or the fire consumed both the outer parts of the camp and some of the people. In either event, the people petitioned Moses, who then prayed to God and God responded by ending the punishment. So tragic and important was the event that Moses named the location Taberah meaning the place of burning. This should have been a scene that burned in their individual and collective minds, but as we will see, Israel needed more lessons to quell their grumbling.
In Numbers 11.4-6 we find Israel complaining about their diet. It appears they believed they had found themselves in a mundane nutritional rut and were griping about the manna and craving the meats of Egypt. Notice that verse 10 states that the people were weeping (a part of grumbling) privately within their families and within their dwellings; also notice that God’s anger burned and Moses was displeased. In the verses that follow, Moses petitions God, God responds by having Israel’s elders summoned and told them they were going to receive quail, a month’s worth and enough to come out of their nose.4 With verses 31-32 we see Israel’s lustful appetite for the quail. They work day and night gathering ten homers and storing those homers in different places within the camp; a similar attitude had been seen earlier and made Moses angry with Israel.5 With verses 33-34, we can see that Israel’s punishment for their grumbling and lust was death. So tragic and important was the event, that Moses named the location Kibroth-hattaavah meaning graves of lust. Between this event and that recorded in Numbers 11.1-3, Israel should have buried their grumblings and lust, but as we will see, Israel needed more lessons to quell their rebellious attitude.
From just these two events in Numbers 11, we can see that Jehovah does not endure complaints against Him. Unfortunately, these are not isolated complaints against God, because as we will see in chapters 12 through 14 there is more evidence of Israel’s discontented spirit. As we continue to examine murmuring, we will see that it does not matter how much one might believe their objections to be reasonable, if the complaints denigrate Jehovah, His wisdom, and/or His administrative choices, the one complaining will find themselves in a questionable and an unfavorable position before Him. My friends, this is not where anyone should want to be.
1 Genesis 3.12-13
2 Exodus 16.7-9, 12; Numbers 14.27, 36; 16.11; 17.5, 10
3 This is regarding Numbers 11.1-3; The Pentateuch, James E. Smith; Numbers 11-16; p. 428.
4 Numbers 11.11-20
5 Exodus 16.11-26; cf. 16.19-20