Regarding Scripture: Numbers 12.1-2, 14.27-29
This week, as we continue our series examining grumbling, we will be looking at Numbers 12-14 to see more of Israel’s discontented spirit before Jehovah. Specifically, we will examine Miriam and Aaron’s complaints about Moses; and the complaints and grumblings about the conquest of Canaan.
In Numbers 12, we find a record Miriam and Aaron’s complaining. It appears that they were not pleased with God’s spiritual structure: God’s revealing of Himself through Moses. Miriam and Aaron protested that God could also speak through them, not just Moses. Their discontent received an immediate reaction from God, a verbal reprimand for Miriam and Aaron, and Miriam was given leprosy. Tragically, leprosy was a disease that rendered one a social and spiritual outcast and had to be removed from the congregation; one might as well have been dead.1 So fundamental is their error, that Aaron immediately says they sinned and acted foolishly.2 As a possibility, consider for a moment that perhaps it was Miriam and Aaron’s spoken discontent that was the starting point for the rebellion against Moses found in Numbers 16. It is impossible to know for certain if Miriam and Aaron influenced the rebellion against Moses, but what a tragic thing it would be if their well-reasoned and outspoken discontent instigated a catastrophic influence on the nation as a whole. Nevertheless, what we do know from James 3.1-6 is that restraining the tongue is difficult and that significant problems can arise from the use of one’s tongue.
Numbers chapters 13 and 14 record for us the events surrounding the spying of the land of Canaan. Beginning in chapter 13, God had Moses take one man from each tribe to spy out the land. These men spent 40 days spying and returned with a mixed report. Ten men said conquest was impossible, and two men (Joshua and Caleb) said conquest was possible. Chapter 14 continues this account by recording that the people voiced their discontent against Moses, Aaron, and ultimately Jehovah, Himself. Then Joshua and Caleb interjected urging conquest, but the congregation responded desiring their death. The Scriptures state that God had grown weary of their disbelief and discontent and was determined to destroy them; however, Moses interceded, and the nation was not destroyed. Yet God did not allow Israel to go unpunished. Israel would endure the greatest possible unhappiness – to watch the discontented die over the next 40 years knowing that their children, along with Caleb and Joshua, would enter the Promised Land.
Numbers 14.11 is perhaps the best expression God’s displeasure with ancient Israel. God’s displeasure was with two things: Israel’s provocation of God (or as the ESV translates, “How long will this people despise Me?”), and two, their disbelief (or as one translation3 asks, “How long shall I not be trusted by them?”) They looked down on God, failed to trust Him, and they continued in their discontent while benefiting from God’s blessings. Numbers 14.2 and 14.27-29 make it abundantly clear that Israel’s punishment came because they voiced privately and publicly their discontent against God. It is important to note that these verses only record their temporal judgment, these verses say nothing about their eternal judgment. It is entirely possible that some of these people learned from their sin, repented, lived a content life, looked up to God, and trusted Him. But their repentance did not negate their temporal punishment. For a similar situation, see the sin, temporal punishment, and hopeful eternal judgment of Moses.4
When we examine Numbers 14.27 (used to define murmur), and Numbers 14.28-30 we cannot help but take notice that part of the reason God punished Israel was because of their never-ending discontent. With the scriptural evidence (11.1-3 – death in the camp; 11.33-34 – death from the quail; 12.11 – Aaron’s declaration that he and Miriam sinned; 12.12 – Miriam’s punishment; and 14.28-30 – Israel punishment of 40 years and death in the wilderness), we cannot make any conclusion but one – God considered their constant discontent sinful.
Because the Scriptures appear to be silent regarding the temporal punishment of death, following the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira,5 we cannot specifically identify other instances of God’s intervention like this, but when Christians consider the scriptural evidence of Numbers, the implications for the modern-day disciple cannot be understated. Knowing this, we must soberly consider the following: what would cause modern Christians to believe that our God will not punish one who complains against Him today, either temporally or eternally? In our next study, we will see that when a Christian voices their discontent about the church, the members, the leadership, the worship, the church’s mission, or any other facet of the church, they are, in fact, complaining against God. And if a Christian does so, they risk the potential of the worst death, that being the second death.6
1 Numbers 12.12
2 Numbers 12.11
3 The Scriptures 98, Numbers 14.11
4 Moses’ sin – Numbers 20.11, his temporal punishment – Numbers 20.12, Deuteronomy 34.1-6; and his potential eternal judgment – Hebrews 11.23-29
5 Acts 5.1-11
6 Revelation 21.8