And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. (Num 11:1 ESV)
Would you like a little cheese (or perhaps quail) with that whine?
After Israel had been brought out of Egypt and into the wilderness they grew tired of eating the manna that God provided from heaven. “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (4-6) Wandering in the wilderness was difficult and it was hard in a new way. While God had rescued them from slavery, their lives did not seem much better – at least on the surface of things. It is easy to look down upon them because the story of the plagues and the Red Sea still swim in our minds and we think it must for them too. Maybe it did. But more immediate was this new form of “suffering” of being in a barren wilderness. But we too are in a wilderness of sorts. We like to hear Christian testimonies that have clear “bad” to “good” patterns. They do, of course, but often in the same sense as Israel’s. Yes, it was bad in slavery and yes, it is good to be free. But the wilderness is a hard place! The Israelites were in a period of getting to know their God. They were learning to trust him through the experiences in the wilderness. And so the Christian goes through that too. There are times when the Christian asks, “weren’t things easier before?”
The solution is the presence of God. That is what the Christian enjoys that he missed before. If the wilderness experience strips away the idols and other things from us so that we are forced to spend more time with God then we will inevitably be better for it. We will be more prepared for the Promised Land – the new heavens and the new earth where we will be in the presence of the Lord forever.
In the meantime, complaining can be dangerous. It brought the judgment of God upon the Israelites. Why is that? There are times when the Psalmist instructs us to take our complaints before the Lord. Peter tells us to cast our anxieties on the Lord. But there is a difference between taking complaints before the Lord as a way of finding refuge and complaining in a way that disdains God’s provision for you. The later is the opposite of faith, and without faith we are all doomed in the judgment.
So, what do you complain about?
Chronological Reading Plan plus Psalms: Num 11-13, Ps 59