Sunday, June 25, 2017

Complain

This morning we’re going to take a look at some Old Testament. There are many good Gospel lessons to be found there. We’ll be looking at Numbers 11, the whole chapter. It’s a fairly long chapter. So, what I’ll do is read a few verses, summarize what those verses report and then move on to the next few verses. When I’ve completed this stepbystep explanation, we’ll take a look at what lessons the chapter has to teach us. So, please turn to Numbers 11 so that you can follow along as I read.


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. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. Numbers 11:1-3

Here, the people are complaining about what Yahweh is doing. In response, He gets angry and sends fire and burns some of the tents. The people implore Moses to intercede for them which he does, and the fire dies down. No one is hurt and t he people name the place Taberah, ‘Burning’, so that they will remember what happened there.

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “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.” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it. Numbers 11:4-9

First, who is this ‘rabble’? They were some non-Israelite people who left Egypt with Israel. Here, they start complaining about the food and the people of Israel join them. They all want some variety in their diet. Having manna just isn’t good enough. The manna is then described.

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 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,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:10-15

Moses sees and hears what’s going on with the people, and he is overwhelmed. He hears their demands, and it’s just too much for him to deal with. He’s come to the end of his rope. Moses is thinking that if he doesn’t get some help he’d be better off dead.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”‘” But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent.  Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. Numbers 11:16-30

Here, Yahweh responds to both situations. He provides assistance to Moses by consecrating seventy elders. And He promises the people that they will have meat to eat. But He also tells the people that they will hate it because they have rejected Him. Moses wonders how God is going to be able to provide meat for all those people. Yahweh responds by reminding Moses of His power. Moses believes Him.

Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague. Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth. Numbers 11:31-35

God provides the meat that the people craved. But in so doing He also strikes many of them dead. The meat becomes a curse that damns. And once again the people name the place to remember what happened there. Its name is ‘Graves of Craving’.

We’ve read through the chapter. Now, what can we learn from it? Well, let’s start with this. We have two groups, the people of God and Moses. And what are both groups doing? They are complaining. The people of God are complaining about the food, and Moses is complaining about the difficulties of being a leader. The people of God want some variety, some veggies, as well as some meat. They are tired of the manna. Moses wants to be able to care for these people, but he is overwhelmed and ready to quit. Both are rather passionate in expressing their complaints. The people are weeping. And Moses is telling God that he’d rather be dead.

How does Yahweh respond to each group? Moses’ desire to be able to lead well is granted. He gets some help, the seventy elders. Life gets better for him. The people’s desire for meat is also granted. God brings the quail. But life gets worse for them. Many are condemned and killed by God.

They were both complaining. But God’s response was not the same for both. What made the difference?

Here’s the basic difference. The people were complaining about God, how He was doing such a poor job, creating, in their opinion, an intolerable situation for them. They were rejecting His gift, the manna, because it didn’t match their cravings, their lusts. In this, they were rejecting their God. He responds - appropriately - by damning them. But this is where what happened at Taberah, ‘Burning’, becomes so important. They had complained about God before, and He cautioned them about the foolishness of doing that. That’s what the fire was about. It was a warning from Yahweh, saying, ‘Do that again, and it won’t be just a warning.’ But they didn’t believe His threat. And they paid for it with their lives and with their souls.

But Moses was also complaining. So, why was he blessed and not cursed like the people? It’s because Moses wasn’t complaining about God. He was complaining to God. The people moaned and groaned about what Yahweh was doing. They rejected Him. But Moses prayed. He talked to his God about his situation. And it was a very honest conversation. ‘This is too hard! I can’t do it anymore! I just can’t!!’ Very blunt and very honest. But there was no rejection of Yahweh. If he had done that, he would have faced the same fate as the people.

That’s the difference. And here’s one lesson from it. Be careful how you complain. The people got it seriously wrong when they complained about God and what He was doing. And please note where that attitude came from: the rabble and their cravings. The people of Israel adopted the lusts of the world, and it cost them severely. Adopting the attitudes of unbelievers around us is dangerous. Be careful. It just might cost you your soul.

Moses, on the other hand, complained to God. And this kind of complaining was exactly right. There is, in fact, a whole group of Psalms that are complaints to God. Here’s just one:

With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. Psalm 142.1,2

There are times when you really should complain to God. And that’s just another way of saying, be honest in your prayers. And that’s what Moses was doing. He offered honest prayer to God. It wasn’t an especially well-formed prayer. He was actually at the point of giving up. But God knew his need and met it. The key for us isn’t in offering up well-crafted prayers, just honest prayers. Sometimes you really need to complain to God, not about Him but to Him. 

We’re not done. We need to consider the problem behind the problem, the sin that lies behind and causes the people’s sin of complaining about God. This has to do with expectations. When life got hard, the people adopted the attitude, ‘We deserve better’. That’s the attitude of the world, the rabble. It was that expectation that led to their sinful complaining. That was the sin behind the sin.

Jesus had lots to say about what His disciples should expect. One example:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8.34-35

Jesus was being pretty clear here. But how do you deal with a life of self-denial and cross-bearing? How do you deal with a life of suffering loss for Jesus? It’s not by lusting after something and telling yourself, ‘if only I had that’. That’s what the people of Israel did. ‘If only we had some real food just like in the good old days in Egypt, then life would be good.’ Don’t fall into the ‘if only’ trap.

Instead, understand Jesus’ expectations of you. They include some hard things. The wise thing to do is to submit to His plan. And you can do that if you trust His wisdom. He really does know what He’s doing with your life. Remember that helpful question, ‘Do you trust Me now?’

But don’t stop with that. Look forward to our Promised Land, a new heaven and a new earth in the age to come. That’s where Jesus promises ‘fullness of joy’ and ‘pleasures forevermore’. That’s where we will be perfectly happy and completely satisfied. And that’s where we’re headed. Jesus promises. It’s just that we have to go through a difficult desert to get there.

But good things happen in the desert. It’s in the desert that our belief in the Gospel is refined and purified. It’s by those sometimes painful difficulties that our sinful expectations are exposed. And that’s good because then we can repent of them. And the result is no longer living for ourselves but for Him, no longer saving our lives but losing them for Him and for the Gospel, no longer vainly hoping for some ‘if only’ that never satisfies but being content with what’s going on because we trust Him.

So, let me encourage you. Let me encourage you to complain. Complaining is an important element of a Christian’s prayer life. Self-denial and cross-bearing is hard. Losing your life for Jesus’ sake hurts. Don’t opt for worldly solutions. Instead, complain. But don’t complain about Jesus and the purifying difficulties He brings into your life. Complain like Moses and the psalmists. Complain to Him. Have blunt and honest conversations with Him. Tell Him where you’re struggling and how hard it is. Tell Him! And do that so He can bless you with what you need. As you do that you will be able to continue through the desert, enduring to the end, until you make it to the Promised Land.

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