The Tongue of the Wise - Spring 2013
May 5, 2013 :: Numbers 11:1-35
This message is called “Grumbling (Part Two)” following last week’s message not surprisingly called “Grumbling (Part One)” from Exodus 15 and 16.
And you might be wondering why we need a part two. Last week, we talked about grumbling (grumble, grumble, grumble) and murmuring (murmur, murmur, murmur), and we said a lot about it. Why do we need another message on grumbling?
Let me ask you a question. You listened to last week’s message on grumbling. Did you still grumble this week?
I know that I did. I caught myself faster. I repented faster. But I still did it.
And that was the case with Israel, too. Even though God had confronted their grumbling in Exodus 15 and 16, here they were in Numbers 11 doing it again.
What has happened between Exodus 16 and Numbers 11? A lot, really. They have marched from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai where God has graciously given them the Law and the Tabernacle. They have received the Holy Constitution of the Nation of Israel, and God Himself has moved into the middle of their camp. God took up residence in the big tent at the center of town and now lives among His people.
And they have numbered the people and gotten arranged by tribes with God at their center and prepared to triumphantly march to the Promised Land.
In the world of finance, a “Chapter 11" is a bankruptcy.
And that’s essentially what happens in Numbers chapter 11.
The people of Israel are shown to be spiritually bankrupt.
And it comes out in grumbling. It comes out in complaining.
Numbers chapter 11, verse 1.
“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah [BURNING], because fire from the LORD had burned among them.”
“Now the people complained.” It doesn’t sound that bad, does it?
I mean, we all complain. Every day, right?
It’s interesting that in the book of Numbers there are no complaints for the first 10 chapters. You might remember when we studied this book together years ago that the first 10 chapters of Number are very positive.
The Israelites didn’t complain for the first 10 chapters. No real hint of it. But here, three days into their journey, they complain.
It appears that they encountered some hardships. We’re not sure whether those were real or imagined hardships. But we do know that they complained about it “in the hearing of the LORD.” [Which, by the way, is wherever you are. He doesn’t miss a thing!]
V.1 “And when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”
So is complaining and grumbling a big deal or just a little one?
The Bible says that it “aroused” God’s anger. So much so that he set fire to the outskirts of the camp. We don’t know if that was just tents or people or what. But it was terrifying.
And the people cried out to Moses, and Moses called out to God, and God made the fire die down. So they named that place “Burning.”
Complaining (or grumbling or murmuring) is a big deal.
It’s a real bad sin.
We tend to downplay the sinfulness of complaining because we live with it all the time.
Most of us don’t even try to stop it.
I was explaining something to Marilynn in the office this week, and I had say, all of a sudden, “I’m sorry. I’m complaining. I’ll shut up now.” And I changed the subject.
Did you have a similar experience this week?
God takes grumbling, rebellious complaining, seriously.
And the Israelites found that out first hand.
Because (#1) GOD IS HOLY.
All sin is abhorrent to God. All sin is detestable in His sight.
And the sin of grumbling is no different.
It’s not an insignificant little trifle that God just overlooks.
God is holy. And He says to not grumble.
Grumbling arouses His wrath.
Ever think about it like that?
I often don’t. It’s easy for me to slip into complaining-mode. I did it many times over the last few months while working on the editing of my book.
But that doesn’t make it right.
We tend to think that grumbling is our right.
We don’t like something, so we have a right to complain.
But the problem with complaining is not just that God is holy, so we shouldn’t do it, but that (#2) GOD IS GENEROUS! So we shouldn’t do it!
We saw this last week. Israel had seen it again and again.
But when our hearts are not in the right place, we can’t see that.
That’s what happened to Israel at a place called “Kibroth Hattaavah.” Verse 4.
“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!”
The “rabble” here are the Gentiles who were attached to Israel and lived on the outskirts of the camp but had not fully assimilated to the people of Israel yet.
The “rabble” led the way in complaining. And notice where their complaining came from–cravings.
Complaining comes from craving. Note that down.
Complaining comes from craving. A craving is a desire that is out of whack.
Are desires bad? No.
Desires aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves. But when a desire becomes a need, becomes a demand, becomes something you can’t be happy without, it turns into a craving. And cravings lead to complaining.
What have you been craving recently that is leading to your complaining?
For the Israelites here, what they wanted so bad was meat to eat.
And it led to (v.4), “Wailing!” They were really yelling this one.
“If only we had meat to eat!” V.5
“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” Blech!
Notice how cravings distort the facts!
Just like last week, these guys have talked themselves into believing that they were living it up back in Egypt!
Yeah! Back when they were slaves making bricks without straw! That was the life!
But their cravings have made them forget how it really was.
And how generous God really is.
Catch this: They’re complaining about manna!
Last week we saw that manna was the answer to their grumbling. God was gracious and gave them daily bread. Now they are grumbling about that!
Verse 7 reminds us what manna is.
“The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a handmill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into cakes. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.”
Was manna good? You bet it was! The NIV for verse 8 doesn’t really get across the idea, “It tasted like something made with olive oil.” You know, that “something” there could be translated “pastry.” It tasted like a little pastry with olive oil.
It was mmm mmm good!
And it was free!
Did they have to work really hard to get it? No!
Just go out and pick it up. And we saw last week that they didn’t even have to pick it up on the Sabbath. They got a double dose the day before.
But here they are grumbling.
Bread from heaven! “The original Angel Food Cake!” (Iain Duguid, pg. 150)
And they’re complaining!
And you and I say, “How ridiculous.”
But how often do we do the exact same thing?
We look at the gifts God has generously given us, and we find something to complain about.
I remember about five or six years ago, we had to take Isaac to the ER because he was having trouble breathing.
He had a bad cold and cough that apparently had overwhelmed his lungs.
It was a little scary watching him suck in the air and have a hard time breathing.
The little guy got an x-ray, diodes stuck on him all over the place, oxygen coming into his nose, a little thingergigger on his thumb to give his vitals to the computer.
And he got over an hour’s worth of breathing treatments that night.
And then Isaac bounced back in a big way. We were really proud and happy for him!
And you know what I remember about that night, I missed my supper.
Just about as soon as Isaac seemed to be doing a lot better, I began to complain (inwardly) that I hadn’t been able to have my dinner.
There I was looking at my son who was breathing freely once more, and I’m giving thanks to God for it.
And in the same breath, I’m grumbling that my tummy is empty!
God is generous! Don’t grumble.
The editing process on my book has been stressful this Spring.
But what I should be thinking about is how I have the privilege of being published in the Fall!
It’s manna. And I am grumbling!
How about you? Have you been grumbling recently about manna?
What do you need to repent of and change?
Have you ever noticed that complaining is contagious?
If you are around complainers, chances are you’ll become a complainer, too.
Watch out who your friends are, including whom you listen to on Facebook or Google Plus or wherever. And what you “like.” Are you liking someone else’s grumbling? Are you sharing it? Are you passing it around?
On the other hand, when you’re around thankful, happy, content people, it’s a lot easier to be thankful and happy and content.
Well, the contagious disease of complaining had spread from the “rabble” to the families of Israel. Verse 10.
“Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent [what a pathetic image!]. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.”
Now, here’s where Moses goes wrong in this story.
I call this, “Moses’ Pity Party.” He starts grumbling, too. V.11
“He asked the LORD, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!' I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.’”
Did you notice how self-focused he is?
Complaining is all about me.
Me, me, me, me, me.
And look how generous God is to him! V.16
“The LORD said to Moses: ‘Bring me seventy of Israel's elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.”
God is so generous! Why would we ever grumble?
God knows what Moses needs. So He promises to lighten to load.
And at the same time, He is also just. Verse 18.
“Tell the people: 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!’ Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month–until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it–because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”
Notice that in God’s eyes, complaining amounts to rebellion. Look at verse 20 again.
“You have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”
Ultimately, complaining is rejecting the LORD. The King James Version says, “despised” here.
“You have despised the LORD.”
When we grumble, we put the LORD on trial (even when we aren’t thinking about the LORD!), and we’re saying that He is bad and something else that we want is better.
We are breaking covenant with Him!
“You have rejected the LORD.”
But does God break covenant with us? No. He’s faithful.
(#3) GOD IS FAITHFUL. Don’t grumble!
“You have rejected the LORD, who is among you,”
He’s right here being faithful. And you want to go back to Egypt?
Let me put this in stark terms. It’s like a former Christian saying, “Jesus, I don’t want your salvation any more. Thanks but no thanks for your Cross. I’m going back to my old way of life.”
Now, we don’t normally go that far with most of our complaining, but that kind of treachery is still inherent in each of our grumbles.
And it’s so sad because God is so faithful.
And here, Moses still doesn’t get it yet! He still focused on himself and comes out with another complaint. Verse 21.
“But Moses said, ‘Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, 'I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!' Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?’”
In other words, “How am I ever going to pull this one off? Why are you promising this. How am I ever going to pull that off. I can’t do it.”
And the LORD says, “You won’t, Moses you dummy. I’m going to do it!” V.23
“The LORD answered Moses, ‘Is the LORD's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.’”
I love that question. We need to remind ourselves of that question again and again and again. “Is the LORD’s arm too short?”
Is anything to difficult for the LORD?
No way! “He is able, more than able!”
(#4) GOD IS POWERFUL!
His arm is not too short.
Didn’t He do the 10 plagues against Pharoah?
Didn’t He part the Red Sea?
Didn’t He provide the manna?
Didn’t He give the water from the rock?
Didn’t He come down on Mount Sinai?
Didn’t He fill the Tabernacle with his glory?
“Is the LORD’s arm too short?”
Do you need to be asked that question today?
“Is the LORD’s arm too short?”
Maybe you’re going through something really difficult right now. Impossible.
God is the God of the impossible.
His arm is not too short.
Don’t give in to the temptation to whine and complain and focus on yourself.
Look up! See this God who is Holy, and Generous, and Faithful, and Powerful!
His arm is not too short to accomplish what concerns you today.
Don’t grumble. Trust.
Finally, Moses got the message. V.24
“So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.”
I’m not sure all of what was happening here, but it was transferring some of the Spirit’s power onto these elders to help Moses with the burden of leading the people. The prophesied in some way to indicate that the Spirit was on them in a special way.
And it happened in the camp, too. V.26
“However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but [for some reason] did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' aide since youth, spoke up and said, ‘Moses, my lord, stop them!’”
Joshua is concerned that there might be a power struggle.
But Moses doesn’t complain. Instead, he speaks in faith. V.29
“But Moses replied, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!’ Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.”
You see, Moses gets it now. God is powerful. God has more than enough Spirit to empower whomever He wants.
I think that the ultimate fulfillment of Moses’ wish happened at Pentecost when the Spirit came to indwell all believers the same!
God is Powerful.
But His power isn’t used willy-nilly. He isn’t moody and capricious.
(#5) GOD IS JUST.
He always does what is right. And His great power is always put to righteous use.
God is Just. And His justice is what we see in verse 31.
“Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day's walk in any direction.”
I call this, “A Quail Storm.” And it is the justice of God. V.32.
“All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. [Look at the footnote: “That is, probably about 60 bushels.” The people who gathered the least, picked up 60 bushels full of quail!] Then they spread them out all around the camp. But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. [Many died.] Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, [GRAVES OF CRAVING] because there they buried the people who had craved other food. From Kibroth Hattaavah the people traveled to Hazeroth and stayed there.”
God is Just.
Notice how the punishment fits the crime?
You want meat? You’ll get meat!
You reject me? I’ll give you what you want. It won’t be satisfying.
Call the place, “Dead Meat” if you want. “Graves of Craving.”
If we follow our deceptive cravings to their natural end, they will lead to death.
Only God is truly satisfying!
Sometimes, we might think that God is being too harsh.
But He’s not. He’s perfectly just.
Because God is Holy. His Anger Burns Against Complaining. It’s a terrible sin.
Because God is Generous. He gives good gifts to His people. Not what we say to ourselves in our deceitful cravings.
Because God is Faithful. He keeps His covenant. Even when we don’t!
Because God is Powerful. His arm is not too short! He has plenty of Spirit to go around!
Because God is Just. He does what is right all the time.
And one more.
Because God is Gracious.
You know why I say that?
Because this failure in the wilderness is not the end.
He was merciful all along. His fire ate up only the outskirts of the camp.
Moses wasn’t burnt to a crisp for his pity party.
God responded to the people’s prayers with mercy.
But one day, many years later, He sent His Son Jesus to do what we could not do on our own.
Jesus passed the test in His wilderness!
Jesus never complained.
Just think about that.
Jesus never sinned. So He never sinfully complained.
He never murmured or grumbled.
He never complained.
The Bible says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
And Jesus carried the full burden of the people.
Moses couldn’t handle it all and needed 70 helpers.
But Jesus took the whole burden on Himself and carried it to the Cross.
God is gracious. He sent His Son to do what we could not do.
I’ve said, “Don’t Grumble!” many times this week and last.
But it’s a lot easier to say than it is to do.
But Jesus did it. And He did for me and you.
On the Cross, Jesus took our place. He paid the penalty for my sinful grumbling.
And He gave me His perfect track record of thankful, contented speech.
And now, because of Jesus and His Cross, I can be thankful, and contented, too.
Because of His Spirit is resting on me (even though I’m not at the Tent of Meeting!), I can change into a contented, thankful man.
I can keep from grumbling because of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
If you belong to Jesus, you can too.
Messages in this Series:
1. The Fearsome Tongue
2. Sweet Words
3. Grumbling (Part One)