Lessons from the Complainers

They moaned. They whined. They complained.

The Lord miraculously supplied the Israelites with manna in the wilderness–exactly enough for each day–yet they angrily pined for Egypt. (Numbers 11:1-6)

You know, because being a slave under harsh rulers was so much better than having every need met and every meal prepared by God Himself!

So Moses gently reminded them of how the Lord had so generously provided for them, and they repented and lived happily ever after.

Not exactly. Not even close. Moses actually ran to the Lord and spewed out his own complaints. He complained to God for putting him in charge of all those ungrateful complainers, even to the point of begging God to kill him! (Numbers 11:11-15)

Moses was completely overwhelmed. The people were begging for meat and he didn’t have any idea where to get meat for 600,000 of them.

Moses, of all people, should have known, right? But let’s not be too hard on him. Don’t you feel that way sometimes, too? That people (kids?) are coming at you from all directions wanting something from you that you can’t give them? That the Lord has simply put too difficult a burden on you? And don’t you sometimes forget that He is all powerful? That He can do anything?

Moses, like us, seemed to have developed a severe case of amnesia about all the times God had already shown Himself mighty. After all, Moses had witnessed God creating plague after plague in Egypt and showing sign after sign to Pharaoh, and holding back the waters of the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross over, and turning bitter water to sweet, and causing water to pour from a rock, and defeating the Amalekites, and descending in fire upon Mt. Sinai. Surely 600,000 meat servings would be a walk in the park…or sea.

But Moses forgot what God was capable of. So God questioned him regarding his lack of memory and belief:

The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited?
Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”
Numbers 11:23

I can almost hear Moses’ uh-oh.

Of course the Lord’s word would come true! And the people would get meat. Lots and lots of meat.

Now there went forth a wind from the Lord 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, all around the camp and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground.
Numbers 11:31

A day’s journey would have been about 24 miles. Imagine quail three feet deep for miles on either side of the camp!

God surely gave them in abundance what they asked for. Then they were overjoyed and fell on their faces before Him in thankfulness.

Not exactly. Yes, God gave them what they asked for, but no, they weren’t thankful. Instead, they scrambled around gathering up quail, their greed swallowing up their spiritual manners, and they forgot to even say thank you. (Numbers 11:32)

So God punished them:

While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed,
the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people,
and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague.
So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah
[lit. graves of lust],
because there they buried the people who had been greedy.
Numbers 11:33-34

There is a saying, “Be careful what you ask for.” The applicable lesson here is obvious. But I think there are some deeper lessons in this story, as well.

First, we can learn from the Israelite’s experience to recognize the blessings we have right now and be grateful instead of wishing for a previous circumstance. The only time it’s a good idea to look back and maybe wish for another time is if we find ourselves out of fellowship with the Lord. Sometimes we may need to remind ourselves of when we were in better shape spiritually and do the things again that we were doing then.

Also, we can learn that when God does miraculously supply us with what we need and want, not only should we be grateful, but we need to exercise restraint and not be greedy. I think now about the blessings I have personally received and whether I hold them loosely or hoard them in a tightly fisted hand. I hope it’s the former.

From Moses’ experience, we can learn to remember. Remember how God has provided for and sustained us. That He will do so again and again because He loves us and there’s nothing He can’t do.

Above all, we can learn from this story to trust the God who created us to care for us appropriately. He not only knows what we need, He also owns everything, and He has the power to supply our every need.

We can remind ourselves of these truths by asking ourselves what the Lord asked Moses:

Is the Lord’s power limited?

Janice Powell 2014

Scripture taken from the NASB.

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