Is Grumbling That Big Of A Deal?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading through the Old Testament lately and I’ve been struck by a consistent theme that is present in both the Israelites and myself: grumbling. A lot of times grumbling doesn’t seem like much of a sin at all. And if there were ever such a thing as “respectable sins,” I’m sure that grumbling would be on my list. Respectable sins are sins that are so common in both our personal lives and the wider culture that they seem unavoidable. In addition these so called “respectable sins” don’t appear to do anyone much harm.

I’ve been more than a little convicted by both the pervasiveness of grumbling and the seriousness with which the Bible treats it. Here are a few of my observations.

1. All grumbling is against God. After the Israelites had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, they immediately began to grumble against their leaders, Moses and Aaron, becaue of a lack of food (Exodus 16:2). But just a few verses later the people are warned that, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord” (16:8).

We think that our grumbling is against people or circumstances but these verses teaches us that all our grumbling is truly against God. That’s because God in his sovereignty is the one who placed people in our life and placed us in particular circumstances. So when we complain and grumble we are really grumbling against God’s provision. In effect we are saying, “God, I don’t like what you gave me. I deserve better.”

2. Grumbling makes you stupid. You might recall that in Egypt the Israelites led a pretty miserable life. As slaves of Pharoah they were given unrealistic demands for their work and then beaten when they failed to meet those demands (Exodus 5). God responded to their cries for mercy by delivering them from their bondage. But at the first sign of difficulty the people dreamed up some crazy story about how good they had it in Egypt: “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted…” (Exodus 16:3).

Really? God delivered his people from misery and promises to take them to a land flowing with milk and honey, but they complain that they have somehow been mistreated. That’s what I mean when I say that sin makes you stupid. Sin makes you see wretchedness as attractive while ignoring what will really satisfy your heart.

3. Grumbling can be rooted in envy. Once a person starts grumbling about what he has been given (or not given), then he begins to see every other person as having a better life. And he expects to be compensated for his great suffering. Much grumbling is the result of comparing ourselves to others. That was the case in Numbers 12:2 when Miriam and Aaron were upset that Moses was getting more attention than they were.

Have you ever noticed that when it comes to playing the comparison game, we often only compare ourselves to people who in our opinion have it better than we do?

4. Grumbling is very serious. It isn’t a “respectable sin” at all. Paul writes, “And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:10). Like every other sin, grumbling incurs God’s judgment. But what’s significant about this passage is that Paul puts grumbling in the same list as idolatry, sexual immorality, and testing the Lord. Do we see it as seriously as God does?

5. Grumbling affects leaders. On another occassion the Israelites were grumbling about the food that God had provided them. This time they wanted meat instead of manna. Numbers 11 tells us that the people’s grumbling about food that God had given them led to Moses grumbling about the people that God had given him. Kent Hughes points out that in the original Hebrew Moses’ complaint (11:11:15) is filled with 20 self-references. That’s not a coincidence. Grumbling is the result of self-focus along with thinking too highly of oneself. It’s the attitude of “I deserve better.”

We need a better prophet.
As a prophet Moses was supposed to intercede for the people before God not turn on them and complain about them. The problem of course is that Moses was a sinful person like the rest of us. We need a prophet without sin so that he can intercede for us before God (Hebrews 7:25). We need a prophet who himself never grumbled (Hebrews 2:15). Of course that prophet is Jesus. He is greater than Moses in every way. He delivered us from sin and empowers us so that we might live a life of thankfulness and contentment.

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