Why Is Grumbling So Evil To God?

The other day I was reading through Psalm 105 and Psalm 106. Using poetry sung in worship, they are the story of God’s redemptive work in choosing a people through whom he would save the world forever. This is the story of the Old Testament. And it all points to the coming of the ultimate Seed of Blessing through whom people of all nations of the earth will be redeemed and restored into a restored people on a restored earth (Gen 3:15; 12:1-3). Every Christian is living their lives within this ultimate story.

Psalms 105-106 chronicle both the fallen human side of this story—our unfaithfulness—AND God’s response in this story—“his steadfast love endures forever.”

Some key phrases that stuck out to me:

“They did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled…” (Psalms 106:7 ESV).

“Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold” (Psalms 106:12–13 TNIV).

“They exchanged their glorious God for an image…” (Psalms 106:20 TNIV).

“They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things…” (Psalms 106:21 ESV).

Then I read verses 24-26, and was struck by what I read:

“Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. So he swore to them with uplifted hand that he would make them fall in the wilderness.”

They grumbled. When you read of God’s response—“So he swore to them with uplifted hand that he would make them fall in the wilderness”—you would have expected their sin to be something much worse (at least to us). But grumbling?

Why is grumbling so evil to God?

To help us see how God sees our grumbling, we should go back further into the Old Testament, when Israel was being led out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land that God promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Over and over again we read of a people who were persistently grumbling against their leaders Moses and Aaron. They always seemed to find something new to grumble about. They always thought they knew better how things should be.

It seems like ever since there has been a gathering of God’s people (i.e., “the church”), there has also been grumbling against their leaders and their circumstances.

For example—

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Exodus 16:2 ESV).

But Moses was keen enough to know that their grumbling against him and Aaron was in reality a heart issue toward God—they were actually grumbling against God in their hearts even if not directly with their mouths.

“Moses said, ‘…the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD’” (Exodus 16:8 ESV).

Another example—

“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” (Numbers 11:1 TNIV).

Wait a minute! Here we see the same kind of severe response from God about which we read in Psalm 106:26. God’s “anger was aroused” because every time his people experienced hardship of some kind they responded by grumbling and complaining.

So I ask again—Why is grumbling so evil to God?

Another example—

“And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, “As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell”’” (Numbers 14:26–30 ESV).

And here again we see God’s most severe response resulting from the “wicked” grumbling of his people. Why? Because God sees all our grumbling as grumbling AGAINST HIM. We think we deserve better from him. We think we know better than him.

Whenever we grumble against those leading us in ministry or against our unwanted circumstances, we’re always coming from a place of having a prideful, hardened heart toward God’s sovereignty and will for our lives. Instead of appreciating the good things in our church and in our lives by God’s grace, we grumble that things are not perfect and we deserve better or know better how things should be. And in so doing, we’re actually telling God that WE know better than HE does how things should be. And he owes us more. We deserve more.

And that kind of thinking is the very opposite of the Gospel. Grumbling is the opposite of gratefulness. It’s the fruit of a hardened, proud heart toward God that has forgotten what grace really is and what we really deserve apart from his grace. And those who grumble most are those usually doing nothing, but remain on the outside as observers while others work hard to serve them. And observers always eventually become critics. Every church has these kinds of self-righteous critics, but every church would always be better without them. I’m thankful that The Crossing seems to have very few of them.

And when we read the New Testament, we are told that all the above verses should serve as a warning for us regarding our own temptation to grumble.

Speaking of the people of God in the verses above, the apostle Paul writes—

“And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.”

Wow! “Examples written down as warnings for us.” A grumbling heart is a sign for us to repent of our self-righteous pride and believe the gospel and be grateful and start serving rather than just observing.

So Paul writes to every Christian in Philippians 2:14 (TNIV)—
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”

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