Not many of us realize the complaints which often come out of our mouths are big mistakes that can cause us “to be killed by God”. It may not be a real death, but at least we could experience bad luck, a not necessary one. Yes, we like to think that only real sins such as killing, robbing, raping, and all kinds of damaging others could bring bad consequences. We tend to forget that our complaints are also considered a sin by God, a thing which defiles us. Remember Jesus’ word in Matthew 15:11b ESV, what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV, Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. These things are what had happened a few verses before.
1 Corinthians 10:6-10 ESV, Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
So it is not only idolaters and immoral people which are hated by the Lord in the 5 verses above but also the attitude of the heart which likes to complain, grumble and murmur. All of these are putting God to the test. The word Destroyer at the end of verse 10 is the same word that refers to the angel of death who killed all the firstborn of the Egyptians when the final plague fell on them. We don’t want this, because of our complaints we could be visited by the same angel who killed the firstborn Egyptians.
Yes, those who are meant here are the Israelites which God brought out of Egypt to Canaan, the promised land. This is explained in verses 1-5, 1 Corinthians 10. It is true that God only needed 10 plagues to get the Israelites out of Egypt. But it took Him 40 years to get Egypt out of their hearts, and in the end, God killed them all in the wilderness (except Joshua and Caleb). 1 Corinthians 10: 5. Tragic indeed.
It is true that Jesus himself said what defiles us is not what enters our mouth, but what comes out of our mouth, Matthew 15:11. Many times we are busy maintaining our diet for a healthy body, but we forget that we often curse our life because we don’t watch our words that come out of our mouths. This is not just we have to stop the habit of swearing and always needing to say positive words, but it is a matter of how we keep our hearts right before Him.
Jeremiah 17:9-10, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Numbers 14:20-23 tells us what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 10. Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.
In verses 13-19, Moses tried to soften the heart of God who was angry against Israel in verses 11-12 because of the rebellion of the Israelites in verse 10. They wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb because only these two people still believed in God for the promised land, verses 5-9.
This rebellion began by the murmuring which came out of Numbers 14:1-2. Yes, they grumble after they heard the report of 10 spies of Israel in chapter 13 after they returned from spying on the land of Canaan. Maybe that’s why it is better for the spy business to remain a secret, especially from the general public.
Numbers 14:1-2 is their 10th complaint, as God said in verse 22, but has tested Me ten times … Look at the 10 lists here of their complaints.
FIRST, a wrong turn?
Exodus 14:10-12, When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Perhaps we can understand their fear when Pharaoh and his troops quickly approached the Israeli encampment which was now pinched to the shore of the Reed Sea. Yes, Israel had just left Egypt and was heading to the land of Canaan. And now they found themselves sandwiched between Pharaoh’s army on one side and the stretching shore of the Reed Sea on the other.
Yes, it is Reed Sea in Hebrew word, not the Red Sea as people believed nowadays.
The question is why they have to speak like this, verses 11-12.
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
Isn’t it a cry of “God help us!” enough? Verse 11-12 are really unnecessary!
Look at what actually happened in verse 1 of Exodus 14. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. Most likely what happened here was the Israelites did not understand that when they turned, they turned by God’s will as mentioned in this verse 1. So instead of going straight to the Negeb, south of Canaan and ascending north afterward like Abraham in Genesis 13 after he returned from Egypt, which is the shortest route, they turned by God’s will. God spoke to Moses only, not to all Israel directly. So their words in verses 11-12 were grumbling and complaining when they found they have to turn around and not getting out of Egypt directly.
What? Why turn? This is the wrong way, right? I thought he (Moses) heard God’s voice, how come he led us here instead? And all kinds of grumbling and other complaints.
Yes, it’s not easy to follow God’s guidance in this life. The path He has taken for us many times contradicts what we would think. We are always interested in arriving at our destination immediately, our focus is the end of the journey. We don’t want to waste time. But God is always more interested in each day of the journey, not the end. He is more focused on the process instead of the goal at the end.
Deuteronomy 8:2, And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. This is the summary of what happened since they left Egypt. The question is, will we humble ourselves, search our hearts? Our complaining and grumbling would show our real heart attitude which often rejects God’s process in our life.
If only Exodus 14: 1 had been made known to the Israelites before they actually turned the corner, this is our thought. Well, if they knew, would they comply? If we knew, would we obey His guidance? The fact is they would even quicker to rebel against God, especially because they think that turning is the wrong way! The more knowledge we have, the more rebellious we would be to Him.
When Job was tempted in chapter 1 starting from verse 13, he did not know there was a conversation between the LORD and the Devil in verses 6-12. Even the first 6 verses of chapter 2 tell us what Job didn’t know when his troubles got worse. We would think if only he had known. Once again, if Job knew, would he comply? If we knew, would we obey His guidance? Think about this.
When the Lord Jesus deliberately delayed His coming (John 11:6) after He heard His close friend was dying, He purposely left Mary and Martha in the dark, wondering what was going on. Yes, faith means trusting Him in a dark place. Because if everything is bright and clear, it’s no longer faith.
After all, would you like to experience being raised from the dead like Lazarus? Not only healed by Jesus. Would you like to receive double blessings like Job, or remain in just one blessing like before he was tempted? Would you like to walk through the dry seabed with the seawater as the wall to the left and right like the Israelites who experienced God’s mighty power? If so, shut up and stop complaining!. Go on and trust Him even though it feels like we are walking in the dark night! Remember, we don’t have to know everything first, that’s not faith. And don’t allow ourselves to stop the steps of faith we must take, only because we want an explanation first! Just do it! Great faith is born only through great struggle!
SECOND, bitter water?
Exodus 15:22-24, Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”
Complain again. Even though they had just experienced the awesomeness of God who brought them through the walls of water, the Reed Sea was split in two. Verse 21 earlier, now Miriam just finished praising God who saved them. Yes, a complaining heart is like this bitter spring, a bitter heart. Moses took a piece of wood and threw it into the water to make the water sweet, verse 25.
The Hebrew word used for this piece of wood does not refer to a tree branch, but more like a big log of wood. Like a tree itself, the trunk of a tree Moses used. It is like Jesus who carried the large beam of the cross towards Golgotha. On the Cross, God turns our bitter lives into sweet ones.
THIRD, hungry stomach?
Exodus 16:1-3, They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
In this chapter, we begin to find the manna, the bread that came down from Heaven, as the crowd said in John 6:31. It is interesting that as the Israelites we are so quick to boast about a great miracle like this, we forget that this happened not because of a great prayer that went up to God but because of the complaining of their own ancestors. And that pride will not change the wicked hearts they inherited from their complaining ancestors, this crowd also ended up leaving the Lord Jesus behind because they were offended by His strong Words! John 6:66.
Back to Deuteronomy 8:2, And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. Verse 3 said, And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
What our heart is and who we are is very real when our stomach is hungry. Many cannot even pretend to be calm, hiding their anger when they are hungry. It’s true, hungry is very close to angry.
Exodus 16:19-20, And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.
It is not stated whether they complained here or not. But their actions to not consume everything God had provided for them shows an attitude of heart that is not grateful for what they have received as God’s provision in the wilderness. Yes, our thanksgiving in prayer over meals is often just lip service. How our attitude towards food in front of us shows the true heart. I’m not saying that we should still finish our food even when we are full already. But many times we don’t want to understand how the situation and the process we are going through, we just always complain and expect to have more. We cannot be grateful for the present situation that we are going through. This attitude doesn’t show God is unable to take care of us, it shows how wicked our hearts are. Complaints always show our ugly inner face.
FIFTH, do not want to comply?
Exodus 16:27-30, On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.
What is happening here is that the Israelites were still rebelling against God’s commandments. They still went out on the 7th day to collect manna in the morning but got nothing. God Himself began to be annoyed with their attitude, How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?
When Israel first started complaining to God in Exodus 14:11, God was still able to tolerate it. But the Lord began to respond to the second complaint with a warning in verse 26 of Exodus 15, His words, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”
Here, on their 5th complaint, God was starting to really hate it.