It is easy to grumble. I’ve not had a cold for ten years – until now. Surely that is worth some whining. I’m on my last course and feel burned out. Moan. A family member is not well. Sigh. Another one belongs to a cult and has been in it for fifty years. The list could go on. However, someone has suggested that complaining is one of the worst sins. Basically, it is saying to God that He has no power and doesn’t know what He is doing.
The people of God were standing at the edge of blessing, but refused to enter the promised land. The entire congregation cried and wept, and all of them grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation whined, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1–4)
This sounds like today’s grumblers who didn’t like yesterdays politicians, but they want them back because they don’t trust the new ones they voted in a few months ago. These are people who are never satisfied.
On the other hand, Joshua and Caleb, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
At that, the entire congregation wanted to stone them, but the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:6–12)
This is the part where the greatness of Moses comes out. He says to God, “Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:15–19)
God was pleased with Moses’ request, but declared that the grumblers would not reach the land He promised them, except Caleb and Joshua. He said, “But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.” (Numbers 14:28–33)
Then all those Moses sent to spy out the land and came back to make the entire congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— all these died by a plague. Only Joshua and Caleb remained alive. (Numbers 14:36–38)
I’m a detail person, but have learned this big picture: the overall plan of God can be stated as “Creation, Fall, Redemption.” As I read the Bible through each year, I’m starting to see this bigger picture rather than being caught up in the details. In the above OT reading, God had rescued His people from slavery, certainly a picture of our salvation from sin. Then, instead of being excited about new life in a new land, they wanted to go back to slavery.
It doesn’t make sense to me, but God understands. He says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:1–3)
In the big picture, they were just starting out in the chapter called redemption. History had a long way to go before arriving at the pivot point, the Cross of Jesus Christ. He was put there illegally, suffered incredibly, but by the plan of God, secured salvation and forgiveness for all willing to receive it.
But before that awful day ended, the Roman soldiers came to make sure those crucified were dead. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’” (John 19:33–37)
Reading the Bible with the God’s big picture in mind helps make sense of it. It also helps me see that new life is not terrifying, but exciting, and small bumps along the way are just that, small bumps, and not cause for complaining. I’m thankful that Jesus walked that way before me and stays with me as I stumble along behind Him. When I listen carefully, I hear Him say that I’ve nothing to whine about.