Read Numbers 11, Isaiah 36, and Proverbs 12:1-14 today. This devotional is about Numbers 11.
EVERYBODY had something to complain about in Numbers 11:
- The people of Israel complained about how hard it was living in the desert (11:1)
- They also complained about the food that God graciously, faithfully, and miraculously provided for them (vv. 4-9).
- Moses complained to God about what a burden it was to lead God’s people (vv. 10-15).
- Even God himself had complaints, both with the ungratefulness of the people (vv. 1b-3) and also with the unbelief of Moses (v. 23).
There are legitimate complaints, of course. God certainly had legitimate reasons to complain. But let’s consider the roots of illegitimate–that is, sinful–complaining. What causes it? This chapter reveals some common causes such as:
- Discouragement. Verse 1 says the people “complained about their hardships….” Often our complaining is really a symptom of discouragement about our lives in other areas.
- Entitlement. This is the attitude that says, “I deserve better.” Verses 4-6 reflect this. The people completely ignored the fact that they were slaves in Egypt. “At least the food was good,” they said. Their diet in captivity caused them to feel that they should always eat that way, even on a long trip to a home where better food (“flowing with milk and honey”) was waiting for them.
- Nostalgia: The people remembered the past fondly (v. 5a). They conveniently forgot that things “cost nothing” (v. 5b) because they were slaves.
- Unthankfulness: God provided food for them and made it easy (vv. 8-9). He had liberated them from slavery in Egypt was taking them to a promised land. Yet they were so obsessed with their desire for variety that they felt no gratitude for God’s daily provisions.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
If you are a leader, people will complain to you. So how do you deal with complainers and complaining?
- Pray for the complainers (v. 2). Admittedly, Moses’s prayer here was for the end of God’s judgment but praying for complainers–preferably before God punishes them for complaining–seems like a very good strategy to me.
- Pray for the needs you see but cannot meet (vv. 10-15). The burden of leading God’s people and providing for them was too much for Moses. Instead of complaining to his wife or his brother or Joshua, he took his burden to the Lord. Again, a good strategy.
- Pray for God to empower the leaders you already have. God told Moses in verses 14-16 that he would provide help for the leadership burden. But notice that the help God provided came from “Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people” (v. 16). The leadership Moses needed was already waiting for him. All they needed was God’s power (vv. 17b, 28-29).
God did punish some of the people for their complaining but he was mostly patient in this passage. He was patient with Moses’ unbelief and provided the month’s worth of meat that he had promised (vv. 18-19, 31) even though Moses threw a fit when God made the promise, as if God would require Moses to do something that only God himself could do (vv. 21-23). He also provided the elders of Israel to share the leadership load with Moses (vv. 24-29).
Complaining comes so naturally to us, doesn’t it?
And why do we complain? Because we think we deserve better—a better job, a happier life, a better spouse, more obedient children—whatever.
Complaining is a symptom of an entitled heart; it demonstrates a heart that envies others, that lusts after things God has not willed for us. It rises from a mind that is focused on what we don’t have but think we deserve instead of seeing all that God has already faithfully given to us.
Instead of complaining, let’s learn to ask God for the things that we want and need in life (see James 4:1-3) and to be thankful for all that God has done for us (Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18).