I’ve been reading through the book of Numbers recently and have been a little bit taken aback by the sheer quantity of grumbling that comes out of the Israelites’ mouths. It’s relentless. And they don’t stop even when their grumbling keeps them from entering the Promised Land. It just keeps coming. It made me wonder if there was something about the human heart that loves a good grumble. Then I took a look at myself. Hmm. So I thought it might be useful to have a think about what makes us grumble.
Remembering with rose-tinted glasses
The Israelites have an amazing knack of forgetting just how bad life was as slaves in Egypt. Exodus 1:13-14 tell us, “So they ruthlessly made the people work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service…”. When the Israelites look back in Numbers 11 they say “we remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, the garlic”. They make it sound like an episode of celebrity MasterChef! It’s easy to fall into the same trap of wistfully looking back to our pre-Christian days and wishing we could do whatever we want without having to take up our cross to follow Jesus, and to end up grumbling about life now.
Antidote: Get the Bible’s perspective on your life before Jesus saved you. Paul says in Titus 3:3 that “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another”. Keep reading that passage to find out what life now is about and you won’t look back with rose-tinted glasses again.
Forgetting God’s faithfulness
“Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here…?” cry the people of Israel in Numbers 20. How quickly they forget how much kindness God has shown to them in rescuing, redeeming, sanctifying and loving them. The sea has parted, manna and quail has descended, water has come from the rock and they are headed to a land flowing with milk and honey. How quickly they forget all God’s faithfulness in order to grumble at him. Could we do the same? Do we quietly accuse God of not giving us what we really need now?
Antidote: Remind yourself again and again of all that we have been saved for. We have been “blessed… in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). Jesus tells us that anyone who follows him will receive “a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30) and he says that he will be with us to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). Grumble after thinking about all that for a minute!
Fearing the future
Despite God’s promises of this land flowing with milk and honey, Israel can’t seem to trust God on that. “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?” (Num 14:3), they cry. It’s easy to do something similar. Can I really trust God for the future? Is it really worth living by faith? Wouldn’t it be easier to live for today and what I can see? How can I be sure of the amazing future that God promises? And the grumbling spills out.
Antidote: Remember that God has never failed to deliver on one of his promises yet (2 Cor 1:20) and that he has already begun the process of bringing in his new creation, in Christ (1 Cor 15:20-23) and in us: “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). The future is underway! It seems a little churlish to grumble in light of that.
This article was originally published here, on the blog of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London.