There is no easy way to say it. Being around some people can be downright depressing. To listen to them speak is like reading from a book of complaints. They are often joyless, hardly ever satisfied, and their perspective on life is so skewed that their cup is always half-empty, never half-full. To tell them a cheerful “Good Morning” is to be met with an attitude that says “What is so good about it?” and to do them a favour is to be viewed with suspicion. Simply put, these people could wear out a saint.
At different times in its history, the nation of Israel was like that. In various portions of the Old Testament narratives we read of them “murmuring”, more accurately, “complaining” (e.g. Exodus 15:24; 16:2; 17:3, KJV). To complain is to express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something and the Israelites had become good at it. This despite obvious signs of God working miraculously in different situations on their behalf. According to the Psalmist, “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked Him at the sea, even at the Red sea. . . . Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea. . . . Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not His word: but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the LORD” (Psalm 106:7, 22, 24-25). Can you hear them? Murmuring and complaining had become so much a part of them that they no longer listened to the voice of the LORD. When our complaining is of such that we become deaf to what God is saying, that is dangerous ground to stand on.
The LORD was not amused. The narrative tells us, “And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD” so much so that “the LORD heard it; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1). It is worth noting the LORD’s initial response to the complaining: “And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD.” The Living Bible translation puts the verse this way, “The people were soon complaining about all their misfortunes, and the Lord heard them. His anger flared out against them because of their complaints, so the fire of the Lord began destroying those at the far end of the camp.” Their constant complaining provoked God to anger. These are sobering words we need to keep in mind the next time we are tempted to complain. For sure, things do not always go our way and at different times we have to face challenges, but let us not forget that God can and often use those situations to and for our benefit (Romans 8:28-29).
The Psalmist did hit the nail on the head. The early Israelites became chronic complainers because “they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies.” As it was with them, so it can be with us if we are not careful. Our state of unease is often caused by our inability or our refusal to remember what God has done for us in the past. If He provided before, He can do it again. If He healed before, He can heal again. If He made a way before, nothing can stop Him from doing it again. As Sovereign God, He controls everything; the very steps of the righteous are directed by Him (Psalm 37:23). When we realize that everything that touches our lives passes through His hands first, we are left with no choice but to trust Him that He knows what He is doing. Thou shalt not complain. The God we serve doesn’t like it.