If you are trying to read through the Bible this year there is a good chance you have recently finished the book of Exodus, are in the middle of it now, or will soon be starting it (depending on what kind of plan you use). When you read through the account of God’s redeeming the Israelites from Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land (primarily in Exodus and Numbers), it is hard to miss how often the Israelites grumbled and complained against God.
The Israelites were rebuked several times for complaining during the Exodus. They cried out to God to be released from their slavery in Egypt and God moved miraculously through the plagues to not only get them out of Egypt but to plunder the Egyptians as they leave. But almost as soon as they reach the Red Sea they begin to complain that it would be better if they had never left. Then just a few days after God miraculously takes them through the Red Sea and destroys Pharaoh’s army, they are complaining that they have no water. God miraculously provides water for them, and they begin to complain that they have no food. And after God miraculously provides manna for years, they complain that they don’t have meat. Then they complain that they won’t be able to enter the land because of giants. And on and on.
In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul commands believers not to grumble or argue/dispute, and he references the Israelites as an example of failure in that regard. As you read through Exodus and Numbers, it is easy to see why.
But our culture is as bad as the Israelites if not worse when it comes to grumbling. We complain constantly, and many of our complaints are so minor that we’ve created a category to show how insignificant most of our complaints are—First World Problems
- “I thought the seat next to me on the plane would be empty but at the last minute some big guy sat next to me and I could barely use my armrest for the hour-long flight.”
- “The charging cable for my phone is too short for me to comfortably use it in my bed while it’s plugged in.”
- “I’m tired of eating at all the restaurants around my work.”
- “The wifi at my favorite coffee shop is way too slow.”
- “My cell phone plan is making me wait 3 more months until I can get a new phone.”
- “Since I got this new credit card I have to go back and change the card on all my online shopping accounts.”
- “My diamond earrings keep scratching my iphone.”
- “Someone didn’t refill the Brita pitcher and now I have to wait 30 seconds for water.”
- “The Amazon item I purchased from across the globe doesn’t include overnight delivery. I’m going to have to wait at least two days for it to be delivered to my front door.”
We grumble about being stuck in traffic, about how poorly our boss treats us, about having to finish difficult assignments, about the weather being cold (or hot, depending on what season it is), and a host of similar problems.
Now, when we stop to consider it, most of us can recognize that the scenarios I’ve described above are not that consequential. But there are times we think we have a right to complain, because of how terrible things are.
But think about the Israelites again: they were condemned for complaining about rather challenging circumstances. They complained as the Egyptian army was coming after them to kill them, or about having no water for days. They weren’t complaining because they didn’t like the food for one meal, but because they had nothing to eat, or had to eat the exact same food every day for years.
Paul does not offer us exceptions: we are to “do everything without grumbling or arguing.” As you read through the accounts of the Israelites this year, don’t marvel at how often they failed at this. Marvel at how much worse we are at grumbling, when we have received an even greater work of redemption than they had.