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In the Wilderness: Grumbling in the Journey

In the Wilderness  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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When we grumble about our circumstances we under-value what god has given us.

Text: Numbers10:33-11:15
Theme: When we grumble about our circumstances we under-value what god has given us.
Date: 02/16/2020 Title: InTheWilderness-05.wpd No:
In his letter to the Christians at Philippi the Apostle Paul instructs them; “Do all things without grumbling ... ,” (Philippians 2:14, ESV). The Greek affords no wiggle room. All things means all things. So we’ve all got to stop complaining about our Missouri weather? Well there goes 65% of our regular conversation! Paul is being straight-forward with us—God’s people are not to be a bunch of whiners! ‘Grumbling’ in this verse is a word that refers to indistinct guttural sounds of muttering or murmuring. It’s the sound your kid makes when you say, “Clear the dishes and take a bath before you watch TV.” The word the Apostle uses does not forbid lodging a respectful, reasoned argument of constructive criticism or appealing to authority. Rather the word ‘grumbling’ refers to spewing discontent and malcontent from a fomenting heart of dissatisfaction. In other words, grumbling is a heart problem!
It’s what we find Israel doing in this incident. Last Sunday we looked at God’s Guidance in the Journey. This morning I want to look at our Grumbling in the Journey.


1. the 11th chapter of the Book of Numbers is a reminder of why we need to count our blessings rather than list our misfortunes
a. Israel has been camped at the foot of Mount Sinai for a year
1) between their exit from Egypt and their arrival at Sinai they saw the power of God manifested in the plagues He poured out on Pharaoh and Egypt
2) between their exit from Egypt and their arrival at Sinai they witnessed the protection of God as He placed His Shekinah in between the fleeing Hebrews and the pursuing Egyptians
3) between their exit from Egypt and their arrival at Sinai they experienced the provision of God when, with every morning’s dew, the manna came
b. god has supernaturally guided, provided for, and protected Israel
“And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. 35 And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it rested, he said, “Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”” (Numbers 10:34–36, ESV)
2. but Israel is displeased with God’s leadership
a. god has supernaturally guided, provided for, and protected Israel, but when He doesn’t give them everything they think they’re entitled to they throw a little hissy-fit
“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, ... .” (Numbers 11:1, NIV84)


1. the people of Israel complain about two issues
a. they complain about what they have, and they complain about what they don’t have
1) that’s pretty all-encompassing, isn’t it?
2. 1st, they complain about what they have
a. they have hardship and trials (awe ... the poor snowflakes!)
1) the land they are traveling through is a hard land with difficult terrain
2) the geography of the Sinai is less than hospitable
ILLUS. To this day the whole area is still referred to as “Badiet et Tih” —The Desert of Wandering. It’s a vast open plain of sand and gravel, and is nearly waterless.
3) if God had not miraculously provided for the people they would have surely died (as on several occasions they are convinced they will)
3. 2nd, they complain about what they don’t have
a. they don’t have a variety of appetizing food
“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”” (Numbers 11:4–6, NIV84)
1) in vs. 6 we’re told that the sight of the miraculous manna actually makes they lose their appetites
2) translation? “If I have to eat this manna one more time, I’m gonna barf!”
4. they’re grumbling about what had come their way, and about what had not come their way
a. they’re complaining about what they had been given, and about what they had not been given ... about what had been dealt to them and what had been denied to them
b. grumbling is one of those sins that we universally dislike when we see it in others, but which we believe is thoroughly justified when we do it


“So they set out from the mountain of the LORD and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest.” (Numbers 10:33, NIV84)
1. how long have they been on their trek toward the land that flows with milk and honey?
a. three days! ... only three days for grace to turn into grumbling!
1) the Hebrews have been in Egypt 430 years—most of that time as slaves
“Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them. 8 Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” 11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.” (Exodus 1:6–11, NIV84)
2) the Book of Exodus tells us their labor was harsh and their lives were made bitter—the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly ... this is slave labor at its worst
3) and when the Hebrew population continued to increase the Egyptians passed infanticide laws—all male Hebrew children were to be killed immediately after birth
4) the Israelites groaned in their slavery, and cried out for deliverance
b. and you know the story ... God hears their cries, and raises up a deliverer ... his name is Moses
1) Yahweh—the One and True God—works signs and wonders and the congregation of Israel leaves Egypt as free people to spend the next year with God at Sinai
2. now the time has come for Israel to leave Sinai and head toward the Promised Land, and just three days into what is normally an eleven-day journey, they are ready to call it quits!
a. how impatient God’s people are with the Father’s timetable for their lives
3. are you impatient in the journey in the Christian life?
a. do you grumble when life become the least bit hard?
b. do you grumble because you don’t thing God has give you all that you believer you’re entitled to?
4. When We Grumble about Our Circumstances We Deny God’s Providence


“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!” (Numbers 11:4, NIV84)
1. vs. 4 begs the question, “Just who is the ‘rabble’ that Moses is referring to?”
a. in the Book of Exodus (12:38) we’re told that a mixed multitude came out of Egypt with the Hebrews
1) these are non-Israelites who have joined the Exodus
2) these are other ethnicities, other nationalities who have also been slaves in Egypt, and who see an opportunity to escape their slavery, and find it easy to blend in with 2.5 million Hebrews who are fleeing the country
3) they have few, if any, ties to the Hebrews, and no allegiance to the Hebrew God
4) though they’ve come out with Israel, after a year in the wilderness, it is pretty clear that their hearts were still in Egypt
a) instead of remembering God’s promises to Israel, they remembered the pleasures of Egypt
b. it’s this rabble who evidently become the ring leaders of discontent


1. first, the grumbling begins with the rabble—the rabble with them began to crave other food ... “
a. the word rendered crave in most modern bible translations in the Hebrew literally means lusted a lust and describes the intensity of their cravings
ILLUS. This is no fleeting thought, “Oh, doesn’t a juicy Ribeye sound good right now?” This is a persistent, all-consuming desire.
b. soon, the Israelites chime in
1) cucumbers, and melons, leeks, and onions, garlic and fish have become idolatrous images dancing around in their minds
2) “If only we had ... “ is their cry
c. soon the entire camp has become one long continuous wail
“Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” (Numbers 11:10, NIV84)
1) vs. 10 says that every family is sitting on their doorstep (or I suppose under their tent awning) bemoaning the monotony of their diet
2. the negative influence of a few has affected the entire congregation of Israel
a. instead of appreciating divine sustenance, they bemoan it and the dissatisfaction spreads


1. think about it ... these people are reminiscing about how good they had it back in Egypt ... when they were slaves
a. they tell each other “Remember when we ate the fish and vegetables of Egypt at no cost?”
1) no cost? ... let that sink in for a moment ... these folks were slaves ... they didn’t receive anything free
2) anything they got from the Egyptians was at the cost of their sweat and blood ... at the cost of their liberty and lives ... at the cost of their own sons
b. memory can be selective
2. are you appreciate of the things God has provided?
a. or do you regularly complain to others about your lot in life, attempting to draw them into your misery?
3. When We Grumble about Our Circumstances We Can Spread ‘A Spirit of Complaint’ to Others


1. vs. 10 tells us that the people are weeping with self-pity
a. Moses looks at this and is grieved, and deeply discouraged by what he sees and hears
b. God, on the other hand, is angered
1) He’s not angry because He’s impatient
2) He’s not angry because He’s unsympathetic
c. God is angry because of their sin ... because it’s not where they are that’s the problem, it’s how they have reacted to where they are
2. in essence, the people of Israel are envying their former lives as slaves
a. several modern translations render Numbers 11:6 as But now we have lost our appetite ...
1) but the Hebrew translates out as our souls are dried up
2) their misery goes deeper than merely a longing for a more varied diet
b. their envious of their life back in Egypt
1) envy is a condition that deeply poisons us and makes us unable to enjoy what’s in front of us
2) unable to sit down and live in the moment and rejoice in what they have, they find fault with what they have, and wail, “This isn’t enough. This isn’t good enough. I deserve better. In fact, I had it better back in Egypt!”
ILLUS Lest you think, “Oh, that’s just those silly, sinful Hebrews,” listen to this: “for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; ... .” (2 Timothy 4:10, NASB95). Think of all the people you know who once professed faith in Christ, but who have deserted him and his Church to go back to the world.
3. envy is the attitude of heart that says, “Back there, over there, out there I could be happy, but what I have right now is not good enough. Look at the flaws. Look what’s wrong with it. Over there: If I had that condition, if I had that situation I could be happy. Back there: I could be happy if things were like they used to be. Out there: If only things could happen in this way, but right now, the way it is right now, it’s not good enough.”
ILLUS. Way back in 1995, John Tierney—then a New York Times columnist—wrote a piece entitled “Picky, Picky, Picky.” He was specifically targeting New Yorkers, but his criticism describes Americans across a broad spectrum. He says we all have what he calls an internal Flaw-O-Matic meter. The innate ability to focus on the flaws, to focus on the faults, and to focus on what’s wrong with others, and what’s wrong with the world around us.
a. doesn’t this describe many of us to one degree or another?
1) the question is, Why?
b. it’s often envy, it’s looking at our lives and concluding, “It’s just not enough. I need something more. I DESERVE something more. My life would be better if ...“
4. do you see how that attitude under-values what God has given you?
ILLUS. Let me show you just how powerful envy can be. The ultimate example of it is the Garden of Eden. Here are Adam and Eve; they’re in Paradise! It’s a perfect place. There’s no death. There’s no disease. There’s nothing wrong. Everything is perfect. They fellowship with God is unfettered. And yet, through the Serpent, the question comes to them, “Are you able to do anything you want?” “No,” they say, “not anything. We’re not allowed to eat from that tree. We can do anything else. We can eat anything else, but not that tree.” Here comes the Serpent’s reply, “I’ll bet it’s the best one. I’ll bet it’s better than all the other trees put together.” And suddenly their Flaw-O-Matic says, “All that God has provided for us, just ain’t good enough. We deserve more, and God is less than generous if He doesn’t give it to us.”
a. spurred on by the rabble, Israel has become cynical, and bitter, and resentful because—and here is the central truth—they’ve stopped trusting God even though He has continually come through for them
b. that’s what is so sad about this episode, and why God become so angry with the people of Israel
5. God’s provision is always enough
a. there’s an interesting comment by God in Deuteronomy 8:4 where, referring to Israel’s time in the wilderness, God says, “ ... and your feet did not swell during these forty years.”
b. OK, so that’s nice ... what does it mean?
ILLUS. If you don’t know what’s going on in Numbers chapter eleven, and if you don’t know a little bit about biology and anatomy and physiology, Deuteronomy 8:4 won’t make sense to you. Your feet swell up when you don’t have the proper nutrients. Scurvy, for example, made your feet swell. You didn’t have enough Vitamin C.
c. Deuteronomy 8:4 is God telling Israel, “In spite of what you have said, the manna was enough. You didn’t think it was enough, but it was. I fed you on manna. It had every nutrient you needed. It had all the vitamins you needed. It had everything you needed.”
6. When We Grumble about Our Circumstances We Under-value What God Has Given us



“But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:6–8, NIV84)
1. do you count our blessings rather than listing our misfortunes?
a. what is your “contentment level”?
1) does it take a “lot of stuff” for you to be content?
2) do you have to have the “best of stuff” to be content?
3) or are you more like the Apostle Paul—if you have food and clothing, and let’s throw in a roof over your head, is there a contentedness in those things?
b. if the Apostle were with us today, I’m sure he would tell us, “It is right and good to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are.”
1) contentment refers to a feeling of being satisfied with what you have in life
2) it doesn’t mean simply giving up and saying “Well, I guess this is my lot in life. There’s not anything I can do about it.”
3) contentment goes much deeper and its much more positive than merely surrendering to fate
c. biblical contentment is not obsessing about having more, but being secure in what you have today, even if it’s not everything you want
d. unfortunately, worldliness with discontentment is the scourge of our culture
ILLUS. The average American is exposed to hundreds of advertisements a day that all promise happiness and fulfillment: “If you just had that new exercise machine, you’d have “abs” like him or buns like her. If you just had those new titanium clubs, you’d hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods. I you just had the right tan, or the right makeup, or the right cloths ... “
2. one of the points of these chapters in the Book of Number is, “The provision of the Lord should be enough for God’s people.”
a. learning to be content does not mean we have to give up our ambitions, but our ambitions come under the Lordship of God
3. do you trust God to provide?
“”Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25–33, NIV84)
a. and when God does provide, are you content with what He provides?


1. one of the questions we need to consider this morning is this, “Is it always wrong to grumble, to complain about what might be going on in your life?”
a. I ask that because if you regularly read the Psalms you can’t help but see that King David regularly offers up complaints to God
1) in fact, we call them the Complaint Psalms or Psalms of Lament
ILLUS. The 44th Psalm is an example. In the first eight verses David extols God for His past efforts of Israel’s behalf. They’ve heard the stories of how He drove the nations out, and gave Israel victory after victory. It was not their military prowess that won the day, but His might. They even boasted about the greatness of their God. Then we arrive at verse nine of the psalm; “But now ... “ Suddenly there is defeat after defeat, Israel is retreating before its enemies. The psalmist accuses God of selling his people into slavery and crushing them. David concludes, telling God “All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant.” (Psalm 44:17, NIV84)
2. why is David’s grumbling OK, but Israel’s grumbling in the desert not OK?
a. David’s grumbling is brought to God—the only One who can do anything about it
1) David’s grumbling—his lament—is in the context of worship and loving trust of God, and turning to God
b. in Numbers, chapter 11 Israel is not complaining to the Lord, their complaining about the Lord
ILLUS. Think about it this way; if your child comes to you with a hurt or a heart-concern, about something you’ve said to them or a punishment you’ve administered to them, and they say, “Mom, I don’t think you have been fair with me,” that’s something you can discuss and work through with your child. But mom, what if you discover that your child has been texting all his or her friends on Facebook, and complaining to them about how unfair you’ve been, and how you’re not treating them right, and what a cruel mother you are. Your reaction is, I’m assuming, going to be a little different!
c. and so it is with God
1) the Father wants His people to come to Him, and pour out our griefs, and our cares to Him, not to complain about Him to one another
3. our complaining spirit is never merely a personal issue—it can have devastating effects on the people of God
a. as Christians, nothing in our private world is inconsequential for the health and well-being of the whole congregation
1) it can take only a handful of complaining people in a local church to have grave spiritual affects on the rest of the congregation and the leadership of a church
b. on the other hand, every battle you successfully fight, every temptation you fend off, every trust you render to the Lord in the midst of your circumstances has a dividend to the faith-life of the congregation
c. we need one another, and, therefore, when we give way to a spirit of complaint rather than to live out of a spirit of trust, there are consequences for the whole church
In 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul tells the Christians in the church at Corinth, “You need to learn from this story.” May we all learn from the life of Matthew Henry. ILLUS. The 19th Presbyterian Minister and Bible commentator Matthew Henry, after being robbed by highwaymen during a trip, wrote this in his diary: Let me by content in the event of the day ...
First because I was never robbed before
Second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life
Third, because although they took my all, it was not much
Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
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