I have an app that sends me verses and thought-provoking questions every couple of hours as a way to be constantly exposed to the Word of God throughout the day. One day, the app gave me the following verse and question:
The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? Numbers 11:4
Question: When is complaining productive?
I was so intrigued by the verse and the question that I decided to read the entire chapter. Numbers chapter 11 is a wild account of complaining. The first two accounts of complaining are from the Israelites on multiple occasions, and their complaints lead to an extremely exaggerated response from the Lord. The third account of complaining in the chapter is by Moses, but his complaint leads to a faithful response from the Lord. There are three major complaints with drastically different responses.
The events of Numbers 11 happened after the nation of Israel was liberated from Egyptian bondage by Moses. The Israelites are led to Mount Sinai where the Lord reveals His covenant to Moses which included the Ten Commandments, the instructions for building the Tabernacle, and everything else required of the people in order to be considered a holy nation. After the revelation of the law at Mount Sinai the Israelites begin their journey in the wilderness towards the promised land. Numbers 11 and the complaints of the Israelites documented take place before they reach the promised land and before they are cursed to wander the wilderness for 40 years.
1(First Part) Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; Numbers 11:1
The chapter begins by immediately letting us know what mindset the Israelites were in. Although the people had literally witnessed the great power of the Lord as he fantastically facilitated(directed) their exit from Egypt, the children of Israel seem to forget about everything He had done. That seems illogical right? They saw plagues come upon the Egyptians, they experienced the Passover, they saw a sea get parted, they saw a great fire from Heaven guard them, and they experienced so much on their journey, but they still forget. They still want more. That is why, the Lord’s response is justified.
The Lord’s Response
1(Second Part) and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out. Numbers 11:1-2
The Lord responds by reminding them of His power. Based on the verses it doesn’t seem like the Lord sends the fire against the people, but rather He sends the fire to consume the camp(material things). He reminds them that He has given and that He can take away. BUT the people do not turn to Him or even reflect on why He is sending the fire. They are still blinded, and they only turn to Moses (their manifestation of a savior) who prays to the Lord, which causes the fire to subside. Because they don’t repent or remember the Lord, their sinful mindset quickly returns, and they begin to complain again!
4 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” Numbers 11:4-6
The Lord’s Response
31 Now there went forth a wind from the Lord and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground. 32 The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. Numbers 11:31-33
Their next complaint is way out of line! They didn’t just forget about all the Lord had done to bring them out of Egypt. They lauded the living conditions (the food) that they had in Egypt, as if to say that the Lord should have left them there in bondage. Although food(manna) literally fell from Heaven every single day, they craved the meat that they once had when in bondage. They belittled the significance of what the Lord had done, and they belittled the significance of what He had promised to do. They lost both their faith and their hope, and the Lord didn’t like it at all! So He gave them what they wanted. He sent them quails to eat!
Now I did a little bit of research regarding the “measurements” that describe the amount of quails that the Lord sent, and it is astonishing. The verse claims the quails were “a day’s journey” all around the camp and about “two cubits” high.
A “day’s journey” is roughly equal to 20 miles…
“Two cubits” is equal to 3 feet…
“Ten Homers” is roughly equal 60 bushels.
So the Lord answered their prayer by showing the abundance of His provision. He gave them 20 miles of quails stacked to 3 feet above the ground(that’s crazy)! But what do they do? They immediately and greedily started gathering as many as they could, and the man that gathered the least amount had 60 bushels of quails. They offer no thanks to the Lord, and they are punished for the continued forgetfulness. The complaint of the israelites was selfish and served little to no purpose. God gave them more than they wanted, but they were so consumed by their own desire that they completely forget Him. So, He took it away.
10 Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? 12 Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ 14 I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. Numbers 11:10-14
The Lord’s Response
16 The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone. Numbers 11:16-17
Moses complains to the Lord about the burden of the Lord’s calling. He is overwhelmed by the task that the Lord calls him to do, and the Lord responds by giving him help. What a drastic difference from the complaint of the people and the Lord’s response to them.
When I began this chapter, I immediately realized that I have been blessed with so much in this life, but how often do I find something to complain about? After all the Lord has done for me and revealed to me, how could I complain about anything? I have literally witnessed His hand working in my life, but I still find the time to selfishly turn against Him. I am the same as the Israelites. I complain. I experience His consuming fire and his exaggerated permissive will, but I don’t want it to be that way. I want to see His true will come to pass as perfectly as possible. I want to pray for the strength to accomplish His will, and if I ever feel overwhelmed, I want my complaints to be requests. Requests for help as I work on this earth as a soldier of the Lord. I want my every thought and need and struggle to be for the glory and testimony of Jesus Christ.