Does anyone ever complain in your household or in your workplace? Do you ever complain? You know, as I thought about it, I think moms are the ones who have to deal with the most complaints. And I think it most often has a lot to do with food. So often this is how it goes: Mom works really hard after a long day of caring for the kids to get supper on the table. Then the first few bites are eaten, and here it goes: “I don’t like this! This isn’t good! Can I have something else?” And it really gets worse when Dad has the audacity to join in. Suddenly all that work that made that meal possible is negated by a collection of complaints.
The people of Israel had their fair share of complaints as they wandered in the wilderness after having been set free from slavery in Egypt. It had been over a year since their departure from slavery, and all the provisions they had brought with them had run out. Now they were left with the manna from heaven. Scripture tells us that the manna was like coriander seed and the people would gather it, grind it, boil it, make cakes out of it, and it tasted like cakes baked with oil. But as Veggie Tales says, it is a dish that is filling, but bland. Day in and day out, they ate the same thing. So they complained.
“And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Numbers 11:4-6).
At first, it is hard to imagine why these people would complain. After all, they had been slaves for 430 years, and now they were free. Who cares what is on the menu now? Then I am reminded of being in Kenya. One of the main dishes that is served in Kenya is ugali. Ugali has the appearance of mashed potatoes, but it is really only corn flower and water. It is very filling, but it is bland. For a Kenyan, it is what can be afforded day in and day out. For us spoiled Americans, if we aren’t careful, we complain.
We complain a lot, don’t we? What’s at the heart of a complaint? Why do we complain? Almost without fail, we complain because something isn’t going our way. The dictionary defines a complaint as “a statement that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable.” In essence, it is that I am forced to bear a burden that I just don’t want to bear.
Moses found himself in that position with the people of Israel. He would walk by the tents of the people, and without fail, they would be complaining. Ever been in a situation like that before, where it seems like everywhere you turn there is negativity? It can really bring a person down. And that’s the way it was for Moses. So what does he do? He complains. After all, as it so often goes, negativity breeds more negativity.
Listen once again to his complaint to the Lord: Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:11-15).
This is one down dude. He looks around him and sees 600,000 men, plus women and children, probably about two million people. He sees them all and thinks that it is his responsibility to care for all of them. Like several other prophets throughout the Old Testament, he wanted to die rather than put up with this grumbling bunch. For Moses, the burden was just too big.
Perhaps you can relate. I am well aware that we have a lot of people in this congregation going through very difficult circumstances. And I am also aware that there are many circumstances that I am not aware of that people are enduring. Life is hard. A lot of times it is because of the tangled web of sin we have woven for ourselves, and other times it is simply because we live in a sin-filled fallen world. Either way, life is tough going. So, it’s no wonder that we complain.
But as we look at our text, there is a stark difference with how the complaints are handled. The people of Israel sat around by their tents and complained among each other. We’ve been in those tents before, haven’t we? The dinner table. The office. One person starts griping, and before long, everyone’s grumbling away as if the sky were falling.
Then there is Moses. What does he do with his complaint? He took it to the Lord. Instead of complaining to Aaron or Joshua or anyone else, almost like a form of gossip, he takes his complaint to the only One who can do anything about it. He humbles himself by laying his burdens at the feet of the Lord in prayer, confidently trusting that he will be both heard and answered.
Now the answer he gets from God is not what he wanted. Remember, Moses wanted to die. Instead of death, he gets help. Help from 70 elders to help him carry the load of leadership among nearly two million of God’s people. Help that Moses rejoices in when Eldad and Medad start prophesying in the camp. What relief there must have been for Moses to see that the burden was no longer his to bear alone.
Then again, it was never his to bear alone. These were God’s people after all. He had set them free from slavery. He had saved them from the hands of the Egyptians by allowing them to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. And He had provided food to fall from heaven in the wilderness. It was all because of God. Moses was merely his instrument to carry out this task before them.
But that’s how it goes when we get to complaining, isn’t it? When we complain, we fail to see the countless ways our God continues to sustain us. We fail to see that “He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life. He defends us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” Instead of thanking and praising Him, serving and obeying Him, we complain.
So, the next time any of us are tempted to complain, follow the example of Moses and lay it all out at the feet of the Lord in prayer. After all, life isn’t easy. It’s a difficult world we live in, and there is a lot we can’t handle. I know a lot of people like to say that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Well, that’s not in God’s Word. God doesn’t not tempt us beyond our ability and He will provide a way of escape, but there is nothing that says He won’t give us more than He can handle. If anything, He constantly gives us more than we can handle, just like He did for Moses. And the result was that Moses leaned upon His Lord all the more.
It is as Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).
Though our God had every right to complain about us, to declare us unsatisfactory or unacceptable (as Webster defined a complaint)…though He had every right to complain about us, in love for us He invites us to turn our complaints into prayers. He invites us to cast our burdens upon Him because He cares for us.
Just like He was for Moses, He is here to help us. Now like Moses, that help may not come in the way we think it should go, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t help us. “He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children as their dear Father.”
We don’t have to fear going before the Lord with anything that weighs upon our hearts and minds, be it a complaint or anything else. After all, He is our omniscient God; He already knows everything anyway. So, why not lay it all out there before our God in the sure and certain confidence that He will answer us according to His will?
That’s how it was for Jesus too while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. If ever there was a man who had reason to complain, it was Jesus. Here He was being directed by His Father to be crucified for the sins of the whole world. Talk about a burden to bear. A burden He shares with His disciples in saying: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38-39). The Gospel of Luke also tells us: And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
And yet through all the sorrow and agony, He still submitted to the will of His Father. Even though it meant pain and suffering, He still pressed forward with fulfilling the will of the Father. He bore the burden of your sins and mine upon Calvary. And there upon the cross, He uttered the most heart-wrenching complaint that has ever been heard: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
It is a forsakenness that none of us can ever relate to, nor will we ever have to relate to. For when Jesus was forsaken on that cross for your sins and mine, He made sure that we never would be. We are forgiven. We are saved eternally. We will never have to be alone. And our prayers, complaints and all, will never be responded to in silence.
Now when our heavenly Father looks at us, He sees His beloved Son Jesus, and He delights in hearing our prayers, every last one of them. But consider this the next time complaints arise in your mind. Take a moment and think about and meditate about Jesus in that Garden of Gethsemane. Ponder those drops of sweat that were like blood pouring from His brow. Consider the agony that He endured. And then focus on His words of ‘not my will, but Thine be done.’ And watch and see how God turns your complaints into prayers of thanks and praise, for how God’s will was done for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.