Monday, July 2, 2012
Do Not Grumble - Numbers 11:1
Numbers 11:1a, "The people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes [in the wilderness]."
The Old Testament people of God (Israel) were liberated and delivered through the glorious Exodus. From Exodus 19 to Numbers 10, God brought Israel to Mount Sinai to make the Mosaic Covenant. At the end of Numbers 10:11-36, God commanded Israel to move to another place in the Wilderness of Paran. However, in the first verse of the next chapter, the people of God begin complaining and go on later in the chapter wishing they were back in Egypt and not living by faith in God and his provision.
It is important to develop a rich background to the setting taking place in this text. Israel was freed from the bondage and slavery of Egypt. They were living in conditions entrenched with immorality, mysticism, idolatry. Their ruler (Pharaoh) was maniacal, prideful, and evil towards Israel. God (Yahweh) led them out of Egypt which was filled with unrighteousness, but with the full intentions of bringing them into the Promised Land that would one day be filled with righteousness. Yahweh rescued Israel from the hand of Pharaoh and destroyed the Egyptian enemy with his own hand (i.e. his mighty power). Although God completed these redemptive activities for his glory to be display among the nations, he convenantally did them for the Israelites - his chosen nation.
Therefore, what do you suppose was God's reaction to the grumbling of the Israelites after everything he has done for them?
Numbers 11:1b, "When the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp."
Beginning in the Exodus narrative, Yahweh manifested his presence with fire. It was to illuminate the "glory of the LORD" and to transcend his imminence among Israel (Ex. 16:7, 10; 24:16, 17; 40:34, 35; Lev. 9:6, 23; Num. 14:10, 21; 16:19, 42; 20:6). He manifested himself as a burning bush (Ex. 3:2), a pillar cloud of fire by night (Ex. 13:21), and a consuming fire at the tabernacle altar (Lev. 9:24; 10:2). Moses goes on to give God a title as a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; 9:3), and so do other authors later in the canon of Scripture (Isa. 33:14; Lam. 2:3; Heb. 12:29). This is very key to emphasize because it develops the theological principle in Numbers 11:1. God delights in providing for his people, but if or when someone disregards his provision and wants to determine their own, the LORD will let you know that you are about to journey on a path of destruction. Israel grumbled about what God said to do, resulting in public demonstration of judgment for rebellious actions.Thus, the fire was a means of displaying judgment and sovereign control. God wanted his people to know they were seriously out of line, and he was in control of their destiny to the Promised Land.
Think about this for a moment. The Old Testament people of God angered Yahweh. Scripture tells us that God is slow to anger, but this public disobedient behavior was defiance and directed to the LORD. Yahweh was deeply displeased with their grumbling because they did not stress any importance or worship pertaining to everything he had done for them. Yahweh was their true providential caregiver. They holstered their reverence, and began shooting complaints to God, mocking him as if he does not know what he is doing. This was shameful because Israel constantly asked for things throughout the Wilderness narrative. Israel cried out for food and water, and God provided for them. Israel cried out to Moses to intercede for them, and God answered their prayers. It is not surprising that God reacted this way towards his people because he needed to remind them he was "the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Ex. 34:6-8).
Dictionary.com explains the word grumble means to have "an expression of discontent, compliant, and unhappy murmur." However, the original language (Hebrew) makes it more clear coming from the transliterated verb 'anan which means to "complain with impiety [with the lack of respect and reverence to God]" (Strong's H596). Looking at this word in the original language truly makes this "grumbling" situation so much more defined because Israel was not just discontent with their living conditions and lifestyle in the Wilderness, they were blasphemously discontent with their living God and his provision.
This reminded me to not complain about where I am currently in my life. God has provided everything I need to enjoy life with my family and friends. Even though I wish I could have other things, I need to remember God has given the things to me for a reason. Numbers 11:1 simply encouraged me to not forsake all of the provision God has given to me. Today, I feel like I am in the Wilderness waiting to begin a new job that will take place in the Promised Land (while I wait to get a Bible Teacher position somewhere). I need to understand that even though I would like to have the luxurious provisions of Egypt (as the Israelites would of rather had than be stranded in the desert), I need to rely on what God provides for me right now in the Wilderness period I am experiencing. Indeed, Yahweh knows best. Therefore, I need to make sure I do not grumble and instead worship the Lord for all he has provided for and will provide for me in the future!
"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy." (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)