Grumbling in the Desert of Sin
Complaining is a terrible habit, but many spend a good bit of conversation doing it. Stephanie Vozza writes, “A half hour of complaining every day physically damages a person’s brain, according to research from Stanford University. …Over time, complaining becomes a habit. If you’re surrounded by complainers, then you’re more likely become one.” It’s unlikely that we realize how much we complain. There’s even a Complaint/Restraint project where those who commit to try it will not complain during February. Katherine Elon article: “Effectively Stop Complaining in Seven Easy Steps”, but they don’t seem that easy to me!
The Bible addresses the bad habit of complaining!
John 6:43 (NRSV) “Jesus answered them, Do not complain among yourselves….”
Philippians 2:14 “Do everything without grumbling or arguing…”
James 5:9 (CEB) Don’t complain about each other, brothers and sisters, so that you won’t be judged…
Israelites had been set free from 400 years under harsh Egyptian slavery. They witnessed the plagues of God. They followed the pillar of cloud and fire. They walked across dry land as the Red Sea parted. Even so… They grumbled to God when challenges came. We should remember that they were afraid for their lives. They remembered a time when they had plenty to eat. It would be hard not to look at Moses and Aaron and wonder what have they done to you! This is not just a story about Israel Grumbling in the Desert of Sin! There’s a word for us in here as well. What happens when we fall into the habit of grumbling?
1. We Forget That God Has Provided What We Need (1-3)
Exodus 16:1-3 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
The need on their mind is food – something they seem to remember having plenty of back in Egypt. It’s possible they have the ‘Good Ole Days’ syndrome. What had they forgotten about life back in Egypt? The intensified harsh treatment of their own people. The exaggerated expectations of the workload. The fear of losing their lives unjustly. All they can remember now is having plenty to eat.
God the Provider …Provided exactly what they needed. Not extravagantly, but sufficiently. How often do we mix up our “needs” and our “wants”.
Give thanks for the many ways that God has provided! One moment we feel like super heroes of faith, but let an unmet need come along and suddenly we think God has left the building. Grumbling blinds us to the fact that God has provided. When we fall into the habit of grumbling…
2. We Ignore the Instructions God Provides for Faithful Christian Living! (4-9)
Exodus 16:4-9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
God gives them specific instruction to how they can live in such a way that He is pleased. Grumbling / complaining is not a part of that. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ should continually drive us toward his character and manner. Notice that in this verse their complaining was regarded by the Lord as against HIM! (vs 8).
Why are Grumbling and complaining so bad?
*It can lead to further disobedience / sins against others
*It can give the enemy a hold in our lives
*It cannot change situations or make things better.
*It increases frustration.
*It is contagious and can spread discord, discontentment and negativity to others.
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Still, I think the greatest reason why we need to resist the habit of complaining is still ahead of us.
3. We Miss the Vision of the Glory of God (10-12)
Exodus 16:10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
He reminds them that He is the Lord and they have nothing to fear if they will just trust Him. How gracious! God doesn’t hate grumblers, he loves them – He loves us. But our character is not to be centered around complaining and grumbling. What should be filling our thoughts and words is the glory of God.
God’s people moved from complaining to compliance to completeness. That’s the path we need to take as well. The Grace of God is demonstrated so beautifully in contrast to the grumbling in the Desert of Sin. Have you spent some rime in the ‘Desert of Sin’ … feeling abandoned, hurt, ignored? Don’t miss the daily provisions that come from the Lord, the instructions he gives for faithful living, and the glory of the Lord that should remain on our horizon at all times.
Remember the provision of manna by remembering the provision of the bread of life to be found in Jesus Christ. This provision is offered freely to all, without limit. Jesus the promise of yesterday reminding us that the provisions of tomorrow will be the same. Jesus the fountain of forgiveness overflowing with the blood of Jesus.
LifeGroup Discussion Questions
1. The Israelites longed for ‘the good ole days’ as they faced challenges in the Desert of Sin. Go around the group and ask each one to name something from the ‘good ole days’ that wasn’t so good as we look back on it now.
2. Why did God view the complaints against Moses and Aaron as complaints against himself? In what ways can our complaints about things that bother us actually be complaints against God?
3. How would you distinguish Grumbling/Complaining from…
*Speaking out against injustice
*Expressing an opinion when asked
*Pointing out a way for something to be done better
*Sharing something that hurt you, with a friend
*Expressing lament, such as grief or pain, to God
4. Philippians 2:14 -16 offers a view of life that is opposite of a bitter complaining attitude. In The Message, Philippians 2:14 -16 reads “Do everything readily and cheerfully – no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”
What do you see in that passage that stands out to you as a strong encouragement not to complain or grumble?
4. One strategy to overcome the grumbling habit may be to count your blessings – to remain aware of the many ways that God has provided for you. What are some strategies you might suggest to help us focus more on God’s blessings than on the things that move us to complain?
5. Read the following passages and talk as a group about how they address the subject of today’s lesson.
*1 Thessalonians 5:18
6. Although we may struggle individually with the habit of complaining / grumbling, what can we do to help those among our acquaintances who have fallen into that habit?