One of God’s biggest problems with the Israelites in the wilderness isn’t their fear. And it’s not their doubt. It doesn’t even seem to be their forgetfulness or outbursts of anger. One of God’s biggest problems with the Israelites is their whining and complaining. The fact that they are constantly grumbling and never satisfied with what God has given them.
They are always looking for more and they aren’t very good and saying thank you to God for the fact that he has brought them out of Egypt and continues to provide for them. They just want more. Always more.
In Numbers 11 we see this in full force. The chapter starts with this sentence:
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Numbers 11:1
God then punishes the Israelites as a means of trying to set them straight. But it doesn’t work. They just shift to the “if only” game. Maybe you’ve never played the “if only” game, I don’t know. But I certainly have. I tend to play it without even realizing it.
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” Numbers 11:4-6
“If only we had meat to eat!”
If only…it’s a dangerous game. It puts our focus on what we don’t have; encourages us to feel sorry for ourselves and to lose sight of what we do have.
Basically the Israelites were saying, “God has miraculously and faithfully provided for our needs, but not with the variety we’d like so we are unhappy. It’s just not enough, God!”
I’ve never said that directly. And they didn’t either. But that was exactly their attitude. “It’s just not enough, God.” I wonder how often those are the words of my heart, even if the words of my mouth sound better?
What happens next is a part of the story where I am once again convinced that even in the midst of God’s anger and frustration he has a sense of humor. Instead of telling the Israelites that he’s sick of their whining and complaining so he just won’t give them any meat he says something else. Something unexpected.
The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” ’ ” Numbers 11:18-20
“I will give you what you whined about and you will eat it. You’ll eat it until it’s coming out your nose!” Yes, I’d say that’s pretty much an unexpected response from God! And that’s exactly what he does. In the form of birds. Lots and lots of birds to eat. And the people definitely regretted their ungratefulness!
The biggest and hardest thing for me to accept in this exchange between God and the people is what he says at the end of that statement. Why is he responding this way? Because they have rejected him. Their whining, their complaining about what they don’t have, their ‘if only” attitude is all a rejection of God. God’s the one providing for them. God’s the one seeing to their needs. When all they can do is complain about what they don’t have it’s a rejection, whether they intended it to be or not.
And the same is true of us. When all we see is what we don’t have. When all our prayers to God consist of telling God what life could be like if only he would give this or do that. When we forget to be thankful for what we do have, for where we are. It becomes a rejection.
Today I’m praying that I will stop complaining and whining in me before it starts. That I’ll recognize it when it does creep in, and that I’ll remember to be thankful for what I do have. I’m not playing the “if only” game today. But I’ll definitely need God’s help for this! I’m just too prone to “if only” and too easily distracted by what I don’t have.