“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Philippians 2:14
Three days. That’s all it took for the complaining to start. Three days from blessing to grumbling. Three days from rejoicing to grousing.
The Israelites were three days out from crossing the Red Sea in miraculous fashion, and they were already complaining. They had witnessed God’s power and might in rescuing them from slavery and defeating the Egyptian army. They had fled Egypt, carrying the wealth of their captives with them, and the Lord had guided them in a pillar of cloud and fire to the edge of the sea. They watched as the presence of the Lord moved to form an impenetrable wall between them and their enemy. They saw the waters part, felt the dry ground beneath their feet as they moved between two walls of water and then watched the walls collapse onto the Egyptian army.
They sang and danced and rejoiced, proclaiming “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation; Who among the gods is like You, O Lord-majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” They sang of their trust in Him, “In your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance.” (Ref. Exodus 15:2, 11, 13, 17.)
And everything changed. They found themselves in a desert with no drinkable water, the one spring poured forth bitter water. Now that’s not a little problem, mind you. Water in a desert is a big deal. Water for as many as two million people or more is an even bigger deal. They were in a serious situation. So they turned on their God-appointed leader and “grumbled against Moses, saying ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex. 15:24). We might think, “Are these the same people that crossed the sea on dry ground and witnessed the power and might of the Lord?” Well, yes, actually they were.
And so are we. The truth is, I can very often turn from praising to grumbling in thirty minutes. At least it took them three days. Are we really any different than the Israelites? Like them, we have often forgotten God’s faithfulness and goodness in the past and complained about the circumstances of the present. It is a pattern that shows up over and over again in their wilderness journey. We see it again in Exodus 16, as they grumble about the lack of food, saying “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” (Ex. 16:3). In chapter 17 they are grumbling about water again, and so it goes, until they stand at the edge of the Promised Land. Rather than rejoice in God’s faithfulness thus far and move ahead with confidence they grumble and cry and moan, until finally that generation lost the Promised Land altogether.
If you and I are honest, wouldn’t we admit that the same pattern shows up in our own lives as well? Why do we fail to believe that the God who sent His Son to die on the cross for us will also provide for, protect and bless us? Paul asks the same question in Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, gracious give us all things?” Why do we, like the Israelites, fail to trust the Lord who has proven Himself faithful again and again and again?
In a word: unbelief. The very same unbelief that demoralized the faith of the Hebrew nation undermines our faith and confidence in God today. The exodus from Egypt was the great expression of Yahweh’s love to the Israelites. But because they had grumbled all along the way; at would should have been their defining moment of faith, they stood at the edge of the Promised Land and balked. “All the Israelites grumbled…and the whole assembly said, ‘Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2,3)
Are you believing God today? The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate expression of love to you and me. Every day we are surrounded by reminders of His care and devotion to His people. Yet still, when we are faced with a challenge, we grumble. Rather than believe God, we doubt. We question. We whine and complain. And God asks, as He asked of Israel, “How long will these people refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Num. 14:11).
There is a day coming when Christians will be faced with their defining moment of faith. We need only to read the Scriptures and look at the world around us to know it is not far away. Have you and I walked in faith, believing God? Will our faith stand?
Jesus posed a question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? What if He comes today?
Holy Father, my faith is often so small. I cry out like the father in Mark’s Gospel – “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).