Grumbling broke out the next day in the community of Israel, grumbling against Moses and Aaron: “You have killed God’s people!”
But it so happened that when the community got together against Moses and Aaron, they looked over at the Tent of Meeting and there was the Cloud—the Glory of God for all to see.
Moses and Aaron stood at the front of the Tent of Meeting. God spoke to Moses: “Back away from this congregation so that I can do away with them this very minute.”
They threw themselves face down on the ground.
Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and fill it with incense, along with fire from the Altar. Get to the congregation as fast as you can: make atonement for them. Anger is pouring out from God—the plague has started!”
Aaron grabbed the censer, as directed by Moses, and ran into the midst of the congregation. The plague had already begun. He put burning incense into the censer and atoned for the people. He stood there between the living and the dead and stopped the plague.
Fourteen thousand seven hundred people died from the plague, not counting those who died in the affair of Korah. Aaron then went back to join Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The plague was stopped. (The Message)
grum-bled, grum-bling, grum-ble:
- to murmur or mutter in discontent; complain sullenly
- an expression of discontent; complaint; unhappy murmur; growl.
Out of all the bad things in this old world, grumbling and murmuring aren’t typically at the top of our list of heinous sins. Yet, they’re bad. The reason grumbling needs squelching is because complaining is like a gateway drug – start using it and it will surely lead to worse things, unless stopped.
A surefire way to divide a community of people is by grumbling and complaining. This was the deliberate tool of Korah – a Levite who was angling for more power and authority amongst the Israelites in their sojourn in the desert. His stirring up rebellion through constant complaints was a high-handed sin, meant to undercut Moses as the leader.
The revolt he incited resulted in a dramatic intervention of God in causing the earth to open up and swallow Korah and the rebels. The Lord has a zero tolerance policy toward satanic plans of upending godly leadership and replacing it with a lust for power.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of the story. Aftershocks of grumbling erupted around the community. And it was dealt with by God with the same sort of wrath that Korah experienced. A plague broke out and many more died.
So, why all the death? This was far more than a bunch of malcontents who were griping about how things were going. It was an assault against the Lord – in the same way Lucifer once brought rebellion to heaven. In both cases, swift action was taken.
Please keep in mind that we need a nuanced understanding of complaining, grumbling, and arguing. A great deal of complaining is an expression of grief, of pushing back against the hurt. There’s also the grumbling that comes because everybody else is doing it. But then there is the sort of grumbling that is intended to topple God as the authority and place oneself in that position. That’s the nasty sort which will get one in a heap of trouble.
I once had a parishioner, several years back, who continually complained about me. More than that, he seemed to be always trying to get others to join him in his constant grumbling. I certainly tried to be as meek as Moses. Whether that happened, or not, I’m not sure.
It got bad enough that one Sunday, the grumbler invited me to come outside after church and settle things “like men,” which meant with fisticuffs. Oy.
About a month later, the man was standing in his driveway, then fell straight over. He was dead before he even hit the pavement. I’ll leave it to you for an interpretation. I’ll also say that, obviously, the grumbling and rebellion stopped.
The people’s grumbling and revolt against Moses was tantamount to rebelling against God.
Grumbling is not okay. Whenever folks dig in and complain in order to overturn something or someone which the Lord has established, their plans for destruction get turned in on themselves. In other words, what happens to themselves is what they were planning all along for another.
The New Testament author of Hebrews picked up this tone of grumbling from the ancient Israelites, and offered a warning to his own contemporary audience:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Hebrews 3:8-12, NIV)
The author also provided some simple yet profound exhortation for keeping grumbling and murmuring at bay:
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)
Encouragement is the daily practice which prevents a hard heart and soul rot – the very things which lead a person to begin complaining and rebelling.
If there is no encouragement, complaints will take root. And if complaints take root, bitterness begins to grow. And if bitterness begins to grow, it will feed itself on grudge-bearing. And if grudge-bearing persists, it will have very unpleasant results.
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:15, NIV)
So, let us cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, and put aside the shameful deeds of darkness. Let us look for ways to encourage one another, rather than tearing down each other. Let us:
Fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3, NIV)
Holy God, you work in us to will and to act in order to fulfill your good purpose. Help us to do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that we may become blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.