What do the words hiss, buzz, thud and murmur have in common? Give up? Each one is an onomatopoeia. Remember hearing about those in 8th grade grammar class? Can one of those things teach us anything? You may be surprised at what you learn as you read on.
“And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and 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.” (Numbers 11:1, ESV)
Who are the people? They are God’s people – The OT nation of Israel; corresponding to Christians in the NT. This includes me.
These people complained. Literally, they murmured. Murmur: to vocally express disagreement and disapproval. They murmured in the hearing of the Lord. Since God sees and knows everything, this is a reminder that God is always with his people. We are always in God’s presence!
They complained about their misfortunes. This is a tiny Hebrew word with a wide range of uses. Here it points to circumstances which are either unpleasant or undesirable. They were complaining about their troubles. Hardly anyone I know who has this problem, but especially not me…
Let’s see what’s going on here. Moses has brought the people out of the land of Egypt, they have crossed the Red Sea and witnessed God’s power not only in his mighty plagues, but also the devastation of the Egyptian army – they drowned in the Red Sea! After a bit of wandering the people came to the remote mountain of Sinai. On 2 occasions Moses went up onto the mountain and twice received the 10 Commandments from the Lord. The originals tablets were destroyed by Moses upon the rebellion of God’s people. So, Moses went back up the mountain for another 40 days and 40 nights. God has also instructed Moses and Aaron in the materials and construction of the tabernacle and all its accoutrements (alter, lampstand, table, candlesticks, etc.)
So, it’s been a year and a month since God’s people have left Egypt and lived in the wilderness in tents. All the while, God was miraculously feeding his people with manna which condensed upon the ground as the morning moisture evaporated. This probably looked something like frost. During this time, God’s people became dissatisfied. Numbers 11.4, 5, inform us that some malcontents began to reminisce, even fantasize, about how good they had it in Egypt. Idealizing their past circumstances (remember they were miserable as persecuted and abused slaves), they cried out: Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. God’s people did not appreciate this provision and blessings. I’m glad I’ve never done that.
Not only did God’s people take him for granted but they complained about him. To ensure his readers get his point, Moses uses an onomatopoeia, translated here as complained; murmur carries the idea. But in Hebrew and in English, the term sounds like what it describes. God’s people were murmuring, grumbling and mumbling on account of their circumstances.
What were these circumstances here termed misfortunes? They simply got tired of what God had provided. Forgetting not only God’s past blessings, but also their previous hardships and agony, they idealized their past and longed to return to it.
Did you notice how God responds to complaining by his people? He was angry and disciplined the Israelites for their rebellion and sin. Complaining about misfortunes is taken as a personal insult by the Lord. It results in his strong displeasure and discipline. You mean I make God angry when I complained?
Wow! There is a big lesson to be learned in this brief verse. Those of us with really good excuses tend to think that complaining isn’t that big a deal – just part of life. I mean who wouldn’t complain if you have to endure what I do?… We go on and on making excuses which result in a dour spiral (I actually dictated “downward” but my software printed dour – either one works just as well as the other.)
This verse points to my great personal need for a Savior. Praise be to God who has provided his Son to live a perfect life (never even once complaining!). Not only did he pay the punishment for my sin, but he also fulfilled all of God’s requirements for me. Father, help me to stop complaining by resting in your good providence.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:21–24, ESV)