GRUMBLING AND COMPLAINING
"Now the people became like those who complain about adversity in
the hearing of the Lord, and when the Lord heard it, His anger
was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and
consumed some of the outskirts of the camp" (Numbers 11: 1-2).
Grumbling and complaining is one thing we don't get too
concerned about these days. I mean everybody grumbles about
something, right? Husbands and wives complain about each other.
Kids tell each other how terrible their folks are. Christians
grumble about one another - even about their leaders!
The nation of Israel had a long history of grumbling and
complaining. You can read about the misery it brought them in the
first five books of the Old Testament. I have to confess, for a
long time I didn't like those five books because I thought they
were full of The Law. God's wrath could be pretty terrible.
Sometimes He sent plagues or fire from heaven. In Numbers 16, you
read about the "rebellion of Korah" when the ground opened up and
250 people who complained against Moses and the Lord were
swallowed alive. That's heavy!
Now the New Testament - that seemed easy in comparison! We
were given a new law to keep. The law of love and liberty. As a
new Christian, I heard nothing but "love, grace, forgiveness, and
mercy" which was great because without them I'd be dead as a
doornail! Yet I kept running across scriptures in the New
Testament that really turned my head around. Jesus also made some
strong statements about obeying the laws of God.
In Matthew, Jesus rebuked the people of three cities where
He'd taught and performed many miracles. He wasn't exactly trying
to win a popularity contest when He said: "Woe to you... For if
the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in
you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes...
(And) if the miracles had occurred in Sodom that occurred in you,
it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless, I say to you
that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day
of judgment than for you" (Matthew 11:21-24). In other words, "If
I don't judge you in light of all you know, I'm going to have to
apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!"
I'm not pointing out these scriptures to say, "You'd better
listen or God's gonna get ya." That's not God's heart. He is
"slow to anger, full of lovingkindness and compassion" (Psalm
145:8). What I am saying is that those who live under the old
Covenant may have had a harsher requirement - but they'll have an
easier judgment than we who live under the New Covenant. Why is
During the Old Covenant, the Spirit of God only came to rest
upon people, empowering them to do mighty deeds. But it never
lived in them to help them fulfil the law. Today, under the law
of love and liberty, the Holy Spirit lives in us, to help us keep
the law. James says, "be ye doers of the word and not hearers
only, deceiving your own selves ... But whoso looketh into the
perfect law of liberty and continueth therein ... this man shall
be blessed in his deed" (James 1:22,25 KJV).
I want to make this point strongly: Once God has led us out
of our old sinful lives by His Spirit, we must be careful not to
I found an important warning sign while reading Old
Testament books like Numbers. This signal can tell you if you're
headed backwards where you're no longer led and controlled by the
Holy Spirit. No longer walking forward with God. It seems like a
little "insignificant" sin. In fact, some people don't think it's
a sin at all! I'm talking about grumbling and complaining.
Three Common Complaints
The reason I wanted to lay a solid foundation before looking
closer at the Israelite's complaining attitude is simple but
important. As I said, we think God isn't going to be as hard on
us as He was on them. "Hey, I'm under grace! God isn't keeping a
list of my sins. Especially not something like a little
complaining now and then!"
But the Israelite's wilderness journey exposes the attitudes
behind their complaints - some really serious sins! Let's look at
three complaints that will get us into big trouble. Be honest and
see if you find yourself in these accounts in Numbers.
#1 Complaints of the Flesh
Numbers 11 gives a concise picture of what God and Moses had
to put up with while trying to lead the people out of Egypt into
the Promised Land. "Now the people complained about their
hardships in the hearing of the Lord..." Not only did Moses have
to listen to their complaints, but the Lord heard all their
griping as well.
We often forget that the Lord hears everything we say. He
even knows everything we think! As David said: "Thou dost
understand my thought from afar... Even before there is a word on
my tongue, behold O Lord, Thou dost know it all" (Psalm 139:2,4).
You can't hide bad attitudes from God. It's better to get to
the root and deal with it. What was the root of their complaint?
The Israelites began craving food other than what the Lord was
providing. They wailed, "If only we had meat to eat? We
remember the fish we had in Egypt at no cost - also the
cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic." What breath they
must have had! We could call it Egypt Breath. "By now our
appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this
manna" (Numbers 11:46).
(Of course this was not true - the Israelites took with them from
Egypt their cattle etc. But their greed and complaint was they
did not have ENOUGH. Maybe the could only have meat once a week
or once a month for two or three days and they wanted it EVERY
DAY - Keith Hunt)
The root of their complaint was their flesh. They forgot
that they didn't deserve anything! God was giving them bread they
didn't even have to work for. It was free. All they had to do was
go and pick it up! But their ungrateful response was, "What?
Manna again? All we ever get is this crummy bread from heaven.
Wonderbread...ugh! We wanna go back to Egypt!"
The Bread of Life
Now don't judge these people too quickly. In John chapter
six of the New Testament, we find Jewish leaders complaining
about Jesus. Even His disciples were grumbling at His words. He
declared, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not
hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst ... Your
fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died... if
anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever" (John
6:35,49,51). After this, "many of His disciples withdrew, and
were not walking with Him anymore" (John 6:66).
A lot of people today pray the "sinner's prayer" found in
3rd Corinthians. They say, "Jesus, come into my heart. Be my
Savior. Amen." Then a few weeks later when the wife or the new
car they prayed for hasn't arrived on their doorstep, they start
looking back. They didn't realize the cross had two sides. The
death side and the resurrection side. Many people want their
resurrection right on the cross. Or worse, they want a padded
cross with a pillow and a sunlamp. One that's real comfortable.
No way. The cross hurts so they start thinking, "Gee, this peace
is not only passing understanding, it's passing notice! I don't
even see it? Where's my peace?!"
Pretty soon they're thinking, "I thought this would be a
joyful experience. Before I prayed to receive Jesus, I could have
anything I wanted - this is starting to be a drag!" Then they
complain to the Lord. "I know you're supposed to be the Bread of
Life, but I'm getting hungry for my old friends, my old ways, my
It's not that God doesn't have enough patience when we pray
complaining prayers. But sometimes He allows us to have exactly
what we've been praying for! Yes. God sometimes answers prayers
of the flesh. But I guarantee you won't like the results.
Be Careful How You Pray
The Israelites complained about manna and demanded meat and
the Lord told them He would give them meat to eat. Now I can hear
everyone saying, "Hey, complaining pays off! We ought to do it
more often!" The Lord said, "You shall eat not one day... but a
whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes
loathsome to you - because you have rejected the Lord, who is
among you..saying, 'Why did we ever leave Egypt?'" (Numbers
The Lord, knowing their hearts, knew they'd rejected Him for
their appetites. So He gave them what they thought they wanted.
God sent a wind to bring quail in from the sea and they covered
the ground three feet deep for a day's walk in any direction.
Quail City! Not to mention the other ... you know ... the other
things that quail bring. It must have been quite an answer to
prayer! "And the people spent all day and all night and all the
nest day gathering the quail (he who gathered the least amount
gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves..."
One homer equals 11 bushels so the person who gathered the
least, gathered 110 bushels - for himself! God's people - flesh
personified (verses 31-32).
"And while the meat was still between their teeth... the Lord
struck the people with a very severe plague. So the name of that
place was call Ki-brothhattaavah, because there they buried the
people who had been greedy" (verses 33-34). The name actually
means "the graves of greediness." God answered their complaining
prayer abundantly and they added insult to injury. There was no
praise, no thanksgiving, no trust, and no faith. Just greed.
Many, many people died in that plague.
Are you restless in your faith because you haven't seen an
answer to some important prayer? Have you been grumbling because
you've trusted God for a need you don't feel He's taken care of.
Have you been longing for the way things used to be? Have you
been ungrateful for what the Lord has given you?
Don't allow your flesh to win over your spirit, carrying you
into a dead faith - or worse, into outright rejection of the Lord
#2 Complaints of Jealousy
Numbers reveals another dangerous complaint that's buried in
each one of us like a ticking bomb. In Numbers 12:1 it says,
"Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite
woman whom he had married... " On the surface, their complaint
seemed to be about Moses choosing a non-Jewish wife. But we know
Moses was a praying man with a face-face relationship with God
and apparently God gave Moses the goahead to marry her. Actually,
Miriam and Aaron were judging Moses and - once they began to
gripe, their real complaint came out. In the very next verse they
said. "Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken
through us as well?"
You don't have to dig too deep to see the sin of jealousy.
God had elevated Moses to a place of leadership, honor, and
respect. And his own brother and sister couldn't stand it! Their
complaint didn't come from physical appetite, like the people
demanding meat. They complained because of hungry egos!
Unfortunately egos didn't become extinct at the close of the Old
Testament. Some New Testament Christians like us, have New
Testament ego problems. By that I mean we sometimes get jealous
and complain against our brothers and sisters in the Lord. I've
seen this kind of jealousy between close friends who got involved
in ministry at the same time. One of them is put in a leadership
position and you'd expect the other one to be happy for him
because Paul says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans
But all too often the response is a bruised ego. Then the
grumbling starts. "Why does he get to lead the Bible study? I've
been a Christian longer than he has. I led him to the Lord! Last
night he took five minutes to find Haggai!"
Sadly, one reason we get jealous of Christian preachers,
teachers, or performers, is because we see others idolizing them.
We should be offended at that, but if some of us get honest,
we'll admit we want that kind of respect and admiration too.
Maybe you've never seen it this way, but sometimes we want to be
Jesus had to settle this problem among his 12 closest
friends the night before He was crucified. He'd already told them
He was about to die, and they were grieving, right? Wrong. The
week before they had watched Him hailed as King when He entered
Jerusalem and now they were arguing over who would be the
greatest in His Kingdom (Luke 22:24)! I would've gone out and
looked for 12 new disciples! But Jesus took a towel and a basin
of water, and washed their feet one by one, like a common
household servant. Then He said, "Do you know what 1 have done to
you? You call me teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so l
am. If I then ... washed your feet, you also ought to wash one
another s feet" (John 13:12-14).
Are you complaining because no one recognizes your gifts?
Are you picking at the flaws in leaders? Are you murmuring be
cause someone besides you is getting attention and praise?
Paul warned one group of Christians:
"But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be
consumed by one another" (Galatians 5:15).
Jealous complaining is like a destructive cancer. God
allowed Miriam and Aaron to feel the cancer-effect of their
complaints against Moses. In anger, the Lord struck Miriam with
leprosy - the cancer of that age (Numbers 12:10). Though He
cleansed her of the leprosy, she and Aaron were later forbidden
to enter the Promised Land "because of rebellion" (Numbers
The message is clear. Sometimes our complaints come from
hungry egos we haven't surrendered to the Lord. If you've been
complaining because no one's recognizing your gifts, surrender
your ego to God before it becomes like a cancer, devouring your
brothers and sisters in Christ, and consuming your own spirit.
Your complete surrender will allow God to cleanse you. Then you
will be ready to take your position in His Kingdom.
#3 Complaints of Unbelief
In Numbers 13, we find that the complaints against Moses and
Aaron have really heated up. What's key for us is the way they
At the Lord's command Moses chose 12 men to go spy out the
land of Canaan. He didn't send flunkies, but the leaders of the
tribes. Joshua and Caleb led them across the Jordan to see if the
land was fertile and how hard it would be to conquer. They
returned with a cluster of grapes so big it took two men to carry
it. They also returned with two different reports. Caleb was full
of faith. He said, "We should by all means go up and take
possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it" (verse 30).
But the other men who went with Joshua and Caleb "gave out to the
sons of Israel a bad report... saying, 'The land...devours its
inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of
great size,'" They dragged out some old wives' tale about a tribe
of giants called Nephilim and they said they were like mere
grasshoppers in comparison. They totally lost sight of God and
brought back a bad report about the Promised Land.
Well, one thing the Israelites knew how to do by now was
complain and they spent all night doing it.
By morning everyone was grumbling against Moses and Aaron.
They wanted to kill them, appoint a new, leader, and return to
Egypt. How stupid. Did they think God would open the Red Sea for
them again? Or that the Egyptians would be happy to see them
after they had drowned their whole army?
Anyway, the people went to kill Moses and Aaron and just
before the stones began to fly "the glory of the Lord appeared.
... to all the Israelites" (Numbers 14:10). God offers to take
care of the problem for Moses, saying, "I will smite them with
pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make YOU into a nation
greater and mightier than they" (verse 12). God was offering
Moses the same covenant He'd made with Abraham! This was Moses'
But what did Moses do? He prayed for those complaining,
rebellious people! He said, "Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this
people according to the greatness of Thy lovingkindness, just as
Thou also hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now"
(verse 19). Moses did just what Jesus commands us to do when He
said, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is
in heaven... " (Matthew 5:44-45).
Remember Saul? Who do you think was praying far him on the
road to Damascus? Saul was the most vicious Christian-killer in
the land and the Christians were probably on their knees crying
out on his behalf. God made Saul into a new man with a new name.
And on the cross, when Jesus had been scourged, spat upon, and
deserted by His closest friends, He prayed, "Father forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
There's a big difference between people who say they're
followers of Jesus and people who follow Jesus. Moses asked God
to forgive the people of Israel, and reminded Him of His
compassion. In other words, "This won't be good for Your glory or
fame throughout the world if you kill these people." Here's a man
unselfishly reasoning with God. Does God need to be reminded
about His nature? No. But God needs to be reminded we believe His
nature. God didn't strike the people dead, but Joshua and Caleb
were the only ones of that generation He let into the Promised
When you step out into the Wilderness of Faith, it's a one
way ticket. You either die in the wilderness, or you enter the
Promised Land. You can't go back to the world. Many people think
they can, but they're never the same. They are jaded, cynical,
Some turn reprobate. I'm not talking about backsliding, I'm
talking about completely turning away from the Lord and denying
Him. They spiritually die out in the wilderness.
Let me ask you this: Are you willing to forgive those who
hurt you? Or do you complain, gossip, and backbite? Do you ask
God to "get them" or do you pray for mercy? Moses' prayer saved
the people of Israel from instant destruction. Our prayers can
change the hearts of our enemies. They can even change their
We can obey God, or act according to our flesh. The greatest
plan for victory over our enemies is prayer. Prayer shows our
belief in the mercy and power of God. If we reject God's Word, we
reject Him. When we complain about the one who has wronged us
instead of praying for him, we end up being the loser. Grumbling
and complaining is evidence of our unbelief in God's sovereignty
and His ability to work things out for His glory and our good.
Let's take a "relationship inventory." Are you holding on to
hurts? Bitterness? Are you in competition, or a battle with
someone? Are you walking in unbelief? Maybe your flesh has opened
the door to an ungrateful spirit. Ask God's forgiveness for your
grumbling and complaining right now. He can soften your heart and
give you a spirit like His, willing to do battle in prayer - even
for your enemies.
Thank you Lord for giving us Your own Spirit which doesn't
only come upon us, but lives inside of us by Your Word. Lord
Jesus, help us to believe in You and in others. Help us give a
good report of all men and of all ministries. And Lord we ask
forgiveness for grumbling and murmuring and complaining because
we know You hate it. It's the greatest proof of our unbelief. God
we want to be believers, not just in word, but also in deed.
Spank us quickly if we murmur and complain before it grows into
the sin of Israel - and send Your blessing of believing faith
upon us. We love You Lord Jesus.
This article was edited and paraphrased by David Hazard and
Melody Green from a teaching given by Keith Green in 1979.
"Grumbling and Complaining" was reprinted from an article in The
Last Days Magazine.
I Keith Hunt, have printed it from ACTS Magazine (March 1997), a
publication of the General Churches of God, Meridian, ID, USA
Entered in this Website October 2007
The sin of grumbling and complaining with people and church
organizations (that indeed may have left the straight and narrow
path) often takes its battle axe to the head. Instead of either
trying to bring truth and reform (which can often be hard to do
if not impossible some times) and finally walking away from a
"church" that has moved over to the wrong side of the tracks,
when reform is not possible; Many turn away from God and Jesus,
they allow grumbling and complaining to turn into bitterness and
anger, and walk away from serving God and continuing to love His
word. Thousands have done this - walking away from God, back into
the world, when the Worldwide Church of God went off the tracks
and into heresy and false doctrine. Many I have known and I
thought did have a personal relationship with the Lord, turned
out to be just a play act - no depth at all - no real conversion
to God, only to an organization, and when the organization and
many of the church leaders with it FELL BIG TIME INTO THE SNARES
OF THE DEVIL - THEY TURNED THEIR BACK ON GOD HIMSELF.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON GOD AND CHRIST AND THE BIBLE - NOT ON HUMAN
PERSONS, ONLY IN THIS WAY WILL YOU WALK WITH GOD, BE HIS CHILD
THAT HE LOVES AND CARES FOR AND WILL PUT YOU IN HIS KINGDOM!
BE A POSITIVE PERSON - GIVE PRAISES TO GOD - SING TO HIM - READ
HIS PSALM - GIVE HIM THANKS - REMEMBER YOUR BLESSING - TALK TO
HIM ANYTIME ABOUT ANYTHING. THIS WAY YOU WILL KEEP AT BAY THE
ARROWS OF SATAN THAT OFTEN COME IN THE FORM OF GRUMBLING AND
Keith Hunt (October 2007