In 1 Cor 10, Paul quoted the story of the Israelites in the wilderness as a warning to us. lie described how the fathers of the Israelites, after their exodus from Egypt, were baptised into Moses. They also ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink from the spiritual rock, Jesus Christ. This story prefigures our lives as Christians today. We have believed and have been baptised in the water and the Spirit. We eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink. We strive in this secular world, comparable to the wilderness then, to enter into that beautiful place of rest. Reflecting on such biblical stories will help us to perceive our situation as that in the wilderness. Now that we are baptised, we need to ask how we can overcome this great and fearful journey in the wilderness. In the past, the disciples had said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Therefore, the Bible clearly records the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness as a warning for us today.
Paul stated, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” The reason for God’s displeasure is their unfaithfulness and constant murmurings against Him (Heb 3:8). Paul also pointed the five kinds of sins they committed, ie, evil doings, idol worshipping, immorality, testing God and murmurings. Amongst which, murmurings against God will he described further for our exhortation.
Many do not pay attention to the sin of murmuring against God. We are aware of the seriousness of committing immorality or idolatry but may not realise the severity of murmurings against God. For this reason, Paul warned, “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor 10:10). As careful study of the Bible will make one see that consequences of murmurings are as grim as idolatry and immorality. A word of murmur can affect another person and damage goodness. The entire chapter of Numbers 17 describes how God put an end to the Israelites’ grumblings by causing the rod of Aaron to bud in the presence of God. The rods of the 12 tribes did not bud. The budding of Aaron’s rod was a testimony by Korah, that Moses and Aaron were usee by God and cannot be replaced by men’s wishes (Num 16:3,11). The attacks in murmurings are the tactics of Satan in fighting the Church today. We should guard against such deception of Satan. An example occurred during the Apostolic times when the apostles overlooked in caring for some widows due to their busy preaching activities. Some murmured (Acts 6:1), perhaps saying, “There is no love in the Church!” or “Why is there no concern for widows!” or “Injustice! Injustice in Church administration”. When such words are spread around, they will tarnish the Church’s image and even hinder the preaching work, It heard by unbelievers, these words will create a much stronger impact than the gospel preached to them. Misconceptions will arise. As such, the apostles took this problem seriously and appointed seven deacons to oversee the distribution of food to the widows (Acts 6:3). A well organised Church who handles matters systematically and equitably will help to reduce murmurings in the Church. On the other hand, members should respect the Church administration as one authority, similar to Aaron’s rod, in governing her matters. Undoubtedly, as the Church progresses into increasing number of members (Acts 6:7), Satan will utilize murmurings to cause disorders.
Murmurings are expressions of dissatisfaction. Majority of murmurings are done for selfish gains or to satisfy evil desires. No regards are given to others’ feelings or edification of all concerned. When things do not go their ways, persistent murmurers will grumble over everything and nothing to create an atmosphere of animosity. Moses was described as a gentle and humble man (Num 12:3). But he was also provoked by murmurings of the Israelites on one occasion and was punished for speaking rashly (Psalm 106:32-33; Deut 20:12). Thus, murmurings is not only self destructive but also harm others. Superficially, the Israelites appeared to murmur against Moses and Aaron. But actually, they were murmuring against God. God punished them accordingly. God was especially displeased with His chosen people, the Israelites, as their murmurings reflect their ingratitude towards His love and grace. God had delivered them from the bondage in Egypt and had promised to give them the beautiful Canaan. They should remember this great love of God and strive to serve Him. Even when faced with difficulties, the Israelites should choose to endure and rely on God instead of murmuring against Him.
We shall now list the reasons for the Israelites’ murmurings in the wilderness for our self-examination:
i) Murmurings due to greed (Num 11:4-6). The Israelites were unwilling to accept the manna that God provided daily. Instead, they desired for the delicacies of Egypt (Num 21:5). As such, they murmured. We should be content with what we have (Heb 13:5) and as long as we have food and cover (1 Tim 6:8).
ii) Murmurings due to the hard life (Exodus 17:3). When they came to Rephidim, they murmured because they had no water to drink. God then caused the bitter water to become sweet and also the water to flow from the rock. Despite satisfying them, the Israelites continued to murmur against Moses over many things. We should learn to make our requests to God in prayers (Phil 4:6). Also, let our prayers replace our murmurings so that God will listen to our prayers (1 Pet 5:7).
iii) Murmurings due to the difficult journey (Num 21:4-5). In our journey to heaven, it is inevitable that we will meet with sorrows and difficulties. But we can cast our burdens to the Lord and look at Jesus with endurance (Heb 12:1-2). Murmurings will get us nowhere. God will add to our strength as we wait for Him. Then, we will not tire nor become weary (Isa 40:31) but our weak hands and knees will be strengthened (Heb 12:12).
iv) Murmurings due to jealousy (Num 16:11, Psalm 106:6-7). Korah and his gang murmured against Moses out of jealousy over his position. He incited a rebellion but God destroyed them quickly. Jude 16 says, “These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.” In contrast, we should follow the Biblical teachings of “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil 2:14) and “Do not complain against one another” (Jas 5:9).
v) Murmurings due to disbelief (Num 14:36). When the Israelites heard the ill report from the spies, they murmured against Moses. God said, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe Me? Despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” (Num 14:11). Their disbelief led to murmurings. They disbelieved that Canaan would be a better place than Egypt. They were already at the doorways of Canaan yet they still desired to return to Egypt. Their faith deteriorated all the way from Egypt to Canaan. Moses said, … you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned from following the Lord. And the Lord will not be with you” (Num 14:43). God wanted them to move forward but they moved back instead. How can the faithless keep ahead with God? So, God said, … according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you … (Num 14:29-30).
vi) Murmurings due to non-submission (Num 16:41). Two days after the death of Korah and his gang, the Israelites again murmured against Moses and Aaron. They accused Moses of killing God’s people. They were dissatisfied over God’s righteousness in destroying the gang of Korah. They failed to distinguish the loyalists from the betrayers. They regarded good men as evil and vice versa. This greatly aroused the anger of the Lord. God inflicted them with a plague and 14700 died (Num 16:49).
In conclusion, Christians should always be thankful for the grace of God. There is no reason for murmuring. Instead, we should forbear and not murmur against one another. With some self restraints, we will find no basis for murmuring against God or men. (Acts 14:22).