(The basic three-point outline comes from a message by Chuck Swindoll at DTS)

Based on the NIV, here are the numbers that refer to grumbling in scriptures. To grumble occurs 8 times. Four are found in the Old Testament (Ex. 16:7; Num. 14:27, 36; 16:11) and four in the New Testament (Matt. 20:11; John 6:41; 1 Cor. 10:10; Jam. 5:9). Grumbling occurs 12 times, mainly in the same contexts (Ex. 16:7, 8, 9,12; Num. 14:27; 17:5, 10; John 6:43, 61; Phil. 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:9). Nine times the word grumbled is used, and it appears in the very same contexts, mainly in reference to Israel’s attitude to God and his leaders in the desert before they reached the Promised Land (Ex. 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Num. 14:2, 29; Deut. 1:27; Josh. 9:18; Ps. 106:25). In Psalm 106:5, the writer associates grumbling with a disobedient spirit. Grumbling leads to unbelief and disobedience. Unfortunately, other people become caught up in the grumbling of some and grumblers are often not short of company in their rebellion and rejection of God. Grumbling ia a ruinous thing for the people of God! Grumbling paralyzes God’s people who become unresponsive to the Lord’s commands. Instead they dig in and refuse to move! Disobedience often comes not in the form of acting against something, as much as refusing to cooperate with the command and the will of God. Building a roadblock, placing a stumbling block in the pathway of those who would move forward. Two examples of men who suffered because of grumblers are Joshua and Caleb. They had to wait forty years for what they were prepared for God to do immediately! Their postponed realization of the fulfillment of God’s promise was the direct result of the grumbling of the spies against the land God had promised, and a lack of faith in the ability of God to give it to them! The grumblers delayed the fulfillment of God plan!

In John 6:41, the crowds grumbled at Jesus teaching, because he was not prepared to make a miraculous provision of daily bread, and offered himself as the only Bread of Life they really needed in order to know God and have eternal life. What they wanted was a daily miraculous provision that assured them that the powerful presence of God was in their midst. Something like “Moses had given them” in the wilderness (John 6:30-31). But their grumbling at the teaching of Jesus simply echoed the unceasing grumbling of their forefathers, who lived and camped under the shadow of the pillar of cloud and fire, by day and by night, who ate miraculous food every morning, and drank water that gushed from a rock, but who could not find contentment and peace even in the midst of God’s manifest glory! It didn’t matter how great the provision that Jesus made, it would never be enough and they would soon turn to grumbling, just as their fathers had!

Grumbling is a deceitful person! When we grumble against people and things, we congratulate ourselves that we are not committing sin, because we are only observing what is wrong, and our comments are directed toward men, who after all are not infallible! Because they are human, prone to weakness, we feel justified in pointing out what we see as the faults, failures and mistakes of our leaders. Furthermore, if we don’t like the direction things are going in church, we are quick to judge and complain, without even stopping to pray or consider whether or not God may be in it. Often the worst grumbling occurs in the midst of revival and powerful experiences of the presence of God. Two or three here and there, sitting in IHOP after service complaining and grumbling about the music, the sermon, the church grounds, the heat/cold, the pastor or other leaders… and so the list goes on.

When the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron leading them out into the wilderness, complaining about the lack of food and remembering the great feasts back in Egypt, God told Moses that they were not grumbling against him, but against God! Moses was executing God’s plan and by grumbling about the hardships and continually pulling back to the former life, it was God they were complaining against, it was his plan they were undermining (cf. the episode of the 12 spies)! While it may seem that we are merely complaining against men, we are in fact complaining against the plan and purpose of God, and against him! Ever so subtly the grumbling spirit will coax us into opposing God. For Israel this became a nationally defining characteristic that undermined their success again and again.

What is grumbling? In John 6, the grumbling there means to express one’s discontent (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Societies). The word almost has the sense of giving way to a base instinct, the instinct to complain, which is so prevalent in the human psyche. Instead of exercising self-control over our tongue, we react negatively to something, because it doesn’t suit us, without evaluating the merits of whether or not it is a good thing. Our grumbling and complaining is not a fair statement of evaluation as a result of prayer and reflection, or consideration and the Word of God. It is an immediate response from a negative spirit, that doesn’t like what we hear or see, because it does not conform to what we prefer! Indeed, it is expressed wrongly too! Instead of being addressed in a spirit of kindness and gentleness, grumbling is harsh and destructive, expressed publicly in order to cause maximum effect, encourage rebellion and dissent, and to do damage to the reputation and leadership of person we are complaining about.

Grumbling means to give expression to inward discontentment. Instead of overcoming inner discontent we give it free rein, by expressing it through grumbling. This causes two problems. First, it leaves a dangerous attitude unchecked in our hearts, that can be destructive in the extreme if it is not conquered or addressed. Discontentment can lead to alienation from others, from God, and withdrawal from serving God. Most pastors have witness the tragedy of those who have fallen away from the faith, starting with becoming discontent and withdrawing from fellowship. Second, the carnal verbalizing of discontentment, which is what grumbling is, is always destructive. It destroys the reputation and effectiveness of those grumbled about, and undermines leaders. And it poisons the grumbler, whose spirit far from recovering, develops a taste for grumbling. It only seeks one thing after another to go after with a grumbling spirit. Grumbling is a hungry monster than cannot ever be satisfied. You have to starve it to death to be free from it.

In the story of Moses and Aaron, the people have started to complain that there is no food. They grumble at Moses, that he has led them out into the desert to starve them to death (patently ridiculous). Their grumbling takes the form of reminiscing on all the luxury of Egypt, the food that was provided for them there. Of course it was, they were slaves! Their memory is defective and selective. Here they unfavorably compare freedom under the canopy of God’s glory, and his promises of provision and blessing, with their conditions in Egypt as slaves, as though the later was better and preferable (cf. Ex. 16:3). Grumbling is rarely rational and accurate. It is always based on an idealized and stylized version of what we think is better. But the important part of this to notice is that God took it personally! They grumbled against Moses and Aaron (Ex. 14:2), but God took it as though their real beef was with him and his plan of redemption, by which he had brought them to that place (Ex. 16:7-8). As a result God called them out to answer for their complaining against him (Ex. 16:10-11).

(Outline Heads by Chuck Swindoll)

    Grumbling Denies the Sovereignty of God

Grumbling is the opposite of being supportive of leadership. There are ways to express reservations to leader. The Bible acknowledges that in a multitude of counselors there is wisdom, and wise leaders listen to sound counsel (Prov. 15:22). Good leaders never take heed to grumbling and grumblers, because they will take you back to Egypt! In the case of the Israelites, they wanted to return to Egypt, instead of continuing to the promised Land. They were rejecting God’s promise, his purpose and his prize. More importantly they were rejecting the leadership of God, disputing whether or not he could get them where he was headed. They were rejecting the one who was going in the direction of Canaan, not Egypt. By expressing a desire to return to Egypt, they were expressing a desire to back away from where God was leading, and were repudiating and rejecting God’s leadership.

The grumbling of the grumblers questioned the sovereignty of God. It questioned his leadership over the nation, and them as his people. It opposed his authority and right to command them to follow him. Secondly it questioned his ability to follow through on what he had promised, and disparaged his power to pull it off! In this New Year let’s not disparage God’s ability to pull off the vision and the promises he has made to us!

    Grumbling Discourages the People of God

Grumbling encourages others to adopt the same negative, unsupportive and crippling attitude toward God’s leaders and God’s plan. Even the early church was not immune to grumbling and grumblers, who attacked the leaders over failing to properly meet the needs of the widows (where the word complained is the same word translated grumbled twice in John 6) (Acts 6:1). It was against the administration or administrative abilities of the apostles that they were grumbling. In effect, they were questioning the will of the apostles to be completely just and fair with the distribution of food and resources, implying they favored the local Hebrew widows over the Greek widows. The effect was to reinforce a sense of neglect among the Greek widows and their friends, and to increase a sense of discouragement among the people generally. On top of which it undermined the character and reputation for integrity of the apostles, who were simply overwhelmed, not prejudice or negligent. They were simply trying to attend to their first priority and primary calling, the Word and prayer (Acts 6:3).

Grumbling never simply affects us personally and individually. Grumbling is by nature something we do in the open. Grumbling is giving voice to our inwardly negative attitudes, it is complaining! Complaining moves communities and persuades public opinion, often against the will of God, the vision of his leaders and ultimately to not believe what God has promised and said. It encourages people to feel that God cannot deliver on what he has promised, and promotes disobedience.

There were those in the Israelite camp who encouraged others to believe that it was all a pipe-dream, that the conquest of the Promised Land would never come about. The grumbling spread throughout the camp. Grumbling and complaining became a way of life for the Israelites in the wilderness, a sort of default reaction to hardships and adversity that always put them on the wrong side of the will of God. This often discouraged band of pilgrims literally dragged their feet the whole way on their journey, and entered Canaan with only half-hearted enthusiasm, which led to a history of compromise, moral failure and ultimately to exile. Unfortunately, Israel’s history is a history of moral and spiritual failure marked by a few significant periods and high points of revival and spiritual victory, not the other way around. All too frequently, in the early days at least, that failure is catalyzed by grumbling and complaining, leading to discouragement and disobedience among the people.

The grumbler and grumbling produces the kind of environment among the people of God that leads to discouragement and drawing back (disobedience). In this way, a church or the company of believers can never really experience lasting power, joy and victory as a community, because the grumblers are constantly undermining the confidence of the faithful.

    Grumbling Destroys the Work of God

Grumbling led to the folly of rejecting the initial conquest of the land, resulting in a 40 year delay to inherit what God had promised, and it also led to a disastrous and costly reversal at the time (cf. Num. 13-14). Joshua and Caleb were forced to wait for the fulfillment of something they believed God could do immediately (Num. 13:20; 14:30, 38; 26:65)! In the course of events there was a plague that decimated the camp after idolatry (Num. 27:7-9); a fire (Num. 11:1); an infestation of snakes that destroyed many of them (Num. 21:4-9); the ground that opened up and swallowed up some of them (Num. 16); Israel was overrun by her enemies (Num. 14:39-44); ultimately a whole generation, a generation of grumblers and complainers, was lost (Num. 32:13). Moses himself, momentarily enraged by their grumbling, failed God, resulting in his losing the right to enter the Promised Land. He responded to their grumbling with grumbling of his own, and smote the rock, God had commanded him to speak to (Num. 20:1-13)! Grumbling is almost never harmless. It is destructive to the work of God. It will burn, undermine, breakdown, discourage – and can result in compromising the resolve of even the hardiest of saints. None of the original pilgrims over the age of 21 who left Egypt inherited the promise of God, they died as shameful grumbling unbelievers in the desert (Heb. 3:16-19)!

In the end it is the grumblers themselves that miss out with God. They are charged as disobedient to his will. They fail to inherit the promise as God had intended. A whole generation missed the fulfillment of the promise through their persistent grumbling. And they go about in perpetual misery, without victory and joy! Although grumblers target others and seek to bring about their destruction, they rarely succeed, especially in God’s economy. Grumbling does much more damage to the grumbl-er than the grumbl-ee! At some point faith in God must seize God, and overcome grumbling and unbelief. Faith is the spirit that carries on in confidence, even when it is hard, or nearly impossible. Faith lifts its eyes and sees God (Ps. 121:1-2). Faith stops identifying with what is wrong, inconvenient, undesirable and uncomfortable, to grasp the promise of God and to go forward with him, until the victory is won and the promise is fulfilled. And if that does not come in this lifetime, it rejoices in the prospect of joining with those in the future who will be alive at that moment of Jesus return, when every promise will come to total fulfillment (Heb. 11:39-40)!


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