Discontent and Despair

Discontent and Despair

I.  Introduction

Well, we’ve been at the foot of Mount Sinai all summer. There have been high points and low points. The brightest moment was when they entered into a covenant with God in a ceremony very much like a marriage. The low point was shortly afterward when the people make a golden calf to worship while Moses was still on the mountain receiving God’s laws. God graciously and mercifully renewed his covenant with them, but that was definitely an indication of the rocky road ahead for Israel’s relationship with God.

While they were camped at Sinai they received the Law, including many instructions for building a portable worship center.. The people donated generously, and the tabernacle with all its holy items was complete. Last week we looked at the instructions for how it was to be moved. And in today’s lesson, we begin with the order to move out.

Num. 10:11-13  In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, 12 and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. 13 They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses.

Where are they headed? To the Promised Land! This was before they sent in the spies, and before God sentenced them to wander for 40 years. Sometimes we forget what the original plan was. Egypt à Sinai à Canaan.

Num. 10:13-36  So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days' journey. And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days' journey, to seek out a resting place for them. 34 And the cloud of the Lord was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. 35 And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”

They are on their way, and all is well.

Until we turn the page.

Chapter 11 reveals more bellyaching and complaining, along with God’s response. Interestingly, not all complaining is treated the same.

II.  Sick of manna

It’s not exactly clear how much time elapsed before the events of this chapter. But before long, here comes the complaining.

Num. 11:1  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.

Their misfortunes? NASB: adversity. NIV: hardships.

We don’t know exactly what this particular complaint was about, maybe a multitude of things? It’s hot. It’s a long ways. I’m tired of walking. Etc.

In other words, the journey had its difficulties. But don’t all journeys? It seems like the Israelites wanted to be rescued from slavery, but they didn’t want their freedom to come with any struggles. They wanted to enter the promised land, but they didn’t want to have to endure any hardships to get there.

So God’s anger burned against them—literally

11:2-3  Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.

And now we move on to another complaint, probably on a separate occasion.

11:4-6  Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Notice where the complaining originated. With the rabble. The mixed multitude. These were apparently non-Israelites, or perhaps some of mixed backgrounds, who had come out with them from Egypt. They had thrown their lot in with God’s people, and they were welcome, as long as they followed the laws.

But these same people may not have been “all-in.” And they begin to complain about the food.

Now all anyone can remember about Egypt is the good food they left behind.

And the food they had, that God was providing them with, they were tired of. We get a quick reminder:

11:7-9  Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.

This was perfect for feeding a huge crowd on the move. Just go out and gather it each day. Plenty to eat, no farming or hunting required. But they weren’t thankful, they wanted something else.

What they wanted was some meat (vs. 18). I have to admit, I’ve made this same complaint as a kid. If Mom cooked a meal and there was no meat, I would complain about it. Now I’ve come to appreciate that you don’t have to have meat to have a good meal. But if I went a long time without it, like these people did, I might be tempted to complain, too.

But we’ll see in a minute that his complaining was going to backfire on them.

III.  Moses’ complaint

Next we have a surprising twist. The people are complaining, which upsets Moses, and what do you think he does?

11:10-15  Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

Whoa! Seems like once he gets going, he just lets it all rush out. Like he’s been holding this in, but just can’t take any more.

So now look at this from God’s perspective. You’ve got the masses of people crying about their hardships, and now the food, and now even Moses is complaining about how hard it is, and asking God to just end his life.

This is a big ol’ hissy fit out here in the wilderness. One of those road trip moments when you just have to pull the car over.

So what is God going to do?

IV.  God’s response

Num. 11:16-17  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? God doesn’t seem to be angry with Moses, in spite of  his outburst.

Will the people get off so easily?

Num. 11:18  And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat.

Sounds pretty good. But as he continues, you can hear the anger coming.

Num. 11:19-20  You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”

At this point, Moses should go do as he’s told. But he actually questions God.

Num. 11:21-23  But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord's hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

 Not a shining moment for Moses, and yet God continues to be patient with him.

11:24-25   So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it

Many other times, the elders of Israel are mentioned. Seventy of them had joined Moses on the mountain to enter into the covenant with God and eat in his presence. Now they are being deputized, so to speak.

As for the meat:

11:31-34  Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 32 And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.

There’s a psalm that describes this event, highlighting exactly why God punished them.

Psa. 78:17-31  Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. 18 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. 19 They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? 20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?” 21 Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, 22 because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power. 23 Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, 24 and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. 25 Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. 26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind; 27 he rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas; 28 he let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings. 29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved. 30 But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, 31 the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel.

They had complained, doubted, and questioned God, and they paid the price. There’s an expression, “be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.” Matthew Henry comments, “What we inordinately desire, if we obtain it (we have reason to fear), will be some way or other a grief and cross to us.”

V.  Lessons

So let’s think about this a little bit. In chapter 11, everyone complains. The people complain and Moses complains. The commentator Coffman goes so far as to say, “It cannot be that Moses was without sin in the events of this chapter.”

But God responds to these complaints differently. He gives Moses helpers, and he gives the people meat, but he punishes the people while there seems to be nothing negative said or done to Moses.

What is the difference? Let’s look closer.

A.  Complaint of discontent

The people’s complaint demonstrates several things.

1. Ungrateful for deliverance

They actually were remembering Egypt fondly. God had rescued them from slavery, but they were looking back over their shoulder, like Lot’s wife.

We should never look back to the world of sin that we have been rescued from and long for that life.

2.  Grumbling about difficulties

They also complained because the way was difficult. They apparently wanted to go from Egypt to the Promised Land, but they didn’t want to endure any hardships along the way.

Jesus tells us the way that leads to life is difficult. Should we expect it to be otherwise? Isaac Watts wrote the hymn, Am I A Soldier Of The Cross in the 1720s. There’s a verse that says:

Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize,

And sailed through bloody seas?

3.  Complained about physical things

Thirdly, they were discontent with God’s provisions. They had everything they needed, but it wasn’t what they wanted.

1 Tim. 6:8-9  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

4.  They didn’t have faith

Finally, they questioned God’s ability to provide meat for them according to his promise. After all God had done, they did not have faith in his power.

This kind of complaint tests God and angers him.

B.  Complaint of despair

But Moses complaint was different. It came from a frustration and despair from dealing with the rebellious and ungrateful people.

Many of God’s servants voiced similar despair.


1 Kings 19:4  But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

1 Kings 19:9-10  There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”


Jer. 20:14  Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!

Jer. 20:18  Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

And the psalms have many other examples of this, as well as Job and Jonah. And even the Son of God has an evening where he is sorrowful unto death and asks if there’s a way out.

Luke 22:41-44  And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

What God does in cases like these is show patience and mercy. He strengthens, as he did by sending the angels to minister to Jesus, and angels to bake bread for Elijah.

In fact, Hebrews tells us that angels minister for our sake as well.

Heb. 1:13-14  And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

The main point is, God understands our weaknesses and frailties.

Psalm 103:13-14  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

And I believe that is why God does not respond in anger to Moses’ despair. Yes, it does appear to be a moment when Moses’ faith falters. But Moses isn’t complaining because he’s not content with the food, he’s just fed up with the people. Many others, like Habakkuk, were fed up with the evil around them. Job was fed up with grief and seemingly endless suffering.

In those moments we can cry out to God, knowing that he is compassionate like a father. And we have a high priest, Jesus, who knows our suffering and is interceding for us.

VI.  Conclusion

In short: we should not grumble and complain. Learn to be content with what you have, realizing that God is giving you what you need for the journey, and he has something better waiting at the end. We just have to be patient and trust him. And we also have to have endurance.

But when we are struggling or feeling overwhelmed or stressed, even if it’s a lack of faith, we can call out to him for wisdom and help. Who knows, angels might be sent into action.

Either way, God will see us through.


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