The Antidote to Grumbling

Before we leave Numbers we need to ponder a topical thread that runs through the entire book. This thread is so important that Paul mentions it to us and tells us not to imitate it. (1 Corinthians 10:10). I am talking about the act of grumbling.


Numbers 13:26-14:45 marks the epicenter for this relational earthquake. It all began when the 12 spies reported on what they found in the Promised Land. “We have good news and bad news,” they seemed to say. “The good news is that the land is incredible! It does flow with milk [think large flocks of goats flowing over the hills] and honey [think large groves of Date Palm trees with their branches flowing with the wind—its fruit is sweet like honey]. And check out this huge cluster of grapes we brought back! The good news is that the land is wonderful. The bad news is that the current inhabitants are huge and they live in fortified cities.” Now, up to this point the comments are simply a factual reporting of what they learned. It is the next step—the step of interpretation—that causes all the trouble.


Acting in faith, Caleb replied that they should move forward and take the land. Acting in fear, 10 spies said that they could not take the land because the size of the people and the strength of their cities. “Then they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land” (13:32). This is where the problems begin.

God told the Israelites that the land was good. These spies told them that, while it was good, it was not accessible. God said that it was His provision for them. They said that it would result in their death and humiliation. The people then had the choice to believe the Lord’s promise or the spies’ interpretation. This is the same temptation faced by Adam and Eve in the garden and by Jesus in the wilderness. It is also the same temptation we each face every day. Will we believe God’s word or the word of another? Like all of us, when the Israelites took their eyes off the Lord and focused on their circumstances it led them to grumble against God and what God was doing through Moses.

This is the kind of passage that causes me to stop for a moment and ponder, how often do I grumble against the Lord? I know that I am pretty good at offering a realistic report of my circumstances and that there is nothing wrong with that. But I also realize that I am quick to, then assume, that I know what the outcome of those circumstances will be. When we move from observation to interpretation based in fear, we find ourselves walking through the doorway into complaining. The glass will spill. The stain will set. The person will let me down. I will feel shame. And you know, once the car is damaged, then I am going to have to come up with the money to fix it and be inconvenienced for the time that it is in the shop all because of….[fill in the blank]. If only this had not happened! How could he / she / I be so foolish?! This kind of grumbling seems minor to us, but if the Lord is indeed over all our lives then is not all grumbling a complaint filed against the Lord?

Whining starts with one person but,  fueled by our sinful nature, it quickly spreads. If the spies’ grumbling influenced the entire community what does my grumbling do, even when it is only muttered to myself? What does it do to my family? What does it do to my church? What does it do to my faith? What does it do to my witness? James called the tongue “a restless evil full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). That’s not an overstatement. Thankfully, God has provided an antidote.

The cure for grumbling is gratitude and the doorway to gratitude is found in a choice we make about what we will do with our minds. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Paul said the same thing another way in 2 Corinthians 10:5 when he commands us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

When we allow our minds to focus on our circumstances and how those circumstances influence our lives we easily begin to complain. Yet, when we focus our minds on what the good the Lord has promised, has done and is doing, our hearts begin to fill with gratitude; gratitude leaves little room for grumbling. I believe this is the background for another often mentioned command: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

While grumbling is a horrible sin, we are still allowed to complain as long as we do it to the Lord in faith! The Psalms are filled with complaints but those complaints are spoken to God rather than the crowd and rest on a foundation of faith. Psalm 73:21-26 is a great example of where we end up when we express our complaints to the Lord in faith. 

I still have a lot to learn in this, so I leave you with an invitation: one day this week, will you consider joining me in making Psalm 86:11-13 your own prayer for that day? “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. 12 I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. 13 For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”

Believing God’s promises with you,

Rob Eyman