Skip to main content

The Complaint Department: Numbers 11

I can’t remember the Western movie this line is from, but I once heard an actor say “Some people wouldn’t be happy if you hung them with a new rope.” Now, I can’t say that I’d be happy if you hung me with any sort of rope, but the point was more about how people just complain and complain…

This is where the Israelites are in Numbers 11. They’re not happy. Why? Because all they have to eat is the miraculous bread from heaven that God has been feeding them with, and they have nothing to do but follow the obvious presence of God to the Promised Land. What God? Oh, just the one that they have recently seen bring them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and so forth…

And the complaining does not stop with them. We read Moses like hagiography, and miss the second half of this chapter: Moses has his whiny moments, too. YHWH, the Covenant God of Israel, has to listen to Moses fuss about the call of God in his life. Moses fusses that he never wanted this job, and really would prefer to be left alone.

In fact, he hits Numbers 11:15: “Please kill me at once.” Or, in modern Daff-nese:

Daffy, mimicking Moses

It’s just an unhappy passage. The chapter does not get much better. God points out to Moses that he has elders to assist him, so Moses shouldn’t be whining. God then brings quail like the snow geese on a wheat field, and so the people ate meat until they were sick. Literally, actually, as they were stricken with a plague as they ate it.

I do find it of note that the plague at stake is one of the few that does not specify a death toll. It is hard to be certain if this is because the results were simply bad illness, or if there were unrecorded deaths here.

Of greater application, though, is the question of complaining. We like to do that even now, don’t we? We complain about this, that, and the other…often without truly considering how we are blessed beyond measure. How so?

In the same manner the Moses and Israel were blessed:

  • We are provided for. Now, you are right to say that you work for your living, true. How much does your work provide? What makes that farm bring forth a crop? And what allows you to eat more than the hay you raise? Why are you able to take your financial wizardry and get milk? Do we honestly ascribe all of these things to our own ingenuity and forget our Creator?
  • We are protected. First and most obviously, by men and women at arms but there is more than that. Great armies have often faltered. Moreover, just this year a rock of substantial size came closer to earth than the satellites that make international communication work orbit…people, we are protected more than we know.
  • We are provided with. With what? Companions. Notice that there are very few lone heroes, even in our mythologies. Beowulf had companions, Frodo had companions, even the Lone Ranger flopped with Tonto. Look around. You may be alone for a time, and you may think that time is eternal, but there are connectivity points everywhere. Reach out and connect.
  • We are preceded. By God, who has already been there and back, and still occupies both the now and the then. That should be a comfort.

So, what do we do?

First, we trust. We trust God with our complaints and our struggles—but we learn to share them rightly. Rather than whine at others, we pour our hearts out to God.

Second, we travel. Not always literally, but always in obedience. God gets the people moving on at the end of the chapter. So should we be: stagnant behavior leads to sour begrudgings. Get moving, get following.

Finally, we train. We put our efforts into being ready. We dedicate ourselves for what we know is coming, and that is the trial that living in a sin-soaked world is.

As we practice this, we will see our complaining shrink. We may never lose it all…but we can stow some of it.

Today’s Nerd Note: Numbers 11:21 hits us with a mixed conundrum on the numbers of Numbers. Back in the early part of the book, we faced the seemingly over-large numbers of Israelites. Some estimates put the warriors at 600,000 and up, and the totals at 2.5 million. Others think that number is way too high, and look for reasons why the text allows lower. (See nerd note here)

Either estimation method has to wrestle with Numbers 11:21, where Moses appears to count the total of Israel at 600,000. Allowing for rounding, that’s still too many for the allegorical view, or even for the “thousands as military divisions” view. It’s not enough for the actual count as one-to-one.

Either way, though, it shows part of what is necessary in dealing with one section of Scripture: you must look to find other mentions of the same concept. This is also true of such issues as Creation understandings and Flood accounts. Where else is the “question” passage referred to? Who says what about it there?


  1. Can you really cover Numbers 11 and complaining without bringing in this classic:

    1. That's what I have a comment section for :-)


Post a Comment

To deal with SPAM comments, all comments are moderated. I'm typically willing to post contrary views...but I also only check the list once a day, so if you posted within the last 24 hours, I may not be to it yet.

Popular posts from this blog

Book: By the Waters of Babylon

Worship. It is what the church does as we strive to honor God with our lips and our lives. And then, many churches argue about worship. I have about a half-dozen books on my shelf about worship, but adding Scott Aniol’s By the Waters of Babylon to the shelf has been excellent.

First of all, Aniol’s work is not based on solving a musical debate. While that branch of worship is often the most troublesome in the local church, By the Waters of Babylon takes a broader view. The starting point is the place of the church. That place is a parallel of Psalm 137, where the people of God, Israel, found themselves in a strange land. The people of God, again, find themselves in a strange land.
Second, in summary, the book works logically to the text of Scripture, primarily Psalm 137 but well-filled with other passages. Then it works outward from how the text addresses the problems submitted in the first chapter into how worship, specifically corporate worship, should look in the 21st century Weste…

Book Review: The Heart Mender by @andyandrews (Andy Andrews)

The Heart Mender: A Story of Second ChancesEver read a book that you just kind of wish is true?  That's my take on The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews.  It's a charming story of love and forgiveness, and it's woven into the historical setting of World War II America.  For the narrative alone, the book is worth the read, but the message it contains is well worth absorbing as well.However, let's drop back a minute.  This book was originally published under the title Island of Saints.  I read Island of Saints and enjoyed it greatly.  Now, Andrews has released it under a new title, with a few minor changes.  All of this is explained in the Author's Note at the beginning, but should be noted for purchaser's sake.  If you read Island of Saints, you're rereading when you read The Heart Mender.  Now, go ahead and reread it.  It will not hurt you one bit.Overall, the story is well-paced.  There are points where I'd like more detail, both in the history and the geog…

Put Down That Tablet! Exodus 35

Moses assembles the people of Israel at Sinai one last time before they set out into the wilderness, headed for the Promised Land. He gives them a reminder of some portions of the commands of God and emphasizes the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 35 link).He also gives the one Biblical mention of tablet-type mobile devices in Exodus 35:3, where the command is given not to use your Kindle Fire on the Sabbath Day. Some of you just groaned. Some of you skipped the one-liner, and others just missed it. I’ll address you all in turn, but first let us address the person who thought this might be the hidden meaning of that command. After all, we are so easily distracted from our worship and commitment by all of the digital noise around us, why would we not take this text in this manner?The quite simple answer is: because it is not about digital devices. In total, the command to focus the day on Yahweh, Covenant God of Israel and all of Creation, and if your device subtracts from your f…