In the Old Testament, there’s a story about complaining that shows the seriousness of this offense against God. The tale is told in the first three verses of Numbers 11. It is a short story – not a lot of detail – but it packs a punch. You won’t believe the consequences the Lord metes out on the whiners in Israel’s wilderness camp. They’ll seem harsh – insanely severe. But who are you, who am I to question God? Our Maker knows the heart of every complainer and judges each one rightly. He is perfectly just. His punishments always fit the crime. They are never cruel or unusual. Never!
So here’s the story.
“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them.” (Numbers 11:1-3, NIV)
I told you the consequences were grave! Fire from the Lord consumed, burned up, toasted the complainers. Fire from the Lord! I thought that his fire was reserved for really bad people – people who do nasty stuff, stuff I would never do, stuff you wouldn’t do. But no! God’s fire isn’t just for the sexually immoral or murderers or false prophets. His wrath is poured out on complainers too.
Bummer. I cannot escape God’s judgment. I am a sinful complainer. I deserve death. My only hope – your only hope – is the grace of God.
Moses prayed to God and he had compassion on the people. The fire died down. The majority of the complainers was spared.
God is holy, but he is full of grace too. The name he proclaimed to Moses years before this gave testimony to that fact. Our God’s name is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Immediately after proclaiming this name, God spoke these words concerning his actions: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Exodus 34:6-7b, NIV)
Who God is has not changed? He is a gracious and loving God. He is slow to anger. He forgives. But he does not leave the guilty unpunished. Today, we must pray to God for mercy just as Moses did. Our God’s grace is sufficient. He will take away the guilt and condemnation of all our sin – even our awful griping – when we cry out to him. That’s good news!
“If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)
When we admit our wrongheaded grumbling, it’s forgiven and Jesus says to us, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11b, NIV)
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