In our portion this week Israel complete their final preparations for leaving the mountain. After organizing the camps, arranging communication while traveling and celebrating the Passover for those unable a month before, they finally leave Mt. Sinai and begin their journey to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- Numbers 8:1-12:16
- Zechariah 2:14-4:7
- Hebrews 3:7-4:1
This was the moment that the people had been expecting. The entered the desert as a nomadic tribe of recently freed slaves, and now were beginning a journey as a nation, wealthy and powerful. We gain a glimpse of the excitement in Moshe’s prayer as the Ark of the Covenant set out,
“Rise up, O Adonai!
And let Your enemies be scattered,
And let those who hate You flee before You.”Numbers 11:35 NASB
And again, when it came to rest,
Return, O Adonai,
To the myriad thousands of Israel.Numbers 11:36 NASB
But the hope that has been built up, quickly dissolves before the people’s complaints. Three times in only a few weeks the Children of Israel suffer the anger of Adonai because of complaint. First, because of adversity. Next, because they got better food while slaves, and third, because of Moshe’s wife. It comes as no surprise, then, next week, when we read that because of fear and mistrust, they are not allowed to enter into the land of promised rest. What changed? Why did the people go from such hope to despair, so quickly?
A clue can be found in how the first complaints started. Numbers 11:1 states:
Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of Adonai;Emphasis added
The word complain in Hebrew is מִתְאֹנְנִים (miton-neem). It is the hitpolel verbal form of the root אנן (to mourn). This verbal form describes an action done to oneself. By using this verb, in this form, Scripture deftly takes away the ability for the people to blame anyone but themselves. No one coercer or deceived them They weren’t forced to complain by their circumstances. Instead, because of perceived difficulties they responded by despair. They mourned their dire circumstances and began to complain. While it was true they were in the desert, they were free, walking to a promised homeland with the King of the Universe in their midst with the wealth of Egypt in their wagons. Dire circumstances indeed!
Yet in their defense, don’t we react the same way? The first few days after the Dayton tornadoes last month I was grateful that we were spared major damage. Yet after that it was very easy to be critical of the city for still not returning water service. Forgetting that Adonai spared my family by only a few city blocks, I complained. Not remembering that He had provided us a full rain barrel for flushing our toilet, I bemoaned. My language might be over the top compared to my actual reaction, but I can look at Israel and see how the would have responded more easily.
The simple truth is that we do it to ourselves. We forget the blessings of a gracious heavenly Father in the light of the smallest difficulty. In our lives, as with Israel then, it will lead to more complaining. It started with just a few on the outskirts, then led to the rabble, and ended with the High Priest and his sister the prophetess. Complaints spread quickly, and will do much damage to the family Elohim. So what’s the solution?
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing by joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.James 1:2-4 NET