Complaining Against God
Putting ourselves in the sandals of slaves freed from Egypt can give insights into faith, fear and the tyranny of doubt. What would we have done?
Imagine you are in the desert, trudging along, pulling a couple of donkeys behind you. You’re not following a road, you’re just following the dust trail from the people in front of you, hardly taking your eyes off the ground. You’re exhausted and haven’t slept a full night in days.
Your throat is dry and parched, and you’ve never been so hungry before in your life. All you want is a good meal and a good bed to sleep in, like you had back home. But that’s not home anymore. The desert is my home now, you think tiredly.
When you left, you somehow imagined it would be different than this. Maybe you would just kind of float and end up plopped down in the land “flowing with milk and honey.” But now, what you wouldn’t do for just a drink of water!
The children of Israel were in bondage. They were slaves, held in a foreign land and forced to labor, building huge cities for their captors. The Egyptians even tried to wipe out a whole generation of Israelites by killing every baby boy! You would imagine that they were desperate to be free and that they cried out to God to save them.
They were, and they did. But some creeping enemies called “fear” and “doubt” brought them back into servitude many times in the next 40 years. They were held captive by their own lack of faith.
Sparks of faith; seeds of doubt
When God sent Moses from the burning bush back to the land of Goshen to tell the Israelites of their promised deliverance, Aaron spoke God’s inspiring words and Moses did God’s incredible signs.
Between the speech and the miracles, “the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their application, then they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31).
Yet at the first sign of trouble, all faith was gone. Their humble worship turned to anger. Their situation had only gotten worse! Now, instead of just having to make bricks every day (as if that wasn’t bad enough), they had to gather their own straw for the bricks, while still meeting the same quota!
They angrily told Moses and Aaron, “Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21).
Prone to doubt
There’s a certain predictable pattern to the story of the Exodus.
- The children of Israel doubted when they were tested in this matter of bricks and straw.
- They doubted when they came out of Egypt and reached the Red Sea and saw Pharaoh coming after them.
- They doubted when they were thirsty and had no drinkable water.
- They doubted when they were hungry.
- They doubted when Moses was up on the mountain for too long getting the 10 Commandments.
- They doubted when they heard of giants in the Promised Land.
You might say that Israel was slightly prone to doubt. After all the mighty miracles God had done—from the plagues to the Red Sea crossing to the manna from heaven—each time they reached a new challenge they were incapable of taking it on faith that God would get them through this too.
A hint of adversity was instantly a reminder of how much better off they had been on their own, serving Pharaoh in Egypt and forgetting their God. They made Him “the bad guy” time and time again, blaming Him for the trials that inevitably followed their deliverance instead of praising Him for the deliverance.
They deliberately overlooked blessing after blessing in order to focus on the lurking shadowy doubt in the background. Was God great enough to save them from … (fill in the blank)?
In their hearts they turned back
Doubting turned almost instantly to a mental return to Egypt through comparative complaining and Egypt-type sin (such as the golden calf). Stephen spoke of their sin thousands of years later. “In their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him’” (Acts 7:39-40).
But it was God who had brought them out of Egypt, who led them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so that they would know He was always with them! Had they forgotten so soon? Had they completely missed the point?
Getting the point
God has done miraculous things in each of our lives. From the day we were born till now, He has never forgotten or neglected us. Yet how often do we overlook the daily blessings and complain of trivial things that we know He can provide? Do we have faith in God as our healer and sustainer? When we are flustered or discouraged or upset, do we complain—or do we pray?
Let’s return for a moment to that desert trail. Would I have whined? To be honest, I probably would have. But instead, what if I took that moment and lifted my head and looked up, toward that pillar of cloud before us, and kept my eyes fixed on God alone?
For more about growing in faith, see the section on “Faith: Believing and Pleasing God.”