Read Exodus 17:1 – 7
“He called the place Massah [“proof”] and Meribah [“contention”] because of the fault-finding of the Israelites and because they tempted and tried the patience of the Lord, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” Exodus 17:7
Did you notice the title of this devotional before you read it? Were you prepared to hear about what was wrong with complaining and be admonished not to do it, or were you ready to defend complaining as being alright with the Lord?
I believe this passage gives us insight on the “right” and the “wrong” about complaining. It seemed that no matter how much the Lord took care of them, the Israelites just couldn’t or wouldn’t trust Him. God had taken them out of Egypt with a bounty of plunder. Then, He showed His power when He parted the Red Sea for them, and made His favor clear when He closed it up for the Egyptians. He led them in spectacular ways and provided for their daily needs. Even after all of this, when there was no water in the desert, they were not happy and began to complain. God was not pleased.
I see Moses’s expression of distress right alongside that of the Israelites. Moses cried out to God and said “What do I do? I am going to get stoned here!” My question is, “Why was it okay for Moses to complain?” Before we content ourselves with saying that Moses was just asking for direction from God, so his attitude was different, let’s take a look at Numbers 11:14-15.
In this passage, Moses’s complaint was much more direct. He said to the Lord:
“I am not able to carry all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. And if this is the way You deal with me, kill me, I pray You, at once, and be granting me a favor and let me not see my wretchedness (in the failure of all my efforts).”
Yet God never lost patience with Moses.
I believe that the key here is not whether or not we get discouraged and express ourselves frankly to God. If you look closely, you’ll see an important difference in faith and attitude. When the Israelites complained (Exodus 17:3), they assumed a lack of goodness in their Almighty and deeply-loving God. This is the basis of a lack of faith. Faith believes what it cannot see – that whether or not it looks good, God is who He says He is, and we can count on Him through thick and thin. The Israelites did not voice this kind of faith, which resulted in an adversarial attitude toward their leader and therefore toward God (Exodus 16:8).
Moses’s attitude stood in contrast to the Israelites’. He was just as honest with God, but he never accused Him. Moses poured out his heart to God as a friend. God responded by giving Moses direction and help.
How about you? When things get tough, what do you assume of God? Do you believe that He still loves you, and that He will work this out in the best possible way? I believe that Moses teaches us that complaining honestly to God is okay, but it must be based in a faith that believes God is who He says He is, and that He will come through. This is the kind of faith that pleases God and that will take us through the tough times of life and ministry.