Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Universal Complaint: Numbers 12

Numbers 12 
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? oHas he not spoken through us also?” And pthe Lord heard it.

I am enjoying a 'new year's resolution' to study all the chapter 12's in the Bible for 2012. I was delighted to see what that meant for the book of Numbers- whew! a narrative and not a long list of names!

And this has been my favorite reading yet- such an interesting passage in an even more interesting context. Looks like it will produce multiple blog posts yet again.

So the first part is 'easy'- it is a general look at the general nature of complaining. But -'easy' is not so easy.

When you look at the Book of Numbers and put in in the context of all that is going on in the pentateuch- it is amazing to see the emergence of 'patterns' in the narrative. There seems to be a pattern of complaints- here the people complain- Moses listens- he goes to God- and then response. There also seems to be a Pre- Mount Sinai atmosphere in the complaint cases and a Post- Mount Sinai atmosphere in the complaint cases.

(Side note: Our God is the author of patterns- patterns of predictability- and the very definition of 'miracle' is where He acts contrary to the established pattern. But the patterns in all of creation point to a designer. Order did not come out of chaos and to look at the patterns in nature/life and deny the Creator is a piece of the unforgivable sin- rejecting Jesus Christ.)

Numbers 12 comes right off Numbers 11 the 2nd complaint where the people grumble because they have no meat and God responds by cramming it down their throats (now there is much more to it than I have flippantly stated here).

But I need to mention a few pre-cursors about complaining from the Numbers 11 account and then jump into the brother and sister complaint here in Chapter 12.

I- Wide Range Grumbling/Complaining Takes a Toll on the Spirit of a People and on the Leaders of a People.

Notice how Moses seems to change throughout the episodes of complaining by the people. Before Sinai, the people are crying out about their needs (water) and their experience with God is relatively new and without written Law. Moses cries out to God on behalf of the people and God responds.

One issue here in getting to know God's modus-operendi - His habit of providing just enough in the nick of time. He often waits and provides closer to the point of failure. We don't like that- but He does it many times that way. Most of the time it is to teach us patience and grow our faith. I think a huge surprise in heaven will be how quickly we are lavished according to our wants- but at that point our wants are not corrupted. Remember, this life is 'training' and not leisure. Some people, refuse to acknowledge this part of God and can grow bitter toward God, losing the attitude of gratitude, and despising His 'just in time' provisions.

After Sinai, the people are grumbling about wants and suggesting that 'we had it better in Egypt'. This is after a longer experience with God and after the giving of His LAW. And God deals with these circumstances in a harsher.

And the biggest impact is on Moses himself-

Numbers 11: 11 iMoses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, j‘Carry them in your bosom, as a knurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land lthat you swore to give their fathers? 13 mWhere am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 nI am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

I am going to list a lot of good reasons about why we should not get into a cycle of habitual grumbling or complaining- but a key issue is the health of a people and the toll it takes on these leaders. In a word, Moses was discouraged.

And the worst part of discouragement is that Moses loses sight of God's ability to provide. He has taken the burden of the people on himself and God's power seems distant.

If you ever want to really help an organization- learn to speak powerful words of support more than complaints. It will re-invigorate the spirit of a place and the leaders of a place.

I'm thinking a lot about the health of our nation here. The high level of complaints on both sides of the aisles has us more divided than ever. When Lincoln quoted the Bible in saying 'A house divided against itself cannot stand' he wasn't just talking about war.

Our only hope is a spiritual restoration.......

II- The Bible commands us NOT to complain.

Do all things without complaining and disputing. Philippians 2:14In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Rom. 8:18; For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. 2 Corinthians 4:19Who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously. 1 Peter 2:23My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Ultimately, all complaining is against God. It is an indictment on God's providence and provision. When we habitually complain, it is basically calling God a liar.

PUSH-BACK: Does this mean I never have a right to voice concerns and relay information that may be negative? Do we have to be polly-anna ostriches with our heads in the sand?

Of course not- overly optimistic or idealized speech may be hollow or without authenticity. The key is the heart, the tone, the message, and the audience.

Now to the key point here in Numbers 12.

III- Family Feud: "Miriam and Aaron"- Miriam's name is mentioned first and the verb is in the feminine- Miriam is the one leading this attack. It could be that Aaron's sin here is similar to Adam in the garden- a lack of leadership and passive silence. But even if he is just a bystander- to keep hearing the complaint without response is as good as supporting the complaint.

So here is sister and brother voicing a complaint. As much as outside complaining hurts, when it comes from your own flesh and blood it is even deeper.

Same in the church- outside attacks from the world never sting as much as internal attacks in the flock.

Why do the people we love the most get our worst? We treat total strangers better than our own kin. Maybe the family side of us is a better indicator of our real heart?

IV- The Spoken Criticism Hides the Deeper Problem:

Miriam and Aaron are speaking against the "Cushite' wife- but the real issue is that they are unhappy with God. They may gripe about Moses' decision to marry a Cushite, but the Bible is clear: it is old fashioned jealousy that is poisoning the well.

(Side Note: This passage may indicate a re-marriage here to a person from the ethiopian area after Zipporah's death or it could loosely refer to Zipporah. Quite a story in and of itself!)

Why do we do this? We couch behind trivial complaints, when the real reasons are obscured.

Notice that the criticism was based on a true fact- but the intentions were not good. If this isn't a warning to all of us, then what is?

V- The Cryptic Fact: The Lord Heard

And this one is not going to go so well. I feel a little for Miriam here because I think she, unfortunately, is a bigger part of what had been going on with Moses and God's concern for him. This is going to be the main thrust of the next blog post on this chapter.

But- when we complain or when we gossip or when we spread dissension- we have to be aware that God sees and hears. And He protects His own!

Well I have to stop here. I'm a little concerned about this post and the unintended. My job is such that I hear some complaining, but most of it is done with very loving, patient, and sober words.

And I am a little fearful that anyone reading this may be thinking that I am blasting them for reporting concerns- and I pray that it is not the case.

But here is a little advice I have been giving for years about 'complaining'.

1. Don't press send. 
I used to say this to my coaches all the time. We get our emotions up and write that e-mail and hit those keys with force. It is very hard to communicate the heart involved in conflict in an e-mail or an acrimonious blog post! Write them but don't send them.

2. Sleep on it.
I have had a few times in my coaching career where a parent is waiting on me after the game. My practice is to walk up and say, "Mr ________, I know we need to talk but please, let's wait until in the morning." I know this flies against, not letting the sun go down on your anger, but usually the conversation is more civil after a night of rest.

3. Take criticism with prayerful objectivity.
This is a much tougher one, but an unexamined life will never improve.

4. Small circles.
Please protect the reputation of those you may be complaining about. Meditate on Matthew 18 and realize that even if a person is in sin, the system is designed to limit the wide spread of this damaging and hurtful information.

5. Cultivate gratitude.
For every negative thing you say- try to look for the good as well. Don't commit the sin of Eve who despised all the good things God gave to dwell on the prohibition.

6. Truly pray for those with whom you have a complaint.
Years ago, I got a really bad attitude toward someone. During coffee, I let another friend know of my 'very legitimate' complaints. When I finished, the true brother gently corrected me in the area of 'complaining' and challenged me to pray everyday for this person. It was one of the greatest blessings I have ever experienced.

7. Our information may be flawed. I have been burned too many times by someone telling me what they thought was the exact story, only to find it much different than reported. As a parent, I have learned that my children are not the best source of information and that they sometimes vent stuff to me as an outlet. As I look into the matter, the drama factor has changed significant details. All human beings see the same subjects in differing lights.

8. Live above the fray. I Peter 2:12 :Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. (NLT)

A closing story:

Years ago someone sent an anonymous e-mail to me and others that listed offenses and accused me, by name, of some very heinous actions. The biggest problem was... none of them were true!

The language was, "It has been said that Coach Mathews ....." and this was posted as gospel fact.

And if I am to be honest... it hurt me deeply.

Some time after that, another internet poster wrote a very harmful description of me as a person and a coach.

All you can do in those times is to bow your knee and ask God to come to your rescue. To my knowledge, those reports have not harmed me ( I was asked about the internet post during a job interview- but there were 25 to 1 posts that said positive things- and it did not harm me).

My challenge for all of us is to be diligent to not participate in habitual grumbling, but learn to live in the fruitful, positive, thankful environment of followers of Christ!


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