And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled…
Observe that it does not say that the people "murmured," but "complained," or, as it is in the margin, "were as it were complainers"; by which it is evidently meant that there was a feeling in their minds of scarcely expressed dissatisfaction. There was no sudden outbreak of murmuring, but the whispers and looks of discontent. There is no special mention of any particular reason for it. It does not say that their manna failed, or that any hostile army was arrayed against them. Doubtless the journeying was always wearisome, and on its fatigues they suffered their minds to dwell, forgetful of all the mercies vouchsafed them, and "complained." Now, we must all feel that right-down murmuring is very sinful, and in its worst forms most Christians overcome it; but not so complaining, for this seems to many to be scarcely wrong, and it often grows on them so gradually that they are seldom conscious of it. The causes of complaint are manifold. Little difficulties in our circumstances — little acts of selfishness in our neighbours; but complaining is most of all a danger with persons who have weak health — for weakness of body often produces depression of spirits — and this is the soil in which a complaining spirit takes deepest root. Then, too, it often grows into a habit; a tinge of discontent settles on the countenance, and the voice assumes a tone of complaint. And though this, like most habits soon becomes unconscious, yet it is not the less mischievous on that account. It is mischievous to our own souls, for it damps the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts, and enfeebles the spiritual life. It is mischievous in its effects upon others; for when Christians complain it gives the world altogether wrong impressions of the strength and consolation which the love of Christ affords, and it frequently generates the same spirit; one complains, and another, having the same or other causes of complaint, sees no reason why he should not complain too. And this was probably its history in Israel. It is scarcely likely that all began to complain at the same moment. Doubtless there were some who set the sad example, and then the hearts of all being predisposed, it spread like an epidemic. We should settle it well in our hearts that complaining, no less than murmuring, is a fruit of the flesh. David complained in Psalm 77:3, "I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed"; but he soon felt that the root of the evil was in himself. "This," he adds (ver. 10), "is my infirmity." But no part of Scripture proves more strikingly than the events at Taberah, how displeasing to God, and how dangerous in its results, a complaining spirit is. The punishment which followed, and which gave the name to the place, proves the first point. Patient and long-suffering as God ever was with Israel, we are told (Numbers 11:1) that "His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp." The severity of the punishment shows that this was no little sin, encompassed as they were with mercy, and guided by Jehovah Himself through the wilderness. It was no less dangerous in its result, for the subsequent history shows how "complaining" ripened into "murmuring," and murmuring was at last the cause of Israel's final fall. Let us endeavour, then, to watch against a "complaining spirit." In heavy and stunning afflictions we glorify God, when, like Aaron, we are enabled to "hold our peace." Like David, we can say, "I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it"; or, as in Psalm 131:2. Still more if we can, through grace, rise to the elevation of the afflicted Job, and say, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord"; or, if anything, to the still higher elevation of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:11-13). In the lesser and more ordinary trials of daily life, its difficulties and its duties, we glorify Him by Christian Cheerfulness; and how can we maintain this spirit but by tracing the hand of a Father in them all, carrying them all to God in prayer, and, most of all, by looking above present things to the "everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure"? For the things which are seen, our difficulties and our trials, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, our strength and our crown, are eternal.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.