Grumble and Stumble--by Kimberly B. Southall

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Grumble and stumble. Huh? What's that supposed to mean? Simple. If you want to stumble in your Christian walk, disappoint God, aggravate and depress others, all you've got to do is open your big mouth and grumble. We refer to grumbling by all sorts of others words such as complain, gripe, whine, murmur, mutter, and at least one not-so-nice word that starts with a "b." But no matter how you put it, to grumble is most assuredly to stumble in the eyes of both God and those who have a close walk with Him.

The Bible supplies us with examples of grumblers and the trouble they brought upon not only themselves but also many others.

The Israelites

A simple walk through the history of the Israelites as they made their exodus from Egypt and wandered in the desert for 40 years is rife with such examples. Let's review some of them.

Exodus 15:22-27. Only three days after being miraculously delivered through the parted Red Sea, the Israelites grumbled against Moses due to a lack of drinking water. God gave a decree and law then to (1) listen to the voice of God; (2) do right in God's eyes; and (3) pay attention to and keep His commands and decrees. If they obeyed, they would not have any of the diseases God brought on the Egyptians they had just miraculously escaped. And God then gave them plenty of good drinking water.

Now, wouldn't you think crossing the dry bed of the Red Sea with a miraculous wall of water on either side of you would stick in your mind for a few days to remind you of how powerful your God really is? Or what about the fact that all of the Egyptians who pursued were then drowned when those walls of water came crashing down upon them. Maybe a short memory wasn't the problem, though. Maybe they just didn't realize grumbling was wrong. After all, complaining comes so naturally to us, doesn't it? This is surely one reason why God gave them a decree and law so as to remind them to listen, do right, and pay attention.

Exodus 16. One-and-a-half months after leaving Egypt, the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron because they were hungry. They even went so far as to wish they had died in Egypt! The Word of God, though, makes it very clear that their grumbling against Moses and Aaron was actually grumbling against the Lord Himself. Even though He heard their grumbling, God graciously and miraculously sent quail for meat and manna for bread. In fact, even though the Israelites didn't follow the instructions regarding the gathering of the manna at first, God still faithfully supplied manna for them for 40 years.

The last time they were thirsty; now they're hungry. I can certainly sympathize. I can get pretty cranky when I'm hungry or thirsty and there's no food or drink in sight. But to wish I had died as a slave in Egypt? I don't know . . . doesn't that sound a little extreme? And did you notice that grumbling against a leader appointed by God is actually grumbling against the Lord Himself!? Now, there's a scary thought. Even so, God came through for them. Isn't He wonderful!?

Exodus 17:1-7. Again, the Israelite community quarreled with Moses because there was no water to drink. Moses warned that they were putting the Lord to the test. Instead of listening, however, the people continued to grumble against Moses. Ignoring the fact Moses had followed God's instructions, they falsely accused him of bringing them out of Egypt to die. Moses believed they were even ready to stone him! Faithful, as always, God supplied Moses with a miraculous way of supplying water for the Israelites.

Maybe the lack of water made their brains get fuzzy or something. Can you imagine accusing someone who had gone to all the trouble which Moses had for them of doing it only so they would have to die? And if they stoned Moses, then just who did they think they could rely upon for water, and who would they have to blame the next time? How bright is it to criticize a leader selected by God who has done nothing but intervene on your behalf in the past? Isn't it absolutely amazing how patient God is with them--supplying water for them after they act like that?

Numbers 11:1-3. A year into their journey (Numbers 10:11), the people were again found complaining about their hardships. God heard it and became angry. How angry was He? Fire from the Lord burned among them and even consumed the outskirts of the camp! It was only after Moses prayed that the fire died down.

Uh-oh. This really isn't looking good, is it? Here they are, a year down the road, and they still haven't learned to keep their lips zipped when they faced hardship. God had never failed to come through for them in the crunch, and yet that seems to keep slipping their memories. Do you suppose losing part of the camp (and I assume more than a few of their fellow Israelites) caught their attention? One might think so, until . . .

Numbers 11:4-35. The rabble with them began to crave other food and caused the Israelites to start wailing for meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. ("Rabble" refers to the non-Israelite mixed group of people who followed the Israelites out of Egypt.) This wailing came from people in every family! Moses was troubled, and the Lord was angry. All the complaining of the people sent Moses into despair until he was burdened enough to ask the Lord to just put him to death. God gave Moses some helpers. And God sent quail for meat. But this time there was a catch. He struck them with a plague. The people who had craved other food were buried, because they had angered the Lord.

Now it's those outsiders or foreigners who stirred the pot. But notice that the grumbling didn't end with the "rabble." It spread like wildfire until there was at least one in every family who griped. What affect did this have on Moses? He was troubled enough that he wanted to die. And small wonder--the outskirts of the camp being fried to a crisp the last time the people grumbled was probably still vivid in his memory. Notice that those who had craved the other food were buried. If you put it all together, we're talking about at least one member of every family dying! Grumbling and grieving a leader appointed by God is serious business. If only those in the church today could remember that.

Numbers 12. Next, Aaron and Miriam began to talk against Moses because they didn't approve of his choice of a wife. They compared themselves to Moses and judged themselves to be every bit as worthy. The Lord clearly did not agree with them, for His anger burned against them, and Miriam wound up with leprosy. Moses, a humble man, intervened on her behalf, and Miriam was healed.

This is getting really bad and ugly, now. It's not just the regular folks grumbling, but even Aaron is in on it now. And Aaron was Moses' right-hand man! Aaron had been there the whole time to see the terrible effect of grumbling against God's chosen leader. And yet, for some mysterious reason, he's now doing the very same thing. This just goes to show how anyone can be susceptible to grumbling and fault-finding if he or she is subjected to hearing it for a prolonged period of time. And talk about humble! Good old Moses came through for Miriam even considering how she and Aaron had treated him. What a stand-up guy!

Numbers 14. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron because 10 of the 12 men sent to check out the promised land came back with a poor attitude and no faith in God's ability to deliver what He had promised. Again, they wished they had died in Egypt or the desert. They began to plot about choosing another (their own) leader. This time Moses and Aaron weren't alone--Joshua and Caleb backed them up and warned the people not to rebel against the Lord. The whole assembly then began to discuss stoning all four of them! God offered to wipe out all of the rebellious Israelites and raise up a nation from Moses. But Moses pleaded with God for mercy on the Israelites. Consequently, God didn't strike them all dead. Instead, He decreed that no one who disobeyed and tested Him would ever see the promised land. Only Caleb and Joshua and those younger than 20 would enter the land. The rebellious Israelites and their children would suffer in the desert for 40 years. The Lord pointed out that the whole community was wicked and had banded together against Him. The 10 faithless spies died of a plague. Even then, the Israelites disobeyed and decided to try to go into the promised land themselves--without God--where they were defeated just as Moses had warned them.

I can identify with the 10 spies, can't you? There have been lots of times when I thought something might be too difficult to accomplish. But fear is no excuse for grumbling in God's eyes, as we can see from this example given to us in God's Word. Did you notice that all the Israelites complained this time? The punishment for this grumbling session was a memorable one (40 years of wandering in the desert), and the 10 faithless spies didn't live long enough to tell about it.

Numbers 16. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram became insolent and rose up against Moses. They gathered 250 council members (well-known community leaders) and opposed Moses and Aaron as a group. They alleged that the whole community was just as holy as Moses and Aaron, insinuating that Aaron hadn't really been appointed by God to be the high priest. They also accused Moses of trying to make slaves of them and not delivering on his promises. God prepared to destroy the whole assembly, but Moses pleaded with God to only punish the sinners. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with their entire families and all their belongings, were swallowed up by the earth. And the 250 council members who had rebelled were consumed by fire from the Lord. Even so, the very next day, the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of killing the Lord's people! God immediately sent a plague upon the people. At God's instruction, Aaron offered incense and made atonement for the people, stopping the plague--but not before 14,700 more people died.

The Israelites had grumbled a lot. Grumbling had become commonplace--"old hat." And now, in their rebellion and grumbling, they tried something a little new--getting council members to form an "official" rebellion against God's leaders. After all, individual grumbling had gotten them nowhere. Why not attack like a pack of wolves? Apparently, God despises group grumbling as much as or more than individual grumbling--to the tune of the loss of the lives of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their entire families as well as 250 council member lives. And refusing to accept blame for the consequences of their grumbling and, instead, pointing the finger at someone else was stupid as well as devastating--to the tune of the loss of 14,700 more lives. We would do well to remember this.

Numbers 17. The Lord indicated that Aaron was His chosen high priest by having his staff bloom and produce almonds. He did this to put an end to the constant grumbling against Him. Aaron's staff was kept as a sign to the rebellious.

Are you getting as weary of all of this constant grumbling as I am? And just think--we're only reading about it. Just imagine how Moses felt, having to deal with it day in and day out. And horror of horrors, think about what our holy and righteous God thought of all the grumbling!

Psalm 106. This Psalm supplies an overview of the history of Israel, including their rebellion and grumbling. Here you can find the grumbling and its nasty consequences "in a nutshell."

Grumblers in the New Testament

Examples of grumbling certainly aren't restricted to the Old Testament. There are several examples and commands in the New Testament concerning grumbling.

Matthew 20:1-16. In Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard, they grumbled when they received exactly what was promised and they had agreed upon when taking the job. Jesus' point here is that grumbling is equal to saying God is unfair and doesn't have the right to do as He sees fit.

Luke 5:30. The Pharisees and teachers of the law complained when Jesus ate with tax collectors and "sinners."

John 6:41-70. The Jews grumbled about Jesus saying He came down from heaven. Jesus told them to stop grumbling among themselves. This led to an argument among the Jews and eventually to Jesus' disciples grumbling and many turned back from following Him. A little grumbling goes a long way. Listening to grumbling from outside the group can lead to grumbling within the group, and eventually to disunity.

Acts 18:12-17. When Paul was brought to a Roman court and charged with "persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law," Gallio pointed out that the complaint didn't concern a misdemeanor or serious crime but was, instead, a question of words and names. He told them to settle the matter themselves, and kicked them out of the court. This shows us that Christians shouldn't air church problems, disputes, or "dirty laundry" out in the community; the world doesn't want or need to hear it.

1 Corinthians 10:10. We are commanded, "do not grumble."

Philippians 2:14. We are commanded, "do everything without complaining or arguing."

James 5:9. We are commanded, "don't grumble against each other." If we do, the penalty is that we'll be judged.

1 Peter 4:9. We are to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Jude. This book is about those who have slipped in among Christians but really are godless men who change the grace of God into a license for immorality. They are identified as grumblers and faultfinders who follow their own evil desires, boast about themselves, and flatter others for their own advantage.


Through this review of the scriptures, we can see how grumbling can start small but end up having a very big and very bad affect. We can surely identify with some of these examples ourselves. It can seem so natural to grumble. We can even delude ourselves into thinking that we need to grumble or are even entitled to grumble. But the fact of the matter is that God does not want us to grumble. He does want us to share our problems with Him, but it's all in the attitude. Think about the Israelites. Was there ever once an example in any of those cases we reviewed in which they first asked God for what they needed or wanted? No, in each case, they grumbled first, second, and last. And after the first couple of times, punishment followed their grumbling.

Even though God is very patient and loving, scripture makes it clear that there is a limit to the grumbling He will endure before there are serious consequences. It can be individual grumbling, family grumbling, community grumbling, or mass "official" grumbling, but it is all sin and unacceptable in God's eyes. Every time we grumble, we stumble. Worse, each time we grumble, we do so in the presence of at least one other person. And, as we see from the examples set forth in God's Word, that leads to others becoming "desensitized" to grumbling. The next thing you know, we have caused someone else to grumble and stumble. And then they "infect" someone else with the sin of grumbling, and on and on and on spreads the plague of grumbling and its far-reaching consequences.

Just as the Israelites were instructed in Exodus chapter 15, we would be wise to follow God's simple commands to (1) listen to the voice of God; (2) do right in God's eyes; and (3) pay attention to and keep His commands and decrees. If we do, we can manage not to grumble and stumble.

Copyright © 2004 Kimberly B. Southall. All rights reserved.