And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. (Numbers 11:1-3)

We are to be thankful, always thankful, and yet, if we were honest we are always complaining. No doubt this is the besetting sin of Christians. We all do it. We all complain. We are never short of things to complain about it, even the weather, and yet, if we realise who controls the weather we wouldn’t complain about that either!

Everyone complains. Many years ago, there was a monk that joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and again, he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.” His superior replied “It doesn’t surprise me a bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

Again, almost every time we open our mouths we complain and yet of all the people on the planet, thanksgiving or thankfulness is to be the common characteristic of God’s people. Unbelievers “do not honour or give Him thanks” (Romans 1:21) So, when it comes to complaining, it is the exact antithesis of thanksgiving!

Of course, the prime examples are the Hebrews. They were just delivered out of Egyptian slavery and oppression, when hardly getting around the corner, they are finding themselves complaining. In fact, constantly complaining and grumbling.

As a result, I want us to think about what lessons there are for us on how not to become complainers. In particular, we are interested in the “remedy for complaining”. Even Moses I think was interested in a “remedy for complaining”. I say that because that first generation of “complainers” died in the wilderness. So, he has an opportunity to teach that second generation before they head into the promised land. What do you think he says to them? Is he going to warn them not to complain like their fore-fathers?

The first few chapters of Deuteronomy are insightful. Notice below how many times Moses tells the next generation of Hebrews “ to take care . . . remember . . . and do not forget . . .”

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. (Deuteronomy 4:23)

then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:12)

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, (Deuteronomy 8:11)

then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, (Deuteronomy 8:14)

And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. (Deuteronomy 8:19)

Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord. (Deuteronomy 9:7)

There’s more but we’ll stop there. Hopefully, you got the point. What’s the remedy for complaining? In a word: “Remember!” “Don’t forget!” That is to say, at the heart of grumbling and complaining is forgetting. Which, by the way, is a nice way of calling it unbelief. In other words, faith remembers and believes while unbelief forgets and complains. Make sense? It’s that simple.

The Hebrews did not believe. They did not remember. They consistently forgot. And as a result, they consistently complained.

1. They complained about leaving Egypt on the Day of Crossing

Exodus 14:11-12 They said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 “Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

This was less than 48 hours after departing Egypt and they had already started their complaining. They hadn’t even reached the Red Sea and their negative attitude showed. God delivered them and they passed through the Red Sea, witnessing the destruction of the Egyptian army.

2. They complained about a lack of water

Exodus 15:22-25 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.

This was only three days after the crossing, yet they forgot what God had done for them. Understandably they were thirsty, but they failed the test. Instead of crying out in trust, they complained against Him.

3. They complained about a lack of food

Exodus 16:1-3 Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Now we are just only a matter of weeks in and the people were grumbling about their food. They reminisced about how “great’ they had it in Egypt, for they were fed slaves.

4. They complained against God

Exodus 16:8 Moses said, “This will happen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD.”

Numbers 14:27 “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me.

Psalm 106:24-25 Then they despised the pleasant land; They did not believe in His word, 25 But grumbled in their tents; They did not listen to the voice of the LORD.

Ultimately the grumblings against the blessings from God, the circumstances of God, plans of God and the leaders of God are against God. Remember, you can complain to God but you cannot complain about/against God!

5. They complained against their leaders

Exodus 17:3-4 But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.”

6. They complained about authority and pre-eminence

Numbers 12:1-3 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2 And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it . . . 9 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

7. They complained about the inhabitants of the Promised Land

Numbers 14:2-4 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”

They sent spies into the Promised Land to scope out the land for conquering. When they came back with the report, it was filled with complaining about how they could not take it. This would cost the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

8. They complained about the type of food

Numbers 11:4-6 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”

God gave them manna to eat. All they had to do was simply gather and prepare it, but that was not good enough for them. They missed the food of their past and wanted it back. So they complained!

They complained! That’s just what they did. They complained! They were complainers!

Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did. 7 Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to party. 8 Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did and in a single day twenty-three thousand people died. 9 Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And don’t grumble as some of them did and were killed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:6-11)

So, the question for us then is what can we learn from all this? If “the best remedy for complaining is a good memory” (as one author once said), then what do we need to remember?

Well, can I begin simply by saying that for us, we just need to remember God’s commands! For us, who have the full canon of Scripture, the most basic thing is to remember God’s commands.

Remember God’s Commands

1. God commands me never to complain

Do all things without complaining and arguing/disputing (Philippians 2:14)

2. God commands me to give thanks in every circumstance

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

3. God commands me to rejoice always and especially in times of trials

Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4)
Rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
Count it all joy when you fall into various trials (James 1:2)

So, remember God’s commands. Obey God’s commands. That’s one remedy for complaining.

But let’s take this a bit further; let’s go back and put ourselves in the shoes of these Hebrews: what else should they have remembered? What things in hindsight, you could say, the Israelites should have remembered?

1. They Should Have Remembered God’s (Self) Revelation

2. They Should Have Remembered God’s Faithfulness/Providences

3. They Should Have Remembered God’s Wisdom

4. They Should Have Remembered God’s Promises

Did they forget where they were heading to?
Did they forget what God promised them?

5. They Should Have Remembered God’s Grace

Spurgeon once said , “As long as a man is alive and out of hell, he cannot have any cause to complain.

6. They Should Have Remembered God’s Provisions

Psalm 100
a psalm for giving thanks

1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

In other words, give Him thanks! In fact . . .

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Why? Well, give Him thanks for who He is and what He has done!

For example . . .

  • He has redeemed us:

verse 3a Know that the LORD, He is God!
It is He who made us, and we are His; (or not ourselves)

  • He sustains us:

verse 3b we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

  • He cares for us:

verse 5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

What’s the point? The psalmist wants us to remember God’s provisions; to remember God’s goodness and benevolence.

Also, be content with what you have!

7. They Should Have Remembered God’s Calling

There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:5-6)

8. They Should Have Remembered God’s Power

  • in Creation
  • in the Flood
  • at the Tower of Babel
  • in the Exodus (plagues, crossing of Red Sea, etc)

9. They Should Have Remembered God’s Justice

10. They Should Have Remembered God’s Deliverance

Added all up, these ten remembrances should have shut the mouth up of every single Israelite. Equally for us. Next time we begin to complain, we need close our minds and reopen our minds. We need to remember all that God is and all that God has done!

After all,

Why should a living man complain,
a man, about the punishment of his sins? (Lamentations 3:39)