Complaints and Responses

Scripture Focus: Numbers 20.10-13
10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

Reflection: Complaints and Responses

By John Tillman

Complaint is not always sinful but leaders too often treat it that way. 

The Israelites often complain. Sometimes their complaints are unjustified or overdramatic, but other times they concern legitimate needs. Sometimes God calls their complaining or grumbling sinful, but other times no condemnation is specified. 

In today’s passage, we see unhealthy complaining and unhealthy responses by leaders. Only Moses’ response, however, is condemned by God. Also, despite Moses disobeying his instructions, God still miraculously answered the people’s complaint. No one is a hero in this passage except God.

Healthy complaints come from reality falling short of what was promised. Israel’s promise from God, through Moses, was a land flowing with “milk and honey.” Not even having water was a natural point of complaint. 

Both times Israel complained about lack of water the confrontation got heated and personal. Both times they went beyond complaining to accuse Moses of plotting to kill them. Moses complained to the Lord in Exodus 17 that the people were ready to stone him. (Exodus 17.1-7) In today’s passage, he called them “rebels.” (Numbers 20.8-12) Moses took these personal attacks to heart, growing angry rather than compassionate toward the people’s legitimate needs.

God didn’t condemn the people or Moses for their complaining. He simply supplied their lack. At Rephidim, The Lord stood beside Moses as he struck a rock to bring forth water. At Meribah, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water. It is a tender and god-like act to speak things into being, but Moses rejects this plan, opting for a show of force. 

Moses speaks to the people instead of to the rock. Instead of speaking words of life, bringing life-giving water, he speaks harsh, brash, and prideful words. He defends his honor instead of honoring God. He proclaims his power, his ability, and his “righteousness” instead of demonstrating trust in God.

God says to Moses, “You didn’t trust me. You didn’t honor me. But I will still be faithful to the people and supply what they complain for. I will still be faithful to my promise and bring them into the land.” (Numbers 20.12)

For followers and leaders, complaining legitimately and responding honorably are difficult. When the reality of our world does not match the promises of God, complaint can be a spiritual practice rather than a sin. When we complain, instead of calling into question God’s holiness, we can point to God’s holiness as a reason for him to act.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting

To you I lift up my eyes, to you enthroned in the heavens.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he shows us his mercy. — Psalm 123.1-3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 20 (Listen – 4:15)
Psalm 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)

Read more about Complaining in Prayer
Have you ever wondered if it was appropriate to express your thoughts, feelings, and darkest emotions to God?

Read more about Complaint to Commission
Complaining can turn into unspiritual grumbling but it can also initiate lament in our lives and communities.

Artful Prayers

Psalm 57.1, 4
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
   for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
   until the disaster has passed.

I am in the midst of lions;
   I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
   whose tongues are sharp swords.

Reflection: Artful Prayers
By John Tillman

All scripture is “useful for training in righteousness,” but what scripture is—what mode and form of writing it takes—affects how we engage with it.

Lists of legalities in Leviticus may leave us dry. Genealogical records may excite us only when scandalous details grab our attention. Histories of heroes and villains may be thrilling and inspiring, but can often lead us astray if we are foolish enough to think we are always intended to religiously copy the actions and choices of historical figures. The fully flawed and un-idealized humans recorded in scripture show us more of their sins than their virtues. When rightly read, the lives of even heroes like David are perhaps more cautionary than they are aspirational.

One of the reasons that the psalms are so engaging to any reader of God’s Word is that they are works of art and carry with them the inherent timelessness that great artworks possess. In the psalms, we see with the eyes of those viewing a play, hearing a song, gazing into a painting.  We are here to enter the lived emotion of the artists who bared their souls to God in prayers that were always intended to be performed.

The psalms are not merely a private diary of rants and ravings to God, they are intended for an audience of humans. Some are written “to the director of music,” to be performed chorally. Some are “maskils,” instructive, pedagogical poetry that is intended to teach a lesson. Some are “songs of ascents,” to be sung as one climbed the Temple mount to worship. Psalms are intended for us to see them, hear them, perform them, and to participate emotionally with them. Psalms are intimate in the same way a play performed in a 1200 seat theatre is intimate.

In the psalms, we aren’t going to be told what to do in the office today when someone insults us. But we can see the inner emotional reality of someone whose friends were betrayed to death and who is now hiding in a cave. We won’t get three practical points about how to tell someone about Jesus, but we will get to see the world’s wonder through the eyes of an artist painting a descriptive thank you to a loving creator.

All art is not scripture. But all art preaches. Many times art preaches more effectively than a sermon.

May we live artfully in the power of the Holy Spirit, creating with our lives a prayer that may be seen, heard, felt, and may cause those viewing it to join tearfully in our sufferings, and joyfully in our celebrations.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.7-8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 19 (Listen – 3:39)
Psalm 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 20 (Listen – 4:15) Psalm 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)
Numbers 21 (Listen – 5:03) Psalm 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

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