Contrary to what some believe, God is not holding a large stick in His hand just waiting to beat on us the moment we say an irreverent word. God understands humanity far too well to expect us to be more than what we are: creatures who whine, fuss and complain whenever things get tough. Now before you start thinking you’re above this ugly behavior, let’s remember that everyone defines “tough” differently. A broken finger nail may be enough to trigger a pout in some of us, while others of us have the stamina to keep smiling through much harsher conditions. But everyone has their sniveling line, and when it’s crossed, we all degrade into the same self-pitying whiners. Don’t get cocky if you’ve been equipped with a high tolerance for things not going your way. God doesn’t pass out buckets of grace without a strategy in mind. Those of us who have the ability to weather extremes will often find ourselves called to serve Him in such environments long term. So let’s look at some of the famous whiners in the Bible and see what we can learn.
We all know about poor Job. People like to remember Job as saying “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Someone writes a worship song that expands on this thought and we never bother with the rest of the book. Why? Because it makes us uncomfortable. What kind of loving God sits up in Heaven making bets with Satan about how long a human being can be tormented before cursing his Maker? But when our own lives start going south we find ourselves taking a peek into those disturbing pages and really resonating with Job’s words. Unlike his irritating friends, Job calls things like they are. He throws all pretense out the window and start listing off very honest observations about the world which his holier-than-thou pals are too fake to make. God DOESN’T always punish the wicked and bless the righteous. Plenty of times He does just the opposite. This world is filled with injustice. It doesn’t always pay to do right. God sometimes trashes good people for no reason at all. His methods are lousy and terribly unfair. Job is so frustrated, fed up and spiritually starved out by God’s stonewalling silence that he keeps challenging Him to show up and have it out with him, Maker-to-man. Job is desperate for dialogue. He wants to know why his Friend has suddenly turned on him.
God’s response to Job disturbs many because they read it too quickly. After listening to Job rant and rave for quite some time, God finally does appear: and He’s not in the best of moods. Here is that disturbing view of a squashed bug being yelled at by the shoe which stepped on it. Why is God acting so nasty? Doesn’t He realize what Job’s been going through: physical agony, insomnia, brutal depression, the death of all his children, an estranged wife, and twerpy friends judging him all day? Isn’t God supposed to be a kind and compassionate Father–our God of all comfort? Yet He shows up in a freaky storm and starts ranting at poor Job about who made leviathan. Okay, so Job missed out on the initial creation party and he can’t measure the boundaries of the earth. What’s that have to do with the price of eggs, right?
When God shows up, He first gives Job a harsh lecture, then He pays him an extremely high compliment. The lecture has one main point: “Don’t dare to judge Me as being nasty, little man, you don’t have the first clue about how I do things.” Job realizes that although his observations about how things work in the real world were fine, the conclusions he drew from them were wrong. Because Job saw inconsistency, he had concluded God’s character was inconsistent. Because he saw unfairness, he had concluded God was sometimes unfair. Because he saw cruelty, he concluded God was sometimes indifferent towards His creatures. Now he realizes that he was out of line to question God’s character. He could make observations all day, but drawing proper conclusions from them was far beyond his skillset as a tiny little human. Job is a quick learner and swift to repent of his error. He apologizes for his big mouth. God forgives and moves on to the next point He came down to make. He gets in the face of one of Job’s pompous friends and says: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
This is a very interesting comment. Throughout the whole book the friends have been schmoozing God as being perfect in every way and ripping on Job for complaining against Him. Yet God is so annoyed with them that He’s making them eat a big dose of humble pie before He’ll receive them back into His good graces. The friends are told they most go to Job—the guy they were so pompous toward—and offer up a very large sacrifice for themselves in front of him. Job would then pray for their forgiveness, because it was only from Job’s lips that God would even consider such a request. Wow. The story ends with God blessing Job’s socks off. We’re told He not only restores Job’s wealth, but doubles it (42:10). The rest of his life is even more blessed than his first and he has ten more children. Job lived 140 more years, seeing four generations worth of his offspring. He died a very happy man.
Contrary to what many think, the lesson of Job is not that we should stuff our honest feelings and walk around with plastic smiles in the hard times. God is all about honesty, and He didn’t get on Job for being honest, only for setting himself up as God’s judge and corrector.
God’s behavior can and does drive us straight up the wall. He doesn’t make sense and sometimes He really leaves us in a lurch. No one vocalized the frustration of dealing with God’s unpredictable behavior better than David: original author of that famous line, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1). Throughout the Psalms, David gives God a dose of every mood he experiences: from exultant praise to the depths of despair.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. (Ps. 22:2-3)
There’s no doubt that David deeply revered God. As he complains, he also acknowledges God’s majesty and glory. He understands that God’s character is unquestionably good, even when he doesn’t understand His behavior:
I have called upon You, for You will answer me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, hear my speech.
Wondrously show Your loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at Your right hand
From those who rise up against them. (Ps. 17:6-7)
When crying out to the Lord in trouble, David sometimes uses language that sounds a bit pompous to the rest of us:
You have tried my heart;
You have visited me by night;
You have tested me and You find nothing;
I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
As for the deeds of men, by the word of Your lips
I have kept from the paths of the violent.
My steps have held fast to Your paths.
My feet have not slipped. (Ps. 17:3-5)
At first glance this sounds like David’s claiming to have never sinned. But in reality, these are the confident words of a man who is living by faith and understands that when God forgives something, it’s a done deal. Although David didn’t have the assurance of future forgiveness through Christ, he did have a way of cleansing past sins through appropriate sacrifices and he understood that God doesn’t hold grudges towards a heart earnestly seeking to please Him.
We tend to the view the Old Covenant system as entirely works based, but in reality it was driven by faith. Sacrificing a bull wasn’t a guarantee of anything—you had to believe in faith that God would accept your sacrifice and judge you by your repentant heart. Israel went through periods of corrupt priests who would snitch off God’s portions of the animals for themselves. A proper sacrificial system wasn’t available to everyone. Living in corrupt times with a broken system, a sincere Jew’s sense of peace with God was entirely based on faith in God’s good character and ability to assess who really cared about Him and who was just playing games. Our faith in God today is also based on His character. The fact that Jesus died on a cross means nothing by itself—it is God’s interpretation of that event to us that we’re all counting on. He says that the cross and resurrection signifies some private arrangement between the Members of the Trinity which offers us access to the forgiveness of sin. But we didn’t see the Father lay the sins of the world on Jesus. We believe that’s what happened because He says it did. We are also trusting that God won’t suddenly change His mind about the whole deal when we get to Heaven. God is wild, independent, and answers to no one. He can do whatever He wants. Yet we can sleep peacefully at night and have the joyful confidence of David because we are trusting in God’s good character. The human relationship with God has always been based on faith.
David was clearly one of God’s favorites. Over and over again, God refers to him a man after His own heart, even in the New Testament: “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22).
Even though David is notorious for committing some major sins, God just couldn’t stop complimenting him, even after he was gone from the earth. David an excellent model of how to communicate with God and his example can be summed up in two key points: core reverence and raw honesty. While Job slipped into a mindset of thinking he was superior to God, David didn’t lose focus on the fact that God was infinitely smarter, wiser and stronger than he was. David freely vented his frustration with God’s timing and lack of response, but he did it in a respectful manner. We learn from this poetic composer that God welcomes emotional feedback. He wants honesty from us. He doesn’t want us to pretend things are fine when they aren’t. God has big shoulders; He isn’t threatened by us crying and wailing all over Him. He understands how hard it is to be a little dot of a human and how insecure we can feel trying to associate with a Being Who is very different than us.
Sometimes our motivation to whine comes right in the midst of trying to serve God. We hit burnout with the task He’s laid on our shoulders and we just can’t take it anymore. Moses was a prime example of a fried leader. Stuck in a hot wilderness with a whole nation of people who kept threatening to kill him, Moses occasionally blew his top.
So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:10-15).
The Lord and Moses have a very dynamic relationship. Both of them lose their tempers on several occasions and they each take turns pacifying each other. Over and over again, God’s fury is sparked by the whining Israelites and it’s always Moses who rushes to try and talk Him out of total genocide. Alternately, when Moses hits his limit with the murderous mob, God listens and provides him with help—in this case, seventy elders to help assist him with the work of counseling the people. Moses and God work together like two best friends. God favors His little servant in very public ways and demands that others respect him. When the people try to come against Moses, it is God who drives them back, and none too gently. God is clear that Moses is a member of His personal in-crowd, and He speaks with Him more intimately than even His prophets:
“When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal Myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of My servant Moses; he is faithful in all My house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8)
This is part of a lecture to Miriam and Aaron who have gotten in trouble with God for gossiping about Moses’ Cushite wife and deciding that they were every bit as good as he was. God hears their nasty talk and gets ticked. Just before He publicly dresses them down, we’re slipped a little clue about why God is so protective over His little man:
Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. (Num. 12:3)
Both Moses and David had an unusually intimate relationship with God, and this verse gives us a clue as to why: they both had hearts which were devoted to God. Humility is part of the devotion package. You can’t be devoted to God if you think you’re His equal. The deep reverence these two men had for God in their hearts produced a great concern for God’s heart and feelings. Both David and Moses were zealous for the Lord. They wanted Him to have His way, to be glorified on earth and pleased with their obedience. When God finds a soul who is fully devoted to Him, He reacts with great pleasure and protectiveness.
Far too many Christians expect God to come loyally to their aid in times of trouble while they spend the majority of their lives ignoring Him. Yet as David and Moses demonstrate, the kind of special blessing and favor that we all secretly want is not something that can be bribed out of God by throwing money into an offering plate or attending midweek Bible studies or passing out sandwiches to the poor instead of watching a football game. Too often we try to mimic a heart attitude we don’t have by going through surface behaviors. David and Moses were serious about God in their cores, and that is the only reason they had such influence with Him. You can’t grab God’s loyalty. You can’t even set out to earn it. It is when we pursue pleasing God for the sole purpose of blessing HIM that we find ourselves overwhelmed with His favor in return.
The last group of whiners I want us to examine is that Israelite mob that Moses and God were always wrestling over. Now HERE is a group of professional snivelers. These people whined about everything. When it came to what was wrong, they always had a long list. When it came to thanking God for how He provided for them, they only had a two-second recall. Over and over again, we see God coming down hard on these people for complaining—so much so that many people find the Exodus story utterly terrifying. God seems to be so uncompassionate towards that group of hot and thirsty wanderers. After all, they are in the wilderness and there really isn’t any water. So why doesn’t God lighten up?
“So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the Lord was destroyed.” (Numbers 32:13)
When the people finally reach the edge of the Promised Land and send out spies to check things out, most of the spies come back and whine about it. In response, God condemns the whole mob to walk in large circles for forty years until a whole generation of whiners died off. This is a very harsh response, and it’s unique in that it’s dragged out for forty years. Before now, God has come down on the people many times in the form of violent plagues, poisonous creatures, and terrifying geological events. Why does God have such a particularly low tolerance level for this group of whiners when He’s so in love with their leader, Moses? Again, the answer is heart attitude. According to God, these clowns were never serious about Him. Much later on, He will reflect back on the wilderness group many times through the mouths of His prophets and describe them as being an idolatrous bunch of zeroes. According to God, the bulk of the wandering Israelites didn’t revere Him at all and He reacted to them with similar dislike.
“I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot Me.” (Hosea 13:4-6)
Did you bring to Me sacrifices and cereal offerings during those forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? [No] but [instead of bringing Me the appointed sacrifices] you carried about the tent of your king Sakkuth and Kaiwan [names for the gods of the planet Saturn], your images of your star-god which you made for yourselves [and you will do so again].” (Amos 5:25-26, AMP)
“What fault did your ancestors find in Me, that they strayed so far from Me?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled My land and made My inheritance detestable.” (Jeremiah 2:5-7)
The mob we meet in the wilderness is made up of people whose hearts are far from God. They grumble the whole way to the Promised Land, and when they finally reach it, they defile it with their bad attitudes and sinful behaviors. It is to this type of stiff-necked blasphemers that God directs most of the harsh language we find in the Old Testament, yet many Christians view His anger as evidence of an unjust, temperamental God. In trying to get out of range of God’s wrath, Christians hide out in the New Testament, clinging to the grace, and saying there is nothing really to learn from reading about God yelling at “those” people. Yet this view is very flawed, for we must remember that the Israelites were set apart as God’s chosen people. They were His favored ones, by His decree, just as we Christians are favored and chosen today. We have much to learn from studying God’s exasperation with His chosen people. While we no longer live under the threat of being eternally separated from God, we can certainly aggravate Him just as they did. Because God has forgiven our sins does not mean He no longer cares about our heart rebellion.
We are hypocrites if we try to glean lessons of getting God’s favor from David and Moses and then refuse to learn from the mob of Israelites. We cannot pick and choose which portions of the Old Testament are applicable to us. It is ALL applicable. It is all directed at us. God didn’t give us the Bible so we could ignore the first half of it or pretend we’re above those “pre-cross” sinners. As David demonstrates, FAITH has always been the foundation of man’s relationship with God and REVERENCE has always been required to please Him. It’s no different for Christians today. Having our sins forgiven ensures we are no longer repulsive to God’s holiness. This is a different thing than pleasing Him. To please Him requires ongoing reverence. Out of reverence springs a deep concern for His feelings, a prioritizing of His will over ours, and a willingness to do anything He asks of us. If we’re living for ourselves and merely singing God an occasional worship song, we are displeasing Him. We are forgiven, we are still His kids, but we’re disrespectful, rebellious kids and He will respond to us accordingly.