Numbers 14:1-3 (ESV)
1 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 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 a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”
The story of the failure of Israel at the borders of the Promised Land is one of the saddest stories in the Old Testament. The people of God have seen his power and experienced his rescuing love, but they still do not know him or trust him. They grumble against Moses, God’s chosen leader for them. But even worse, they grumble against God himself.
Looking at the words the people used, I am caught by the way that they ask, “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?” Their cry of “Why is the Lord” doing this is a big problem. They think God might be leading them to destruction on purpose. They do not trust God. They think he is not altogether good. They think he is not altogether trustworthy. They, as a nation, are doubting the character of God.
In our human experience, we do not like it when someone doubts our character. We are insulted when people assume that we are bad people with bad motives and faulty thinking. But the truth is, we often are messed up. We often do make bad decisions based on bad motives and faulty reasoning. We fail, sometimes on accident and often on purpose. So, for someone to doubt us is not a huge shot off the mark, even if, in the particular circumstance, we are behaving well.
But to doubt God, to question his character and wisdom, that is a much bigger problem. Remember that God is perfect. His perfection is infinite. There is no end to his wisdom or his goodness. Thus, to doubt him is to miss the mark of truth to an infinite degree. The insult is inconceivably large.
What we might wish to learn from the grumbling of the people of Israel is to be very careful when we decide to act as though God has made a mistake. We do not ever want to present God as failing or untrustworthy. God is good. He has never treated us with the wrath that we deserve. Yes, some have gone through dreadful things, and I do not belittle that fact. Some are in difficult situations, and I get that too. But God is not bad. He is trustworthy. He is good. He is right. And we should be very careful not to pretend that he is otherwise.