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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

Why Do We Always Complain?

Quarreling with God

Septuagesima – 1/28/2024

Exodus 17:1-7

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer


That portion from God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson from Exodus chapter 17, with special emphasis on verses five through seven which read as follows:


“And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?””


Thus far the Scriptures.


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


By way of an informal, totally biased, completely unscientific study of my personal recollections and experiences, I would wager that one of our favorite past times is complaining. I know this for two reasons: firstly, I know that I like to complain and grumble. Its easy. It lets us let off steam. It makes us feel like we’ve done something important. But it doesn’t do anything to address any of the issues we complain about. Secondly, I know you do the same.

                We complain about our leaders. Just try and name a president who’s had no one complain or grumble about him. When was the last time we had a governor who has been free from conflict? And its not just the big picture leaders. If you go around town and listen long enough, you’ll hear someone complain about any and every one who as any degree of authority at all. Some of these complaints are justified. After all, no human being is perfect. Leaders are just as prone to human foibles, mistakes, incompetence, selfishness, and narcissism as the rest of us. As such, they don’t do everything right. In that way, we must admit that sometimes complaints are justified. However, they are not always justified. We complain about things we don’t know about. If you’ve ever served on a board here at church or anywhere else you know all about this. People who make decisions often have information you or I are not privy to and therefore make decisions we may not understand simply because we don’t have access to the same information. And this sort of thing, of course, no one wants to be on the receiving end of because it is so unfair. If you find yourself in a leadership position, you will have people complain and grumble about what you do no matter how good your decisions and intentions are.

                But it isn’t just leaders that we grumble about. We complain about the weather, the circumstances of our lives, our jobs, the houses we live in, our neighbors, our town, our favorite sports teams, and so on and so forth. In other words, there isn’t much in our lives that we don’t complain about. If its part of your life, it is fodder for the grumble mill.

                But we don’t just stop with our everyday lives and the things we find to complain about there. We also find occasion to complain and grumble about God. And though we may grumble and complain about the things in this life that we find less than satisfactory or grumble about not getting what we want or feel like we deserve, more often than not we complain about the generous gifts and mercies of God. Much like a kid who can’t help himself or herself and who complains when the parents are generous, so we are before God. This example is probably familiar to all of us. A kid is offered a candy bay at the grocery store but who pouts and throws a fit about wanting a whole bag of candy instead is common enough that we’ve all seen something like that happen around us if not in our own lives.

                Let me be blunt about this: such grumbling is sin. It breaks the 8th Commandment and does nothing to add any good to the world. St. Paul reminds us that the tongue is supposed to be used to build up, not tear down or, we might add, grumble and complain.[1]

                And as much as we may not want to admit this, this is both what we presently do and have done as a human race. Our proof for this, beyond my super-thorough research of my own anecdotal experience is the record of the people of Israel and their interactions with God here in the book of Exodus. Early in the book, Israel groans and complains about their situation as slaves in Egypt, that is, complains to God about being slaves. So He sent Moses to demand their freedom from Pharoah. They were freed and made it to the Red Sea. There they complained about Pharoah’s approaching army. After crossing the Red Sea by a great miracle, they complained about the water being bitter. God made the water sweet to drink. Then they complained about not having food. God granted manna, bread from heaven that all they had to do was gather the bread each day. They grumbled about only having bread, so God provided quail that were so easy to gather that Israel just had to go and pick them up. And here in our passage today they complained, yet again, about what God had provided.

                Now if you know the book of Exodus, you know that this did not end here. Israel did not have their clothes or shoes wear out, but the grumbled and complained. In fact, their time in the wilderness was more or less marked by a lot of complaining and grumbling. Even when they finally get to the promised land, they complain about it and about the work they have to do in order to settle in it!

                In other words, one of the basic elements of the book of Exodus is that the more God gives, the greater His generosity, the more Israel grumbles. And this did not stop here. Have you not heard people complain because God has mercy and grant salvation? Some complain because God grants faith to some and others lack faith. Why do we complain? Do we deserve our daily bread, let alone eternal salvation? And this is the way with us. God grants faith and has given us security to practice the true faith of Christianity and instead of being satisfied with His good gifts, the last century has been marked with speculative theologies and teachings, decadent and human-desire focused church services, and self-serving teaching. In other words, we, like our spiritual ancestors here in Exodus, complained and grumbled in the face of God’s good gifts.

                So what did God do about this? Instead of withdrawing His good gifts or granting us punishment in place of them, He has instead given a rock. The Rock in this passage, Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 10,[2] this rock is Christ. God stands over it as a testament to His Son. Moses is ordered to strike the rock to show how Christ will be struck on the cross with suffering and death. In other words, God’s response to our grumbling is not what we would expect, but instead He does a surprising thing by hinting at how He will save us through His Son.

                And for us, complainers and whiners that we are, well, God doesn’t give us what we deserve either. Instead of that, He grants us life, mercy, and salvation in the forgiveness of sins. So while it is important and good for us to cultivate good speech and use our tongues and minds for more profitable ends than complaining and grumbling, it is even more important that we note the mercy of God that grants to us life and salvation freely and completely, even though we have the audacity to complain about it.


In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Ephesians 4:29

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:3-4

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