Entering the Promised Land


“From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road, to bypass the land of Edom. But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” (Numbers 21:4-5)

If there is one thing our country is good at, it is complaining. We are a nation born of protest, from the Boston Tea Party forward. It is a national flaw, but it was also in Israel at the time of Moses. The Jews had seen the hand of God in the 10 plagues that had finally set them free from their slavery in Egypt. Why did God set them free? The most important reason was that Pharaoh would not allow them to keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath was ordained by God to allow the Jews to fulfill the Third Commandment, Remember to keep Holy the Sabbath.” Keeping the Sabbath meant allowing the Jews to go off and worship God.

Today, Sabbath to us means Mass on Saturday or Sunday. However, this has become a lax thing in many people’s lives. We no longer have the “Blue Laws” in the United States. As a result of people not going to church, people also become lax in prayer. When we become lax in prayer, we take our eyes off of God and start looking at the circumstances.

That is what happened to the Jews on the way to the Promised Land. Physically, one could walk from Egypt to Cana, the Promised Land, in about 10 days. However, it took the Jews 40 years. Why? Because of what we read in this passage from Numbers. They complained that they had no food. They complained that they had no water. They complained about the environment. They attacked Moses who was the representative of God, thereby attacking God.

God became angry and sent seraph serpents that would bite them and they would die. Today, we still use

the expression, “I was snake-bit.” Fortunately we have a “life-lesson” here from what the Jews experienced. They repented of their sin and went to Moses, saying, “We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you…”

Today, we look at complaining as a constitutional guarantee of free speech. When we complain against the authorities in our lives, we complain against the authority in our life — God.

I frequently hear people say, “I know I should be grateful that I have a job, but my boss is a jerk.” Or, “I don’t like the way my coworkers treat me.” We do not have the spiritual integrity the Jews had in that we have no sense that complaining against our superiors and our circumstances is complaining against God. Because we can not come and say we have sinned against God and against our employers or coworkers, we cannot petition God to forgive us and heal us. God uses circumstances to bring about his will in our lives to teach us obedience and trust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they realize the importance of letting go of anger and resentment. Here is what they teach:

 [A]acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.

Until I could accept the circumstances of my life, I could not find peace of mind; unless I accept life completely, on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes (Emphasis added,  Adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, Big Book  p. 449)

One person who certainly could complain about the circumstances of is life was St. Paul. He worked extraordinarily hard to bring the Gospel to many different countries. He certainly should have been given honor, respect, and support in his efforts. Instead, he was beaten, almost drowned in a shipwreck, and was brought before the Roman authorities as a rabble rouser. Here is what he had to say in his letter to the Philippians: I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity. Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress” (Philippians 4:10-14).  Now, there is attitude!

What are your circumstances today? Are you employed? Underemployed? or unemployed? Take a moment to get a pencil and paper and write down five things you are truly grateful to God for having given you. Here is a simple prayer I started praying over 35 years ago. It has changed my life, not my circumstances:


For all that you have given to me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have withdrawn, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have permitted, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have forgiven me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have prepared for me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have prepared me for, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For the death that you have chosen for me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all my strengths, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all my weaknesses, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For the place you have prepared in heaven for me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For having created me to serve you for all eternity, THANK YOU, JESUS.

 You are now on your journey to the Promised Land.


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  • Yes, we certainly are a nation of complainers. I do it too. When I had the opportunity to visit Nepal and Tibet in 1998, I was struck at how much peace the people had; they lived in poverty, and the Tibetans lived under Chinese oppression, but they were all so happy! I thought, these people have the secret of happiness, and they should be telling the world. The secret is, they accept everything that comes, and so have no inner conflicts.

    Our own nation has been steeped in complaint and conflict since Day One. Our Founding Fathers complained about the “long train of usurpations” of King George III, and ignited a war to throw off his authority. It is our part of our founding character, that we complained and threw off our lawful King.

    How will God judge our Revolution? Was our treason justified, or was it just treason? I’m actually not sure; certainly the Declaration of Independence is one of the great documents of human history, and certainly the Founders had the sense that they were doing this under the Creator who “endowed” men with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    America has done great good in the world; so I hope we can be known by our fruits, if nothing else. But I fear that selfishness is going to be the final nail in our coffin, one day.

  • Tarheel

    I often noticed we all seem to complain because we really don’t know how well or good we “have it”. I remember my first trip to what was then South Vietnam. A war torn country and the people in Saigon that did not want communist rule could see the forces of North Vietnam on the out skirts of the city. Yet I met people that were happy and not prone to complain. When I was assigned to the Philippines and visited to where my wife was born and raised, I quickly saw how happy these people were. No electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing, and yet they were happy.

    ANd this I have learned one thing. Instead of complaining about what I don’t have, or what is not going the way I want it to, I reflect and say thanks for what I do have. And when I do this I find that I am happier.

    Now please don’t think I’m perfect in this. I assure you I often times catch my foolish self “belly aching” about something. And the more I fuss and complain, I start to become grumpy. So when I “catch” myself being a grumpy old man, I stop and remember all of what I do have.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Fie! This article — and the ensuing comments — paint a picture of a world in which anything done or said by an authority must be accepted uncritically. That’s an incomplete picture. One person’s complaint is another’s legitimate protest. After all, how do those impertinent pro-lifers dare to remind me that I am indifferent? Is it not mere complaining? Can we not arrest them and remove their public spectacle? Do they not rebel against what the lawful authority has lawfully decreed? The same was said of the abolitionists in earlier days. If only they could have accepted things as they were and left well-enough alone. All would have been better, no doubt.

    St. Paul complained. He complained of Peter’s insistence upon imposing Jewish laws upon Gentiles as a condition of their conversion to Christianity. He complained so hard about that one that he rebuked his lawful authority in public fashion. Of course, St. Peter complained as well — and this one is a head-scratcher — for St. Peter both mandated submission of the Christians to Nero and required that Christians disobey Nero’s own laws against Christianity. And the latter was sometimes required to the point of death — a death which Peter himself chose freely… eventually.

    The Catholics in Reformation England complained — sometimes bitterly — against the Papal edict, Regnans in Excelsis. Now like those petulant Christians living under Nero, they too were caught in between their lawful lay authority and their lawful religious authority and — get this — they were not only required to attend the Catholic sacraments, they were forbidden from attending the replica Church as mandated by that lay authority. Those that obeyed the King excommunicated themselves; those that obeyed the Pope were often imprisoned or killed by the State. They complained bitterly about that one.

    And folk in nineteenth century Mexico also looked quite happy and contented on the outside. Just look at the surviving photographs or read what their rulers had to say about them. ‘Course when those folk did get around to complaining, they launched a war that makes our own Civil War seem a gentleman’s argument by comparison. You might even say that they complained… eventually and ruthlessly.

    Say not that we complain. Say rather that we complain about all the wrong things. Miscellany and not morality. Side effects and not root causes. Small Things and not Big Things. We seem overly willing to obey in all that which does not matter — unless we are inconvenienced by it. Then, we complain incessantly about that which does not matter.

    But we are too often too silent about that which matters too much.

    • Stu Walker


      How much complaining did Jesus due through his Passion, other than to ask his Father if it was possible to have the suffering pass from him.
      Did he have a right to complain? Did he complain?
      Are not to strive to be like him?

      Please expand on your last sentence. What are we “…too often too silent about that which matters too much?” I am interested.
      Stu Walker

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    How much complaining did St. John the Baptist do in the desert, particularly as it related to Herod — his lawful lord — and the latter’s behavior? Because of his complaints, his head got served on a platter. And what did Jesus say of him as a result? The greatest man who ever lived in the world.

    John in the desert wasn’t terribly concerned about issues of comfort. He wore a hair shirt. He wasn’t concerned so much about issues of economic well-being. He ate locusts. He was concerned about issues of moral well-being. He complained loudly that sinners should repent and complained even more loudly that sinful lords should repent. He complained most loudly of all that his lawful sovereign should repent. For all this, he was killed by that same lord. As a direct result, Jesus called him “greatest” (and yet least of all those in heaven).

    And Jesus complained a lot, too. About lack of faith. About hypocrisy. About lack of understanding. About lack of courage. He did not complain about what was done to Him. He complained about what others did (and do) to His body. Ultimately, he forgave (and forgives) the lot. But he also complained quite a bit, especially about his lawful superiors.

    Fie, indeed.