One of my favorite things to do when we are walking—which we try to do every day if possible—is to watch for and try to identify birds. We happened to be walking in one of our favorite places up Bear Creek (where we have a fantastic view of our Cabinet Wilderness mountains) when we spotted a large flock of birds swirling overhead in tight formation. They were small birds and appeared all white as they flew. It was so amazing to watch how they they flew so close together, yet moved with precision as they would quickly change direction. When we got home I looked them up and discovered that they were snow buntings. It is pretty amazing how God has equipped these little birds to be able to fly so closely together and make rapid directional changes without bumping in to one another.
The birds which are especially known for this phenomenon are starlings. I encourage you to do a computer search for “starlings” and you will find some unbelievable YouTube videos of thousands of starlings swirling through the sky, appearing like smoke billowing across the sky. According to those who have studied the starlings’ flight patterns, they fly at approximately 20 mph and each starling tracks the relative position of seven other nearby starlings and attempts to match their relative formation. The flock of starlings is called “moot.” I recently heard what the word is for a flock of birds—like starlings or snow buntings—flying together in a whirling, ever-changing pattern. It is “murmuration.” According to the dictionary, murmuration is a noun meaning “a flock of starlings”, or “an act of murmuring.” It refers to a low continuous indistinct sound or muttering.
I was reminded of the term, murmuring, as found in Scripture, especially when it came to the complaining of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness after making their miraculous exodus from Egypt. We read in Ex. 16:2: “And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled (murmured in KJV) against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” The Hebrew word (lun) means “to be obstinate, especially in words; to complain, grumble or murmur.” They were complaining about their hunger, so God provided quail and bread from heaven—manna. In spite of how God miraculously provided for the people, they continued to grumble and complain—murmur. God had pretty much had it with their murmuring and said to Moses and Aaron: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me” (Nu. 14:27). This was just after the twelve spies came back from Canaan and ten gave a bad report, saying “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (13:31). Verse 31 adds, that they “made all the congregation grumble against him (Moses) by bringing out a bad report concerning the land.” Only Joshua and Caleb said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it” (v. 30). As a result of their grumbling, God said “Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward who have grumbled against me” (v. 29). Only Joshua and Caleb escaped death, because they had trusted in the promises of God and had not grumbled. The word “murmuration,” which refers to a “low continuous indistinct sound or muttering,” is a great description of the nation of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, grumbling along the way. There may be several thousand starlings in a “murmuration.” There were between two and three million Israelites that left Egypt! Just imagine the din of their constant muttering, grumbling!
As is pointed out in Ex. 16:7,8, the grumblings of the people were really against the LORD. It revealed their hearts which were not putting their trust and confidence in the faithfulness of God and His promises. That’s why God hates grumbling. It is an affront to His character and trustworthiness. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the struggling believers at Corinth, he used the illustration of what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness because of their grumbling as a warning. He wrote: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea… nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness…let us not try the Lord, as some of them did…nor grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction…” (I Cor. 10:1-11). Paul also exhorted the believers at Philippi, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing (murmuring or complaining)” (Phil. 2:14).
As God’s people, we should be full of gratitude, rejoicing for who we are and what we have in Christ and learning to be content whatever our circumstances (Phil. 4:11). If we are constantly complaining, as the Israelites in the wilderness, it reveals a heart that is not trusting in God and His care for us. David said, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall now want” (Psa. 23:1). “But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Thy righteousness and of Thy salvation all day long; for I do not know the sum of them” (Psa. 71:14,15). “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psa. 73:25,26).
Football coach, Lou Holtz, had some great advice when it comes to complaining. He said, “Don’t tell people your problems: eighty percent don’t care and the other twenty percent are glad you have them!” It seems today people—as the Israelites of old—won’t shut up about their problems. They want to let you know about every issue they have and every time they are offended. It’s a bottomless sea of discontent and must grieve the heart of God. Spend your time counting your blessings, not airing your complaints. Besides, yesterday was the deadline to register any complaints!