These Are Murmurers

By Dan King

Jude, when he wrote his short epistle, was deterred from his original intention of writing about the “common salvation” (Jude 3), and forced to address the pressing issues raised by false teachers who were “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 4). After having introduced the problem in the early part of the letter, Jude offers a series of “these are” clauses which give different aspects of these heretics’ behavior. For example: “These are spots in your feasts of charity . . . clouds they are without water … trees whose fruit withereth . . . raging waves of the seas … wandering stars” (vv. 12-13). Each of these phrases tells us something about them, in each instance a disreputable quality of their way of life.

Near the end of this list, Jude says: “These are murmurers, complainers …” (v. 16). Clearly, then, the writer identifies these characteristics as descriptive of wicked men and women, and not of the righteous. Several thoughts are apparent in this text:

1. Good people were the objects of their murmuring and complaining. Those who stood for truth were made the target of their destructive complaints. Bible students will be aware that Moses and Aaron were often murmured against by people of this ilk: “And the people murmured against Moses, saying What shall we drink?” (Exod. 15:24); “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness; and the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger …” (Exod. 16:2-3); “And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Where-fore is this that thou halt brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst” (Exod. 17:3). God’s severe displeasure at the people’s persistent murmuring and complaining is made plain after they challenged the leadership over entrance into the land. They feared that the land’s inhabitants were giants and that they could not overcome them. It was the last straw! The Lord pronounced a curse upon them: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmuring of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me . . . Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me” (Num. 14:27, 29).

Jesus and his disciples were often the target of malicious murmuring and complaining. The leadership of the Jews rejected Jesus’ claims about himself and looked for reasons to destroy him. In the mean time, they sought excuses to accuse him of a whole host of things of which he was not guilty. They hung on his every word, looking for him to make a mistake. Behind the scenes of his teaching, whether in the synagogue or in the streets, they were ever there seeking to cause discontent. One such instance occurred after the selection of Matthew (Levi) the publican. Levi made a great feast and invited all his friends. Naturally, about the only friend a publican had was other publicans (Lk. 5:27ff.). So, he had them come out to meet Jesus. Luke records the public reaction: “But the scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?” (v. 30) This gave Jesus the opportunity to teach his lesson on why he had come: “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (vv. 31-32). This is only one of the many cases recorded in the New Testament. Jesus was often the object of murmuring and complaining, even at times from his own disciples (cf. Lk. 15:2; 19:7; Jn. 6:41, 61; etc.).

2. Such criticism will come our way also. All that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12), and one element of that persecution will come in the form of criticism. And, it may even come from members of the Lord’s church. Moses and Aaron were criticized by Israelites. Jesus and the disciples bore the brunt of criticism which came from within the Jewish community. The pagans paid them little heed at first. Jude deals with slander which comes from within the church itself. We ought not, therefore, be shocked that Satan is able to manipulate members of the church, at times, to his purpose of destroying the household of faith from within.

3. Such criticism can take the form of malicious lies. Jude accuses the “murmurers and complainers” of his day of making “hard speeches” (v. 15), of speaking “great swelling words” (v. 16), and of being “mockers” (v. 18). Such folk cannot be expected to have much respect for truth.

All sorts of rumors circulated about Christians in the first century. The emperor Nero accused them of burning Rome. The normal charge against them in the courts of law was “hatred of mankind.” They were accused of child murder; of drinking blood in their assemblies; of the blackest sins of adultery and fornication when they met in secretive assemblies at night. All these were malicious lies. Peter was struggling with this problem when he wrote his first letter: “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (1 Pet. 3:16).

4. Such criticism must not be taken too seriously. It is natural for us to have hurt feelings when we are criticized. But we spend far too much of our time concerned with what someone may say about us, how they may criticize or second-guess us. It is certainly true that we may face some criticism in life, especially if we dare to step out of the rut of spiritual complacency or the long line of souls indifferent to the things that really matter in life. In fact, we ought to expect it  even expect that it will smart when it comes. But it ought not to deter us from our goal if that goal is worth reaching in the first place.

I remember reading a memorable quote from Theodore Roosevelt, who said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” Let us remain in the arena, in spite of whatever criticism may be directed our way. Remember, there have always been plenty of “murmurers and complainers,” but far too few out in the arena facing the fight!

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 11, p. 12-13
June 2, 1994