Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby? How can I carry them to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, “Give us meat to eat!” I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery! – Numbers 11:11-15 NLT
To be honest, things had not been going very well for Moses. Just recently, the people had been complaining about how difficult things were for them. As a result, God had sent a raging fire to consume them. This had gotten their attention and had led them to cry out to Moses. His pray on their behalf had stayed the hand of God. Then, not long after this incident, the people began to complain about the manna that God had provided for them to eat. They were sick of it and began to reminisce about how well things had been back in Egypt. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:5-6 NLT). Of course, Moses took the brunt of their complaints because he was their leader. But this complaining was heard by God and He became angry yet again. And this time, Moses shared his anger. He took it personally. Just look at all the personal pronouns he uses in his prayer: Me, myself, I – over and over again. The entire prayer is about himself. He was fed up and worn out. It had been over two years since they had left Egypt and, from Moses’ perspective, it had been filled with days just like this one. He told God he would rather die than put up with another day of this nonsense.
I appreciate Moses’ honesty. This is a man who knew from first-hand experience just how angry God could become when faced with disobedience. Yet he felt somehow safe sharing his anger and frustration with God. From the day God had called him at the burning bush, Moses had grown accustomed to dialoguing with God. He had spent days on the mountain getting the law directly from the mouth of God. He had had countless conversations with God over the years. But at this particular moment, Moses let his frustration be known. He was tired, physically and emotionally. Leading a group of well over 1 million people through the wilderness was anything but easy. That they were doing it reluctantly and unwillingly much of the time made it even more difficult. But the danger of praying during these moments of extreme fatigue is that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. We can suddenly find ourselves making the plan of God all about us. Not once in his prayer does Moses pray for the people of God. He does not intercede on their behalf, even though he knew full well what God would do when He heard their complaints. No, rather than intercede, Moses turns inward. He becomes focused on self. And he begins to question God’s integrity and intentions. He asks, “Why are you treating me so harshly?” He wants to know what he did to deserve this burden? He sarcastically comments, “Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world?” He lets God know that this task is too much for him. He can’t do it. In fact, he tells God that if this is the way He is going to treat him, God might as well just go ahead and kill him now.
This prayer is driven by disappointment and discouragement, but borders dangerously on disrespect. Moses is walking a fine line between being real and rebellious with God. It is one thing to share your fear and frustration with God. It is another to question His motives or doubt His integrity. But it’s interesting to note that God did not reprimand Moses. He didn’t punish him for his insolent behavior. Instead, God gave Moses some instructions. “Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone” (Numbers 11:16-17 NLT). It seems that God saw Moses’ heart and knew that his diatribe had been motivated by exhaustion and extreme fatigue. What Moses needed was help, not punishment. But God’s solution was not based on Moses’ needs alone. His concern was for the well-being of the entire tribe of Israel. He was providing a means by which the people could be led without the leadership being worn out in the process. God was going to take care of Moses, but not at the sacrifice of the well being of the people. God had a greater agenda. He had a bigger plan in mind. So it is important that we recognize that me-centered prayers are not necessarily wrong, but we must remember that God’s answer will be much more global in nature. His Kingdom does not revolve around us. His plans include far more than our personal happiness or comfort. Usually, when the words me or I show up in our prayers, it is a sign that God has taken a back seat in our lives. We have made life all about ourselves rather than about Him. But mercifully and lovingly, God will bring our thoughts back into perspective.