“Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.”
As the cloud begins to move, the Children of Israel take their first steps toward the Promised Land. It does not take long before they begin to complain about their circumstances. In response to their complaints, God sends a burning fire upon some who dwelt in the outskirts of the camp. Why is God so upset by their complaints? Why does He treat complaining so harshly? Keep in mind, God was in charge of their wilderness expedition. He was in the lead. He controlled the cloud, the fire, and the blowing of the horns. They were following His orders. They were not in the wilderness by accident or happenstance, but by God’s direction. By complaining, they were actually saying, “God, we gave you the lead and You’re simply not doing a good job.” or perhaps, “If I were God, I wouldn’t do it that way, I wouldn‘t treat my people like that.” And as a result of their complaining, the anger of the Lord is aroused and they get burnt.
Notice where the complaining seems to start.
“. . . and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.”
Back in Numbers 1 and 2, God organized the people to camp around the Tabernacle. Each tribe was given a specific location within the camp, no one was to dwell “in the outskirts of the camp.” Yet there were people living outside the fellowship, in the “outskirts.“ We are not told what caused them to depart from the fellowship of believers. Perhaps they didn’t feel like they fit in. They might have said, “I don’t really feel like I fit in there. I went to that camp, I sat under that banner, and nobody was friendly to me. I sat there and nobody said ‘Hello’, and afterwards, nobody even asked me my name, so forget it. I’m not going to camp under that banner, I’m going to camp in the outskirts.” But tragically, when they left the camp, they started to complain. Perhaps their complaints were about the camp. “They didn’t love me, and minister to me, nobody met my needs….” The anger of the Lord is aroused, and those in the outskirts of the camp got burnt.
Like you, I have often had my feelings hurt by others who are part of the camp of God. But that is not good reason to abandon the camp and move to the outskirts. Living outside of fellowship is hurtful to the family of God as a whole, and is hurtful to you individually. Remember, it was those who lagged behind that the Amalekites attacked. Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who camped East of the Jordan, were the first to fall to Assyria. If you or I “forsake the gathering together of the brethren”, we will end up an easy target for the enemy, and will find ourselves getting burned.
Let me encourage you. If you have been drawn away from fellowship for some reason, forgive those who have hurt you, return to the gathering of the brethren, and pitch your tent as close as possible to the Tabernacle.
“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.”