Articles and thoughts by Steve Green.
Charles Spurgeon called this passage one of the most terrible in all of Scripture. I must admit that reading these verses again was unsettling. Have you ever assumed you knew someone and felt safe with them, only to be surprised by their words or actions, suddenly feeling like a total stranger? Perhaps it’s true that instead of breeding contempt, familiarity fosters complacency. I may think I know God, but then I come across a passage like this and my foundation is shaken.
For almost forty years, Moses had led the people of Israel through the wilderness and now the Promised Land lay before them. Many times, the people’s grumbling and rebellion had led Moses to fall on his face before God, pleading for mercy and for help. Now, once again, there is no water to drink and the congregation quarreled with Moses, blaming him for their predicament. As Moses and Aaron lay prostrate at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Lord spoke to Moses, giving directions to take staff, that symbol of God’s wonders and power, and speak to the rock so it would bring forth water for the grumbling nation.
Moses did take the staff, but instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then he struck the rock twice with the staff and it gushed water for the people and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”
There it is. Moses and Aaron were banned from entering the Promised Land for what appears to be a rather small offense. Does God’s severity make you tremble? Is this the same God we so comfortably sing about and claim to know so well? Am I missing something here? Moses disobeyed God’s command and struck the rock instead of speaking to it. And yes, he vented his frustration to the people, “and spoke rashly with his lips.” (Psalm 106:33) But what was the crux of his crime, and where did he fail to believe God, upholding Him as holy in the sight of the people?
While there are many important warnings, lessons and principles to be learned from this account, may I tell you what caught my attention? Could it be that after yet another outbreak of grumbling and rebellion, Moses doubted that the mercy and kindness of God should be extended to such a people? God sought to relieve their thirst, Moses was inclined to punish. It is to God’ glory that in wrath, He remembers mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2) While He freely supplies water to the undeserving, bidding them come and drink, would we forget His grace to us and grudgingly withhold His offer from others? The crime of Moses and Aaron was defrauding God of His glory. Their role was to proclaim His miracle and show His faithfulness, reminding the people of their constant hope in God’s sufficiency.
The consequence of their unbelief and misrepresentation was severe. Aaron died shortly afterwards, and as God had decreed, Moses only saw Canaan from a mountaintop before he died. Does this cause renewed awe and reverence in your heart? God is no respecter of persons. What seems outwardly a small thing, may yet be a huge offense to Him. Still, His discipline was laced with love. Moses did indeed enter the reality of what the Promised Land only foreshadowed. Remember that on the mount of transfiguration Moses appeared with Jesus, speaking to him intimately about his imminent suffering. And in the end, God gave the final epitaph concerning his life: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (Deut. 34:10)
God may appear perplexing but it is only because of the great distance between His ways and ours, His thoughts and ours. He remains the same, thoroughly consistent. Our posture must be one of humility, reverence, wonder, love and trust. Because of Jesus, the Judge is now our Friend.
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