Moses Messes Up

Bible Reading: Numbers 20; 21; 33
Listen (ch. 20-21)
Listen (ch. 33)

"Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites..." (20:12).

God gave Moses and Aaron three simple instructions: "Take the staff," "gather the assembly" and "speak to that rock" (20:8). Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Moses started well. "So Moses took the staff from the Lord's presence, just as he commanded him" (20:9). Then "he and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock" (20:10). So far, so good. But, face to face with this mob who had, just minutes earlier, "gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron" (20:2), Moses let his anger get the best of him. He scolded, "'Listen, you rebels, must WE [Moses and Aaron] bring you water out of this rock?' Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank" (20:10-11).

God supplied, despite Moses' divergence from his instruction. God "showed himself holy among them" (20:13), though Moses did not show God to be holy (20:12). ("Holy" = "set apart.") God displayed his own holy nature as "a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, patient and rich in faithful love" (Neh. 9:17 NJB; c.f. Ex. 34:6). He tenderly cared for his people, despite their rebellion and disobedience. He remained faithful, though his people remained faithless.

How did Moses fail to honor God as holy? 1) He did things his way instead of God's way. 2) He took credit for what God supplied and set himself on God's level. God says, "I will not yield my glory to another" (Is. 42:8 NJB). Presuming or pretending to carry some great power of his own, Moses failed to acknowledge and exalt the glorious power of God to do the impossible. 3) He allowed his emotions to make the situation seem all about him, forgetting God's place and purpose. Just moments before, he and Aaron had been facedown in God's presence as "the glory of the Lord appeared to them" (20:6). They represented God to over a million people (26:51); but in this situation, they did not represent God's unfailing kindness and enduring love.

The real issue, however, was not obedience, but trust. God says that Moses' disobedience was due to a lack of trust: "you did not trust in me enough..." (20:12). After a lifetime of walking and talking with God "face to face, as a man speaks with his friend" (Ex. 33:11), seeing his glory displayed day after day, Moses still didn't trust in God enough to entrust him with his situation and exalt him as God.

God doesn't sit around waiting for us to mess up on one point so he can punish us for not being like him. He doesn't want us to obey him out of fear or selfish gain, but out of a trusting heart full of love for him. He wants to have such a close friendship with us that we will fully trust the goodness of his character and rest securely in his love. He desires the relationship to change us from the inside out, naturally springing forth into obedience and freedom.

If I absolutely believed that God's ways are perfect... if I had total confidence in his intrinsic goodness and infinite love, how would it affect my behavior and attitudes? Would I lose sleep worrying about the future? Would I allow my anger, disillusionment or impatience to deter me from God's will? Would I half-heartedly hear and seek his instruction, and reluctantly and selectively comply? Would I prefer my own agenda (even my agenda for God) over God's agenda for me? Would I need to know all the answers to "Why?", "How?" and "When?" before I could let go of my fear, doubt and control? Would I let God be God? Would I be eager to know him more? Would I humble myself before him and allow him to lift me up? (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Do I trust in God enough...?