In our article last week, we looked at Numbers Chapter 20 which records the sad incident of Moses’ sin. The Lord had instructed His servant in verse 8:“Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”
Instead of heeding God’s instructions to speak to the rock, Moses, in a fit of angry frustration, chided the people and smote the rock twice with his rod (vv. 10-11). God’s judgment came swiftly: “Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (v. 12). Because of their unbelief and rebellion, the two leaders, Moses and Aaron, would not be allowed to set foot on the Promised Land (Num. 27: 14). The Lord would not overlook this public act of rebellion even in His beloved servants who had served Him so faithfully. Unlike the other wilful rebels of the Exodus, Moses would not be cut off, nor would he perish in the wilderness. But God had to publicly chastise His servant by denying him entry into the Promised Land.
As the Israelites came in sight of Canaan, Moses’ heart was stirred with a deep longing to enter the Promised Land. Hoping that the Lord might reverse his sentence, Moses again pleaded: “I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon” (Deut. 3: 25). But the Lord’s answer was a firm and final “No”: “But the LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the LORD said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter (v. 26).
“This is the final closing of the whole question, the sealing of Moses’ lips. He had, doubtless, often spoken to God on the subject; but now he is forbidden even to speak of it again. There is something severe in this check; yet there is something very parental. It shows the intimate terms on which God was pleased to be with Moses; so that, when His child grew too importunate, He lays His hand upon his lips, with, Hush, speak no more on that subject. God is not a man that he should lie. His purpose must stand. But oh, what an idea of the efficacy of prayer must Moses have had, when he thought by it to change the purpose of God! This was more than moving mountains. And how much God must delight in importunity, when He lets it go so far, and only checks it at the last with a rebuke so gracious and gentle!” (Horatius Bonar).
What lessons can we learn from the above narratives?
1. The best of men have their weaknesses
Moses was one of God’s most honourable and devoted servants. He was the meekest of all men: “(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth)” (Num. 12: 3). He was distinguished for his forbearance, tenderness and longsuffering. Yet when provoked by the murmuring Israelites, he yielded to his sinful passions and dishonoured God before all the people.
In his younger days in Egypt, Moses had manifested a hasty and impetuous spirit when he killed an Egyptian: “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand” (Ex. 2: 11-12). This propensity to rashness and anger was now displayed publicly when he was provoked by the people.
For the past eighty years – forty years as shepherd of Jethro’s flock, and forty years as leader in the wilderness wanderings – Moses had learnt many lessons on patience, humility and submission. Yet in an unguarded moment of provocation, the meekest of all men failed miserably. He lost his temper and dishonoured God publicly.
Brethren, let us be watchful in all our ways. Be ever mindful of our reactions in moments of provocation. Let us take heed lest we fall.
2. God judges not as man judges
Some may think that Moses’ sin was a light one, or that he had failed his duty only this once. Others may view his sin as a natural response to a trying situation, or believe that he had the right to react as he did because of the Israelites’ constant provocations. After all, the people had often rebelled against his God-ordained authority and tried his patience time and again.
God, however, took a serious view of His servant’s sin. There are no excuses or defenses with our holy God. He sees our hearts and the motives behind all our actions (Ps. 139: 1-4). His judgments are always right and fair.
Matthew Henry explains: “He (God) knows the frame of men’s spirits, what temper they are of, and what temper they are in upon particular occasions, and from what thoughts and intents words and actions do proceed; and we are sure that therefore His judgment is according to truth, when it agrees not with ours”.
(… to be concluded)