In Numbers 20 we come to the end of the wilderness wanderings of Israel as they return to Kadesh the place where they first rebelled against God (Num. 13:26; 20:1). For nearly forty years this rebellious generation has walked in circles. Not much happens when you rebel against the Lord. We are also told in the opening lines of this chapter that Moses’ sister Miriam dies. Just a few nondescript words are given to announce her passing. She had rebelled against Moses her brother; God’s anointed leader. Rebels against God have no lasting legacy worth mentioning. On the other hand, that done in the will of God has an eternal weight of glory (e.g. Mat. 6:19-21; 19:21; 2 Cor. 4:17).
We all should seek to finish well the race marked out by God before us. We want to be able to say like Paul said:
2 Timothy 4:7-8 - 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.(cf. also 1 Tim. 6:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:3-10)
Unfortunately, Moses did not finish well. This great man of God suffered a tarnishing mark to his legacy. In the later stages of the wilderness wanderings he faltered in his flesh. The setting for this fall is a familiar one for the Israelites. When you look at the history of their behavior the Israelites had a fatal attraction with dissatisfaction. Once again they “gathered together against Moses and Aaron” to complain about a lack of water (20:2-6). After years of wilderness wandering and God’s faithful provision for their needs, they still had a heart of complaint. Age and time do not necessarily change us. We change when we walk with God. They chose to walk alone.
Previously their cry for water had been quenched by God who had Moses strike the rock which resulted in water pouring forth (Exodus 17:6). But this time God’s instructions to Moses would be different. The following words give us God’s instructions to Moses as well as pivotal impediments Moses fell into that kept him from the Promised Land.
Numbers 20:7-13 - 7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.” 9 So Moses took the rod from before the LORD as He commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. 12 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 13 This was the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel contended with the LORD, and He was hallowed among them.
First, Moses sinned in his harsh words to the people (v. 10). Moses called the people “rebels.” They were rebellious but his words and lack of discretion exposed a lack of kindness and gentleness necessary for a leader of God (e.g. Ps. 106:33; Gal. 6:1). We will give an account of every word we speak, including the harsh ones (cf. Mat. 12:37). Whatever truth we speak must be spoken in the love of God (Eph. 4:15). That is God’s standard for us. One who beats God’s sheep is not suited to lead them to God’s Promised Pasture Land.
Second, Moses sinned by taking credit for what God had done (v. 10). Moses said, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” He said “we” when he should have said “He.” In striking the rock it was as though Moses was saying, “I gave you water from the rock before and now you complain again instead of trusting me for water?” God will not share His glory with another (Is. 42:8). Herod found this out the hard way (Acts 12:23). Our works are to give glory to God (Mat. 5:16). Moses sinned in his selfish presentation. One who steals God’s glory is not suited to lead His people into His Promised Land.
Third, Moses sinned by being resentful instead of loving toward the people (v. 10). He said “must we” indicating that he felt their request was unreasonable. A parent doesn’t treat the requests of their child with resentment. The Lord’s bondservant must be guided by love (Lev. 19:18, 34; 2 Cor. 5:14). Moses felt put upon. He was aggravated, maybe frustrated and likely just fed up with these people. But that is no excuse for mistreating God’s people. Resentment can keep us from the Promised Land.
Fourth, Moses sinned by misrepresenting God (v. 10). He struck the rock in anger. As God’s representative he was portraying God as angry with the people when He was not. The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome or misrepresent God as such (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). Man’s fleshly anger does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20). God’s ambassadors must represent Him in His love (2 Cor. 5:14-21). If you lash out at instead of love people you aren’t going to see the Promised Land. God isn’t going to use the harsh and hot-headed person who misrepresents Him to lead others to His Promised Land.
You might wonder, Was Moses’ striking the rock instead of speaking to the rock such a great sin? What’s the big deal to the Lord? Moses angry action of striking the rock defiled one of God’s types of Jesus Christ. In 1 Cor. 10 it states that Jesus is the “Rock” in the wilderness. The striking of the rock is a type or symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus atoning work involved one and only one crucifixion or striking for the sins of the world (“once for all” – Rom. 6:10; Heb.7:27; 9:12; 10:10). Moses striking the rock a second and third time defiled this typology of the once and for all completed work of Christ (e.g. John 19:20). When we allow our flesh to overwhelm us and direct our actions it leads to misrepresenting God.
Fifth, Moses sinned by disobeying God (v. 11). God said “speak” to the rock and Moses struck the rock. As indiscriminate as that might seem to us, it was outright disobedience to a command of God. Jesus said that love and obedience are inextricably linked so when Moses disobeyed it became an obstacle in his relationship with God (cf. John 14:21). God pays attention to details. He wants us to do the same. Those who casually disregard and disobey the word of God are not going to see the Promised Land.
Sixth, Moses sinned by unbelief (v. 12). He didn’t believe in God to provide as the words “did not believe Me” stated by God indicate. Moses’ actions were not in faith but in his flesh. When you react in the flesh instead of responding in the Spirit, you won’t be seeing the Promised Land.
Seventh, Moses sinned by not hallowing God in the presence of the people (v. 12). God said Moses had failed “to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel.” God’s leaders must be mindful of the holiness of God (e.g. Is. 6). God is holy and those who follow Him are to be holy (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). This is especially true of God’s leaders. Those who fail to revere God and appreciate His holiness are not going to see the Promised Land.
As we come to the end of the chapter we read:
Numbers 20:22-24 - 22 Now the children of Israel, the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying: 24 “Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah.
Eighth, Moses sinned by rebelling against God (v. 24). God’s indictment of Moses was that his actions were rebellious. He said, “because you rebelled against My word.” This tells us that there was some willful resistance by Moses to God’s words of instruction. God magnifies His word above His own holy name (Psalm 138:2). When we disregard His word it isn’t only rebellious, it’s foolish. Those who rebel against God word and cast it aside are not going to reach His Promised Land.
Maybe you’re thinking, Wait a minute. If it was Moses who rebelled against God’s word why was Aaron also being kept from the Promised Land? God went on to instruct Moses to “strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son” (20:25-28). Aaron died and was laid to rest on Mount Hor, outside the Promised Land. Why was Aaron included in the discipline of God for what Moses had done? Aaron didn’t do anything to stop Moses sinful actions. Aaron was complicit by his inaction. He was guilty of a sin of omission. He didn’t stand up to Moses and try to prevent his brother’s sinful response. He was just as guilty as Moses because he did nothing to prevent the rebellion and disobedience that took place. If we think that we can stand by passively while sin takes place and then claim innocence we are sadly mistaken. God expects more from leaders. He expects more from all of us. Jesus said that if we deny Him before men He would deny us before the Father (Mat. 10:32-33). Denial can take the form of passive silence. The Good Samaritan was the one who took action to meet a need (Luke 10:29-37). The apostle John was inspired to write that if we see someone in need and do nothing, how can we claim to have God’s love in us? (1 John 3:16-18). Love is an action. If you hear God’s word and do nothing to apply it, you live on shaky spiritual ground (Luke 6:49). The Bible states, “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Aaron did nothing and therefore was part of Moses rebellion.
Oscar Hammerstein II once wrote:
Give me some men who are stouthearted men
Who will fight for the right they adore.
Start me with 10 who are stouthearted men
And I'll soon give you 10,000 more.
If we are to reach the Promised Land of the fullness of life in the Spirit, we must be stouthearted people fully surrendered and submitted to God, appreciative of His holiness, representing Him well, and filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. Look at Moses. Pay attention to the impediments he succumbed to. Then march on to the Promised Land and take as many people with you as possible.