The focus of today’s taste of Torah is an incident involving Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites. It took place at a location called Meribah which means contention. The text is Numbers 20:9-13. 9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” 13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he was proved holy among them.
Here’s what’s happening, here’s what’s going on. After 37 years the Israelites have returned to the wilderness of Zin and Kadesh. Previously, it was there that God judged the older generation of Israelites for not believing Him. Now God is going to judge Moses for the same thing. The leader will succumb to the same temptation that the people he was appointed to lead fell into.
The unbelief of Moses was not a failure to believe that God could, or would provide water for the people; it was a failure to believe that simple obedience to God’s command was the best course of action. Moses did more than God told him to do. He didn’t believe that God’s way was the best way so he took matters into his own hands. He was impatient with the Israelites’ complaining. He felt frustrated because the Israelites were slow learners of the lessons God was teaching them.
Instead of speaking to the rock as God told him and Aaron to do in verse 8 of this chapter, Moses spoke directly and harshly to the Israelites. He struck the rock twice with the staff that he had already done many miracles with. But just like those previous miracles, this miracle was not about the power of Moses, it was about the power of God! However, because he was frustrated with the people, Moses seemed to forget that he was not the performer of miracles but merely God’s instrument for bringing miracles into view so they could be witnessed by the Israelites.
Yet with the exception of this incident, Moses was a faithful servant of God. And if another person had committed this sin, most likely it would not have been so serious. But the reason it was this serious is because Moses held a high profile leadership position. And with that came a greater degree of accountability. In this instance Moses set a bad example. If the Lord allowed his actions to go unpunished it would encourage this new wilderness generation to disobey and doubt God like their parents had done. Did God forgive Moses? Yes, absolutely! Did God hold Moses accountable for actions? Yes, absolutely! God shortened the term of Moses’ service and he was not allowed to bring the nation into the Promised Land because he harshly rebuked the people, took credit for what God had done, resented the Israelites, lost his temper, disobeyed God, did not trust God’s power, and failed to glorify Him. Plus, Aaron was also guilty because he didn’t prevent Moses from sinning. Evidently Aaron could have done that but chose not to and so God punished him as well. For these reasons verse 24 in this chapter says that both Moses and Aaron rebelled against God. Both men inappropriately took God’s place as the center of attention.
What should we learn from this? What does this lesson look like? How should it play out in our daily experience? Here’s a suggestion: Regardless of our age and spiritual maturity, we must guard against making foolish decisions that can hurt our witness for Messiah. We need to understand that no matter how close we are to God, no matter how many answers to prayer we’ve experienced, no matter how much God has used us in the past, still, in a moment of weakness, in an flash of rebellion, in the act of acting out, anyplace, anytime, and for any duration of time; we are fully capable of failing to obey God.
So, what do we do when we’ve blown it? Let me encourage you with this: Messiah completely understands our emotions when we feel some degree of separation from God. I’m not speaking of our positional righteous standing by virtue of our trust in the finished redemptive work of Messiah; I’m referring to our moment by moment relational intimacy with God which is a direct by-product of our compliance to the promptings of the Spirit; promptings to confess and turn from sin.
Whatever relational separation we experience to a finite degree, Yeshua experienced to an infinite degree! When the Lord said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me;” there was unprecedented disruption of eternal fellowship because the second person of the Divine Tri-unity was bearing the entirety of past, present, and future human sin at that specific moment in time.
Here’s the deal, it’s not God changing His mind about us that causes a degree of separation from Him, it’s the unconfessed sin in our lives that’s incompatible with His absolute moral perfection that causes a degree of relational separation from Him. So, to maintain relational intimacy and effectiveness in ministry, our confession of sin needs to happen in immediate response to our conviction of sin. That’s how we stay on track, and that’s how we finish well with zero degree of separation.