Old Testament Passages Good for Everyone to Know, Part 6

Old Testament Passages Good for Everyone to Know, Part 6

Old Testament Passages Good for Everyone to Know, Part 6
by Doug Jacoby

In last week's article we saw how devastating it is when spiritual leaders make light of God's revealed will. Today we spotlight another failure of leadership, this time in the life of Moses and Aaron. The full episode begins in Numbers 20:2. The people of Israel have been complaining (vs. 2-6). Moses and Aaron take it to the Lord, who instructs them:

“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink" (Num 20:8).
• Moses and Aaron are to gather the assembly. Everybody will be watching.
• Moses is told to speak to the rock. The instruction is both simple and clear.
• Note that this is not the earlier (though similar) incident recorded in Exodus 17:1-7, at Rephidim. There Moses was told to strike the rock.
So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 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?”

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank (20:9-11).
• Moses disobeys Yahweh. He strikes the rock—twice. (Did nothing happen after the first strike?) Instead of speaking to the rock, he speaks to the Israelites.
• He gives in to frustration and anger. Perhaps he also gave in to fear, reverting to the instructions from the previous time the Lord brought water from the rock (Exod 17).
• The water flows anyway—despite his disobedience. The provision of water does not vindicate Moses's action. Rather, God is merely taking care of this people.
• Thus we see that we cannot always evaluate actions pragmatically. That is, the ends don't justify the means.
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."
• Moses's lapse of faith and publicly dishonoring God leads to his being barred from the Promised Land. Moses will die atop Mount Nebo, in view of Canaan but on the other side of the Jordan (Deut 32:48-52).
• Aaron too will die without entering the Promised Land (Deut 32:50-51), just like his sons, Nadab and Abihu, the freewheeling priests we met last week (Lev 10). Public sins have public consequences—and especially the sins of leaders.
• The Lord identifies Moses's fundamental problem: a lack of trust.
There are several lessons to be learned from this passage.
• Far too often the church imitates the business world. We strain and obsess over the "bottom line"—thereby losing sight of God. Did we collect enough money? Did this or that ministry grow numerically? Are our programs running smoothly?
• Success is taken to mean that we have pleased God in the way we went about achieving our goals. Then we tell others they should do it our way if they want to please God! A culture of human tradition and unhealthy practices is formed. See also 2 Cor 10:12.
• Yet this way of doing things is as unsound as it is shortsighted. God may appear to honor our actions for reasons other than our obedience. Similarly, God answering our prayer doesn't necessarily indicate his stamp of approval on our actions.
• We need to trust the Lord more than our methods. If a strong spiritual leader like Moses could go off script, failing to implement God's instructions, so can we. This means we must take special care not to let things like anger, frustration, or fatigue get the better of us. After all, it's God's show, not ours.
The way to know for sure we are pleasing the Lord is to pay close attention to his Word. Are we becoming the kind of people God desires—Christlike (Eph 5:1)? Are we showing others how to be better human beings? Are we helping people to know God?

Man revels in competition, results, and statistics. Yet the Lord looks at the heart. As we conform to his will, his kingdom advances (Matt 6:10).

Next week: into the book of Deuteronomy.