As a biblical counselor and a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the 20th chapter of the Old Testament book of Numbers. I really sympathize with Moses in this passage, even though Moses is the one who gets in trouble with the Lord here. Moses was probably going through a rough time anyway, because as this chapter begins we learn that his sister Miriam has just died. And you may or may not remember that Moses had a very special, but somewhat rocky, relationship with his sister. When we first meet Miriam in the Scriptures, she is carefully watching over and protecting her baby brother Moses (Exodus 2:4-10). Yet she later conspired with their brother Aaron against him (Numbers 12).
But in Numbers 20, we see that no one, not even Moses, is without sin or beyond correction from the Lord. And, we also see that God will preserve His holiness in spite of our sinful actions.
The people are complaining again. This was a consistent pattern during Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness following their liberation from slavery in Egypt. You’d think they would be grateful. You’d be wrong. “We’re thirsty.” “We’re hungry.” “We wish we had died in Egypt.” As a pastor, I feel like I’ve walked a few miles in Moses’ shoes myself. In my pastoral experiences, there were numerous instances when the congregation “assembled themselves together against” me. And I can tell you that it was never a positive experience. The fact is that people (all of us) are sinful and rebellious. And this fact is never more obvious then when you are called to lead them spiritually.
So, Moses and Aaron humbly went straight from the assembly of the people to the Lord to seek His counsel on this situation (Numbers 20:6-9). That was wise leadership. But what happened next was not. Despite the fact that God had explicitly told him to speak to the rock for water, Moses struck the rock – twice. God’s commands to Moses were, like all His commands, for His glory and for Moses’ and the people’s joy. But Moses disobeyed God. Not only was he disobedient, Moses really tried to steal some of God’s glory by saying, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Who is this “we” of which Moses speaks? In his anger against the people for their rebellion, Moses let himself lose sight of Who their Rescuer (and his Rescuer) was. It wasn’t Moses. Psalm 106:32-33 refers to this specific situation and tells us that Moses’ anger made his spirit bitter. And that bitterness of spirit in Moses caused him to sin against both God and God’s people he had been chosen to lead. In the end, Moses’ sin led to a loss of his joy (by not being allowed to enter the promised land), but not to a loss of God’s glory. “These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.”
God will be glorified through our obedience AND our rebellion. But in our rebellion, we lose the joy that He intends for us to have.
Pray for those you know who are in positions of spiritual leadership – pastors, elders, teachers, group leaders, counselors, etc. Pray that our frustration at rebellion against God doesn’t lead us to rebel against God. Pray that we will be obedient for his Glory and our joy.