This week’s lesson is going to be the last lesson of the fall quarter.  In this last unit of lessons for the month, we have been taking a look at taking God seriously.  The children of Israel have rebelled against the Lord by refusing to enter into the Promised Land, and by trying to over the leadership of Moses, Aaron, and therefore, the Lord.  There were consequences to face for those that had sinned against the Lord.  In our lesson this week, we are going to look at the tragic sin of Moses.  Our lesson this week is being taught from Numbers 20:1-12.

Time of Frustration

As our lesson opens this week, we will see that sadness had hit the congregation of Israel as Miriam, the sister of Moses, had passed away.  As we saw in an earlier lesson this quarter, Miriam held a leadership position as a prophetess within the camp of Israel (Ex. 15:20).  We will also see in this opening scripture that Miriam was buried in Kadesh where the children of Israel were currently located at that point in time (v. 1).  

We are specifically told that the camp was now dwelling in Kadesh, the Wilderness of Zin.  This location may seem familiar to you because it was in Kadesh where the twelve spies returned to Moses and the congregation of Israel to deliver what turned out to be a bad report from ten of the spies (Num. 13:26).

Now, as we get into this lesson, I do want to point out that there has been a passage of time between our lesson last week and this week’s lesson.  As we have seen so far, Miriam had passed away and Aaron would soon pass away because of what we will see transpire in our lesson this week (Num. 20:22-29).  Aaron’s passing was also a tragic one that the people mourned for a month.

A new generation complains 

A generation was passing away just as the Lord said would happen after the people refused to enter into the Promised Land (Num. 14:33-35).  Let us remember, only Caleb and Joshua would enter the Promised Land from that generation as the people were made to wander the wilderness for forty years (Num. 32:8-13).  So, Moses is leading what would have been the children of the generation that had rejected entering into the Promised Land by this point in time.  Again, the children of Israel are now set up to be able to enter into the Promised Land.

Adding to the mourning that was likely taking place, we see that there is frustration beginning to stir within the camp.  We are told that there was no water in the camp and that the people began to take their frustration about this predicament out on Moses (v. 2).  Scripture shows us that the people say to Moses, “If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!  Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink (vss. 3-5).”

What is interesting about this is that even though this is a new generation of Israelites, their complaining is still the same as the previous generation.  They contend with Moses, just as the previous generation.  They even bemoan that they were brought out of Egypt to dwell in a wilderness that had no grain, figs, vines, pomegranates, or water, just as the previous generation.  What does this tell us?  

Well, I believe this suggests that they had not learned from the lessons of their parents.  We know that those who were of this new generation of Israelites were at least 20 years and younger at time of the original rejection of entering into the Promised Land (Num. 14:29; 32:11).  So, by this point of time in our lesson, this generation of Israelites were nearly 60 years old at the oldest age.  In other words, they should have known better than to contend with the Lord, yet, they are contending with the Lord by contending with Moses and Aaron.

Moses’ sin

After seeing the people’s contention towards them and the Lord, we are told that Moses and Aaron fell to their face at the door of the tabernacle where the glory of God appears (v. 6).  Again, we have seen both Moses and Aaron fall to their face at the people’s contention towards them and God.  In the past, this was done because they were dismayed at the children of Israel’s contention against God.

So, how will the Lord respond to this new contention from the children of Israel?  The Lord commanded Moses to take his rod before the congregation, speak to the rock before them, and when it yielded water, he was to give the people and their animals the water to drink (vss. 7-8).  Let us understand that this was God’s judgment of the people complaining at this time.  

I would suggest that the Lord moves graciously towards the people in that He provides for them.  I certainly believe that there are times when our complaining can turn into contention against the Lord.  I feel that this often happens when we don’t acknowledge all that the Lord has done for us and we complain about His doings.  There are other times when we are frustrated at how things are going where the Lord does not view our frustration as contention and He chooses to move in His grace towards us.  God is forgiving and God is gracious.

Now, when we see how Moses moves towards the people, we see that he did not move with such grace.  Moses takes the rod, gathers the people together before the rock, and instead of speaking to the rock as God had commanded, he spoke to the people (vss. 9-10).  Moses calls the people rebels, in a way where it seems his frustration had boiled over with their complaining.  

We’ll then see Moses say, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”  The ‘we’ being Moses and Aaron.  First and foremost, Moses and Aaron were not capable of bringing water out of the rock at their own fruition – God was going to bring the water forth out of the rock!  Secondly, we will see that Moses, of his own doing, chose to strike the rock two times with his rod (v. 11).  This, again, went against what the Lord had commanded Moses to do.  So, where the children of Israel had been contending with the Lord, we see that Moses is not contending with God by not obeying His command!

God’s judgment of Moses and Aaron

Because of his actions at the rock, we will see that the Lord said to Moses, “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 (v. 12).” 

I think what is fascinating about this is that it appears that Moses and Aaron were going to be permitted to enter into the Promised Land until this moment.  Moses, we certainly know, had been a faithful servant.  Yet, we will see that the Lord points out to Moses that he did not act faithfully in this moment.  Instead of making God’s name holy before the people, Moses misrepresented the Lord to the people at this moment.  Again, we see that God was being graceful towards the people where Moses would have had the people think that the Lord was burning hot with fire.

Moses acted with pride in this instance and pride, as it does with everyone, got the best of him.  Pride caused Moses to commit a great sin.  As you have heard me preach about and teach about before when it comes to pride, you have to be wary when it comes to pride.  Pride always leads to destruction so we must keep our pride in check lest it cause us to commit a great sin as well.  

Striking the rock, while it was certainly wrong, was not necessarily the big problem here; it was the fact that Moses did act faithfully.  This was certainly out of character for Moses, especially from what we have seen of him in our recent lessons.  Maybe it was Moses being in mourning, compounded with the people’s complaining, that caused him to become so furious that he lost control.  In all, I believe this lesson does serve as a warning that we must certainly do our best when it comes to self-control and pride.  

God will hold all people accountable for the things they have done, even those of genuine faith.  The one difference for believers when compared to sinners is that God is going to be gracious to us.  The Lord is going to be gracious towards us because we have a mediator in Christ who became the propitiation of our sins.


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