Numbers 20:1-13; 21:4-9
Even the Greatest Among Us Fall
Scripture says of Moses: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” Moreover, the LORD said, “If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD” (Numbers 12:3, 6-8). That’s pretty high praise. And yet, even he sinned.
It’s somewhat hard to understand exactly what happened and what he did wrong. The people were complaining – as usual. This time it was for lack of water. We saw this before in Exodus 17, and some think that this is the same event retold, but others do not, but think it a different event narrated altogether. I confess to ignorance about the question, and it matters little for our purposes here. The people cry for water, and God commands Moses to strike a certain rock so that water may spring forth from it. The sin is displayed in Moses’ exasperated exclamation, “Here now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” just before he struck it.
Commentators differ, some suggesting that Moses sinned by speaking out of anger, while others say that he did not follow God’s precise commands by striking the rock twice rather than speaking to it. Smarter people than I write these opinions, and I won’t gainsay what others think about the matter. But I will concentrate on the Lord’s own reason given in verse twelve: “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel.”
This seems to take us back to what we said yesterday, how all sin is ultimately rooted in unbelief. Did Moses doubt that God would bring water from the rock? His exclamation seems to indicate so. But then see what God says this unbelief entails: Not upholding Him as holy before people. It makes sense, does it not? As we noted yesterday, not believing the Lord disregards Him, despises Him, and so mocks Him. How can one regard as holy Him whom one disregards, Him whom one does not believe? It is impossible. There is but one remedy, and it is looking to the only One who can save, and does save, as we cast our eyes on Him: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).