Recently, I referred to this Bible blunder in the previous post, "Unholy Alliance". It seems that God's people goofing up is a natural human tendency. The Bible greats are no exception. We can learn something from them and about our behavior and God's mercy. This is the second post of Bible Blunders.
In Numbers 20:1-13, we read about Moses' blunder that cost him big time. Keep these things in mind about Moses and Israel (aka. Hebrews at this point in history): Moses grew up in an Egyptian Pharoah's house raised by Pharaoh's daughter and nursed as in infant by his own mom (Exodus 2:1-10). There were certain graces and disgraces, I'm sure, that he learned while there. Moses killed an Egyptian for what he did to a Hebrew slave and ran for his life from Pharaoh (Exodus 2:11-15). The Hebrews were forced to hard labor making bricks and building elaborate buildings and statues with them. They were beaten, tortured and killed many times (Exodus 1). God called Moses to answer the Hebrews' prayers to be delivered from Egypt, but Moses claimed he couldn't speak well. Moses' brother Aaron was sent by God to speak to Pharaoh what Moses told him from God (Exodus 3, 4). God delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptians in the famous crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground, then drown the Egyptian army with the walls of water closing in on them (Exodus 14). After all of what God did through Moses and the miraculous deliverance, Israel was a contentious bunch. They whined and complained over and over again. This time was no different.
After" ring around Mt. Sinai" for 40 years in the desert, the huge group looked forward to entering Canaan, a lush place, which God promised them as a place to live. I imagine someone had to be making hashmarks on the side of the mountain base keeping track of the circles they made! It certainly had to be better than where they had been spending their time lately. Moses' wife had just died when they came to Zin, another very arid place. The Israelites were thirsty and probably hungry from the long trek. Hungry, thirsty people tend to be a bit testy.
Going back to Numbers 20, the whining and complaining commenced--again. Moses was sick and tired of this, it was getting pretty old. They questioned what Moses had told them about what was waiting for them, but they weren't there yet. God had provided all they needed on the way, yet for them to question the promise God had made to them got under Moses' skin. In frustration, Moses and his brother Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord in the Tabernacle (a tent set up for worship and to house the presence of God). If you notice, God shows up. He always has. And if you have read the entire story of Moses and Israel (Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers), you will see that Moses is the one who has ever seen God and lived. This time Aaron is there, too, but I'm not sure if he gets to see the glory of the Lord or if he is just nearby. The people Moses led had seen only the fire and cloud pillars as well as some other things God used to get their attention. But they never heard from God directly, only through Moses. In all due fairness to the group, they probably think they have been following a nut case for a leader. But they were following the right man. They just didn't understand everything.
God told Moses to take his rod to a rock nearby and speak to the rock which would give them water. Whether there was water already within the rock or not, Moses was simply to speak to it. He not only spoke to it, he stuck it with his rod twice! HMMM. Here is the clincher: He said must we bring water from this rock? Not only that, he called them rebels. God didn't call them rebels nor was He impatient with the people in this passage. But Moses was. Moses' attitude is the revealer of his soul. He was saying that he and Aaron were bringing water from the rock, not giving God credit. So it makes sense that he took matters in his own hands and struck the rock, which was not part of the instructions. This is not the first display of temper from him. He smashed the stone tablets with the commandments and law God gave him. God provided a new set that Moses which God made him chisel out by hand (Exodus 24, 31 & 34). The result of his disobedience? Israel still would get to go into Canaan, but not Moses. He would be able to see them enter, from a distance. What a disappointment. But definitely a disciplinary measure by God.
In all due fairness to Moses, would we have done anything differently? I know I would have been fed up if I were in his shoes. What would you have done? It seems that we display a similar attitude in areas where we are called by God to lead people. But I'm not a leader, you say? You probably are, but don't know it. Are you a parent? Are you in a group of people who follow your lead? Do your friends look to you for guidance? Are you a manager, teacher or pastor? Do you lead a Bible study? Have you gotten frustrated with those who follow your lead? Did they whine and complain about a decision you made? Were they vocal about a disappointment when something you promised didn't pan out? Did those raises not come through like they had hoped and they blame you even if it wasn't your decision? Did the kids discover that Mom and Dad were human beings who make mistakes? After they show regression or lack of understanding, it is quite easy to lose your composure. What was the result of that? Keeping in mind that even God was ready to wipe out Israel yet relented when Moses asked for mercy on them, we need to have mercy. If we are to become more like Christ, we are to be patient with our kids, our spouses, the congregation, anyone whom we influence. The consequences of losing our tempers and putting ourselves above God can have expensive consequences.
However, we are all followers. As followers, pressing the last ounce of patience from those who lead us is also not wise. Israel spent 40 years in the desert for their misbehavior. Do we push our spouse's buttons too often? Do we push the limits of our boss's patience by complaining about things we have no control over? Do we question the authority of the pastor God sent to lead our congregations? Do we play devil's advocate to drive the Bible study leader nuts? Those behaviors aren't godly either. They will also be pressed to irritation eventually. Let us not treat them badly.
Read Colossians 3. Following God's Word in what we should do and leaning on Him will help us work through trying times and people with tactful grace. May God bless you!