Meditating on the Judgements of God:
5.7 Grumblings gets to Moses
Num 20:2-5 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
We come now to an incident where we might expect judgement but there isn’t but then a further incident where we perhaps would not expect judgment but there is. Remember from early on, we defined a judgment as God’s assessment of a situation where He concludes with negative action. So the people of Israel in their wanderings arrive in the Desert of Zin and stayed at Kadesh (v.1) but unfortunately there is no water for them there.
Now you might have expected, after all their previous encounters with the Lord, that they might have learned by now and might simply say to Moses, “Will you talk to the Lord because we seem to have a problem and He’s good at overcoming problems,” but they didn’t. Instead they had a go at Moses and Aaron and really wound themselves up to have a rant about the negatives of living in the desert (forgetting that it is their own fault that they are still there!) It is at this point that you might expect judgement to fall on this foolish people who are grumbling yet again and yet again criticising Moses’ leadership. But nothing like that happens.
So why did it happen like it did? The answer, very simply, is that there is indeed a need of water supply and so it is legitimate to ask the Lord for that. The way they went about it was bad and that might be the cause of disciplinary action, but instead the Lord tells Moses to simply take his staff (as a sign of authority) and simply speak to the rock and water will come forth. End of story.
Now we don’t know why Moses acted like he did. Previously he’s been described as the meekest man on the earth and we have seen him time and time again fall on his face before the Lord, seeking the Lord’s mercy. Now whether he’s just feeling low or he’s just had enough we don’t know but he fails to act with the grace he is called to have leading this groups of failures. Instead we find, “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.” (Num 20:9-11) “You rebels”? Well yes they are but he’s not called to call them names. “Must we bring water out of this rock?” Woah! Moses it’s God’s job not your power! He strikes the rock twice. Hold on, you were only told to speak to it and so it would be clearly seen to be a miracle, but now the people might think his act of hitting it split it and released the water. Woops! In three ways Moses blows it! It’s the first and only time he lets go, but he is held to a very high level of accountability.
And so we see God’s judgment: “But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (v.12) This was fulfilled (Deut 34:1-8). Moses saw the land from the mountainside but never actually went into the land. Why was the Lord so hard on him?
Well first we have to say that as God’s representative he should never fail to accurately represent God – without rebuke. The people had to see that he was always spot on when it came to his leading and so the one time when he departed from that, it meant he would be held to account and, most importantly, they would see and know. All future leaders would know (or should know) that they were accountable to the Lord for the way they led His people.
We might note, second, that he was now 120 which is a good old age and probably not the best age to lead a people into battle. To be called home at that age is really no great disgrace, but it does still send the message, “Leaders, be careful, you are accountable to God for the way you represent Him!” Thank goodness for the Cross!