This blog continues chapter two of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures of Graham Maxwell in 1984.
Conversations About God 2:3
I know of no greater illustration of how sin is a violation of trust than the one involving the great saint Moses. When the people were complaining about the lack of water, they came to Moses and grumbled. They even said they wished they had died in the wilderness. “ Why did you bring us here from Egypt? We have no water” (based on Numbers 20:5). They behaved so badly that Moses ran to God and prayed, “God, what shall I do?” And God said, “Give them water. Take your rod and go to the rock and speak this time. Don’t hit it, don’t make a scene, don’t be angry with the people or condemn them. Just speak to the rock, and they’ll have all the water they want” (based on Numbers 20:7-8).
Instead of following God’s instructions, Moses went back to the rock, struck it smartly (Num 20:11) and said, “You ungrateful rebels! Must we bring forth water from this rock” (Num 20:10)? According to Numbers 20:12 (NIV) God responded: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Now on the surface, doesn’t that seem a bit arbitrary and severe? All the old man did was to get irritated and impatient. He disobeyed God by hitting the rock with his rod. Was that enough to keep him out of the Promised Land? For forty years he had led the people. And think what he had put up with all those years. But God says, “Because of what you did at the rock you may not take this people in.” Does that seem severe, for God to treat His old friend like this? How could what Moses did be serious enough to call for such a terrible consequence and penalty?
Understandably, Moses begged God, “Please. Please may I take the people in?” And finally God said, “Speak to Me no more on this matter.” Now how could it be that serious? Or is the answer in the text that we read? It doesn’t say in Numbers 20:12, “Because you disobeyed Me, you cannot take the people in.” It actually says, “Because you did not trust in Me enough to honor Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you may not bring the people in.” Why?
Moses was one of the best friends God ever had. God talked to him face to face, even more directly than the visions and dreams He gave to the prophets. He said, “I talk to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friends (see Exodus 33:11).” So the people knew Moses had a special relationship with God. They revered him—at least when they were behaving. They had seen him go up on Mt. Sinai and come down carrying the Ten Commandments. If your pastor came down a mountain carrying the Ten Commandments with his face shining so brightly that you couldn’t look at him, wouldn’t he have increased influence in your congregation?
Moses had enormous influence with the people of Israel. That’s what made his behavior at the rock so serious. He said, “Must we bring forth water from this rock” (Num 20:10)? Moses implied with the “we” that he was speaking and acting in God’s behalf (Num 20:10-11). Moses had pictured God as angry when He was not. God had wished by His kindness to lead some of those Israelites to repentance (Num 20:7-8, see also Romans 2:4). But by his behavior, Moses deprived God of that opportunity. Standing as they were on the verge of going into Canaan to meet those well-armed tribes there, they needed to trust God very closely. And God purposed to win them over to trust, in spite of all their complaining and grumbling. He was not going to condemn them or criticize them; just give them abundant water in one of the driest of deserts. “Moses,” He said, “don’t even strike the rock.” But Moses pictured God as angry.
What a contrast to the way Moses had behaved earlier when God said, “I’m tired of these people. Step aside. Let Me destroy them and I’ll make a great nation out of you (see Exodus 32:10).” At that time Moses responded, “God, you couldn’t do that. Think what it would do to your reputation. What would the Egyptians think? They would assume that you couldn’t take your people to the Promised Land (see Exodus 32:11-13)!” And God said, “I love that, Moses. Who knows Me as well as you do? You really are My friend” (see Exodus 33:9-11). But later on, under pressure, Moses let God down. He misrepresented God as vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. And that was precisely Satan’s sin in the beginning, the sin that is the most devastating of all.
God has honored His friend Moses ever since. He even personally buried him (Deut 34:6), resurrected him (Jude 9), and later sent him down to comfort His Son on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3-4 and parallels in Mark and Luke). But God had to go on record before the eyes of the onlooking universe regarding the terrible seriousness of Moses’ sin. It wasn’t just about disobedience, or that by smiting the rock he had “spoiled a symbol.” He had certainly done both. But more than that, Moses had broken faith with God. The most destructive thing a person can ever do is to be a person of influence and misrepresent the truth about God. Moses hadn’t shown himself to be God’s trusted, trusting friend. And that’s the essence of sin.
How many of us have committed the same sin in words or actions? How many of us have hurt our own children and others who trust us to tell the truth about our God? Have you ever apologized to God for putting Him in a bad light or leaving the impression that He’s not the kind of person we know Him to be? Moses repented and became a better friend of God than ever before. But so many people have continued to mistrust.