Moses: Failing to Honor God as Holy
Last week we began a series entitled failblog and we discussed the fact that we all fail and that fact should cause us to be humble, to have a modest opinion or estimation of our own importance. Some fails are more intense than others (epic fail). Failing to live up to God’s moral standard is a fail that has far greater implications than breaking something, making a mistake, misspelling a word, using poor grammar, misusing gym equipment, etc. But, as we saw in Rom 3:23, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ALL. We are all in the same boat and nobody lives a perfectly moral life. The bad news is that the wages of sin is death – separation from God. But the good news, the gospel is because Jesus did not fail and he did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves, through faith in him, we can have fellowship with God, relationship with God, eternal life
This morning we will begin looking at some great men of God who we would consider to be pillars in the household of God, heroes of the faith, men who went down in history as having matchless reputations, people that we admire, look up to, people after whom we would model our own lives. We will find that some of the greatest men in Biblical history failed epically.
This morning, we will be looking at Moses.
We are all probably familiar with the name Moses. Moses was the guy that God used to deliver His chosen people Israel from slavery in Egypt. He went to the Pharaoh and told him that God said “Let my people go.” God empowered Moses to perform signs and wonders and ultimately opened the Red Sea for the people to cross through on dry ground. Moses went down in history as being the hero. He was the one through whom God gave Israel the covenant, the Law and by Jesus’ day it was Moses, Moses, Moses and because so many peoples’ hearts were set on Moses, they missed the Messiah.
In John Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, leaving the man under heavy scrutiny. We read in John 9:28-29 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
You can see their emphasis on Moses.
In Matt 17:3 Jesus is transfigured and who shows up? Elijah and Moses. Peter is totally geeking out about it. Moses is here.
Moses is mentioned in some form or fashion nearly 80 times in the New Testament. He was kind of a big deal.
Now Moses went down in history known for his faith, his faithfulness, and his humility.
Hebrews 3:5 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.
In that famous Hall of Faith chapter of the bible, Hebrews 11, of course who do we find among the ranks of the faith filled? Moses. Hebrews 11:24-26 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
And perhaps the most pointed statement is found in Numbers 12:3 Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.
Moses was more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (Num 12:3).
You get the picture. Moses is kind of a big deal in Biblical history. He’s a major player in the game.
As amazing as Moses was, as much as the Israelites and perhaps you and I would say he was a hero; if only I could be like Moses, he was human, just like you and me. And as a human, as amazing as Moses was, he was not immune to the fail.
Go ahead and turn with me in your bibles to Numbers 20 where we will begin our journey through the failblog of the Bible and see that Moses failed in the very areas for which he was commended: faith, faithfulness, and humility.
Remember: Israel was enslaved in Egypt and God raised up Moses to lead them out. At this point in the narrative, they had been wandering around in the wilderness for years on their way to the Promised Land. They are hot, hungry, and thirsty.
Numbers 20:1-12 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.
2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 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 can relate to the Israelites. Here in America, in our culture, we don’t like discomfort. We are so concerned with comfort that we expect and demand air conditioning in our homes, in our cars. The Israelites were now free, but they were uncomfortable; it was hot, they were thirsty and hungry, and in Egypt, though they didn’t have freedom, they did have comfort. They valued comfort over freedom so they complain to Moses.
Did they think about the fact that he’s thirsty too. He didn’t have a bottle of Ozarka or Dasani stashed away somewhere. It’s not like he wasn’t thirsty too. Did they think about the fact that his sister had just died? I mean, Moses is under some serious pressure. God told him to do something he didn’t even want to do in the first place. God appointed him to lead the Israelites out and he didn’t want that job. He tried to get out of it. Well, see, God, I’m not really your guy. I’m not a good public speaker. That’s why I gave you Aaron. He’ll help you. So God told him to do this. And it would be one thing if the people were cooperative, but they weren’t. They kept opposing him.
6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
Moses seeks God. God, now they’re thirsty…again. So God gives Moses instruction. What was the instruction? 1) Take the staff, 2) you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together, 3) Do something to the rock. What was he supposed to do to the rock? _________ to the rock.
9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. Notice that last phrase, “just as he commanded him.” He took the staff. Step one. So far, so good. He is doing just as God commanded him. What is step two? With Aaron, gather the assembly together.
10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock
He and Aaron gathered the assembly together. Step two. Check. So far, so good – he is doing just as God commanded him. What is step three? Speak to the rock. Herein lies the fail:
and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
Moses was told by God to take the staff and speak to the rock, but he struck it…twice.
Take the staff. Check. Gather the assembly. Check. Speak to the rock. Oops.
Partial obedience is not exactly obedience. Obedience requires going the distance.
God said to speak to it, not to strike it. Partial obedience is not exactly obedience.
You’ve experienced this with your own children, right? Clean your room. You saw that room – tornado struck. They come back in like two minutes. You ask, “Did you clean your room?” Yes. Let’s have a look see. What is this sticking out from under the bed? Let’s have a peek under there. You cleaned your room by not putting everything in its proper place but by putting everything under your bed. Partial obedience is not exactly obedience. Obedience requires going the distance.
We are called to be truthful. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I didn’t lie.” Not when you withheld the very truth that you knew they were after. Go the distance. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Partial obedience is not exactly obedience. Obedience requires going the distance.
We are called to forgive. I told him I forgive him…but have you forgiven him in your heart? If you’re holding a grudge, then you’re not hurting him, you’re the one carrying it. It’s impacting your soul weighing you down. Go the whole way. Forgive not just with words, but with your heart. Partial obedience is not exactly obedience. Obedience requires going the distance.
It wasn’t enough for Moses to pick up the staff and gather the assembly. Step one and step two wasn’t enough when step three is disregarded.
Obedience would have been to take the staff, gather the people, and speak to the rock like God said to do.
Go the distance, go the whole way but don’t go too far. Sometimes, going too far can be disobedience.
Moses took the staff (that was good). But he went too far with it, struck the rock twice with it. He got carried away.
By Jesus’ day, the religious leaders had taken the Sabbath Law, which was a good thing, and they obeyed it, but they took it too far. They said we can’t walk more than this many steps or that is work. Jesus gave that guy sight but it was on the Sabbath. That’s a no-no Jesus. Too far. Jesus came along to put things in perspective and said, “Look guys, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Too far.”
The Bible teaches that kids should be disciplined but don’t go too far; don’t get carried away, don’t beat them. Too far.
We should be zealous for the truth. Unfortunately, if you survey church history, our predecessors took it too far. They burned people at the stake for differing beliefs on certain doctrines. We have come a long way, but if you visit some theological forums today or if you’re friends with Christians on FB, you will find that some Christians can get pretty ugly toward one another in the name of Jesus. Too far.
Now it can be easy to hone in on the method. I have already pointed out that the prescribed method by which water would be provided would be speak not strike. Speak to the rock, not strike the rock twice.
But, what lies at the heart of Moses’ fail? Is it really the method?
Let’s look at the last verse of our text. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “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.”
God identifies what lies at the heart of Moses’ fail as this: you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites.
Moses did not trust in or believe God. That is a huge deal to God. He is the most trustworthy being in all creation. He cannot lie, his word never fails, he is all powerful, all trustworthy and when someone doesn’t believe him or trust in him – that, my friend, is an epic fail. This Moses who went down in history known for his faith (Heb 11) his trust in God is in the midst of a fail in that very department; Moses didn’t trust in God enough to honor him as holy in the sight of the Israelites.
Moses failed to honor God as holy in the sight of the people.
Why on earth did Moses strike the rock instead of speaking to it? Before we get too hard on Moses here, there may be a good reason at least in his mind for doing so. Earlier, in Ex 17 we find a similar incident where the people are thirsty and in that incident, God told him to strike the rock and water would come out. He did and it did. Maybe Moses said, oh, this routine again. I know, I know. Strike the rock and water will come out. So maybe Moses was putting his focus and faith on the method instead of the means.
It seems that instead of trusting the Word of God he trusted his own experience – his own expertise. It’s as if Moses said, “I know God just said speak to the rock, but I’ve done this before. I got this. Maybe God had a slip of the tongue and he probably meant strike not speak, so I’ll strike it like last time. I’m the resident expert water producing rock striker.” Again, maybe Moses was putting his focus and faith on the method by which the water would be produced instead of the means by which the water would be produced.
But consider the method. Was it really the staff? Was it really striking the rock that made water come out the first time back in Ex 17? Was it striking the rock that made water come out here in Num 20? Can you just pick up a stick and hit a rock and make water come out, period? No. But what if you could find that magical staff wherever it is? What if you could bring Indiana Jones out of retirement and make Indiana Jones and the seekers of the staff, employ his skills to find the lost staff you could hit a rock and make water come out? Probably not. Why did water come out? GOD made it. It’s not about the method, but the means and the means was God.
So in this case with Moses, while it isn’t ultimately about the method, the method matters because it was prescribed by God. Moses didn’t exactly do what God asked him to do. Maybe this was God’s way of showing that it wasn’t about the method, it wasn’t about the staff, it wasn’t the striking that produced water, it was God that produced the water through Moses, through the staff. God was the means and God deserves to be honored as holy.
In spite of Moses’ failure to employ the proper method, God still provided water.
But by striking instead of speaking Moses’ lack of obedience to God exemplified a lack of trust in God.
Not only that, it exemplified a lack of humility. Remember humility is a right estimation of self, a modest view of one’s own importance or dignity.
Ironically, here, the most humble man on the face of the earth, seems to fall into the momentary trap of pride, an inflated view of his own importance. Moses’ fail had to do with his momentary inflated view of self – with his lack of humility.
Yes, Moses was important. He was God’s appointed leader over his people. He did have the staff in his hand. But was it really MOSES who brought the water out? No. It was God. Moses was nothing without God. Moses had the staff, but was it a magical staff that could just do anything for anyone?
God involved the staff in authenticating Moses’ God-given authority.
God involved the staff in opening the red sea. But it wasn’t the staff itself. It was God who made the events involving the staff happen. God could have put that staff in anyone else’s hand and done the same thing. God could have done those things without the staff. It wasn’t the staff and it wasn’t Moses behind the miracles. It was God.
Up to this point, Moses seems to have had his focus on God, his view of self-importance in check, but here, in this moment, it seems that the focus changed.
Must WE bring water out, YOU REBELS? YOU REBELS keep opposing me, the man with the staff, the man with the power, and I’ve had it. Must WE bring water out of this rock for you?
And it’s ironic that he calls THEM rebels (they were – I’m not denying that), but what did God tell Moses to do to the rock? Strike it? Or speak to it? So Moses’ striking of the rock was an act of rebellion. And as Moses is in the midst of being a rebel, addresses the Israelites as rebels.
Pot calling the kettle black.
What is more, Moses isn’t identifying patiently with the people. He should have said something more like, “Hey guys, I know it is hot out here. I know you’re thirsty. I am too. Let US seek the face of Yahweh together. HE provided water for us before out of a rock. HE can do it again. HE can do it again. HE can do it again. You were all witnesses of the glory of Yahweh as HE led us out of Egypt, pouring out plagues on the Egyptians but sparing us. You have all witnessed the cloud of his glory leading us through the wilderness. Witness now the glory of Yahweh as HE – as HE – as HE brings water out of this rock in the middle of the desert to satisfy our thirst. Behold now the glory of our God. O rock, bring forth water in the name of our mighty and Holy God Almighty.”
Again, partial obedience is not exactly obedience. Obedience requires going the distance.
Going the whole distance would have been to trust in God enough to honor him as holy in the sight of the Israelites to give God the glory and magnify His name among the people.
It is for our ultimate good to seek to bring God glory, to seek to honor his Name.
One last point of application before we close.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “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.”
Moses, though he didn’t even want to, led these people all this way and they are just on the verge of the Promised Land and God says, you don’t get to go in. Num 27:12-14 12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land I have given the Israelites. 13 After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes.”
How do you think Moses felt after taking them all that way and then not being allowed to lead them in? Ouch. Moses suffered the consequences for his fail.
Sometimes there are negative consequences for our fails (Num 20:12).
Last week we saw that all of our fails of rebellion are forgiven in Christ. And that is good news. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that there are often negative consequences for our fails. Our forgiveness doesn’t eliminate the negative and practical or immediate consequences often associated with our fails. Eternally, we are forgiven and have eternal life, fellowship with God here and beyond the grave. But here and now, there are often consequences.
You abuse your children? As a consequence, your children may be taken away from you.
You cheat on your spouse? It may take a while for your spouse to trust you again.
You get pulled over for speeding? You get a ticket and pay the fine.
You drink too much, you may say or do something you will regret, or end up with a hangover.
There are often natural, immediate, negative consequences to our fails. We are ultimately forgiven and restored to God, but on a practical level, there is a cause and effect, reap what you sow principle at work and Moses experienced that first hand. How painful that must have been.
We all fail. And the heroes of the faith, the pillars in the household of God, the Biblical giants are not exempt.
Moses, the most humble man on the face of the earth, failed in the humility department.
Moses, the man listed in the hall of faith, failed to trust in God enough to honor him as holy in the midst of the people.
Let’s take comfort in knowing that even the greatest of men fail in the very areas for which they are commended and let’s learn from their mistakes.
In examining the fail of Moses, we are reminded that partial obedience is not exactly obedience. Obedience requires going the distance. It is for our ultimate good to seek to bring God glory, to seek to honor his Name.
My challenge to you this week is to go the distance, don’t stop short and look for opportunities to bring glory to God, to honor him as holy before others.