Moses’ Tragic Error

I was reading The Story of Redemption by Ellen White and was reminded of why Moses didn’t set foot in the Promised Land.  It’s a sad story because all it took was one moment to turn his life upside down.

It all began when the people were thirsty and when they didn’t get water, they started to grumble and complain against Moses because he was their leader and Aaron who was his right hand man.  They grumbled, “If only we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! Why have you brought up the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.” 

Moses and Aaron went to the temple to seek God’s counsel.  They fell on their faces and God spoke to them.  He gave them specific and very simple instructions. 

  1. Take the rod
  2. Gather the congregation together
  3. Speak to the rock before the congregation – Numbers 20:7, 8 

Why did God ask Moses to take the rod when he was just supposed to speak to the rock?  The last time at Mount Sinai, God told him to strike the rock and the water would gush out (Exodus 17:6).  One Bible commentator explained that it was because the rod is a symbol of God’s authority.  It was an ordinary rod which Moses had used when he was a shepherd but it was by the power of God that this same rod was able to turn into a serpent, turn the Nile into blood, part the Red Sea and bring water from a rock.  God has said to him, “And you shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs.”  However, this time God didn’t want Moses to do anything with the rod but he wanted him to take it with him to the rock.

The Lord commanded him and he and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock.  Then Moses said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”  Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank (verses 10, 11).

Moses made three mistakes.  First, he cried out against the people.  He lectured them.  God didn’t tell him to speak to the people.  He told him to gather them and then speak to the rock.  This was a different Moses from the one who had interceded for the people when they displeased God so much so that He wanted to destroy them.  A Bible commentator pointed that twice before when the people contended agains Moses, he cried out to the Lord (Exodus 15:22-25; Exodus 17:1-7) but here at Kadesh, he fell on his face.  Also, when the people complained and grumbled against Moses in Meribah, Moses chided them saying, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?”  He didn’t go off on a rant, calling them “rebels”.   He was concerned about them tempting the Lord.  And when they continued contending with him, he sought the Lord, wondering what to do since the people were about ready to stone him.  And God told him what to do.  There was no anger and resentment toward the people.  I guess after dealing with them and their contentious ways for so long, it reached the point where Moses couldn’t take it anymore, to his detriment.  It is at the point where we are in danger of losing our temper and doing something rash, that we should cry out to God to help us.

The second mistake Moses made was when he said, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”  He said “we”, giving the impression that the water coming out of the rock was his and Aaron’s doing.  This was not so.  God was the One who would bring the water to the people using Moses and Aaron.  He alone was their Provider, not Moses or Aaron.  For Moses to say must we bring water for you out of this rock, was presumption.  He was taking credit for what God was about to do for the people.  God was the One who brought them out of Egypt, not Moses.  God was the One who gave them water the first time.  God was the One who gave them whatever they needed.  Moses had no right to take credit for what would have been a great miracle from God.  Can you imagine speaking to a rock and then water pours forth from it so that a thirsty congregation can drink from it?

The third mistake Moses made was striking the rock–twice.  The last time when he was told to strike the rock, he did so only once.  Here, in a fit of anger, he struck the rock twice.  God had specifically told him to speak to it.  Why did Moses strike it?  What if God had not allowed the water to come out?  Moses struck the rock because he didn’t believe God.  He didn’t believe that water would come from the rock by merely speaking to it.  We forget that God’s Word is just as powerful as His actions.  Think of the times when Jesus spoke healing into someone’s life–the centurion’s son, the paralytic, etc. 

And God, allowed the water to come out of the rock and in abundance because that is just the way He is.  Despite Moses’ attitude and action, God would still provide for His people.   As we know, God is not only a merciful God but also a just God.  He had to address Moses’ behavior. 

He said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).  Both men paid a steep price for their disobedience.  They were not to step foot in the promised land.  Moses had allowed his anger to get the better of him.  He had had enough of the people’s grumbling and complaining.  In anger, he called them “rebels” and then proceeded to strike the rock in that same anger.

Why was Aaron punished when it was Moses who struck the rod?  He was complacent.  He went along with the children of Israel when they wanted to wanted an idol which he made for them using their jewelry.  He should have stepped in and prevented Moses from striking the rock.  He should have said, “No, Moses, do not strike the rock.  The Lord told you to speak to it.”  He just stood there and watched Moses disobey the Lord.  There are times when we see our brother or sister about to commit a sin or act in disobedience and we owe it to them and to God to intercede–to stop them before they make a terrible mistake.  Aaron did nothing and as a result he received the same punishment as Moses.  He died before they reached the promised land.  At least Moses got to see it.

Moses’ tragic error and God’s judgment should be lessons for us.  We must not allow anger or any other emotion to influence us to the point where we act foolishly.  We are to follow whatever instructions God gives us to the letter.  If we have unbelief in our hearts, we should pray and ask Him to help us just as the father of the sick son asked Jesus to help him with his unbelief.  We must never take credit for God’s miracles.  We must always remember that we are instruments through which God demonstrates His power.  Of ourselves, we can do nothing but with God we can do anything. 

Don’t do anything that would keep you out of the promised land (the heavenly kingdom) which God has promised for all those who love Him and do His will.


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