Thursday, July 28, 2011
Moses: You Can Look, But You Can't Touch
Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery in pursuit of the Promised Land. Tragically, though he guided the people for forty years, Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Before dying atop Mount Nebo, Moses was allowed to glimpse a panoramic view of the land his people would inherit (Deuteronomy 34:1-6).
On the surface, the reason for his exclusion is simple. The Israelites were without water in the wilderness of Zin (Numbers 20:1-3). God instructed Moses to speak to a rock and extract water (Numbers 20:8). Moses successfully distilled water from the rock but instead of speaking to it, he struck the rock twice (Numbers 20:11). Moses did what God commanded but in the course of executing the directive, he did not use the proper method. As a result, it was decreed that Moses must die in the desert without entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12).
While the incident that kept Moses from the Promised Land is clear, the nature of the sin that warranted such an extreme penalty is far more ambiguous. Thirty-nine years earlier, the Israelites were in a similar predicament and God instructed Moses to strike a rock to produce water (Exodus 17:6). This indicates that the issue is not striking the rock but rather Moses’ rationale behind it. The sin is said to be one of pride. This is seen as Moses announces in front of all of Israel, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we [Moses and Aaron] bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10, NASB). Moses took credit for God’s handiwork.
In the midst of detailing the Israelites’ past rebelliousness, Psalm 106 claims that Moses was provoked and that “he spoke rashly with his lips (Psalms 106:33, NASB).” This implies that Moses’ words were as much an issue as his actions. Moses’ attitude is also revealed when recounting the incident. Instead of taking responsibility, he seemingly blames the people for his not making the cut into Canaan stating, “The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there.’ (Deuteronomy 1:37, NASB).”
Is the penalty too harsh? Does it fit the crime? Is Moses, as leader, held to a higher standard? Do you give God credit where credit is due? Why didn’t Moses simply follow God’s instructions?
There may be a practical reason for Moses’ being left in the desert - he may have completed his part of the mission. Moses led primarily through miracles and this was not how the land of Canaan was to be conquered. Though there are miraculous facets to the conquest of the Promised Land, it required standard warfare. Joshua, Moses’ successor, proves a very apt general. Moses could not have been seen as anything but a leader and his presence may have detracted from Joshua’s command. Some have concluded that it would not have been fitting for the law giver (Moses) to lead the way into the Promised Land.
Great leaders often do not live to see their work completed. Most of Christianity’s great doctrines emerged after their supporters were dead and often after they lost their lives in the battle. Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God was not completed in his lifetime.
What task will you undertake that you could or would not do without God? What mission will you accept for God that cannot be finished in your lifetime?
As a postscript, after the indiscretion, God still loves Moses so much that God handles Moses’ burial (Deuteronomy 34:6). Years later, Moses later appears to Jesus and three of his disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, a mountain located squarely within the confines of the Promised Land (Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30).