Moses' Sin

Chapter 21

During all their wanderings, the people of Israel were supplied with water by a miracle of God's mercy. The water that had first flowed from the rock in response to Moses striking it with his rod at Mount Horeb did not continue to flow from that rock. But during all their journeyings, they were supplied with water that gushed out freely from the cavity of a rock beside their encampment.

The rock Moses struck was a figure, or type, of Christ. As the life-giving waters flowed from the smitten rock, so from Christ, "smitten of God," "wounded for our transgressions," "bruised for our iniquities," flows salvation for all. (See Isaiah 53:4–5.) As the rock had been once smitten, so Christ was to be "once offered to bear the sins of many." Hebrews 9:28, that the stream of salvation might flow to all.

Just before the Israelites reached Kadesh, the stream that for so many years had satisfied their thirst stopped flowing. It was the Lord's purpose to again test His people and see whether they would trust Him or show the same lack of faith their fathers had shown.

Kadesh was in sight of the hills of Canaan. A few days' march would place them on the borders of the Promised Land. They were but a little distance from Edom, through which God had promised them a safe passage. The very fact that the water had stopped flowing should have been an evidence that they were no longer to need it. But instead of being an evidence of the fulfillment of the Lord's promise to bring them to the Promised Land, they made it an occasion of doubting and murmuring.

No sooner was the cry for water heard in the encampment than they forgot the hand that had for so many years supplied their wants. Instead of turning to God for help, they murmured against Him. In their hopelessness, they exclaimed, "Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!"

Moses and Aaron went to the door of the tabernacle and bowed before the Lord. Again the Lord appeared to Moses and told him, "Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water."

Moses, with the rod of God in his hand, made his way to the rock. Moses and his brother were now old men. For years they had borne with the rebellion and obstinacy of Israel; but now, at last, even the patience of Moses gave way. "Hear now, ye rebels," he cried, "must we fetch you water out of this rock? Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly."

Though the water flowed, Moses had done a great wrong. Not only had he spoken from anger, but by his act of striking the rock, he had destroyed the force of the lesson that God purposed to teach. The rock, being a symbol of Christ, had already been smitten once, as Christ was to be once offered. The second time it was only necessary to speak to the rock, as we have only to ask for blessings in the name of Jesus. By striking the rock a second time, Moses destroyed the significance of this beautiful figure of Christ.

Those who stood as God's representatives had not honored Him. Moses and Aaron had felt themselves injured, losing sight of the fact that the murmuring of the people was not against them but against God.

Bitter and deeply humiliating was the judgment immediately pronounced. "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." With rebellious Israel, they must die before the crossing of the Jordan.

Not even the uprightness and faithfulness of Moses could prevent him from paying the penalty of his sin. God had forgiven the people greater disobedience, but He could not deal with sin in the leaders in the same way that He did in those whom they led. He had honored Moses above every other man upon the earth. He had revealed to him His glory, and through him He had communicated His statutes to Israel. The fact that Moses had enjoyed so great light and knowledge made his sin more grievous. Past faithfulness will not make up for one wrong act. The greater the light and privileges a person is given, the greater is his responsibility, the less his failure can be overlooked, and the heavier his punishment.

Moses was not guilty of a great crime, as men would view the matter; his sin was one of common occurrence. The psalmist says that "he spake unadvisedly with his lips." Psalm 106:33. To human judgment, this may seem a matter of little concern; but it was not so to God. The more important one's position and the greater his influence, the more important it is that he develop patience and humility.

The burdens placed upon Moses were very great; few men will ever be so severely tried as he was; yet this was not allowed to excuse his sin. However great the pressure brought to bear upon the soul, transgression is our own act. God has provided help for us, and in His strength we may conquer.

The day came when the command was given to Moses, "Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, ... behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession: and die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people." Deuteronomy 32:49–50

In silence and alone, Moses made his way up the mountainside. On its lonely height he stood and gazed with undimmed eye upon the scene spread out before him. Far away to the west lay the blue waters of the Great Sea; in the north, Mount Hermon stood out against the sky; to the east was the tableland of Moab; and away to the south stretched the desert of their long wanderings.

Then, like a tired warrior, Moses lay down to rest. "So Moses he servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher to this day." "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel." Deuteronomy 34:5–6, 10–12

Satan had rejoiced at his success in causing Moses to sin against God. The power of the grave had never been broken, and all who were in the tomb he claimed as his captives, never to be released from his dark prison house.

Though Moses died without entering the Promised Land, he was not, however, to remain long in the tomb. For the first time, Christ was to give life to the dead. As the Prince of life approached the grave, Satan was alarmed for his supremacy. With his evil angels, he stood to oppose an invasion of the territory that he claimed as his own. He boasted that the servant of God had become his prisoner.

Christ did not stoop to enter into argument with Satan. He referred all to His Father, saying, "The Lord rebuke thee." Jude 9. In bringing Moses back from the grave, Christ gave an evidence of His supremacy that Satan could not deny. The power of the grave had been broken; the righteous dead would live again.

One final chapter in the history of this great man of God was yet to be revealed. Upon the mount of transfiguration, shortly before the crucifixion of Christ, Moses was present with Elijah, who had been translated. They were sent as bearers of light and glory from the Father to His Son. They came not only as representatives of those to be redeemed by the great sacrifice Christ was making; but as men who had endured suffering and sorrow, they were especially qualified to sympathize and encourage Him to meet the rapidly approaching crisis.

This chapter is based on Numbers 20:1–13