For those who observe the biblical Holy Days, each Passover season jump-starts a cycle of self-examination. No matter how spiritually mature we are, we all need to keep examining ourselves to see how we are falling short.
Consider Moses: His wisdom of 120 years, as well as impressive testimony that he was the most humble man ever on earth (Numbers 12:3 Numbers 12:3(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were on the face of the earth.)
American King James Version×), is incomparable. Add further his faith—“He endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27 Hebrews 11:27By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
American King James Version×)—and Christ’s personal endorsement—“If you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:47 John 5:47But if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe my words?
American King James Version×).
And yet, as we shall see, Moses did incur God’s painful displeasure. The accompanying lesson cautions that no matter how enlightened we may see ourselves, we are still fallible as even Moses was still fallible. A minister put it this way: “Our transformation from baptism was once explained as a continuing process of surrender over the arrogant spirit in man, and that the struggle never ends. An unjustified arrogant spirit could still provoke Moses at age 120, while his own human nature could still make him stumble. Such is the example of Numbers 20:1-13 Numbers 20:1-13 1 Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
3 And the people strived with Moses, and spoke, saying, Would God that we had died when our brothers died before the LORD!
4 And why have you brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
5 And why have you made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in to this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell on their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared to them.
7 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
8 Take the rod, and gather you the assembly together, you, and Aaron your brother, and speak you to the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and you shall bring forth to them water out of the rock: so you shall give the congregation and their beasts drink.
9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said to them, Hear now, you rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
12 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, Because you believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
13 This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
American King James Version×.”
Here’s the story
The Israelites, 38 years into nomadic wandering, had returned to a waterless area. After three decades, many of the original adults had died. Chapter 20 begins by telling us of Miriam’s death. Perhaps her passing reopened festering feelings among other elderly Israelites or inspired such feelings among young ones contaminated by the attitude of their fathers. Exodus 17 (along with Deuteronomy 2:14-16 Deuteronomy 2:14-16 14 And the space in which we came from Kadeshbarnea, until we were come over the brook Zered, was thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as the LORD swore to them.
15 For indeed the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed.
16 So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead from among the people,
American King James Version×) is the original water complaint incident early on in Israelite wanderings.
Thirsty lips began to mouth abusive language in an uprising against Moses.
God had instructed Moses to strike the rock with a rod (as done at the parting of the Red Sea) and fresh water gushed from dry rock. Now, many years after that miraculous event had been dimmed by nomadic wandering, bad attitudes resurfaced. Thirsty lips began to mouth abusive language in an uprising against Moses.
Their attitudes reflected near rebellion because Moses in verse 10 addressed them as “rebels.” Perhaps this display of ingratitude, their personal criticism of Moses and their failure to go to God personally in prayer may have provoked his shirtsleeve emotions. Their failure to learn from the past may have unnerved him. Moses had endured years of unjustified accusation from his people. Perhaps unconsciously, stored-up anger and frustration now spilled out into a loss of self-control. Provoked by others’ attitudes, he then lost sight of God’s clear instruction to speak to the rock, not strike it as he chose to do instead. He tried to perform the miracle his way instead of God’s way.
He was wrong on two counts. First, he didn’t carefully follow instruction. Granted it may have been an easy mistake since God did say to “take the rod” (verse 8, emphasis added throughout), but there was no directive to strike the rock. That he struck twice might indicate vexation. We are not told whether it was two quick blows, or one and nothing happened and then another coming with some misgiving whether anything was going to happen at all. Whichever the case, it was an error to hit it. Secondly, saying “Must we bring water for you” (verse 10) may have included God; but it was a blunder, as Moses humanly had no more power than you or I to perform such a miracle. He failed to clearly establish God’s power before the Israelites. Since these examples are recorded for us (1 Corinthians 10:11-12 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 11 Now all these things happened to them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the world are come.
12 Why let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
American King James Version×), what can we learn for our Passover reflections?
1. Stockpiled hurts from years of Christian experience can still dog our steps.
We daily struggle with our arrogant human nature and can be provoked into rash acts. We, too, have experienced many rich miracles, yet how easy it is to forget them when pressures threaten our survival. The stress of needs can overwhelm usual gratitude. Psalms 106:32-33 Psalms 106:32-33 32 They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes:
33 Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spoke unadvisedly with his lips.
American King James Version×records that insolent attitudes provoked Moses into an impulsive carelessness before God. And agreed, it is difficult to remain nonchalant or calm when an ill-tempered person pricks a touchy spot.
2. Blessings are not always proof of God’s approval.
Moses was wrong in how he represented God, yet in mercy God still provided the water for people and animals. God upheld Moses publicly, but privately judged him for his indiscipline. The penalty hurt. Of all people surely Moses most deserved to enter the Promised Land. This was now denied him with but a short way to go. He later pleaded to reverse the decision but was told, “Enough of that. Speak no more to Me of this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26 Deuteronomy 3:26But the LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the LORD said to me, Let it suffice you; speak no more to me of this matter.
American King James Version×). We can expect that he surely had occasional self-examination over this mistake, which would also be a sobering reflection for us as we approach Passover. How thankful that God often kindly overlooks and forgives our human weaknesses. Yet, we must still confront our personal problems.
3. We must not lose sight of our goal.
Impatience and a touch of vain self-importance, such as Moses displayed, are always things to guard against.
Moses temporarily lost sight of his goal. In Exodus 17 Moses was instructed to strike the rock and God gave the needed water. In Numbers 20:8 Numbers 20:8Take the rod, and gather you the assembly together, you, and Aaron your brother, and speak you to the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and you shall bring forth to them water out of the rock: so you shall give the congregation and their beasts drink.
American King James Version×Moses was to only speak to the rock. Impatience and a touch of vain self-importance, such as Moses displayed, are always things to guard against.
Was God a little harsh on a 120-year-old faithful man?
We must remember that God had, from the beginning, been protective of Moses’ life. He had defended Moses from the unjust criticism of Aaron and Miriam and from Korah’s insurrection. God had wrought awesome miracles through him, and it was only right that Moses, as leader, should give the entire honor to the real Power behind the miracles. His failure to do so set a dangerous precedent for the people and himself—an important lesson needed to be learned by everyone.
God had successfully taken them out of Egypt, but it was more difficult to take the attitudes of Egypt out of the people. In this we are similar, and each Passover takes us further along the path of transformation.