Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 19, 1967
NUMBER 36, PAGE 11b-12

What Moses Did, Or What He Said?

Colly Caldwell

When one views a baseball game in which the star pitcher hurls a "one-hitter" but loses the contest, he cannot but feel a lump in his throat as the dejected champion with head bowed slowly walks from the mound to his dressing room. Neither can he help but wish for that pitcher that he could recall that one badly thrown ball and use another pitch.

I feel like that when I read of the life of Moses. From the burning bush Moses was called at Mount Hor to deliver the children of Israel from the dark hour of their oppression at the hands of the Egyptians (Exodus 3:1-10.) He was a quiet man who was frightened at his task. But upon the insistence of Jehovah, he led the great revolt which resulted in the liberation of his people. He did a fine job leading Israel across the Red Sea. He brought them to Sinai and delivered to them the Law and made not the first mistake. He followed the cloud by day and the fire by night without halting as they journeyed from Sinai to the promised land. It was not Moses' fault that Jacob's seed faltered at the sight of the "giants" in the land but rather when he went to the Lord, Jehovah pardoned the nation and allowed all those younger than twenty years and their seed to form a remnant which would obtain the great victory (Numbers 13, 14).

But not long after that, when the congregation of Israel came to Kadesh, Moses pitched his "gopher ball." He sinned against Jehovah, both he and Aaron, and because of the sin neither of them were allowed to enter the champion's arena, the land that flowed with milk and honey.

In this inning of Israel's great contest in the wilderness, Moses allowed the opposition to "rattle" him. His beloved sister, Miriam, who had been influential in saving his life when he was but a babe, who had walked very near from the day of their exodus from Egypt, died and was buried on that lonely desert. In his mourning another problem arose. There was no water and the multitude under his oversight cried out from thirst against their leader. They chode with Moses and accused him of bringing the people up out of Egypt just so they might die in this forsaken place. Moses went to the Lord but he must have been cultivating his anger even then, as if a fire had been kindled by the people's spark of impatience with him and with God. After God had given him the charge to take the rod which now lay in the tabernacle before the Lord and gather the people to watch as he spoke to the great rock before their eyes, Moses arose. That fiery anger must have been raging beyond control now for he took that rod and having gathered together the people shouted out rebuke at them: "HEAR NOW, YE REBELS: MUST WE FETCH YOU WATER OUT OF THIS ROCK?" Moses had sinned! But as if that was not enough, he turned to the rock and instead of speaking to it as God had commanded, he smote it... and he smote it again... and the water came forth.

After the congregation of Israel drank and had fed their cattle with the life-sustaining water, the Lord appeared again unto Moses and Aaron. They evidently realized now that they had sinned, for the Bible records no attempt on their part to answer God's charges. Jehovah, at least as far as our record shows, said nothing to Moses about his striking that rock. Surely we could never think that God was pleased with Moses for this disobedience, but he was concerned with something much greater than the simple act of striking the rock. The Lord said, "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" (Numbers 20:12). And later he said to Moses, "... ye rebelled against my commandment ... to sanctify me at the water before their eyes" (Numbers 27:14). The Psalmist said, "They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips" (Psalms 106:32, 33). Surely in the light of these statements it must be true, as brother Ray Ferris first pointed out to us, that we miss the real point of God's refusing Moses admittance into the land of promise when we preach that he was left behind for striking the rock.

The Psalmist said that "it went ill with Moses" because he "spake unadvisedly with his lips" and in so speaking he refused to "sanctify" the Lord in the eyes of the people. What Moses did in striking the rock had not nearly such disastrous potential results as did his taking from the God of heaven the credit due Him in the eyes of the people. God was the Guide of Israel, not Moses! God was the Being with Power, not Moses! And when Moses assumed (if only partially) that power from God and took credit for that which was done...when he refused to reaffirm the great power and blessing of God to sanctify Him before the people...the Lord could not pass it by as just another act of transgression. Surely Moses had sinned before. He was a man, and as a man must have fallen as all others under the blight of sin, but none of them had kept him from Canaan. This one did... for in his words (as well as in striking the rock) he expressed an exaltation of man to the level of God and by his words he so taught the people.

The lesson should be clear to us. The power of God is great and the efforts of men are weak. When we exalt the will of man through teaching his wisdom as equal with or superior to the mind of God... when we refuse to glorify God and rather impose upon the people our own egotistical efforts to exalt ourselves and our ways...we will lose as did Moses.

Like the baseball hurler, Moses would have liked to have called back his pitch. Much later he said, "0 Lord God, thou bast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let us suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter" (Deut. 3:24-26). It brings a lump to our throats to read his plea. But, much more, it makes us want to cry as we read of Moses' ascent into Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah, to view the land that he might have entered had he only not spake as he did. His one hour of pride and arrogance had cost him the dream of his lifetime and as the people before whom he had refused to sanctify the Lord prepared to cross the last stream thus ending their wandering, Jehovah allowed him to look across the muddy waters of Jordan upon the fields of Israel's hope. Then in the quietude of that hour the Lord took his spirit and He laid the earthly house of His tired old champion in an unmarked grave in a valley in the land of Moab to await the great day of the resurrection.