The Temptation of Moses, Part 2
Topic: Expository Passage: Numbers 20:1-13
The Temptation of Moses, Part 2
Good evening! Welcome! I’m excited to continue temptation series by looking at anger in the life of Moses from Numbers 20:1-13!
This is the regular Sunday evening Bible study for Life Point Baptist Church. So we’re assuming that many of you watching are already members or regular attenders of Life Point Baptist Church, but we also wanted to make this video public so that any of you could watch! So if you’re just checking us out right now thinking, “I wonder what’s going on over there,” feel free to join us! I think you’ll be interested by our topic tonight, which is anger from the life of Moses from Numbers 20:1-13.
Specifically, this lesson is part of a series that I started back in December on the temptation of many Bible characters. We’ve talked about Adam and Eve, we’ve talked about Jesus, we’ve talked about Judah and Joseph, and now we are talking about Moses. And all of those notes are available on our website if you are interested.
Here at Life Point, Sunday night is our typical time for prayer, so does anyone have any prayer requests? I’m trying to do a better job this week of interacting with the comments more quickly after you post them, so I’ll wait a minute for you to post prayer requests before I pray. In the meantime, feel free to comment and let us know you’re here or share this video if you are so led so that others can join us.
Please turn in your Bibles to Numbers 20. As you are doing so, I just wanted to give you a sneak peek into what we are doing next week. Lord-willing, we will skip to the book of Daniel and look at three stories about temptation in the face of cultural pressure. But for now, let’s read Numbers 20:1-13 (Num 20:1-13).
Last week, we started by talking about the causes of Moses’ anger. If you’re thinking of the story of Moses striking the rock as a DVD, remember that we went first to “scene selection” and selected the most intense scene in the movie–the climax where Moses yells at the people, “Here now, you rebels!” and strikes the rock with Aaron’s rod that budded. And then we hit “pause” and asked ourselves the question, “How did we get here?” Then we answered that question by rewinding and taking a look at a lot of context, all the way back to when the children of Israel complained for water at Meribah after crossing the Red Sea, and before that to Moses’ killing a man in Egypt.
Then, at the very end of last lesson, we went back and hit “play,” so to speak, and let the movie run from v. 1 through v. 5. We saw the trigger for Moses’ anger, which was the people’s complaining. And we came away saying, “The amazing thing is not that Moses blew up at the people; it’s that he didn’t blow up decades earlier!” But God didn’t give Moses a pass, which reminds us there no excuse for ungodly anger.
Now let’s pick up where we left off and consider the outbreak of Moses’ anger.
The Outbreak of Moses’ Anger (v. 6)
After hearing the people’s complaint, Moses and Aaron leave the assembly to go talk to God. By the way, that’s what spiritual leaders do when they run into difficult problems–they talk to God about them. Now when we talk to God about our problems we do so through prayer. But Exodus 33:11 says that God spoke to Moses, “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” So
Moses and Aaron go to “the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (which is probably just a reference to the tabernacle, since Moses’ temporary “tent of meeting” seems to have been replaced by the tabernacle once it was completed), and they fall on their faces. They fall on the ground and lay flat on their faces in front of the tabernacle to pray. What attitude does that posture communicate? It communicates an attitude of humble dependence and submission. “LORD, you are the great and awesome God; we don’t even deserve to be here, and we certainly don’t know what to do. So would you please tell us what to do, and whatever it is, we will do it.” That is the message Moses and Aaron are communicating to God.
And God answers their prayer! First, He answers just by visibly showing up. The glory of the LORD appears to them. We don’t know exactly what this looked like, but it may have included some kind of cloud that looked like it was on fire (see Num 9:15). By showing up in this way, God saying to Moses, “I’m here to help. I am going to give you instructions,” and, perhaps most importantly, “I am on your side.” If you’re Moses and Aaron, that has got to be very encouraging.
Next, God gives Moses some instructions (vv. 7-8). God specifically addresses Moses because he is the leader. And He tells him to “take the rod.” What rod? Moses’ own rod that he had used to do so many miracles, including striking the rock at Meribah back in Exodus 17? No, this is probably a reference to Aaron’s rod that budded. (If you don’t remember that story, you can look it up later in Numbers 17:1-11.) I say it was probably Aaron’s rod because it says in v. 9, “Moses took the rod from before the LORD,” and we know that Aaron’s rod that budded was stored in the Holy of Holies before the Ark of the Covenant. Also, Numbers 17:10 says that the whole purpose of storing Aaron’s rod there was to silence future complaints, so it would make sense why God would want Moses to take it with him in this instance. But notice, there is no mention of Moses doing anything particular with the rod! He is just supposed to bring it along, probably as a sign to the rebels.
Second, God commands Moses and Aaron to “gather the congregation together” and “speak to the rock before their eyes.” So Moses and Aaron were to gather the people together around some notable, prominent rocky cliff or crag that apparently, they all were familiar with. “The rock” is what God calls it. And then Moses and Aaron were to speak to this rock. What they were to say to the rock, nobody knows. I don’t know that it even mattered. But God said that by speaking to the rock, Moses and Aaron would bring forth water out of it to give to the people of Israel and their animals. In other words, Moses and Aaron were going to be the human instruments in performing this miracle; they would play a significant role. But God expected them to give Him the glory.
Verse 9 (verse 9). This phrase about Moses doing “just as the LORD had commanded him” is used often in Exodus and Numbers to emphasize Moses’ obedience. He is the model of dutiful service. So far, so good. But then we come to v. 10 (vv. 10-11).
There are three ways in which Moses goes wrong in these verses. First, he angrily lectures the people. Second, he frames the situation so that he and Aaron (rather than God) would get all the glory. Third, he directly disobeys God by striking the rock twice instead of speaking to it. Now, what is God’s response?
God’s Response to Moses’ Anger
First, He sends water out of the rock. God is merciful and gracious. He still allowed Moses to be used, and He still provides for His people. Moses’ disobedience could not thwart God’s plan to provide for His people. It was Moses who missed out! Our sin, including sinful anger, hurts people, and it keeps us from being blessed, but it cannot stop God’s plan.
Maybe you have wondered if there is any indication of how God accomplished this miracle. I found this quote from commentator Dennis Cole fascinating. He says, “Geographers and biblical interpreters have written for years of the extensive aquifers that exist beneath the surface rock strata of the Sinai peninsula. The several oases such as at Serabit al-Khadem, Ain Hawarah, Ain Khadra, and Ain el-Qudeirat (Kadesh Barnea) are examples of such abundant water supplies. So at the moment of Moses’ sin in striking the rock, God caused the water to erupt from [an] underground water source, more than amply supplying the needs of the Israelite population.” Amazing, isn’t it?
But besides providing water for the people, God also punishes Moses and Aaron (v. 12). Now, stop and consider the implications of that statement. Moses and Aaron have been leading Israel for 40 years! They risked their lives in Egypt! Aaron was pretty awful a couple of times, like in the golden calf incident, but Moses was extremely faithful! It is the last year of the wilderness wanderings! Talk about disappointment–they have been looking forward to going into the promised land for decades! Not only that, but as faithful Israelites, they may have dreamed of this day their whole lives. And now God says, “Nope. You’re not going in.” Moses even pleaded with God later to reverse this judgment, but God wouldn’t hear it. He allowed Moses to see the land of Canaan but not enter it.
Now here’s a question for you in the comments: does that seem harsh? If you were God, would you have done that? Why do you think God punished Moses and Aaron so harshly? Go ahead and answer that in the comments, but in the meantime, let me give you some reasons.
- Moses did not believe God (v. 12). Now you say, “In what sense was that true?” Of course Moses believed God! After all, he just finished talking to Him back in v. 8! He saw God’s glory! How can God say that Moses didn’t believe Him?
I am reminded of a simple children’s song that I learned as a little boy. “Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.” The writer of the book of James would probably strengthen that and say, “Obedience is the only way to show that you believe!” Faith works! That’s just what it does! Which means that if you have an obedience problem, somewhere along the way, you also have a faith problem.
In order for Moses to act the way he did, he had to at least temporarily let go of the reality of God’s goodness. He had to at least act as if God was not good. He had to believe somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind that he and Aaron actually were capable of bringing water out of that rock and that he did not need God’s help.
We said last week that Moses might have been fearful that this generation would fail to enter the promised land. If so, he lacked faith in God’s promises! We said that Moses was probably frustrated over God’s perceived passivity. But that means he wasn’t believing God’s way wasn’t best!
I’m sure Moses would never have admitted to doubting these truths. But the proof was in the pudding! Based not only on his actions, but also on God’s own omniscient evaluation, Moses didn’t trust Him. End of story.
What does your lack of obedience have to say about the health of your faith? I think sometimes, Christians pray for discipline when they should be praying for faith. Why did God rebuke Moses? Was it because he was undisciplined? “You should have exercised more self-control, Moses!” Was that it? No, God rebuked him for his lack of faith!
I was thinking about this in regards to myself lately. Why do I lack the gumption to press on in my sanctification? I must need more will power! And then it hit me: no, I actually need more faith. If you truly believed God’s way was best, would you ever disobey Him? Would you ever give in to sinful anger?
You see, the problem is that we often don’t really believe what we say we believe. Biblical faith is more than just a rational concurrence with cold, hard facts. It’s an owning of those facts in the core of my being that produces a change in my life. I actually start to live differently because of the things I believe. Faith is a work of God in my heart!
Faith is how we begin the Christian life. But saving faith does not stay stagnant. It grows and matures over time. Is your faith growing? The simple test is your obedience.
You say, “Pastor Kris, how do I grow my faith?” Romans 10:17: “so then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” You grow your faith through the word of God. So if your meditation on the word has been weak, your faith will be weak, and your obedience will also be weak. It’s just that simple. Brothers and sisters, let’s pray that God would increase our faith, and then let’s get into the word and eat so that we can grow strong in the faith.
God punished Moses and Aaron harshly because their outbreak of anger was not just a minor slip in self-discipline, it was a massive failure in faith. Moses did not believe God. Second, God punished Moses harshly because he rebelled against God.
- He rebelled against God.
This is ironic. When Moses lectures the people, he calls them “rebels,” and that was probably true. However, when God reviews this story, He calls Moses and Aaron the rebels (Num 20:24; 27:12-14)! So there you have it! God explains Himself. “Moses and Aaron, I gave you the same punishment I gave to the rest of your generation because at Meribah, you rebelled against me, just like they had done.” That’s a strong statement!
The word “rebellion” is always used in the Pentateuch to refer to defiance. This is not just a child forgetting some minor detail of an instruction given six months earlier. This is a child looking his mom or dad in the face and telling them, “No.” That’s how God views what Moses and Aaron did in this story. Moses did not forget God’s explicit instructions given just a short time earlier. Rather, he directly disobeyed clear commands. “Did you get that Moses?” “Ya, I got it.” “Are you going to obey?” “No, I’m going to do what I want to do.” That’s what happened!
But lest we be too quick to judge, how many times have you or I done the exact same thing! We know that God’s word says, “Submit to the government.” And yet we disobey that very clear command, not because “we ought to obey God rather than men” or even out of any clear notion of being a good citizen, but simply because we don’t want to! How rebellious is that?
I cite that example because it is close at hand, not because it’s the only one. There are numerous other clear commands of Scripture that you and I disobey, to our great shame.
When we think about the implications of our rebellion against God, our hearts should cry out, “Who will atone for my sin!” Aren’t you thankful for the cross? Where would we be without it? Aren’t you thankful that Jesus suffered the wrath we deserve so we rebels could be forgiven?
Justification averts God’s wrath, but there are still consequences when Christians rebel. Do not take sin lightly! It is not just a “slip up”; it is rebellion against a holy God.
God judged Moses harshly because he rebelled against him. Third, God judged Moses harshly because he spoke harshly to the people.
- He spoke harshly to the people.
Moses’ treatment of the people in this story is the perfect example of what it means to “lord it over the flock,” as pastors are told not to do in 1 Peter 5:3. Moses was not displaying what would later become known as the fruit of the Spirit. His words were not patient, loving, or kind. Instead, he was displaying the works of the flesh. His words were filled with hatred, contention, selfish ambition, and outbursts of wrath.
In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus said to His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Christlike leadership is Spirit-filled leadership. It is humble, loving, kind leadership. It’s servant leadership. This is the kind of leadership God expected from Moses.
I don’t think there is any way you can get around the idea that part of the reason Moses was judged so severely is that leaders a held to a higher standard. This is a biblical concept. Think of James 3:1: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” Think of how the writer of Hebrews talks about pastors giving account to God for their people. God expected more from Moses than He did from the rest of the people.
Did the people speak harshly to Moses? Of course they did! Go back and read vv. 4-5! They spoke very harshly to him! So then why was Moses the one who got judged? Because based on his God-given role, his harshness toward them was in a sense more wicked than their harshness toward him.
Husband, if you yell at your wife, based on your God-given role in the home, that is in a sense more wicked than if she yells at you. You say, “I don’t think I buy that.” Well, do you buy this? Is a dad getting angry and punching his two-year-old worse than a two-year-old punching his dad? Of course it’s worse! Everyone knows that it’s worse! But why is it worse? It’s because leaders are called to be servants. And the more that paradigm is inverted, the more sinful the actions become.
It was bad enough for the children of Israel to speak harshly to Moses. But it was utterly unacceptable for him to speak like that to them.
This raises a particular application of ungodly anger, and that is when people in power or leaders are mean, harsh, or downright abusive towards those they are called to lead. Can I just say, if that is you, you better watch out! Because God does not take it lightly when leaders do that.
God punished Moses severely because he was in a place of leadership, and he treated the people harshly. Finally, God punished Moses severely because he did not give God the glory.
- He did not give God the glory (v. 12).
We’ve discussed four ways that Moses sinned in this passage, but I would argue that the greatest of those sins was trampling all over God’s glory. Let’s remind ourselves of what he said in v. 10 (v. 10). That question makes it sound like he and Aaron are some kind of powerful magicians! Moses has forgotten that he is only a tool God is using, like the staff he is holding! He was proud, and his pride led him to dishonor God.
Moses did not clearly set God apart as the only one who could perform this miracle. Rather, he gave the impression that he and Aaron could do it. Besides that, he failed to provide a proper example for the people to follow, and God was dishonored.
The primary theological point of this passage is that NO ONE GETS BETWEEN GOD AND HIS GLORY! You want to get taken out real quick–and hard? Ask Herod about that! (Remember how he was eaten by worms after accepting the people’s praise?) Ask Nebuchadnezzar about how to have a really bad seven years! (Remember how God made him eat grass?) Ask Pharaoh! Ask Satan! God’s glory is the most important thing in the world to Him! You do not get between God and His glory, which is exactly what Moses did.
Is God good to pursue His own glory? That’s another whole theological conversation, but yes, He is good. It is only right and fitting for Him to do so, and the trinity helps make it unselfish. Also, because of the gospel, God’s glory and our good are inextricably connected! So God is good to pursue His own glory! Never get the idea that He is somehow sinfully proud or even insecure. He is not. But He does desire His glory! And He will always get it.
God glorified Himself in this passage by providing the water after all and by judging Moses and Aaron. Their actions did not ultimately compromise His glory because He stepped in and made sure everyone knew they were wrong. And it is recorded in our Bibles over and over and over. There are at least six other references to this story in the Bible. And every one of them makes clear that Moses blew it badly. Do you want that to be your legacy?
It is sobering to say the least to think about how many times I try to steal God’s glory–to think about how many times, whether in my heart or by my words or actions, I try to glorify myself instead of God. Brothers and sisters, we are in trouble.
And yet, there is reason to hope. Maybe you are feeling beat up this evening and could use a little encouragement. You say, “I’ve really blown it in this area of sinful anger, Pastor Kris; give me some hope!” Here are three closing thoughts.
First, don’t be discouraged. Moses’ legacy was not all bad. This is a black mark on his record for sure, but that does not negate the fact that he was a godly man. Sometimes godly fathers become very discouraged over momentary losses of temper. Remember your legacy is not built in a day. Satan wants you to get discouraged, but that is not helpful. You know what you need to do! Confess your sins (to God, the person you sinned against, and other appropriate authorities who can help) and be different! Don’t be discouraged.
Second, remember that God can still use you. God was not finished with Moses. Later that year, Moses delivered a powerful sermon called “the book of Deuteronomy”–one of the most important sermons ever preached! You see, Moses experienced (as David and Judah and Peter also learned) that God forgives and restores sinful people. Just because you have had an anger problem doesn’t mean that God cannot use you. Again, confess your sin, seek the help of God’s people, get into to His word, and depend on His spirit for help to change!
Third, praise God for the gospel. If not for the gospel, my telling you not to be discouraged makes no sense at all. If not for the gospel, your sin means that you are doomed, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If not for the gospel, this idea of God forgiving sinful people and using them not only for his glory but also for their benefit is absurd! We need a better leader than Moses and a better High Priest than Aaron! Of course, Jesus was that High Priest who offered up not a lamb, but Himself, once for all, to take away the sin of the world. Your sinful anger can be forgiven because God poured out His wrath on His own Son.
Maybe you are watching this video tonight and you don’t know Christ as your Savior. If you don’t have the assurance that your sins have been forever forgiven and that no one can pluck you out of the Father’s hand, then I would encourage you, after this video is done, bow your head and ask Christ to save you. And if you do that, make sure to contact me to let me know that you did! I would love to rejoice in the Lord along with you in that!
Also, if you have any questions about how you can be forgiven, please feel free to reach out to me! I would love to answer your questions.