4.2 Moses: The Path Of Growth
4-2-1 Events In The Life Of Moses
A read through the records will indicate that Moses was
somewhat temperamental in his faith. For the first forty years of his
life, he scarcely let his light show. Yet all the time his conscience
was active, enabling him to build up towards heights of spiritual
achievement few of us can achieve. At the age of 40, he had a flash of
spiritual devotion; he rejected the opportunity for greatness in Egypt,
possibly the opportunity to become king of Egypt (as Christ had the
opportunity to become king of the world in his wilderness temptations).
Yet after that, he went into 40 years of decline. In the eyes of men,
he was a finished man. He had gone away from God's people, he was
living in a family of idolaters, and had married one of them. His
marriage went wrong, he divorced his wife, and picked up some other
woman. He didn't circumcise his children, and thus he despised his
covenant relationship with God. Eighty years is a long time. They were
eighty years of at best mediocre commitment to the God of Israel, with
only the occasional flash of spiritual brilliance. Yet this man Moses
went on to become one of the greatest spiritual men there has ever
been, a man who came closer to God than all others except the Lord
Jesus. " There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses,
whom the Lord knew face to face" (Dt. 34:10). The Lord Jesus was " like
unto" Moses (Dt. 18:18)- a high enough commendation for Moses. The
following notes show that Moses achieved this through an appreciation
of God manifestation in himself and in Israel.
Because of his weakness, we are able to relate to Moses,
and see him as our example. It is possible that Moses was not
circumcised (Ex. 6:12,30); which would make him even closer to us. The
Lord Jesus encouraged us to see ourselves as Moses: " If thou wouldest
believe (in Christ), thou shouldest see the glory of God" (Jn. 11:40)
is without doubt an allusion to Moses' experience of seeing God's
glory- an experience which in Jewish eyes marked Moses out as the
greatest man who had ever lived. The veneration in which Moses was and
is held in the Jewish world is hard for Gentiles to enter into. A
glance through rabbinical commentaries on the Pentateuch will
illustrate this well. And here was the Lord Jesus saying that through
faith in him, we can share the experience of Moses, we can rise to the
spiritual heights of the man who spoke to God face to face as a man
speaks to his friend.
Main events in the life of
| (Score out of
40 years in Egypt, hiding the fact he was an Israelite, not preaching
the Gospel to anyone, appearing as an Egyptian. He learnt all the
philosophy of Egypt, and was a prominent public speaker, with the
possibility of becoming the next Pharaoh. According to non-Biblical
tradition, he was the leader of the Egyptian army.
2:19; Acts 7:22
2 (over say 25
years, from the age of 15 - 40)
Crisis at age 40. He refused the riches of Egypt , and consciously
chose to suffer affliction with the Israelites.He really wanted to save
Israel and free them from their enemies, and make them live at peace
11:24Heb. 11:26Acts 7:23-28
However, he didn't want Egypt to know that he was doing this; he
thought he could do it secretly. Once he realised that people knew what
he was trying to do, he was afraid. His fearfulness has similarities
with that of spiritually weak Jacob, who fled from the face of Laban
into the unknown, as Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh. Thus God
encouraged him after forty years that he need no longer fear: " Return
into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life" .
2:14Ex. 2:15 cp. Gen.31:22; 35:7Ex. 4:19
But then he rallied his faith and left Egypt, without (at the point of
leaving) fearing the anger of Pharaoh. He so strongly believed, it was
as if he physically saw God- as he asked.
Moses flees to Midian, where he helps some unknown shepherd women from
being abused by some rough men; he did this without at first receiving
any reward, and without the women wanting him to go with them; although
they thought he was an Egyptian, showing that he still concealed his
relationship with God.
Moses " supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by
his hand would deliver them" ; but God told Moses at the bush: " I
will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt...." . Moses had
yet to learn the meaning of God manifestation through men.
7:25 cp. Ex. 3:20
Moses " was content to dwell" with the father of the women. The Hebrew
for " content" comes from a root which means weakness of mind; the
implication is that he easily yielded to this man.
7. " And he gave Moses
Zipporah his daughter" . She was not one of the covenant people; she
was the daughter of a pagan priest (Ex. 18:11 implies Jethro thought
Yahweh was only one of many gods); she did not circumcise their
children. Should Moses have married her? The fact Moses did not bother
circumcising his son shows he was not really serious about his
relationship with God; God tried to kill him because of this. God tried
to kill Moses because of this; this shows how serious this was in God's
eyes. Zipporah was a Midianite, a descendant of Abraham through Keturah
(Gen. 25:1-6). Circumcision was a sign of the covenant through Isaac,
hence the resentment and bitterness of Zipporah over the circumcision
issue; and it seems Moses capitulated to her on this. Their marriage is
sure proof that fundamental spiritual differences at the start can only
lead to anger and break up later on.
way the Lord "tried to kill" Moses (Ex. 4:24) indicates how God's
intentions can be changed by human actions; and it also reflects the
limitation of power experienced by the Angel, who presumably was the
one who 'tried' to do this but was thwarted by a woman. However in our
context of Moses' weakness we need to reflect how this incident echoes
how Pharaoh sought to kill Moses in Ex. 2:15. Even through his
weakness, Moses was being taught that his personal salvation and
continuation in life was by grace. Moses was saved on this occasion by
a Gentile woman, Zipporah- just as he had been saved as a baby by
another Gentile woman- as well as by the quick-wittedness of his own
mother and sister. As Zipporah mediated with the Angel and saved Moses
by touching his son with blood, so Moses would save Israel through his
mediation with God and through the Passover ritual (Ex. 12:13,22,23),
as well as later throwing blood upon the people (Ex. 24:8). What are we
to make of all these echoes and connections of thought? Perhaps that
Moses was indeed weak at this time, was saved by grace alone, and yet
on that basis he was called to in his turn also save the weak through
appealing to God's grace.
2:21; 3:1; 4:25
However, Moses' children had names which showed some faith, and a
recognition he was a stranger in the land where he was living; he lived
as a stranger in Midian. Few people live in a country for 40 years
without feeling they belong to it. But his mind was in the past, in how
God had been good to his father, and how God had saved him from
Pharaoh's death threat.
18:3,4; Acts 7:29
Moses' marriage was weak. 40 years later, Zipporah's frustration boiled
over: " Surely a bloody husband art thou to me...then she said (again),
A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision" . As a
descendant of Ishmael she was angry at Isaac's choice and circumcision.
This is probably the closest the Bible gets to recording the real life
use of taboo language. " Because of the circumcision" suggests she
despised Moses' religion. Moses divorced her. It also seems from
Ex. 4:23,25 that God tried to kill Moses’ son because Moses was
not fully believing that God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn. The
whole account in Ex. 4:24-26 of meeting with an Angel who sought to
slay him evidently connects with the account of Balaam. Like Balaam,
although Moses was going on a journey with God's permission, it could
be inferred that his attitude to God's word was likewise wrong.
4:25,26 (see N.I.V.); 18:2
He " took" (not married) another woman, an Ethiopian- probably a
slave woman, or possibly a cheap woman. Moses' brother and sister were
ashamed that their brother was involved with a woman like this. Whoever
she was, Moses was under the one man: one woman standard of the garden
of Eden. And further, he "put away" this woman- Ex. 18:2 LXX is the
same "put away" as in 1 Cor. 7:11-13. Moses allowed divorce for the
hardness of Israel's hearts (Mt. 19:8) and yet he himself appears to
have divorced her- for the hardness of his heart?
God appeared to Moses in the flame of fire in the bush, but Moses had
to be told to take off his shoes as a sign of respect- even though
taking off shoes was understood as a token of respect and recognition
of sin (see 2 Sam. 15:30). " Draw not nigh hither...for the place
whereon thou standest is holy" sounds as if Moses did not appreciate
the holiness of God. It even seems that Moses had forgotten the
significance of God's Name, even though it had been revealed to Abraham
(Ex. 3:13). Moses' fear to look upon God suggests a bad conscience. The
double repetition " Moses, Moses" may be some kind of rebuke. " I have"
seen the affliction of Israel could suggest that Moses felt God was not
sensitive to the pain of His children; he had been living for 40 years
feeling forgotten by God.Moses " wondered" at what he saw and heard at
the burning bush- a Greek word which is often used in a negative sense
concerning people lacking faith and insight when they should have had
3:5Ex. 3:6 cp. Gen. 3:8; Is. 6:5Ex. 3:7Acts 7:31 cp. Mt. 15:31;
Mk. 6:51; Lk. 8:25; 24:41; Acts 13:41
" I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my
people...And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go?....And
God said...they shall hearken to thy voice...And Moses answered...They
will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice (he didn't seem to
believe God's promise to inspire him)...I am not eloquent, neither
heretofore (i.e. in the past)...I am slow of speech, and of a slow
tongue (although this was untrue- earlier Moses had been an
eloquent speaker in Egypt; actually he was just the right man to do
what God wanted)...and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses"
. Remember that God is very slow to this kind of anger (Ex.
34:6). Forty years earlier, Moses had understood, presumably from a
direct revelation from God, that God would deliver Israel through him.
But he had lost faith in that promise, and was arguing back against
God. This was the outcome of many years of spiritual slipping. "
Send...by the hand of him whom thou wilt send" (alluding to
God's Name, I will be) can be seen as indifference; perhaps Moses was
saying 'As you do what you will, your name is I will be, then if you
send by me, send by men, I can't resist'.
3:10,11,18; 4:1,10,13,14; Acts 7:22, 25
12. Moses does actually leave
Midian and begins to ask Pharaoh to let Israel go
12a. He seems to make the
excuse to Jethro that he is homesick for his family who are still in
Egypt. And yet straight after this, the Lord confirms him in his desire
to return. Moses
asks Jethro for permission to return to Egypt to see whether his Hebrew
brethren are "still alive" (Ex. 4:18)- yet God had just told Moses that
there were indeed Hebrews still alive there who he will lead out of
Egypt. Of course Moses may have been referring to his literal
family; but it's possible that his words to Jethro imply a lack of
faith in God's word. At the very least, he was shy to share God's word
to him with Jethro.In this context it may be significant that the words
God tells Moses to say to Pharaoh at this time in Ex. 4:23 are in fact
never said by Moses throughout the dialogue with Pharaoh recorded in
Ex. 11 and 12.
4:29 - 5:5Ex. 4:18,19
|12b. God had explained to
Moses what He wished him to tell Pharaoh: "Yahweh, the God of the
Hebrews, hath met with us: and now let us go, we pray thee, three days
journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Yahweh our God"
(Ex. 3:18). But Moses actualy doesn't say those exact words. Instead he
says: "Thus saith Yahweh, the God of Israel, Let my people go, that
they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness...The God of the
Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey
into the wilderness, and sacrifice unto Yahweh our God, lest he fall
upon us with pestilence, or with the sword" (Ex. 5:1,3). This seems
perilously similar to the way in which Eve added to Yahweh's words when
telling the serpent that actually, God had told Adam not to even
touch the fruit. Moses appears to be painting Yahweh as somewhat
draconian and threatening of him personally as well as Israel- as if to
say 'Well sir, please do us this favour, or else our God is gonna get
mad with us'. Perhaps this was actually how Moses misperceived Yahweh;
or perhaps he added to Yahweh's words in order to make his appeal sound
Moses is easily discouraged by the fact that Israel reject him: " Moses
returned unto Yahweh, and said, Lord...why is it that thou hast sent
me? For since I came to Pharaoh...thou hast not delivered thy people at
all" . The Yahweh / Lord difference may suggest that he got over
familiar with the Angel, forgetting the degree to which that Angel
carried God's Name.
God replied by telling him to declare the covenant Name to Israel, and
remind them that therefore God would surely save them. But they again
failed to respond. " And Moses spake before the Lord, saying, Behold,
the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall
Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?" . Yet God had promised
Moses earlier that Israel would hear him (3:18). God solemnly
told him to go and speak to Pharaoh, because God had told him to do so.
But Moses has the cheek to say exactly the same words to God a second
time. In a chapter which speaks much of Moses' reluctance, the record
encourages us: " These are that Aaron and Moses...these are they which
spake to Pharaoh...these are that Moses and Aaron" (Ex. 6:26,27).
Moses and Aaron agreed to continue speaking to Pharaoh and Israel; they
" did as the Lord commanded them, so did they" . This is saying the
same thing twice- stressing their obedience.
The record of the miracles is framed to show God commanding Moses to do
certain things to bring and end the plagues, and him obedient to this.
But Ex. 8:9 RV contains a strange sentence: “Have thou this glory
over me: when shall I intreat for thee...to destroy the frogs?”.
It could be that, in the words of Bro. Mark Vincent, “Moses with
an excessive and sarcastic politeness, is asking, ‘And (pray tell
me!) when exactly would you like the frogs to be gone?’, as
though Pharaoh might miss them and fondly wish them to stay around for
a couple more days”. This to me doesn’t score very highly
in spiritual terms.
" By faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he
that destroyed the firstborn should touch them (Israel). By faith they
(Israel) passed through the Red Sea" . Yet at this time Israel were
weak in faith, they passed through the Red Sea cuddling the idols of
Egypt, from the day God knew them they were rebellious against Him; so
runs the refrain of the prophets. It seems that due to Moses' faith
Israel were saved by the Passover lamb, through his faith they passed
through the Red Sea; his faith was so great, his desire for their
salvation so strong, that God counted it to the rest of Israel. Thus "
he (Moses, in the context) brought them (Israel) out" of Egypt (Acts
7:36,38). This points forward to Christ's redemption of us, and also
indicates how quickly Moses' faith rallied. And yet just prior to
crossing the Sea, God rebuked Moses: " Wherefore criest thou unto me?"
- even though Moses calmly exhorted the people to have faith (Ex. 14:15
cp. 13). Yet by faith he brought them through the Red Sea. Therefore as
with his first exit from Egypt (he feared the wrath of the King, and
then he didn't), his faith wavered, but came down on the right side.
Moses' song of triumph after the Red Sea deliverance shows a fine
spirituality. However, note his possible misunderstanding in Ex.
15:13,17- that Siani was to be “the place” where God would
dwell with Israel.
Israel's murmurings about the lack of food did not discourage Moses; "
the Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: for what
are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord" .
Here we see the beginnings of some real humility in Moses, due to his
appreciation of God manifestation in him.
Moses' victory against Amalek due to his faith, in which he typified
our Lord's crucifixion.
Moses becomes reconciled to his ex-wife Zipporah whom he had divorced,
and has the humility to accept the advice of his ex-father in law
Jethro. This all indicates an increasing humility. 21a. Moses accepts
Jethro's advice on the basis that he will " surely wear away" (Ex.
18:18); even though his natural strength never abated (Dt. 34:7), and
God surely would not have asked him to do the impossible. Jethro at
this time seems to have seen Yahweh as only one of many gods; he was a
pagan priest. He prophesied that if Moses followed his advice, " all
this people shall go to their place in peace" - which they didn't. Num.
10:31 suggests Moses saw Jethro's knowledge of the desert as better
than the Angelic " eyes" of Yahweh (2 Chron. 16:9; Prov. 15:3) who were
going ahead of the camp to find a resting place (Num. 10:33 cp. Ex.
33:14 cp. Is. 63:9). It seems Moses recognized his error in this on the
last day of his life, when he admits Yahweh, not Jethro's wisdom, had
led them (Dt. 1:33). Likewise Paul in his final communication comments
on the way that Mark with whom he had once quarelled was profitable to
him (2 Tim. 4:11).
Moses is called up into Sinai and speaks with God. While there, Israel
turn away from God, and God wants to make Moses' family His people and
reject Israel. But Moses argues with God against this, again showing
his humility and his appreciation of God manifestation in Israel, and
his earnest desire that God would save Israel. " He said that he would
destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,
to turn away his wrath" . This was only months after his weak faith and
reluctance to lead Israel out of Egypt. He says that he will " go up
(and) make an atonement" (Ex. 32:30). And yet he knew the principle
that atonement was impossible without shedding blood. Yet he goes
further than that: " Blot me, I pray thee (he really wanted
to do this) out of thy book" (Ex. 32:32)- i.e. the book of salvation
(Ez. 13:9; Dan. 12:2; Lk. 10:20; Rev. 20:12). Moses is willing to give
his physical life and also his eternal salvation so that Israel can
enter the land. Surely he reached matchless heights of
selflessness.Note how God’s anger “waxed hot” and so
did that of Moses. But Moses asks God not to wax hot in anger (Ex.
32:10,11,19). What are we to make of this? Surely, positively, Moses
was totally in tune with the feelings of God. And yet he does himself
what he asks God not to do. What score would we give Moses for this?
30-32; Ps. 105:23
God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. God
knew Moses by name (Ex. 33:12,17) and so He shews Moses His Name
(Ex. 33:17,19)- there developed a mutuality between the two. Yet
told Moses that because Israel were stiffnecked, therefore He could not
go up with them (Ex. 33:5). Moses agrees the people are stiffnecked,
but he knows God well enough to ask Him to still go up in the midst of
them (Ex. 34:9). And God did! He acted according to how broad was
Moses’ conception of God’s grace. If Abraham’s
conception of grace had been even broader, perhaps Sodom would’ve
been saved… Moses’ achievement is all the more remarkable
because he himself struggled with grace. God assures Moses that he has
found grace in His eyes [i.e. before the Angel with whom Moses met?].
And yet Moses says: “If I have found grace in thy sight, shew me
now thy way that I may know thee, to the end that I may find grace in
thy sight” (Ex. 33:12,13 RV). Despite having been told that he
had found grace, Moses still wanted confirmation… as if the
voice of God wasn’t enough! And maybe there is even the
implication that he mistakenly thought that he needed more knowledge
of God before he could find that grace… as if it depended upon
his own mental faculties. And yet God patiently assures Moses yet
again: Thou hast found grace in my sight”, and goes on to
proclaim His Name to Moses. “I will be gracious to whom I
will be gracious” (Ex. 33:19) was surely said specifically to
Moses, given the context of Moses’ doubts about his receipt of
God’s grace. The coming down of Yahweh to pronounce His Name was,
in the context, to show how far God would go to assure Moses that yes,
His grace towards Moses was real. We too struggle with grace, and are
given, also by grace, this undeserved assurance upon assurance.
Moses has the spiritual ambition to ask to see the face of God Himself.
He is given the greatest God manifestation any man has seen except the
Lord Jesus. It's a delightful essay in the possibilities of spiritual
growth that the man who once forgot God's Name later came to so finely
appreciate it that he was given the finest revelation of it. Despite
this, Moses still has the humility to question whether in fact he has
found grace (overlooking of his sins) in God's eyes. However, there is
maybe a connection between Moses hiding in the " cleft of the rock"
(Ex. 33:22) and Elijah hiding in a similar place to witness a theophany
whose aim was to humble him. Is. 2:10-12 makes a similar
Ex. 39 and 40 each contain a marked repetition of the fact that the
whole Tabernacle was built and arranged by Moses exactly as God
commanded him. It was in this sense that Moses was faithful in all his
house- as the writer to the Hebrews twice stresses
39:1,5,7,21,26,29,31,32,42; 40:16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32; Heb.3:2,5
26. Num. 10 and 11 seem to
portray Moses in weakness. He pleads with his brother in law not to
leave them, because without him they would not know where to camp
in the wilderness; " thou mayest be to us instead of eyes" . Yet the
Angels are God's eyes, they were seeking out resting places for Israel
in the wilderness; the record reminds us of this straight afterwards
(Num. 10:33). Jethro elsewhere suggested that Moses needed more help in
leading the people because otherwise fading thou wilt fade away’
(Ex. 18:18 A.V.mg.); at the end of his days, the record seems to
highlight the untruth of this by commenting that his natural strength
was not faded (Dt. 34:7). So Jethro’s advice wasn’t always
spiritual. Moses is depressed by Israel complaining at how boring the
manna was. He doubts God's earlier promises to him: " Moses said unto
the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have
I not found favour in thy sight (God said he had, in Ex.33:17)...have I
conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest
say unto them, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the
sucking child unto the land which thou swearest unto their
fathers (not " our" - notice the uncharacteristic separation between
Moses and Israel). Whence should I give flesh unto all this
people...if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if
I have found favour in the sight (as God had earlier promised him that
he had)" . God was the father and conceiver of Israel, the one who
would carry them to the land (Ex. 19:4; 33:15; Dt. 32:11,12; Hos.
11:1); it is as if Moses is saying: They're your children, you look
after them, don't dump them on me. Although compare this with his
earlier love for them, willing to sacrifice himself for them. God then
says that He will provide more food for Israel. But Moses almost mocks
God: " Shall the flocks and herds be slain for them, to suffice them?"
. And the Angel angrily replied: " Is the Lord's hand waxed short? thou
shalt see whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not" . If he
had faith, Moses surely would have realised that if God could provide
manna, he could provide any food. Moses seems to have suffered from
fits of depression and also high spirituality.
Moses states that "I have not found grace in Your eyes" (Num.
11:11) when God had specifically said that Moses had (Ex. 33:12). At
that time too, Moses had questioned this Divine assurace (Ex. 33:13);
he had the same struggle to believe God's grace as we have. God had
repeatedly assured Moses that "you have
found grace in My eyes" (Ex. 33:17; 34:9); but still Moses doubts it.
"Kill me, I pray, if I have [indeed] found grace in Your eyes" (Num.
11:15) would therefore appear to be a very inappropriate sarcasm by
Moses- against the God of all grace. At the time when Moses doubts
whether he really has found grace, the God who speaks to Moses face to
face then turns and shows Moses only His back parts (Ex. 33:11,20,22).
This is alluded to in Jer. 18:17 and there interpretted as being a sign
of God's anger- to turn away His face and show His back parts. God was
so angry with Moses' disbelief in His grace.
Moses argues that because God
laid the burden of His people on his shoulders, this was such a curse
as to disprove God's claim to have lavished grace upon Moses (Num.
11:11). But the language of God's people being laid upon a man's
shoulders as a burden is in fact the language of the cross. Moses was
therefore rejecting the cross. He bitterly complains that the people
are God's, not his, and therefore it is unreasonable for God to expect
Moses to carry them and feed them (:11-13). He didn't want to manifest
God, nor do the work of Messiah (Is. 40:11), even though he was
intended to be the prophet like unto Messiah (Dt. 18:18).
urged Moses to “forbid” or [Heb.] ‘imprison’
Eldad and Medad for prophesying (Num. 11:28). He fell into the mistake
so many have done; shut up or silence a genuine man of God, for fear
that the institution, the existing administration, would be undermined.
Perhaps they were prophesying of Moses’ death? Whatever,
Moses’ refusal to shut them up seems to indicate an openness to
God’s Spirit and way of working, even if it threatened to
undermine his authority. He shows such a genuine spirit when he replies
that he wished that all God’s people were the spiritual leaders.
Num. 10: 29-32; 11:11-15, 21-23
Miriam and Aaron try to humiliate Moses because of the Ethiopian woman
he had palled up with in earlier days. But his response was humility
itself; so much so that the record comments: " The man Moses was very
meek (some suggest the Hebrew implies 'made very meek', as a process),
above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" . What a
compliment! The most humble man that was then alive; and humility is of
great value to God, according to the Proverbs and 1 Pet. 3:4. That the
leader of 3 million people for forty years could be the meekest man is
a sure wonder. Perhaps this comment is made at this point because Moses
weakness in the previous chapter had perhaps further developed his
humility. He truly cries unto God to heal Miriam of the punishment she
was given for criticising him.
Israel want to return to Egypt. God again wants to destroy them and
make Moses' family His people. But Moses successfully asks God to
forgive Israel for this rather than take the personal honour God
God openly declares His acceptance of Moses to all Israel.
God again wants to destroy Israel and make of Moses' family a new
people. Again, for the third time, Moses knows God well enough, he has
enough faith, enough humility and enough true love for Israel to ask
God- successfully- to relent from this. That God wanted to do this
three times shows His great love for Moses.
God again openly declares His acceptance of Moses in front of all
Israel in the incident of the rods.
Moses' faith slips for a moment; his spirit is provoked by Israel, so
that he speaks unadvisedly with his lips and is therefore barred from
entering the land (although maybe such an apparently temporary slip was
the reflection of deeper problems?). Yet it does seem uncharacteristic,
a tragic slip down the graph of ever rising spirituality. There must
have almost been tears in Heaven. Being easily provoked was one of
Moses' characteristics; consider how he turned himself and
stormed out from Pharaoh (Ex. 10:6; 11:8); how his anger waxed hot when
he returned from the mount, how he went out from Pharaoh in great
anger, how he first of all feared the wrath of Pharaoh and then stopped
fearing it; how Moses was " very wroth" at Israel's suggestion that he
was appropriating the sacrifices for himself; how he was " angry" with
Eleazer (Ex.32:19; 11:8; Num. 16:15; Lev. 10:16,17). This temperament
explains his swings of faith. Was the Lord Jesus likewise
afflicted?Note carefully the process of failure here. Moses and Aaron
were told to both speak to the rock, and this would result in
Moses personally bringing forth water: “Gather thou [singular]
the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye
[plural- both of them] unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall
give forth his water, and thou [Moses personally] shalt bring forth to
them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and
their beasts drink” (Num. 20:8). But Moses seems to have
dismissed Aaron’s intended involvement and assumed that he alone
could bring the water out with his rod. Yet Aaron was also condemned
for this incident- presumably because he didn’t speak to the rock
but just let Moses smite the rock with his silence meaning consent.
20:12; Ps. 106:32,33
The people again complain, and God punishes them with serpents; Moses'
prayer for them is accepted. These prayers for others' salvation must
have required intense faith and acceptability to be heard.
Moses did not get bitter at his rejection, nor disinterested in
Israel's future because he would not be with them in the land. He asked
God to provide a replacement for him.
|34a. Moses seems to
express his own weakness in his final speeches to Israel in
Deuteronomy. He recalls how even towards the end of the wilderness
journey, God told him to contend with Sihon in battle (Dt. 2:24); and
yet Moses admits: "I sent messengers out of the wilderness of Kedemoth
unto Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, Let me pass
through thy land: I will go along by the highway, I will turn neither
unto the right hand nor to the left. Thou shalt sell me food for money,
that I may eat; and give me water for money, that I may drink: only let
me pass through on my feet" (Dt. 2:26-28). And yet God by grace to
Moses hardened Sihon's heart so that there was a battle in which, again
by grace, he gave Israel victory.
The love of Moses for Israel as reflected in his final address to them
in Deuteronomy, his knowledge of them, his sensitivity to their
weakness, his constant desire for them to be spiritually strong and to
enter the land; God's respect of him at the end of his life, shown in
his burial and in subsequent comments about him. Although Moses is at a
spiritual peak in Deuteronomy, he does repeatedly comment- almost under
his breath as it were- that he was not going to enter the land
“for your sakes”, and that he was thereby bearing the anger
of God against Israel (e.g. Dt. 4:21 etc.). Whilst in a sense this was
true, God’s anger was against Moses personally regarding the sin
of striking the rock. Given that “that rock was Christ”,
his inappropriate striking of it was some kind of symbolic crucifixion
of Christ. He was in the wrong- the record of the event makes that
clear. And yet at the end of his life, Moses is blaming Israel for his
sin and his exclusion from the land. Perhaps he was indicating his
understanding of how his prayer to not enter the land for their sakes
was being answered. On the other hand, one could argue that even on the
last day of his life, Moses never came to terms with that sin, sought
to justify himself in the eyes of Israel, to shift the blame…
and yet even then, God’s grace was big enough to accept him.
Quite how to score Moses on this point will always be debatable, but
the exercise certainly provokes a lot of introspection about our own
attitudes to public confession of sin, both in ourselves and in others,
and its relationship to God’s ultimate acceptance of a person.