Just Who's Wonderful?

Sani Emmanuel — Google Images
Between Numbers 14 and 20, Moses and Aaron intercede for the people several times. I mentioned one of those incidents in yesterday’s post on Numbers 14. At the beginning of chapter 20, the two leaders once more “stand in the gap” between the people and God. Israel was prone to complain. That sounds unhappily familiar to most of us.

But in Numbers 20, the stress of dealing with these miserable people finally gets the better of Moses. This time the people are complaining about the lack of water (a situation they would not have to deal with if they had not refused to listen to Caleb and Joshua’s reports and had entered the land of God’s promise. They are blaming God for something they could have avoided themselves!).

Moses and Aaron gather the people together. God has instructed Moses to speak to the rock. Instead Moses strikes the rock twice. God delivers the water but He is not happy with either Moses or Aaron. I wish I had more of the detail of this episode and be able to discern exactly why God says: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I gave them” (20:12).

At first glance it would seem that the people knew what the instructions were and when Moses, in his anger at the people, defied those instructions, God had to respond to that defiance. Was it the anger that triggered God’s respond. Moses and his brother had interceded for the people on several occasions to deflect God’s anger in the face of the people’s rebellion. Did it seem that Moses was taking on a role that belonged to God? It was God’s place to be angry at the sin of His people. Or, was it the statement that Moses made as he struck that rock that robbed God of the honour that was due him. Numbers 20:10 says: “He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, 'Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of the rock?'” Whoa! WHO is bringing water out of the rock?

Moses has just stepped over a line. He has staked a claim on something God did. For a split second, he is accepted the glory for himself that only belongs to God.

Aaron, as complicit in this action, receives the same punishment as his brother. By the end of Numbers 20 we read about his death (20:22-29). Neither man entered the Promised Land.

Isaiah 48:11 reminds us of these words of the Lord: “I will not yield my glory to another.” To defy God’s instructions was one thing, as was being angry at the people. But to assume the honour on oneself for a work of God is something not to be trifled with.

Should we be pleased with our accomplishments? No problem with that as long as we are careful not to dislocate a shoulder while we are attempted to pat ourselves on the back! But even then, what have we, as Paul says, that we did not receive from God (1 Corinthians 4:7)? Even the glory for what we have worked for belongs to Him.

But even more so does the glory belong to God for what He alone can do, and water from a rock is definitely in that category. For Moses and Aaron, it was a crossed line that God could not ignore.

Jesus reminded His followers and His critics that the honour of God must be foremost in our minds in all we do. When questioned about His teaching, Jesus is quoted in John 7:16-18 as saying: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain  honour for himself, but he who works for the honour of the one who sent him is a man of truth, there is nothing false about him.

I guess the warning to us is to be sure that we are working for God’s honour and not our own, and then to beware of those who speak and act to bring glory to themselves rather than to God.


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