Numbers 20:1-13. Moses loses it.
Numbers 20:1-13. Moses loses it.
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After Korah’s rebellion…after the Israelites had finally accepted their punishment…they left Kadesh and headed into the wilderness. And for 40 years the Israelites wondered. And as each year went by, more and more of the rebellious generation died. The Bible doesn’t say much about these years in the wilderness…only saying that “the hand of the Lord was against them (that is…the rebellious generation), to destroy them from the midst of the camp until they were consumed.” (Deut. 2:15) I can only imagine that this death camp would not have been a very fun to be! But even in the middle of their punishment, let’s not get the idea that God abandoned the Israelites. The pillar of cloud still led them, God’s shining presence in the tabernacle was still there, God still protected them from the surrounding nations, manna still fell from the sky everyday (except Sabbath), and…importantly for today’s story…water still miraculously gushed out of the rocks wherever they camped. And God did many other things too. Like for example the Bible says that the Israelites’ clothes never wore out…yah…can you imagine wearing a shirt for 40 years and it never wearing out? No holes in the elbows…no fading…no getting thin at the ends of the sleeves? Crazy right! And as the years went by, and as more and more of the rebellious generation died out, all eyes would have been on the children of the rebellious generation. Would this new generation learn from the mistakes of the old? Would they trust God where the rebellious generation hadn’t? Would they be a close-to-perfect generation? Well…we’re about to find out.
As the Israelites neared the end of their 40 years of wondering, God got them started in the direction of the Promised Land. God sent them back to Kadesh…to the very place where the 10 spies had given the bad report of Canaan…to the very placed where they had refused to enter the Promised Land and been banished for 40 years. And as they did so, the last remnants of the rebellious generation were dying off. And sadly, this included Moses’ own family. Once the Israelites arrived in Kadesh, the Bible tells us that Moses and Aaron’s sister…Miriam…died and was buried there. Now even though there had been some family drama back a few years, Miriam had been there with Moses and Aaron from the very beginning. Miriam had saved Moses as a baby when he’d been sent down the Nile River in a basket. Miriam had been there when Moses had become a prince of Egypt. Miriam had been there through the plagues. Miriam had led the women of Israel in singing and dancing as they had left Egypt. And whatever mistakes that Miriam had made over the years…she was still Moses’ sister and they had gone through their crazy lives together. And now she was gone…and no doubt Moses and Aaron were missing her terribly.
And something else happened when they arrived in Kadesh. Remember how God had continued to provide the Israelites with water wherever they went? Well, when they arrived at Kadesh the Israelites went to the rocks to find water like they usually did…but they couldn’t find any. No water. They searched and searched…and found nothing. And as you kidzos know, you can’t go long without water…so…the Israelites began to wonder what was going on? Why was there no water all of a sudden? Was God giving up on them? Well…no. What was going on is that the Israelites were now heading towards the Promised Land…a land that was “flowing with milk and honey”. There was lots of water where they were heading. In fact, God had even given the Israelites instructions on where they would find food and water…telling them that in just a few days they would be buying food and water from the people who lived in the place they were heading. (Deut. 2:6) So, when God stopped providing them with water…well it was actually a good sign - they were leaving the wilderness…their years of wondering were almost over…they were about the enter the Promised Land…and they wouldn’t need water to be miraculously provided to them every day. All that the Israelites needed to do was trust God for just a few short days before they would have water again. But had this new generation learned to trust God? Had they learned from the mistakes of their parents?
Well…no. No kidzos it seems that they didn’t. Because as soon as they didn’t have any water, the Israelites immediately went up to Moses and Aaron and…you guessed it…they complained. And they said to Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! (4) Why have you brought up the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? (5) And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.” (Num 20:3-5) It had been almost 40 years…an entire generation of Israelites had almost entirely died…but the complaints were exactly the same. They blamed Moses for all their problems…even though he had nothing to do with it. And they were still saying that they didn’t understand why they had left Egypt…even though most of this new generation had never even seen Egypt before! The continued lack of faith was almost beyond belief.
And not knowing what to do, Moses and Aaron went to the tabernacle to talk to God. And when they got there they fell on their faces and God’s shining presence appeared to them. And God said to Moses, “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.” (20:8) So, even though water was just around the corner, and even though the Israelites were being completely unreasonable, God would patiently provide for the Israelites’ needs. And so, Moses and Aaron began to do as they were commanded. Moses took his rod, and he and his brother began to gather the Israelites, and Moses got ready to speak to the rock.
But, sometime between when Moses and Aaron had left God’s presence and when they’d gathered all the Israelites to the rock…it seems that they both got really upset. Now, Moses and Aaron had become very old men by now. Both of them were either close to or well over 120 years old. And they had spent much of their lives taking care of these Israelites. They’d worked with them, tried to help them, tried to teach them. Even when God had offered to abandon the Israelites and start over with Moses’ family, Moses had patiently stuck with the Israelites. And when God had punished the Israelites with 40 years in the wilderness, Moses and Aaron had gone with them into their banishment…even thought they hadn’t done anything wrong. But even after all this time and everything that they’d been through…the Israelites were still blaming Moses and Aaron for their problems. Like as if Moses and Aaron had somehow turned off the water themselves. In fact, if you kidzos will remember, the very first time that the Israelites had blamed Moses for something, it was just a few days after leaving Egypt when they had run out of…you guessed it…water! It was as if all these years of pain, and effort, and patience, and sacrifice had been for nothing. A whole life wasted. And with these kinds of thoughts swirling in their minds…Moses and Aaron lost it.
And in their blinding anger, Moses and Aaron yelled at the Israelites and said, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” (10:10) And Moses looked at the rock next to him, and with all his pent-up anger grabbed his rod and then Bible says that he, “lifted his hand and struck the rock twice” (10:11) Crack…crack…Moses violently hit the rock in front of him. And for a moment, nothing happened…but before long the Bible says that “water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.” (10:11) And as far as everyone was concerned, all was well. The Israelites had their water, Moses and Aaron had been able to blow off some steam, and life was continuing as it always had.
But there was a problem. Actually, there were a few problems. Do you kidzos remember what God had told Moses to do with the rock? Had God told Moses to hit the rock with his rod? No…God had told Moses to speak to the rock. It might seem like a small thing…but nothing is really ever small when it comes to God’s instructions. And not only that, did you hear what Moses said to the Israelites? He said, “must we bring water for you out of this rock”…as if Moses and Aaron were somehow doing the miracle and not God. And actually, this was a big deal. This was something that the Israelites struggled with…they were often accusing Moses and Aaron of doing things that God had actually done. Why did you lead us here, why did you lead us there, why did you take us out of Egypt…as if Moses and Aaron had somehow caused the plagues and the sea to part and caused all the other things that had brought the Israelites to where they were that day. So, when Moses and Aaron, in their anger, claimed to be bringing water out of the rock, they gave the Israelites more reasons to be confused. And last problem was that Moses and Aaron had acted out of anger. They had lost it…and it had caused them to act foolishly.
So, Moses and Aaron had made a mistake. And because Moses and Aaron were the leaders of Israel, and because they had made this mistake in front of all the Israelites, God had to do something. So what was God going to do? Well, God was going to have to punish Moses and Aaron…and He had to do it right away. And so, immediately God spoke to Moses and Aaron and said, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (20:12) Moses and Aaron’s punishment would be to die before the Israelites reached the Promised Land…to die alongside the last of the rebellious generation.
No doubt this was a harsh punishment for Moses and Aaron. They had both worked so hard for so many many years to do God’s Will. And while Aaron had slipped up a few times on this journey, Moses had made no mistakes (as far as we know). And now they’d made this one mistake and God’s punishment came immediately. Neither of them would see the fruit of all their labour…they wouldn’t see the one thing that they’d been working towards all these years…to go with the Israelites into the Promised Land. It was definitely a hard pill to swallow. But Moses and Aaron knew that it was right…they were the leaders, and they were held to a higher standard.
And when they shared this news with the Israelites, it would have driven home some important lessons. The Israelites definitely knew now that Moses and Aaron were not the ones working the miracles. And they also knew now that God does not play favourites. God was not showering all His blessings on His supposed favourite people Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron were in the same boat as everyone else…they were just people…and that they were expected to follow God’s Will just like the rest of them. This is exactly what the Bible means when it says that God is “no respecter of persons”. And lastly, this would have shown the Israelites just how God saw all the complaining that they’d done since leaving Egypt. Moses and Aaron had complained just once…and they saw what God had done to them. And how much more complaining had all the Israelites done? These were all important lessons for the Israelites to really take to heart before they entered the Promised Land.
And just like the Israelites, we too have a lesson to learn from this story kidzos. Moses and Aaron got so angry and so frustrated that they lost control. They yelled, and screamed, and they just had to hit something. Have you kidzos ever felt that way? Yes…I’m sure you have. And probably you’re thinking to yourself…yah I’ve gotten angry like that…but my sister did something to me…or my brother did something to me…or one of my friends did something to me…that’s why I got so angry. Yah well…Moses and Aaron had a really good reason to get angry too…in fact if anyone ever had a good reason to get angry it would have been Moses and Aaron. But in the end, there was no excuse. And that’s the truth kidzos. There is never any good reason to get so angry that you lose control. There is never any good reason to get so angry that you yell, and scream, and hit. God always expects you to stay in control…and to do God’s Will…no matter what’s going on around you. God expects the same thing from you, as he expected from Moses and Aaron.