Numbers 20 come to the low point of the wilderness wandering. Catastury comes to all three of Israel’s great leaders, and the look for mercy never shows up. As we look to the reading of God’s Word, if you would join me in prayer. Most gracious God, our heavenly father, in you alone dwells all the fullness of light and wisdom. We ask then that by your Spirit, you would enlighten our minds to truly understand your Word. Lord, that you would give us grace to receive it reverently and humbly, and that it would lead us to put our whole trust in you alone. This we pray and ask to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen. Beginning in verse 2, Now there is no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. You shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.
And Moses took the staff from before the Lord as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock. And he said to them, Hear now, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of the rock? And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly and the congregation drank and their livestock. And the Lord said the Moses and the Aaron, because you did not believe in me to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel. Therefore, you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them. The word of the Lord. Please be seated. The benefit of the doubt is what we all want for ourselves. We want our failures to be softened by our intent or by our circumstances. You don’t understand. I didn’t mean for this to happen. You have to understand. I’ve been under a lot of pressure and stress lately. And while we want cle for our good intentions, we don’t really want to give them to someone else who’s hurt us. Clearly, their intentions were evil and they should be punished.
I think I am justified in being upset with my anger towards them because after all, we know what people they are. It’s have mercy on me, Lord, for my intentions were good, even if my actions were not. Have mercy on me, Lord, for there were extenuating circumstances. So when we come to our text, it’s easy for us to feel a bit sorry for Moses. For the last 40 years, he’s been leading a bunch of ungrateful people who blame him for every hard thing, and they challenge his leadership. He is doing this 40 year wilderness circle because of them. And even though they have seen God’s miraculous provision all those years, they run into another hard challenge. First thing they do is they start attacking Moses. And on top of that, his sister, Miriam dies. If we were in Moses spot, we would want some benefit of the doubt, some leniency given the circumstances. Come on, God, can’t you cut him some slack? After all, you’re the one who put him in all these tough spots to begin with. And in this, we fail in at least two ways. First, we’re not really wowed by the holiness of God.
We want to grade everything on a moral curve. We compare ourselves to others. I am way better than they are. Maybe not as good as them, but most of them, I’m doing much better. And so we want God to look at us in the same way. And when we do that, our love and appreciation for his holiness is radically diminished. And second, we can then easily miss the abundant and lavish grace of God’s provision for us. We’re not in awe of the Lord’s faithfulness because we think he should be impressed with our intentions and the hardness of our own circumstances, maybe even blaming him for them. But because the Lord brings about his purposes in spite of our failures, we can rejoice in his faithfulness. It is the Lord’s faithfulness that we do see here in the ongoing failure of his people. Last week we looked at Chapter 19, the water of purification, allow those in contact with the dead to be cleansed, to be made holy in order to continue on their way to the promised land. And ironically, in Chapter 20, the waters of Meribah made the holiest representatives of Israel to die outside of the promised land.
And we see the failure of Israel’s leaders, and we also see the failure of a people who cannot extend the kindness to those in need. Chapter 20, from beginning to end, just permeates with these failures. Well, first, looking at the failed leaders, Chapter 20 brings Israel back to the area of Kedish. And we get this very brief account in verse 1, simply says, And Miriam died there and was buried there. The older sister is now gone. Jumping ahead to chapter 22 and 29 of chapter 20, Israel moves from Kedish to Mount Hore, which is on the way to the promised land. And there we read, The Lord said, Let Aaron be gathered to his people. For he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Mirabah. Take Aaron and Eliezer, son, and bring them up to Mount Hore. Strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eliezer, his son. Eliezer his son. Eliezer would become the new high priest, and he’d take his father’s vestments while he’s still alive. Because as a high priest, he would be made ceremony impure to be around a dead body.
So he now becomes the new high priest. And then it goes on, The Lord said, Aaron shall we gather to his people and he shall die there. And Moses did as the Lord commanded, they went to Mount Or and to the sites of the congregation. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garment, put them in Eliezer, his son. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. What how that impacted Moses to be a part of that. And Moses himself will die on another mountain just outside of the promised land, just across from Jericho. And we read about that in Deuteronomy 34. The three great leaders of Israel, they all died. They all died outside of the land of promise. In the Prophet Micah Chapter 6, the Lord there declares, He goes, Oh, my people, what have I done to you? How have I weirded you? Answer me, for I have brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery. And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. God had given Israel this family, these three siblings to lead his people. And they’re all going to die.
The question comes, why was Miriam excluded from the promised land? We’re not directly told. Could a man from her rebellion earlier against Moses? What about Aaron? There was the whole golden calf incident earlier, and he was a part of the rebellion with his sister. But we’re not directly told what he did. Miriam and Aaron are a part of that first failed generation. The people of the original Passover are now passed over on the way to the promised land. And what about Moses, the great man of God? As one commentator notes, the punishment is clear, but what is the crime? There’s a parallel text in Exodus 16. There are many ways Exodus and numbers mirror one another. The place there is also called Mirabah. Mirabah just means in Hebrew contention or strife. And this was at the very start of the journey. They’re on their way to Mount Sinai, just leaving Egypt. And they were in a deserted place, no water, and the people grumbled and complained. And we read there in Exodus 17, Moses cried to the Lord, What shall I do with these people? They’re almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said to Moses, Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, take in your hand the staff in which you struck the Nile, and go.
Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb. You shall strike the rock and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. Now, 40 years later, it could be a little closer to the time of the spies, but it seems to be longer away either way. Chapter 20, There was no water for the congregation. Been there done that. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and the and Aaron. And they quarreled with Moses and said, Would that we have perished with our brothers before the Lord. Now, we don’t hear anything from Aaron in all this. He’s included in the complaint. And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Take the staff. In verse 9, Moses took the staff from before the Lord. So it’s likely not Moses’ staff, it’s the staff of Aaron. And if you recall, the staff of Aaron is the one that had budded with the almond, and they placed it in before the ark of the covenant. It was a sign that God had given of himself choosing Moses and Aaron as divine leaders. So he’s taking the staff, Assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.
You shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle. So far, so good. Everything is happening just like it always has. Moses is doing it all by the book. And then there’s a change. No doubt, Moses is tired. No doubt, he has sacrificed much. But in verse 10, Moses and Aaron, they gathered the assembly together before the rock. And Moses said, Here now, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock? Moses lifted up his hand. He struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly. Now, it isn’t as clear in Hebrew with what Moses was saying. The meaning is a little ambiguous about the, shall we bring out water? Did the question, did the command? It’s not entirely clear. But the overall picture is easy to understand. Remember, the last time they were in this spot, the Lord had called on him to strike the rock. So even that wasn’t unusual to take place. But here it was to speak to the rock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore, you shall not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.
This is the part we struggle with. It seems so harsh, so unfair. Lord, man, can’t you give them a break? It’s been really tough for Moses. These people have been awful for 40 years. Back biting, slander, rebellion for four decades. Wandering around in the wilderness with all them has been hard on him. He’s suffering because of them. It’s interesting, if we look back in numbers to Chapter 14, and the sin of the ten spies, this is what the Lord said there, How long will these people despise me? How long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? And Moses, the sin in Verse 12 is spoken of in the same way, and the consequences are the same. Verse 12, Because you did not believe in me to uphold me as holy in the eyes of Israel. You see, in both cases, they were a failure to trust the Lord to do what He promised. And the must we? It could either be understood as Moses is excluding God, talking about himself and Aaron, or it could be that Moses is including himself where he shouldn’t. That only God should be.
After all, he’s just an instrument that God is using. It’s the Lord who’s doing the miraculous, providing for them. When it comes to serving the Lord, we are to be like a clear glass filled with water. The Lord is what we should see through the glass. We’re doing what we’re doing. We’re here. But what people should see is what’s inside. We’re the glass, but it’s easy to be a mug instead. You can’t really tell anything of what’s inside a mug. All you see is the outside, and the outside is us. It’s not about us. It’s about the Lord. It’s his glory that should be recognized, not ours. It shouldn’t be about being appreciated for what we’ve done. It’s about the glory and the honor of God. Another commentator put it like this. He said, Moses took the Lord’s instruction and he used them as a means to justify his self interest and his self pity. He’s essentially saying to the people of Israel, nothing has changed with you people. Emphasis on the you. It’s self pity, it’s self interest. And we get a little more insight about this in Psalm 106. There the Psalm says, of Israel, They anchored him at the waters of Mirabah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips.
A bitter heart, and he spoke rashly. Now, you and I must know that we are all going to be in spots where the very people that we’re serving and loving can and often will turn on us. What then? This isn’t isolated. We have a lot of teachers out here, that problem child in class, the one you’ve done everything possible to reach and to teach. Maybe you’re making progress, maybe not. And then suddenly mom and dad or both of them come in to tell you what a terrible job you’re doing and how you’re failing their child after all the hard work you’ve done. What do you do with that? What do you do when you sacrifice and serve others and they term and they blame you? It’s hard not to be angry. It’s difficult in the midst of that to have it your good get turned back around. This is why so many administrators, managers, medical workers, pastors have quit or changed job just over the last years, three years because of COVID. Trying their absolute best, getting beat up for it by angry people, complaining who won’t give them the benefit of the doubt, who are taking out all their frustrations on them, and it’s not their fault.
We understand that. It’s hard not to get angry after serving and sacrificing for others and then have them turn around to turn on you or to not appreciate what you’re doing. That’s difficult. It’s a hard spot to be in. And on the heels of all this misery comes another blow to Israel. And we see that as well in Chapter 20, verses 14 to 21 of failed diplomacy. So all this is taking place and they’re moving along. And Moses sends messengers from Kedish to the King of Edom. And he says, Thus says your brother, Israel, you know the hardships that we’ve all had, how our fathers went down to Egypt and how the Egyptian treated with us harshly. And we cried out to the Lord. He heard our voice and then he sent his angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kedish, a city on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. In verse 20, King says, You shall not pass. And Edom came out in force with a large army. And they refused, verse 21, to give Israel passage through its territory. So Israel had to turn away and go a different route.
There are people struggling in the wilderness. They just want to pass through and use the ordinary trade route. They’re not asking for anything special. And there are people that’s related to Edom, their kin. Edom, they’re the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. Another point of irony, the last time that we read in Genesis 33 that Jacob and Esau were together, it was Jacob who refused Esau’s offer when he went his own way. Here, Esau is refusing Jacob’s offer. Instead of a look for mercy and kindness, they’re met with hostility and more hardship. The route to the promised land just got more difficult. The Lord is not going to let them do anything against Edom. It seems like one misery after another for Israel. The question then immediately comes, where is God’s kindness and grace to be seen in all of this? Let’s back up to verse 11, And Moses lifted up his hand, struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly. And the congregation drank and their livestock. Three times the cattle are mentioned in this two. You have tens of thousands of people, tens of thousands of animals, and the Lord provides abundant water.
Think about how much water that would be. Abundant water. They are His thirsty, complaining people, and He provides for them. No person or animal dies of thirst because the Lord cares for and loves them. And where are they going? They’re still on track to go to the promised land. It didn’t derail God’s faithfulness to them. Not at all. And such is this powerful image of water in the desert. We see this repeated symbol in the Proverbs. Isaiah 43 and in 55, you get images of water in the desert, rivers in the wilderness. They’re symbols of God’s grace and mercy. A thirsty but ungrateful people drank abundantly from God’s waters of life. The Apostle Paul makes the connection in between all of this and Jesus in 1 Corinthians 10. He says, sacramentally speaking, that the rock of water in Israel is Jesus. See, now it’s actually Jesus. It speaks to his provision of what he is going to accomplish. So when we ask that question, where’s God’s mercy to Moses? Why such a severe punishment? Well, first, the more knowledge we have, the greater the accountability. And there are still consequences for our sin. You can experience mercy and still deal with consequences.
But overall, what we also see is Moses is the mediator. And as God’s people, we need a mediator who can get us all the way to the promised land. I guarantee you when you’re flying somewhere, you want better than eight out of 10 planes making it. Like, 20 % of these planes are going to explode into a fiery ball of flame somewhere. I’ll take the bus. It’s not good enough. The higher the level of consequences, the greater the number of things we want accomplished. We need someone who can take us to the promised land. As good as Moses was, he wasn’t good enough. Yet we still see God’s grace and mercy. That’s a transfiguration. Who appeared along with Elijah before Jesus? It was Moses. The law and the prophets being represented before the Lord of glory. Where did that take place? In the promised land. Jesus got Moses in. That’s the power of Christ, the perfect mediator, who could take us all the way. When Jesus was at his end, the very ones he came to serve and to sacrifice for, they nailed him to a cross. His disciples, they all fled. One of his own betrayed him.
None were there with him. He was alone. And this mediator who hung between heaven and earth, what did he do? When he was hanging there, did he say, here now, rebels, must I bring water from this rock? That’s not what he said. The perfect mediator, he said, Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing. You see, you don’t want the benefit of the doubt. You don’t want extenuating circumstances to be considered because they’re not enough. We’re still awful. It won’t get you there. The grace and the kindness of the Lord, providing waters of life for a faithless people, bringing them into the place that He promised. Because this is going to speak of a greater mediator. Brothers and sisters, we do not want a Moses as good as Moses is. We want a Jesus. We need a Jesus. We need a Jesus who can complete God’s faithful work for his people to bring us into the promised land. Pray with me. Father, as we come before you, Lord, there isn’t a one of us who hasn’t sinned against you in the frustrations that we’ve had with others, the anger that we’ve felt from not being recognized, for not being appreciated.
Father, for the failure to see your grace and your holiness, your goodness, for complaining. Lord, we ask that you would forgive us. Father, because you are gracious, we ask more than that. We ask that you would continue to provide for us abundant and flowing life through Jesus. Father, that we would be as your people, filled to the full with the measure of your goodness because of him. We pray, Lord God, that you would bring great honor and glory to our saviors through our lives. Father, help us to be a clearer, more transparent people. That the brilliance of Jesus would be seen. That he would receive all honor, praise, and glory.
Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription