We often look to Moses as the model of leadership in the Old Testament. In fact, he was a great leader. He led a people who had grown up in a polytheistic system and led them to belief in the one, true God. He took them through perils and dealt with complaints and uprisings. There is no doubt that he was a great man and a great leader.
Yet, in the end, he did not see the goal fulfilled. He did not personally lead his people into the Promised Land. God would not allow him to do so. The story of why is in the following passage of Scripture:
Now there was 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! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, 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. So 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 this 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 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 that I have given them.”
(Numbers 20:2-12 ESV)
God’s order was to speak to the rock. Tell it to give water. Moses was not in the mood to speak to rocks. He was angry. After all the people had seen, they still demanded more. They accused him of being a failure as a leader, and he had enough of it. So, instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people. He called them rebels and struck the rock with his staff instead of following God’s directions. It cost him the opportunity to see the Promised Land. Why was God so ‘mean’ about what was such a small, understandable thing?
One idea is that the people were starting to become more impressed with Moses’s staff than they were with God. After all, Moses had parted a sea with it. Now, God wanted to correct the misconception. He wanted the rock to give water at the power of His word without any evidence of Moses’s strength being behind it. Moses made a mess of it. He got mad and showed his anger. God had wanted to show Himself holy but Moses did not trust Him to do it. Instead of God’s word, Moses used his staff and his own strength. Interestingly, God gave water anyway. He displayed his compassion and love for the people Moses had called rebels. However, from Moses he took the privilege of seeing his task through to the end.
When we are in positions of spiritual leadership, whether that be in a church, small group or as a parent, we must have as our goal to display God’s holiness. When it becomes all about us and how we feel, we are not likely to do that. We will use our own strength and we may impress those around us with our ‘staff’–our intelligence, our plan and our hard work. Interestingly, God may give us success anyway though not for our sakes. It will be because He cares and loves those around us who need His touch. But we will have missed something, a great opportunity to see the holiness of God on display in our lives, our ministries and our families. So, let’s take care to let God be God and not stand His way.
Moses made another mistake related to this one. That will be for another post.