Introduction: Welcome to Expound our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Neil Ortiz: Father, what a privileged bunch we are. God, truly we are so honored to be your children, so privileged to know you, to have access to your truth, to have your Spirit within us to teach us your truth. And so, Father, as we gather here we once again bow our hearts before you. We also, Lord, look to you expectantly, we anticipate that you're going to continue to meet with us here tonight.
That, Lord, as we just shared in a time of praising you, worshiping you, being encouraged in music, we now give you the most pure voice that we can, and that is to open up your Word. And so, Lord, we trust that you're here with us and that you're going to speak to each of us, Lord, that which you so very well know we need. It's with those expectant hearts, hungry hearts, and excited minds that we commit this time to you, Lord. And we do in the name of our blessed Savior, our incredibly gracious Provider, and our wonderful Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ, and everybody said . . . amen.
Well, if I could have your attention further, it's pastoral confession time. You know, I was looking at my ordination certificate from Pastor Skip just today, and I noticed the date of February 27, 2001. I thought, wow, over twelve years already of being or ordained. and I was able to serve for even a year before that on this pastoral staff.
So in these last thirteen years it got me thinking, and furthermore, I considered something that the passage we're going to look at tonight brought to my attention. And that was if I were to create a top ten list of the ministry moments over the last thirteen years that I'm most embarrassed by or ashamed of, more than half of those items listed would be things where, whether intentionally or not, I misrepresented the Lord.
And so, as you can imagine as I thought of that list, it wasn't necessarily a happy exercise, but it definitely was an important exercise. You see, as I considered those times where I did misrepresent the Lord even as his undershepherd, I recognize that these were times where I took matters into my own hands and I became more consumed with being right than with being righteous. I looked at those times and I had to admit that in those moments I was representing my own interests ahead of the Lord's interests.
Now in the case of our study tonight we're going to see one of the most prolific leaders that God ever appointed to lead his people also having times where he failed to represent the Lord accurately, and for that we're going to look at Moses. We're going to see specifically an episode where he became unrighteously angry at God's people; thus, misrepresenting the Lord, putting the Lord in a bad light.
Friends if you've ever led anything or anyone, I am certain that you're going to be able to relate to Moses on some level tonight. You're going to be able to identify with his thoughts and his feelings of anger and frustration to some degree. You see, in fairness to Moses interacting with God's people, and even caring for God's people, being responsible for them, being responsible for their souls, being involved in the ministry of soul care, it can be a very, very difficult business. It can often be messy.
In fact, it can bring you to the place at times where you sympathize with that ungodly sentiment which goes something like this: "God, I love you, but it's your people that I'm having a really hard time with." Again, in fairness to Moses, I myself being one under the leadership of others, I can often make it hard for those who are responsible for leading me.
You see, there's times whether it be internally or externally where I can be resistant to the Lord's leadership. I can give pushback. I can perhaps not cooperate or completely throw all of myself into what the Lord would have me to do through direction of those he has leading me.
So our time tonight I've titled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Leader." Now what we have here is a toxic mix. We have the angry leader of Moses that I just referred to, but we also have the sinners. Now, obviously this title is a play on the title to one of the most famous sermons in all of church history. It's a sermon by Jonathan Edwards preached July 8, 1741, two hundred seventy-two years ago titled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
You see, it was one of the most epic sermons of what was referred to as the Great Awakening; it brought great revival to this country. And in that sermon Edwards went into great detail to describe the wretchedness of hell. But he didn't leave it there, he went further to describe the perfect plan of salvation that Christ affords us so that we don't have to go to hell.
Now, though God is perfect, and though his plans are always perfect, his people are not. His leaders are yet imperfect, and his sheep, his congregation is also made up of imperfect people. So as I use the word "sinners" tonight, I use it in the most broad sense, simply as those who were rebelling against God, against God's will and God's authority, God's leadership in their lives.
And for our own purposes, let me bring to our attention what Jesus said in the parable of the wheat and tares. You see, Jesus in telling this story. He said there was an owner of a field that was growing wheat, but the enemy had come in secretly and had put seeds of tares, of weeds in the field so that both were growing together. And the workers of the field said to the owner, "Shall we go and pluck up all the weeds, all the tares?"
And Jesus says the owner tells them, "No, no. Listen, let them grow until the harvest," that is, until the end of the age when God is ultimately going to gather those that are his and take them unto himself. That's when we'll ultimately know. So in the meantime whether it's considering the congregation of the children of Israel or even a congregation like our own today, we're always going to have a mixture of unbelievers mingled with believers.
And so we might refer to this congregation in this passage as unbelievers mixed with believers, the true and the false mixed together. Or perhaps we can just look at it this way: these were simply a group of people who had as a very common quality, common characteristic, those who were in a state of rebellion. So it's these sinners that provide the context in which Moses crashes and burns in failing to represent God well.
So to get us started we're going to consider first the congregation's contentions. Look with me at verses 1 through 5. As I begin to read these verses I'm going to interject some additional information that will help us to further appreciate the entire text.
Verse 1, "Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there." We might see that reference as merely incidental. Most of us would simply glance right over that and move on to verse 2, but this reference to Miriam's death is important for two reasons.
First of which the timing of her death, and also the recording of Aaron's death in later chapters, places this event that we're reading right now in the fortieth year of the children of Israel's wandering in the wilderness. Additionally, I want to just bring to your attention that Miriam up to this point, she was a very, very important figure in Israel at this time. She is the sister of Moses and Aaron, and God did great things through her.
But some of you will remember in chapter 12 of this book, in Numbers 12 that she and her brother Aaron rebelled against Moses as God's leader; from that point her place and her usefulness was markedly diminished. And so you would think that with as significantly as God had used her that the mention of her death would be a little bit more heralded or celebrated; rather, it's almost conveyed in a very matter-of-fact way, just a side note of what could have been the result of her rebellion against God's leadership in her life.
Another thing I want to point out to you at this point is that with this being the fortieth year of their wandering in the desert, this is an entirely new generation of people than those who had started out forty years earlier. We know that from year one all the way till now the fathers the mothers of these people here had themselves also been rebellious, and unfortunately we read that this new generation was acting just like their forefathers did.
Let's continue in verse 2. "Now," what happened was, "there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. And the people contended with Moses and they spoke thus: 'If we had died, if we had just died with our brethren when they died before the Lord!' "I want you to consider something here; this might be a reference to those that died as the result of Korah's rebellion.
In chapter 16 we read of a rebellion led by Korah where the earth opened up and swallowed a number of people and then a little bit later a plague followed and many more died. Or this reference here of at this point wishing that they had just died, might be in reference to those who had died one by one over the last forty years. It's interesting to note that during this four decades it's estimated that about six hundred thousand people had died; that's an average of about, of about forty per day.
You know, that's a thought that I've never had when I thought about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. How did they accommodate these that were dying? But people had died, and in some cases, as we consider with rebellious Korah, with, with Korah's rebellion, many died at one time.
So furthermore, they go on to say to Moses, "'why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should just die here? And why have you made us to 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.' "So right off the bat they have an agenda, and their agenda is to contend with Moses.
First we see here that they were contending with the leadership God has provided for them accusing the leadership of misleading them, leading them in a way that was perilous for them. Here's how you could summarize what they were saying: "Hey, Moses and Aaron, we've considered where you've led us and we've concluded that we'd be better off dead. Anything other than this would be better than this. The old way was much better, Moses. In fact, you should have just left it the way it was and not led us out here to die."
What we have here are Moses and Aaron again learning what every leader of God eventually will learn, and that's that God's leaders are often the targets of people's displeasure with God. And it's very understandably so, makes sense. Why? Well God's leader is often an easy target. You see, God's leader is the physical representation of God to the people, the leaders they're often outnumbered. So as in this case here where you have the entire congregation contending with them, it can be a bit intimidating, overwhelming.
Furthermore, it's understandable because the people can't see God, but they can see the leader. In fact, if they're not happy, they'll find you after service, and they'll call you, they might even send you an e-mail, and in some cases they might even post a very unkind blog entry about their leader.
A few years back I had a very sad experience in my life. It was in my first couple of years of pastoral ministry, and I had officiated a funeral service for a young child that died. And it was obviously overwhelming for the family, and it was very devastating to all of us who were around. Well, in the days that followed I did my best to interact with this family, but I, I recognized that they were in a very sore and tender place. And as a result, I didn't press the issue to impose myself upon them, but I did do my best, I thought, to make myself available to them.
Well, as the weeks went by when I would interact with them I noticed that there was an uneasy tension. And as the weeks went by it grew worse and worse to the point that I could tell it was very obvious these people were avoiding me. And then eventually I didn't see them at all here at church. And they never left my mind; it always bothered he me. I wondered, Lord, "Did I disappoint you, and did I really disappoint these people?"
Well, about four and a half years after that I came cross the mother, the wife of this couple. And she pulled me aside, and she blessed me beyond words because she said, "Neil, I have to tell something. If you've sensed at all that we didn't want anything to do with you, you were right. And it was not kind of us to do that, but I want to explain why. They said, "That time in which we lost our child was so devastating to us. You were there with us, and your face became associated with our greatest pain. Therefore, we didn't want to see you. No matter what you could have said it wouldn't have gotten through to us."
And I appreciated her honesty and her candidness, where she said, "I'm not saying that that was the right thing to do, it's just what happened. And on behalf of my family, I want to tell you how sorry I am," and she apologized. At that point I didn't feel like she had anything to apologize for; I could understand where she was coming from. I couldn't say I could completely understand where she was coming from, that would be a dishonor to the pain that she and her family experienced with this having been their child, but I could understand where she was coming from.
And so, again, the leader of God is often the representative of God, and therefore, they can often been attacked just as Moses and Aaron are being attacked here. There's another thing to consider about God's leadership: they're always subject to external pressures from people. And I can tell you this much, especially having the privilege of serving at one of the largest churches in this country, the wider your influence--and I'm obviously thinking of Pastor Skip right now. The wider your influence, the greater the pressures will be.
You know, there's something that I really wish this congregation of Israel would have been mindful of at this time, before they decided to approach Moses and Aaron this way. I wish they would have known that it's very unwise to assume that just because we, as those who are being led, don't understand God's leading of our leaders, doesn't mean that our leaders must not be following God. Let me read that again. It's unwise to assume that just because we don't understand God's leading of our leaders, that our leaders must not be following God; therefore, incorrectly concluding that they're just misleading us.
I'm not talking about overt sin; that would be obvious if that was present in the leader's life. But Scripture does tell us all that we're not to be wise in our own eyes, and to be very careful with that.
So as this congregation was upset and contentious, what was their solution to their unsettledness, their dissatisfaction with Moses and Aaron? Well, the only solution that was right in this case was that they could've just trusted God and been submissive. No matter how difficult their circumstances were, what would have resulted would have been peace. Peace in their heart despite the circumstances, and peace with their leadership; thus, peace with God. Rather, they chose to complain instead.
Not only did they complain, but they did it in a very organized fashion by virtue of good old-fashioned community organization. They organized a protest, a protest of God's leadership. What were they doing by coming to Moses and Aaron this way? Well, you could look at it as they were casting their votes. It's implied that they would prefer at this point different leadership. They were convinced that if they had different leadership they'd be better off.
Many of you might not be familiar with this, but throughout church history and even still today there are some churches that elect their leaders by popular vote, congregational vote. Therefore, if the majority grows unsatisfied with the leadership, they just vote them out.
Now, we're not familiar with that in this church, but what's a more common way that people do basically the same even in our own day and age? Well, as Pastor Skip has often said, "They'll simply elect to fire their pastor." Fire their pastor? How does someone fire their pastor? It's very simple, they gather their family, and they leave the church, and they just go somewhere else.
I want you to appreciate just for a moment the pain that that could cause within a pastor when a family just up and leaves. And often when they leave in such an abrupt way, no communication, no conversation, they're just dissatisfied and gone, it's like being fired. They've elected to opt for someone else, somewhere else.
Here's a good rule of thumb: as a follower of God, you want to walk toward something more than you walk away from something. So if God were to call us to a different church, to a different pasture as a sheep, to graze at a different place, we want it to be a move of God whereby he's not calling us to just leave somewhere, but he's leading us to somewhere: a place to bless, a place to serve, a place to make a contribution, and to be blessed by these new people.
So not only were they contending that the leader that God had provided for them was misleading them, they were also contending that the leadership that God provided for them was depriving them. Depriving them of what? Well, first off, depriving them of the essentials of life; water. Everyone needs water. It should be understood here that their complaint of not having water was more than likely a lack of sufficient amounts of water for them to be able to live and to prosper, not a total and complete absence of water; but nevertheless, they didn't have as much as they believed they needed, and they might have been right.
So their contention might have sounded like this, "Hey, Moses, you're not providing us with what we need to exist. And in case you haven't noticed, we're going to die; we're going to die." Our bodies are made up of about 65 percent water, so it goes without saying we need it. In fact, it's estimated that the average person under ideal circumstances can only exist without water for about twelve days, but under severe conditions that number drops to about three to five days. So maybe they were worried, anxious, concerned for their family and their loved ones, and so they brought the issue the Moses.
Here's what we need to understand: God alone determines what is essential. And furthermore, God alone determines how he's going to provide for us that which is essential. When we believe that, no matter how bare the cupboards look, no matter how empty the bank account is, if we believe that, we're still going to have peace internally, and we're going to maintain a respectful and honorable relationship with God, and therefore maintain peace with God.
I want you to look at it this way: Friend, in your mind's eye think of that thing or that person that you think you don't have any chance of being able to live without that you don't yet have. And know that if God believes it's essential for you to have something, anything, or someone, anyone, as a part of your life, then you're going to have it; they're going to be a part of your life. You can count on that.
So not only did they feel that they were being deprived of the essentials such as water, but they were being deprived of a greater quality of life. We might call these things "blessings." Things that are not essential to your existence, but that would be really nice to have. They describe it this way, they said, "Hey, Moses, Aaron, we have no grains, no figs, no vines, no pomegranates."
And I want you to consider it's not only that they didn't have those things to eat, they were implying that they also didn't have farmland or conditions in which to be able to grow these things; they were totally without. They're saying, "Moses, we don't have these extras of life. We had more benefits while we were slaves in Egypt, way more than we do as free men here in this wilderness." Again, a further complaint.
You know what folks? They didn't have these things, but they did have the Lord. And, friend, quite often that is enough. In fact, I know you know better, that is always enough, but it should always be enough for us to have the Lord. Let me take you to a few considerations I know you're all familiar with.
In fact, what did Jesus say that his food was? He said his food was to do the will of the Father. He could do without the wheat, and the figs, and the pomegranates, and the vines as long as he was just able to do the will of the Father. He mentioned that in John 4 verse 34 for those of you that are taking notes. Furthermore, what did Jesus say about man not living by bread alone? He said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." That alone should be enough food for us. That's recorded in Matthew 4 verse 4.
And Paul the apostle writing to Timothy, training this man to be a leader of himself, he says to him, "Having food and [water] with such you shall be content. That's recorded in First Timothy 6 verse 8. And so God has given us enough to be content with whatever he's afforded us, even if it's void of what we would consider the extras of life or the benefits and blessings of this side of heaven.
What was the problem that the children of Israel were experiencing here? It was with their appetites. Their appetites were for things other than what the Lord had provided. And folks that's a problem for all of us. If our appetites are too intense, our cravings are too wild for the things that God has not yet given us, and those desires and cravings go unchecked, it can lead to a very dangerous set of circumstances for us. You know, inasmuch as if God knows that it's essential for your existence that you have that thing or that person be a part of your life, that you're going to have that thing, or that person is going to be a part of your life.
You can also appreciate that same truth from the other angle, from the opposite direction, in that the children here should have trusted that if there were something that they didn't currently have in their life, they could have taken great rest in knowing that God knew they didn't need it; they didn't need it. It wasn't essential for their existence. Friends, there's great freedom in that; there's great peace in that.
What is that thing that you're consumed by that you don't yet have? What is that thing that is robbing God of so much time and effort and energy in and through your life that you're laboring for, you're striving for? Friend, if God had not provided it, perhaps it's time to grow at rest and at peace that at this point God knows it's not essential for your existence. As we consider the children of Israel, we have opportunity to point out that these same types of contentions exist amongst God's people even today.
And I'm going to share what those might look like or sound like in the form of some statements that we might hear people say. But before as I share those statements, I want to point out that the issue ultimately isn't having differing opinions or preferences on how church should work, or how the leadership should be functioning, or what color the carpet should be, or how loud the music should be. It's not a matter of having different preferences, or different ideas, opinions, but the issue is about being contentious and rebellious as opposed to being gracious and submissive—that's the issue.
So here's what it might sound like in our day and age. It might sound like this where a congregation erupts and says to the leadership, "Why doesn't our church have what other churches have?"
Now some of you, like me, are old-timers here at Calvary Albuquerque. And you can go with me in your mind's eye back to the mid- to late nineties when we did something that caused a lot of people in the church to freak out. And there's no other way to describe it, a lot of people freaked out. Well, as a Calvary Chapel it was always strongly associated with the Calvary Chapel that you would have behind the pulpit for all to see the "dove."
Some of us are familiar with the dove; it's that silhouette of a dove coming down toward earth symbolizing the Holy Spirit coming upon the church. And so like every Calvary Chapel from day one, we had the dove. But one day the church was renovated and the dove was gone, and in its place we had our new logo. And I was surprised to discover how many people were in an outrage because the dove was gone. How people left notes in the agape boxes demanding that the dove be brought back. [laughter]
Here's another thing that I had to just shake my head at in disbelief. Again, some of you can go back to about, uh, maybe a decade ago. Pastor Skip grew one of the coolest goatees that you're ever going to see. It looked really good. [laughter] Do you know we had a lot of people leave notes in the agape box, send e-mails to the church, even go up to him to his face and tell him he needed to shave that thing off; they were upset.
How else might this sound? It might sound this way with the church erupting and telling their leadership, "Why doesn't our church do what other churches do?" Let me maybe personalize it for us a little bit more this way: "Hey, Skip, that thing you guys are doing with worship now, I love it. I want more haze." (That smoke kind of stuff that comes from the stage.) "I want more haze. I want more lights. I want louder volume. And in fact, just like we had tonight with Tamara, whoever is leading worship, I want them to exhort us. I want them to talk. It's awesome."
Next to that person you might have someone who says the exact opposite. And friend, I can testify that the e-mails and the comments that we've heard over the last few months, they backed us up. "We need less haze. In fact, get rid of it. I thought the church was burning down the first couple weeks. [laughter] Less haze. These lights, man, tone them down. The volume, lower it."
You know what I like about one of my friends here? I like a lot of things about him, but here's what he does. You know what? The volume for him, it's too loud. Rather than complain, rather than protest, rather than send hate e-mail, you know what he does? He loves God, he loves this church, he loves you all, so he just bought these very cool earplugs, and that diminished the sound during worship.
He's with us tonight. I know that he knows that I'm talking about him. That is if he took them out once he saw that I was teaching. [laughter] And he'll simply put the earplugs in, once worship is done, takes them out. That's a great accommodation, rather than being contentious.
Furthermore, about their contentions, unfortunately they were misdirected. You see, in verses 4 and 5 addressing Moses and Aaron they said, "Why have you," they're looking right at Moses and Aaron, "why have you done this?" You know what? They were blind to the fact that their contention was really with the Lord. It was the Lord that miraculously brought them out of Egypt. It's almost as if they totally forgot.
You know one of the problems with blindness when its spiritual blindness is that those that are spiritually blind are blind to their blindness. They can't see that they're blind; all they can see is what they're focused on. What ends up happening is it requires God moving in some overtly grandiose way in order to break through that blindness.
A great man of God Erwin Lutzer reminds us that, "Complaining about our lot in life, it might seem quite innocent in itself, but never forget that God takes it personally." And you know what? God did take it personally here.
So, were these people sinners? Yup. They were definitely missing the mark on trusting God and by submitting to God's leadership. Here's the question that I really would have loved to ask them, to have asked them if I had the opportunity. It would be this question: Congregation, do you believe that God has appointed the leadership that he's put over you; yes or no? Congregation, do you believe that it has been the Lord himself that has made your leadership responsible for leading you; yes or no?
If it's a yes, then be at peace and trust. If it's a no, you take that up directly with the Lord. If they would have done that and just said yes, they would have had peace within themselves, they would have maintained a peaceful relationship with God.
Well, that's the first half of this toxic combination. Now we come to Moses and we see the leaders' lapses, their mistakes. As we begin reading together in verses 6 through 11, it's interesting that initially it appears that Moses and Aaron responded in a totally acceptable way to the Lord.
We read in verse 6, "So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly [straight] to the door of the tabernacle of meeting." They went to go seek the Lord. And in seeking the Lord, they had the right attitude, the right heart. "They fell on their faces and what happened?"The glory of the Lord appeared to them."
It got even better, God then speaks to Moses, "saying, '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,' "all of these people who were complaining, "'out of the rock; and give drink to the congregation and to their animals.' "They're going to have more than enough for themselves, so much that their animals are going to be able to drink. And so from there, "Moses took the rod from before the Lord as he had commanded him."
Starts off great, doesn't it? Wow, they fell on their faces at the door of tabernacle of meeting. That was a great habit that Moses had. We can find that in Numbers 14 verse 5, and also in chapter 16 in three places in that chapter: verse 4, verse 22, and verse 45. That in response to people's complaints, because this wasn't the first time they were doing it, Moses had that godly response.
God's glory appears to them, God speaks to them. Not only does he speak to them, he gives them a solution to the problem. I want you to note the very merciful, gracious, and gentle tone in God's response. Consider how the people were acting toward Moses. Did the people deserve this response from God? No way.
But you know what God does here? He represents himself to the people with the same heart as that of the father in the story that Jesus gives us of the Prodigal Son when the prodigal son returned home. God's being merciful, and gracious, and gentle to these people who do not deserve it.
So from here you would think everything worked out just fine, instead what happens is this is precisely where the wheels fell off. Moses' and Aaron's lids were flipped. The veil was pulled back, their sleeves were rolled up, all the stops were lifted, no holds were barred from these two men as Moses then explodes in anger.
Verse 10, "And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and Moses said to the people, 'Hear now, you rebels!' "You rebellious people." 'Must we bring water for you out of this rock?' "What happens? It's an example of a leader taking matters into his own hands.
And, friend, I can tell you if any of us are at a place where we're willing to take matters into our own hands, and wanting to do things our own way as opposed to the ways of the Lord, you know what? God will often allow you to do that. It won't be blessed, and it won't be without severe consequence, but he'll let you do it.
What else do we have here? We have two men becoming more consumed with being right in their own eyes than being righteousness representations of the Lord. Furthermore, we have two men representing their own interests ahead of the interests of God. And again, friend, if you're bent on pursuing your own agenda in life, God will often allow you to do it. It won't will blessed, and it won't be without consequence, but he'll allow you to go your way just as he allowed these two men to flip their lids here to the people of Israel. Consequently, what happens is they're misrepresenting the Lord.
I want you to consider again how clearly God instructed them. This is how it was supposed to look: "Moses take the rod. You and your brother Aaron gather the congregation and stand before them being next to this specific rock, right in front of them so everybody could see. And I want you to speak to the rock and water's going to come out. And it's going to be water enough for the people and their animals to drink." What we have here, friends, is a severe failure of leadership.
What happened? They castigated the people. The word castigate it's not often used, but it's very rich in meaning; it means a very severe reprimand or a harsh criticism. And that's what they did to these people; they call them "rebels." Does anybody with me hear the irony in their statement? Rebels? "Moses, you were supposed to speak to the rock; rather, you spoke to the people." Moses and Aaron together had just now joined the company of the rebellious; they themselves had become rebels in their own right.
Not only did they speak to the people instead of speaking to the rock, they spoke very inconsiderate and harsh words. Turn with me to Psalm 106 where we find a fascinating commentary way in the book of Psalms about this very episode; Psalm 106 verse 32 and verse 33. Check this out, of this time we read, "They angered him [the Lord] also at the waters of strife."
Now in verse 13 there's a references that these were the waters of Meribah. Meribah means place of strife, and so that's where it's made mention here as the waters of strife. "They angered him [the Lord] also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses on account of them; because they rebelled against his Spirit." Who does the psalmist say that Moses and Aaron were rebelling against? The very Spirit of God. They disregarded God's clear instruction and spoke to them inappropriately. "They rebelled against his Spirit, so that he [Moses] spoke rashly with his lips."
A number of us on staff were in the hearing of a message given this past week by a guest who was here to speak to the staff where he said something that struck a chord with a lot of us. He said, "In any group, in any gathering, the church included, you're going to have one of two people. You're going to have either encouragers or evaluators." Moses and Aaron were not encouragers here, they were evaluating the people of Israel, and their evaluation was that these people were rebellious and they needed to be punished, to be reprimanded.
Not only did they castigate the people, they also themselves complained. They're responding to these contentious people by themselves becoming contentious. Thomas Brooks said it well, he said, "Complaining uncrowns a man." It takes away their dignity and their honor. And so as Moses is flipping his lid here, it's as if he's taking this crown of honor and just throwing it to the ground.
Notice their biting sarcasm: "Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" We? Not a humble heart there. It's the Lord bringing the water out, you're just his instrument. You're just his, his tool. You know, sadly this was a complaint against God, and it wasn't the first time Moses had done so. I don't want you to turn there, but you can read in Numbers 11 verses 10 through 15 that Moses again had complained to God severely.
In fact, let me just read to you verses 14 and 15. This came right after the people of Israel were complaining that they didn't have any meat. And Moses is thinking, "Meat? Where do you people think I'm going to get meat here in the wilderness?" This is Moses' response to God, he says, "God, I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now." Wow! What a great example of faith and honor, right? "Just kill me here and now."
"If I have found favor in your sight," just take my life, "and don't let me see my wretchedness!" You see at this time I can imagine that if, if Moses and Aaron rolled up in a chariot to this event, they would have probably had one of those sacrileges bumper stickers on the back of the chariot that said, "God, save me from your people." [laughter],
And they were spent and they were done. They complained not only to God, but obviously to the people. You see, prior to this episode Moses' complaining was to God directly. Now, that which was done in private went public. You know what this shows you? Moses had a root of bitterness that never got addressed, and now that root [pop] is sprouting to where others can see it.
What were they doing? These people were contending back with the people, returning strife for strife. You might ask, "Where did this come from Moses? Why so angry?" Consider a few things: this is the fortieth year, forty years of accumulated anger and frustration at these people who were habitually rebellious, contentious, disgruntled.
It certainly doesn't justify Moses' response, but it does provide some context for us to be able to maybe go something like this, "Hey, Moses, that wasn't right what you did, but on a human level I can relate. I can relate." And some of us who are parents of children say, "I can relate." Those who are leaders of ministries even within church can say, "I can relate."
Here's another place this anger might have come from. Perhaps Moses didn't want God to give a gracious response like he did. You see, in times past when the people complained, God's response was often to punish the people. God didn't do that this time and maybe Moses wasn't happy about that. So he thought, "If God's not going to do it, I'm going to do it." He forgot the truth which says, "Vengeance is mine," thus says, "the Lord, I will repay." At this point he was all too eager to have this attitude: "Hey, if vengeance is yours, Lord, I just want to do your work. Let me at 'em." [laughter]
Well, what do we have here? We have a bad situation that got even worse. What did Moses end up having? Friends, this is the first time I've ever used this phrase, but it just fits. Moses had a conniption fit. What's a conniption fit? I, I studied it further, get this, it differs from a hissy fit in that a conniption fit is usually associated with anger or panic expressed verbally, loudly, and with overt physical gestures.
What do we have here? We have Moses not only speaking these words to the people, but he then takes the rod, and we read in verse 11 that "He lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals then drank." What happened? Moses totally lost his temper. The children of Israel had officially gotten his goat. He was pushed beyond his limit.
He strikes the rock. This word strike is the Hebrew word nakah. What does it mean? Check this out, it means to smite, to attack, or to beat as if to slay. That guy is going off on this rock. [laughter] It's not bad enough that he strikes it once, but for effect, perhaps, he strikes it twice. Did God say strike the rock? He said, "Speak to the rock."
Check this out, not only was this a temper tantrum that cast God in a very negative light, I want you to consider even further why this was so appalling. This rock was a symbol of God's presence. It was a symbol of God's grace. It was a symbol of God's provision. Furthermore, I want you to turn to First Corinthians 10 verse 4. We're also going to read in that verse that this rock symbolized Christ. Think of that, he's beating that symbol of Christ. It's almost as if he could hit God, he would have hit God.
First Corinthians 10 verse 4, "And all drank," referring to Old Testament examples, "of that spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ." Wow! In verse 5 it then says, "But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness." Referring to those six hundred thousand people that had died over that period of four decades because of their contentious heart toward God and toward his leadership.
G. Campbell Morgan says of this episode: "By this manifestation of anger, which as we've said was so very natural to Moses." That's perhaps even one of the more frightening things about it, is it just seemed to happen so naturally. Morgan goes on to say, "The servant of God misrepresented God to the people. His failure was due to fact that for the moment his faith failed to reach the highest level of activity. He still believed in God, and in God's power, but he didn't believe him to sanctify, he didn't believe him to sanctify him in the eyes of his people.
"The lesson is indeed a very searching one. Right things may be done in so wrong a way as to produce evil results. There's a hymn in which we may miss a very deep meaning, if we're not thoughtful about how we understand it. The hymn goes: 'Lord, speak to me that I may speak in living echoes of thy tone.' That is far more than a prayer that we may be able to deliver the Lord's message. It is rather that we may do so in his tone, and with his temper. That's where Moses failed, and for this failure," Morgan concludes, "he was excluded from the land."
What were these mistakes? Well, not only did he lose his temper, but there's something deeper here. And God points out two core sources of why Moses misrepresented him, and we find those in verse 12, the mistakes that lead to misrepresenting the Lord. After this episode: "Then the Lord 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.' "
Here's two things you want to avoid, friends, so that we don't misrepresent the Lord. You want to avoid unbelief like they have. Their unbelief wasn't in the power of God, it was in obedience to the will of God. You see, they had ironically committed the very same sins that the children of Israel had committed thirty-eight years earlier that resulted in God promising to the children of Israel that existed in that generation they were not going to enter into the Promised Land.
They resisted God and rebelled against God; their punishment was the same: "Moses and Aaron, you're not going to enter either." They were then put under divine restriction. In effect, God withdrew their office of leader of the people from them. They're going to lead up to a point, but not all the way to the end.
Not only did they have unbelief that we want to avoid, but we also want to avoid dishonoring the Lord: not hallowing, not sanctifying, not setting the Lord apart in how we conduct ourselves. What did they fail to do? They failed to simply do as they were told. You know that this is both the job of the leader and of a follower. Just do what you're told. Just do what you're told. Their actions, therefore, put God in a negative light, one that wasn't hallowed, one that wasn't holy and righteous, and in doing so they gave the people the wrong impression about God.
So, how about you? How about us? Within the context of those that we lead, how are we in the leading of our family? Do we choose to take matters into our own hands? Do we choose to represent our own interests ahead of the interests of the Lord? Do we choose to put God in a negative light conveying to our spouses or our children that God is different than we read of him in the Scripture by how we conduct ourselves and interact with them?
How about in how we lead those in a ministry we might have oversight of, or perhaps a crew, or a team that we lead? How about just being one who leads by example. Friends, never lose sight of the fact that we're earthly representations of the Lord, and that needs to be seen by how we lead others.
You know, this ends on a good note, verse 13, it says this ended up being the waters of Meribah, place of strife. "Because the children of Israel contended with the Lord," yes, we learned about that but, "God was hallowed among them." What, what does God do? He provides the water, he gives them water, and in doing so he self-vindicates his holiness.
Here's a few takeaways for us. I'm going to give them to you in the form of one "could've" and three "should'ves." The first could've: Moses and Aaron could've been ambassadors for the Lord, proactively diplomatic. How could they have done that? By simply doing that which they were told, and by doing it in the spirit in which the Lord had commanded it to be done, that's it.
Don't turn there, let me just share with you these exhortations from the New Testament. Second Timothy 2 verses 24 through 26, "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they might know the truth, and that they might come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will."
And yet again in Galatians 6 verses 1 and 2, just let these words sink into our hearts. "Brethren, if a man is over taken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." They could've done that.
Also the congregation should've trusted the Lord that it was the Lord that was leading their leaders. They could've prayed for their leadership. They could've just trusted God with their leadership. Hebrew 13:17 gives all of us this, this command. It says, "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive for they watch out for your souls as those who must give an account, let them do so with joy and not with grief for that would be unprofitable for you."
They also, of Moses and Aaron, should've not allowed the Lord's matter to become personal. Pastor Chuck founder of Calvary Chapel has a famous saying to his pastors. He says, "Hey, pastors, if you have to stand alone, stand alone." Be willing to stand alone. That's because a godly leader understands that at best her or she is just an instrument of the Lord. It's not about them. It's ultimately not their business, it's the Lord's business to lead his people through them.
And lastly, Moses and Aaron should've entrusted the people to the Lord leaving the results to God even in the face of great contention.
We're going to finish where we started from with that last song that we sang before our time in the Word. And it's with considering the title of that song I have to believe. Friend, I leave you with this thought: we have to believe. I leave you with this word: maintain faith in the Lord.
And let me put it to you in these two simple ways, if you're a leader, have faith in God. No matter how contentious the people might be, no matter how dire the circumstance looks, have faith in God. And take these words from Leighton Ford who said, "Belief, belief is not faith without evidence, but rather it's commitment without reservation; commitment without reservation."
And lastly, all of us are followers. We're all under someone's leadership on this side of heaven, and for those of us, have faith in God as you follow the Lord's leadership. You see, the children of Israel, they thought a lot, they reasoned a lot, and they had all these seemingly good reasons to bring this contention before Moses and Aaron, and none of it was good enough. They would have done well to know what Spurgeon says to us, "Faith is reason at rest in God."
So, Lord, we leave this matter before you and ask, God, that you would be merciful and gracious to us. Grant us the faith to lead. Grant us the faith to follow you and those you have given us as leaders that by doing so we can have peace internally, peace with you, and peace with one another. We ask all this in the name of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.