Robbing God of Glory

23 “And I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26 But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’ 29 So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.” – Deuteronomy 3:23-29 ESV

For more than 40 years, Moses had been the God-appointed leader of the people of Israel. He had been the one God had chosen to rescue His people from their captivity in Egypt and to lead them across the wilderness to the land of Canaan. Now, the long-awaited ay to enter the land had arrived and Moses would not be going with them. But why?

Verse 23 opens up with Moses recounting a conversation he had with God, where he pleaded that he be allowed the privilege and pleasure of entering the land of promise. Moses knew what God had already decided and had lived with the knowledge of his ban from the land for some time. It all began at a place called the Wilderness of Zin on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Moses had just recently buried his sister, Miriam and was still dealing with the grief over his loss. But this didn’t stop the people of Israel from coming to Moses with their most recent complaint.

There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the Lord’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!” – Numbers 20:2-5 NLT

They were literally “unhappy campers” and they voiced their complaint to Moses. In doing so, they accused Moses of trying to kill them. They questioned his leadership by stating that he had somehow managed to guide them one of the most uninhabitable places on the face of the earth.

Frustrated by yet another wave of grumbling and complaining from his wards, Moses went straight to the tabernacle in order to seek guidance from God. He was at a loss as to how to respond to his ungrateful followers. And the Lord told Moses exactly what to do.

“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” – Numbers 20:8 NLT

God gave Moses very specific instructions. And the text tells us that “Moses did as he was told.” But did he? The book of Numbers records exactly what Moses did and provides the explanation for his eventual ban from entering the land. 

He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. – Numbers 20:9-11 NLT

Moses was angry. He was put out with the people and fed up with their constant complaining and their unpleasant habit of blaming all their problems on him. So, he took this opportunity to do a bit of grandstanding before these ungrateful and unworthy whiners. You can tell what Moses thought about them by how he addressed them. He called them rebels. The Hebrew word, marah, carries the idea of bitterness or unpleasantness. These people were difficult to live with because they were always complaining about everything. They were ungrateful and disrespectful and Moses had had his fill of them. But he allowed his anger with the people to get the best of him, and rather than do what God had told him to do, Moses improvised. He raised the rod over his head and brought it down in rage, striking the rock two times. Rather than speaking to the rock as God had instructed him to do, Moses took out his anger on the rock.

Amazingly, in spite of Moses’ disobedience, water flowed from the rock just as God had promised. But as Moses watched the miracle of the water flowing from a rock, he heard these fateful words from God.

“Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” – Numbers 20:12 NLT

Like the burning bush where Moses first met with God, this rock was going to be a symbol of God’s presence and power. In fact, the apostle Paul would later explain that the rock was Jesus Himself.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 NLT

God had manifested His presence in a variety of ways, including the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The manna was another proof of God’s presence and provision. And now, the rock was to have been yet another sign of God’s miraculous power and gracious, life-giving presence.

In striking the rock, Moses took out his anger on God. He lashed out at Savior of his people. And yet, the life-giving water still flowed and the peoples’ thirst was slacked. But why was God so angry with Moses? Couldn’t He understand the frustration Moses must have felt? Yes, God most certainly understood what Moses was going through. After all, the complaints of the people were ultimately aimed at Him. But there is something telling in how Moses spoke to the people that day. He gathered them together and said, “Must we bring you water from this rock?”

Moses was attempting to take credit for something God was going to do. In a sense, he was telling the people, “So, you want to question my leadership? Well, watch this!”

He was hoping to use the power of God to bolster his own reputation among the people. Rather than pointing the people to the majesty and holiness of God, he attempted to steal some of God’s thunder. He wanted the people to respect him. But God does not share His glory with anyone.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.” – Isaiah 42:8 NLT

Moses was guilty of setting himself up as a god. He wanted the people to worship and fear him. He was attempting to portray himself as their source of sustenance. He was the one who was meeting their needs. This was a dangerous game to play. Moses was supposed to be pointing the people to God, but in striking the rock, Moses showed disrespect for God.

There is another interesting insight found in the account in Numbers. The whole episode is summarized by the following statement:

This place was known as the waters of Meribah (which means “arguing”) because there the people of Israel argued with the Lord, and there he demonstrated his holiness among them. – Numbers 20:13 NLT

Notice those last seven words: “There he demonsrated his holiness among them.” In spite of Moses’ disobedience, God revealed His holiness. He displayed His “otherness” or transcendence. The Hebrew word translated as “holiness” is qadash. It means “to show oneself sacred or majestic” (“H6942 – qadash – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible.). Through His miraculous provision of water from an ordinary rock, God was demonstrating His set-apartness. In the same way He caused manna to appear each morning and quail to fall from the sky, God was revealing to the people just how powerful He was. He was fully capable of meeting all their needs and He wanted them to trust Him.

But Moses had tried to steal God’s glory and make it his own. And God made perfectly clear what Moses’ sin was. He told Moses that he was guilty of “failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes” (Numbers 27:13 ESV). Moses was guilty of trying to use God as a prop or tool to reinforce his own significance.

We can see the gravity of this particular sin by looking at the severe consequences it incurred. Moses was banned from the land of promise.

“…because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 32:51-52 ESV

But there’s one more interesting insight into Moses’ outlook on his punishment from God. When informing the people of Israel about his fate, he blamed them.

“But the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he would not listen to me.” – Deuteronomy 3:26 NLT

Not exactly the truth. God had been angry with Moses because Moses had allowed his anger with the people to cause him to steal glory from God. But Moses was not the savior of the people of Israel. He was not their deliverer. God had never intended Moses to be their provider. Moses was nothing more than a servant of the Almighty, and his job was to point the people to the one who had promised to rescue, lead, and provide for them. It was God who would go before the people into the land of promise, not Moses.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Tested By God.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. – Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV

This story deserves a second look. There are four little words that should raise a certain amount of suspicion and create a bit of confusion in our minds – “when he was tested.” The account of this story found  in Genesis says, “After these things God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1 ESV). God tested Abraham. The Hebrew word for “tested” is nacah and it can mean “to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test” (Hebrew Lexicon :: H5254 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. Web. 8 Feb, 2016). We might ask ourselves, why would a good God test Abraham? We might also ask why an omniscient, all-knowing God would have to test Abraham. What was the purpose of the test? Was it to prove, test or try Abraham’s faith? Wouldn’t God have already known what the outcome of such a test would be? Didn’t he already have a ram ready to serve as a substitute offering in place of Isaac? Was God really waiting to see what Abraham would do? It would seem that God was testing Abraham, not for His own enlightenment, but for Abraham’s. God already knew the outcome. The psalmist would have us remember that God is all-knowing.

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

God did not need to know what Abraham would do. But Abraham needed to know what God would do when he was fully obedient – even in the face of an impossible, illogical request. The test was for him. There is another story that speaks of God’s testing. It is found in the book of Exodus. It took place early in the story, immediately after their deliverance from Israel and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea.

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them – Exodus 15:22-25 ESV

In recording this event, Moses used the same Hebrew word, nacah. God tested them. But notice the difference between the two stories. In this case, the people, who had just witnessed God’s divine deliverance, arrive at Marah and immediately begin to complain about the lack of water. Remember, they had seen God send ten plagues on the people of Egypt. They had seen Him destroy Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. But when they found themselves in the wilderness without water, they grumbled and complained, saying, “What shall we drink?” They didn’t even take their problem to God, the one who had delivered them. They complained to Moses. And Moses took the need to God. Despite their complaining, God took care of their need and provided them with sweet water. There he tested them. But again, who was the test for? Did God not know how they were going to react? Was He not fully aware of their hearts and completely unsurprised by their reaction? Wasn’t He the one who led them right to that spot, fully knowing that there was no water? This was a test for them.

And God, after providing them with drinkable water, said to them, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer” (Exodus 15:26 ESV). God wanted them to know that He could be trusted. He wanted them to know that He was all-powerful. He was testing their knowledge of Him and their faith in Him – for their benefit. The lack of water at Meribah showed them that they did not really know or trust God. It revealed their lack of faith. When they had stood on the banks of the Red Sea with the army of Pharaoh bearing down on them, Moses had told them, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). And God had delivered them. But as soon as they faced their first problem, they doubted God. They failed the test.

But Abraham passed his test – with flying colors. God was not surprised. He knew Abraham would be obedient. He even had a ram caught in a thicket to serve as the stand-in for Isaac. But that day Abraham learned a great deal about himself and about His God. His faith grew. His hope in God’s promises increased. His conviction in the things promised by God, but not yet seen, deepened. The test was for Abraham’s benefit, not God’s. He learned what true obedience to God looks and feels like. In a way, Abraham was testing the faithfulness of God, counting on Him to come through. He even told his son, Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). He was putting all his faith in God, counting on Him to spare his son or even raise him back to life should he have to follow through with God’s command. God was not testing Abraham in order to see what he would do. The test was so that Abraham could see what God would do and grow in his faith. The apostle Peter gives us an insight into the tests we face in this life.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

Like Abraham, our faith will be tested at times. We will find ourselves facing situations and circumstances that will reveal whether our “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Will we allow the lack of water to cause us to complain? Will we balk at God’s seemingly unreasonable request and refuse? God knows what we will do? He is never surprised. But the question is whether we know what God will do? And are we willing to trust Him with the outcome? Paul gives us a word of encouragement.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

The Danger of Disbelief.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. – Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV

Reaching back into the pages of the Old Testament narrative, the author quotes from Psalm 95, using the history of people of Israel as a life lesson for his Hebrew audience. The psalmist recounts the story of Israel’s rebellion against God during their journey from Egypt to the promised land. Under the direction of God, they had reached a place called Rephidim, and after setting up camp the discovered, “there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’” (Exodus 17:1-2 ESV). Moses’ response was to ask them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2 ESV). But driven by their physical thirst, they demanded, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3 ESV). The people were so angry with Moses that he feared for his life, suspecting that they would stone him. But God told Moses, “‘Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and 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. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Exodus 17:5-7 ESV). That last line is key to understanding the story and to grasping the point that the author of Hebrews is trying to make. Influenced by the negative nature of their circumstances and their own physical desires, they doubted the presence, power and provision of God. This was in spite of all He had done to deliver them from Egypt and secure their freedom from slavery. The miracles of the ten plagues and the wonder of the Red Sea crossing faded into oblivion at the first sign of trouble. Suddenly, their God was no match for their personal problems. And they grumbled. They complained. They revealed their ingratitude for all that God had done. And yet, in the face of their rebellion, God graciously provided them with water – from a rock. The apostle Paul provides with insight into what was going on behind the scenes.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 NLT

The rock was Christ. It was a representation of the mercy and grace of God that would one day be expressed through the gift of His Son. Moses was instructed to strike the rock. The rock was beaten and from it came living water. God provided for them the very thing for which they had grumbled and complained. But while they “drank the same spiritual water,” God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. They never made it to the land of promise, the place of rest. The psalmist clearly portrays the anger of God with those who had doubted His saving power. “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known “my ways.” Therefore, I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (Psalm 95:10-11 ESV).

The letter to the Hebrews provides us with the application. “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ” (Hebrews 3:12-14 NLT). The author is not suggesting that we can lose our salvation. But he warns against having “evil and unbelieving” hearts. The danger the Jewish believers in his audience face is turning away from the saving grace provided by God through Jesus Christ and returning to their old, familiar faith in Judaism. Warren Wiersbe writes, “every believer is tempted to give up his confession of Christ and go back into the world system’s life of compromise and bondage.” Again, this is not about losing our salvation, but missing out on all that God has promised us as believers in this life. By turning away from God and doubting the sufficiency of His Son’s saving work, F. F. Bruce provides with the context: “a relapse from Christianity into Judaism would be comparable to the action of the Israelites when they ‘turned back in their hearts unto Egypt’ (Acts 7:30); it would not be a mere return to a position previously occupied, but a gesture of outright apostasty, a complete break with God’ (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews).

There will always be the temptation to doubt God and return to whatever way of life we lived before. We may even be tempted to try something completely new and different, other than the walk of faith. That is why the writer of Hebrews warns us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). The issue is one of unbelief. That is why we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’’ (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). We need to encourage one another to keep the faith, to remain committed to the cause of Christ. We must not allow circumstances or our own personal passions to drive us away from God and back to the false promises of this world. We must continue to believe in and rest on the promises of God, in spite of all we see happening around us. As the writer of Hebrews puts it a little later on in this letter, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).