Vol. 8, No. 3
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Who could blame Moses for being distraught as he attempted to lead rebellious Israel through the wilderness of Sinai toward Canaan (Numbers 20:10)? Moses didn't want the job and tried to avoid the mission on which God sent him (Exodus 3-4). Israel fought the lead of God through Moses all along the way (Exodus 15:23-25, waters of Marah; Exodus 16:2-3, complained for food; Exodus 17:2-7, complained of thirst at Rephidim; Exodus 32, golden calf; Numbers 14:1-5, murmuring over report of the 10 spies; Numbers 16:1-40, rebellion of Korah and 250 other princes; Numbers 16:41-50, murmuring because former complainers died). Israel was murmuring against Moses and Aaron once more in Numbers 20:1-13.
God, though, did not chastise Moses for exhibiting frustration, but God punished him for disobeying him (Numbers 20:7-12; Psalm 106:32-33).
The command (Num 20:8) was "Speak ye unto the rock." The act of smiting, and especially with two strokes, indicates violent irritation on the part of Moses; as does also his unseemly mode of addressing the people: "Hear now, ye rebels." The form too of the question, "must we, etc.," directs the people not, as ought to have been the case, to God as their deliverer, but to Moses and Aaron personally. In fact the faithful servant of God, worn out by the reiterated perversities of the people, breaks down; and in the actual discharge of his duty as God's representative before Israel, acts unworthily of the great function entrusted to him. Thus, Moses did not "sanctify God in the eyes of the children of Israel." Aaron might have checked the intemperate words and acts of Moses, and did not. Hence, God punishes both by withdrawing them from their work for Him, and handing over its accomplishment to another. (Barnes')
Aaron and Moses experienced "momentary wavering" (Keil & Delitzsch).
Instead of speaking to the rock with the rod of God in his hand, as God directed him, he spoke to the congregation, and in…inconsiderate words...In the ill-will expressed in these words the weakness of faith was manifested, by which the faithful servant of God, worn out with the numerous temptations, allowed himself to be overcome, so that he stumbled, and did not sanctify the Lord before the eyes of the people, as he ought to have done. Aaron also wavered along with Moses, inasmuch as he did nothing to prevent Moses' fall. But their sin became a grievous one, from the fact that they acted unworthily of their office. God punished them, therefore, by withdrawing their office from them before they had finished the work entrusted to them. They were not to conduct the congregation into the promised land, and therefore were not to enter in themselves (cf. Num 27:12-13; Deut 32:48 ff.). (Keil & Delitzsch)
"...they were doomed not to cross the Jordan or to enter the land of promise" (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown); see also Numbers 20:22-29 (Aaron) and Deuteronomy 34:1-6.
Imagine reluctantly taking a job you did not want (at the age of 80), being verbally abused constantly by the people you're leading, putting up with the inconveniences of wandering in a desert wilderness for 40 years, and then upon arriving at an Eden-like land not allowed to enter. That's the retirement years of the man we know as Moses.
The relationship between faith and obedience is so close that the two concepts cannot be separated within Christianity. Scripture demonstrates that faith and obedience are inseparable aspects of Christianity.
Romans 11:30-32 illustrates the essential sameness of faith and obedience. The Greek words for "unbelief" and "not believed" in these three verses are translated as "unbelief" (Romans 11:30, 32; Hebrews 4:6, 11) and "disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6; Colossians 3:6), "believeth not" (John 3:36; Acts 17:5; 19:9; Hebrews 3:18; 11:31), "unbelieving" (Acts 14:2), "not obey" (Romans 2:8; 1 Pet. 3:1; 4:17) and "disobedient" (Romans 10:21; 1 Peter 2:7-8; 3:20). That is 13 times 'unbelief' and 10 times 'disobedient' of 23 occurrences in the Greek New Testament. The ASV translates Romans 11:30-32 with the word "disobedience" in each instance the KJV in this passage uses the word "unbelief" or "not believed."
Obedience is a key element of God-given religion, including Christianity. Jesus saves the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-9; Romans 6:17; 2 Corinthians 10:5). Jesus will punish the disobedient upon his Second Coming (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 1 Peter 4:17). The result of the proper kind of love for God is obedience (John 14:15 ASV, 21). Obedience (works) is the natural result of the right kind of faith (Jam. 2:14-26). God rebuked Moses and Aaron in Numbers 20:12 for not sanctifying God before the people by obeying him (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).
Noting the near sameness of faith and obedience, it is no wonder then that God rebuked Moses and Aaron for their unbelief when they disobeyed God (Hebrews 3:16-19). The incident in Numbers 20:1-13 illustrates the seriousness of disobeying God even in matters that through human judgment we might view as insignificant. Leviticus 10:1-2 is another example of what might appear to us as a little thing (of disobedience) that had serious consequences.
Jesus remarked during his ministry that he is the Lord of those who obey him (Luke 6:46). Jesus Christ is not your Lord if you have not obeyed Jesus (Mark 16:16). Jesus Christ is not your Lord if after being baptized for the remission of your sins you are not faithfully worshipping God, practicing godly living and serving God as he has directed (1 John 1:9).
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. New Updated Edition. CD-ROM. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996.