Thou answeredst them, O Jehovah our God: Thou wast a God that forgavest them, Though thou tookest vengeance of their doings.
I think, perhaps, the hardest part of being a parent is learning how to balance the necessity for discipline of our children and our love for them. We want to let go and forgive them everything, but we know that if we do they will never grow into mature and responsible people. As hard as it is to punish our children, we are charged with helping them learn how to do what is good and right and true. It isnít any easier for God, but sometimes punishment is a part of how God deals with His people.
The psalmist writes, ďThough thou tookest vengeance of their doings.Ē The story from the Old Testament lesson is one of those moments. Moses was the chosen one of God. He led Godís people out of Egypt and through the wilderness for forty years. He stood in the presence of God. He received the Law and gave it to the people. He sought Godís help for the people over and over again. Every time they complained about the lack of food or water, every time they grumbled, Moses asked God to help in their stead. He was an incredible man of God, faithful and obedient. And yet, he was just a man and he failed.
We see the reason in Deuteronomy 32:51 ďÖbecause ye trespassed against me in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah of Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.Ē He was faithful and obedient, but not perfectly. In the desert, the people complained about the lack of water. This wasnít the first time. Earlier in the desert wandering, the people grumbled about their thirst and God told Moses to go in front of the people to the rock at Horeb (Sinai.) There Moses was to take his staff, strike the rock and water would come out. (Exodus 17)
In Numbers 20, the people were complaining again, this time in the Desert of Zin. God specifically commanded Moses to speak to the rock, Moses was angry. Instead of approaching the rock trusting in Godís word, he approached with a determination to prove to the people that they will get what they do not deserve. Instead of speaking forth the water, he struck the rock twice.
I was always bothered by the fact that he was supposed to strike the rock the first time, but not the second. How could God find fault with something He had commanded Moses to do on another occasion? What was the difference? At Horeb, the people are newly freed from Egypt. They didnít know God; they hadnít yet spent forty years relying on Him. They did not even have the Tablets of the Law. The second rock was at the end of their journey. After forty years, the people of Israel had seen the incredible power and mercy of God. They were fed out of nothing. Water poured from a rock. Even their shoes did not wear out. And at this moment, they were close to entering into the land God promised to their forefathers.
It is absolutely necessary for us to trust Godís word above all else. God is gracious, and He is merciful, but faith is by hearing, not by sight. And so, at this important juncture in the story of Israel, God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. Moses, following his base instincts and his anger, struck the rock, instead.
God told Moses, ďBecause ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.Ē Imagine the scene. Moses stood by the rock and hit it twice with his staff. What would you believe? Would you believe that it is the word that made the water flow? Or would you believe that Moses caused it to come? Who would you thank for that water? God commanded Moses to speak the word, and in doing so he would have shown God to be holy and powerful. Instead, Moses showed himself to be holy and powerful. This is why Moses could not enter into the Promised Land.
As it is, the Jewish people already held Moses in very high regard. Even to the days of Jesus, Moses was seen as more than just the man who led them out of Egypt. He was the deliverer. He was the lawgiver. They knew God was behind it, but they gave the credit to Moses. If God had allowed him to go on, they might have made him like a god, but Moses was just a man. He was a man chosen and gifted by God to do great and wonderful things, but he was just a man.
And so for his faithlessness, Moses was buried on the other side of the Jordan. He was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. However, God is gracious and merciful: He gave Moses the chance to see it. Moses died with the reality of Godís faithfulness in his sight. God did what God promised Abraham He would do. His people were home after four hundred years, after slavery, after forty years of wandering.
Even death for Moses was merciful. Can you imagine going through life with the burden of being the one on whom everyone relies, especially when they have an extraordinary expectation? How could a man like Moses be like a god? It didnít matter how humble he was, or how much he repeatedly told the people that they should trust in God: they preferred the tangible presence of Moses. How do you trust something, or someone, that you canít see? Moses was there. They could go to him, talk to him, and see him work. Trusting God requires faith in the unseen, unheard, and unproven.
The Jews looked to Moses as their salvation and hope, for he had delivered them from Egypt and given them the Law. Yet in looking to Moses they missed the One who was greater; they missed the One who had created Moses and was worthy of the worship they gave to a servant.
Despite his faithlessness, there was something extraordinary about Moses. Though he died and was buried, his tomb has never been found. As someone once said, ďGod buried him and then buried his grave.Ē This has led to an understanding that Moses did not die, but was taken to heaven, although we know this is not true because the scriptures tell us Moses did die.
Yet, in todayís Gospel lesson, we see Moses again. Despite his faithlessness at that one moment in time, God still honors the work Moses did in obedience to Godís call. Moses may have failed, but he was also faithful. Isnít that true of all of us? We all respond faithfully to the call of God, but we often fail. Sometimes we even do things that seem to put us ahead of God. Like Moses in the desert, we strike the rock as if we are the ones who are bringing forth the water. Yet, though Moses was dead, he lived.
Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain to pray. These three were the center of His ministry, always nearby. Despite their importance to Jesus and to the rest of us today, they are as human as Moses and us. What were they doing while Jesus prayed? They were sleeping. How often do we find ourselves so exhausted by the journey of life that we end up sleeping through the best parts?
They woke up just in time to see Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus. What a strange and wonderful vision this must have been for them. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets and it was believed would come again to announce the Messiah. Moses had experienced the presence of God so completely that he was transformed by it, and in those encounters he was given the Law by which Godís people were expected to live. They began the work of God, but Jesus finished it. They delivered and redeemed Godís people for a season, but Jesus did it forever. Jesus was the one who revealed Godís mercy and grace, the true deliverer of the people. Jesus glorifies God and gives us a hope that will last beyond this day into eternal life.
Perhaps the faces of Moses and Elijah offer a glimpse of the eternal life we receive through Jesus Christ. Imagine the scene that Peter, James and John witnessed. Jesus was glowing with a light that is beyond human description. His clothes were changed, as well as His countenance. He was with the two great men of IsraelóMoses and Elijahóand they were talking to Jesus as if they were neighbors chatting over the back fence. It is no wonder that Peter was excited by the scene, and that he wanted to memorialize it in some way.
Peter, James and John saw the reality of Jesus on that mountain. They saw Him in His glory; they heard Godís voice declare Jesus as the beloved One. But they followed Him to His destinyógloryóonly to find out that the brilliance and magnificence of that moment was fleeting. Peter did not want it to end. He did not know what to do with the experience, except perhaps to grasp onto it as a symbol of the hope they had that Jesus was to be the One sent to save them from their earthly troubles. Peter offered to build a permanent structure, tabernacles for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. He didnít know what he was saying.
Peter was interrupted by a voice from heaven. A cloud came down and covered them and they were afraid. ďThis is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.Ē The voice does not command the disciples to bow down and worship Jesus, to follow Him or even obey Him. God commanded the disciples to hear Him. They were to listen to Jesus. Godís word matters and it is Jesus who speaks Godís word with faithfulness. We are to believe and do whatever He says.
How does God speak to us? The psalmist reminds us that God spoke to the Israelites through the pillar of cloud and through His priests. He spoke to them through His Law. ďThey kept his testimonies, And the statute that he gave them.Ē In later times, God spoke through His prophets. Moses and Elijah represent the people God chose to speak His words to the people. And then God sent His Son. Now, we hear Godís words through the stories of Jesus, through the scriptures, through the people who are still called to preach and teach today. God speaks through our priests, pastors, preachers, missionaries, prophets and teachers. He speaks through other Christians. He speaks through us. Unfortunately, we often become confused about what is real and what is our own response to the circumstances in which we live. Moses hit the rock because he was frustrated by the continued faithlessness of the people, and in doing so showed his own faithlessness. Peter offered to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah because he didnít want the moment to end, and in doing so ignored the true ministry to which he was called.
We look to our pastors and leaders to help us to understand Godís Word, but we often confuse our trust in them with faith in God, and then follow teachings that lead us in the wrong direction. We are not called to follow men, but to follow Jesus. We are faithless like Moses and Peter when we trust our pastors, institutions, doctrines and programs more than we trust God.
There are many in our world today that have found themselves struggling because they know there is good reason to leave a church, but they canít because something is holding them there. They have roots. They have family. They built the church with their sweat and their material possessions. It is understandable. We are afraid to let go because those things have been our foundation and our hope. But there comes a moment when we have to realize that we have placed our trust in something less than God.
It is easy to become confused by the voices we hear. Which one is God? Who is telling me the truth? Do I understand what the scriptures mean or am I putting my own spin on Godís Word? The one thing we know for sure is that Godís mercy is found only in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews says, ďFor every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God.Ē God does not negate the ministry of those who are sent to be like Moses or Elijah, but He reminds us that there is one greater. Jesus is our hope and our salvation and more worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, for He has built the house.
If we rely on the words and ministries of those who are sent, we are trusting in man above God. Or if we put ourselves and our ministries above Godís Word, we are trusting in man above God. But God is gracious. Even when we are faithless, He is faithful. We may suffer the consequences of misfocused trust, but God will let us see the Promised Land. And though Moses did not enter with the people when they finally crossed the Jordan, He was not forgotten by God. He was still honored for his obedience and faith by standing in the glory of the true Savior. We, too, will fail but one day we will also stand in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when we do, it will be for eternity because by His grace we have been made a part of His house forever.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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