Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, 02/05/2021, photograph by Matthew Kowal, Wikimedia Commons
And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
— Numbers 20:10-11
It is forty years on. The older generation is dying out, and the younger one, far from rising to the challenge of taking God's land, has inherited the same suspicion and disgruntlement of their parents. We can imagine that Moses is seriously wearied by this time, with so many years of fruitless wonderings, and continuous complaints. When they enter the desert of Zin, a place without water, yet another reason for complaint arises. God asks Moses to talk to the rock, and He will bring forth water, but Moses loses his temper hear now, ye rebels and strikes the rock in a grand, conjurer's gesture. The water flows, but God is displeased with Moses. For this small act of rebellion and anger, for momentarily losing his temper Moses is forbidden to enter the promised land and must die in the wilderness, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.1 Moses' death sentence is bookended by the death of his sister Miriam at the start of the chapter, and the death of his brother Aaron at the end, both deaths also symbolising the dying out of a generation.
It seems harsh punishment for a small lapse of integrity. Moses has not only kept God's word for close on fifty years, but has also spoken up in protection of the Israelites and pacified God's wrath. He has held true to the promise of the gift of land to God's chosen people, and has otherwise behaved impeccably. It is very difficult to see the punishment as fitting to the crime.
But while literally, in the context of this story it doesn't seem fair, exploring it on a personal level in the context of my own faith I understand it differently. There are no shortcuts to a life well lived, and a small lapse in integrity, a lie, a hurtful remark, a display of anger, or pomposity, each can become the beginning of a cascade. Moses was expected to be perfect. We are not, but we are expected to course-correct when veering from the Truth. To assume a God-like role in our relationships with others is perhaps the biggest sin of all. Moses was asked to speak to the rock and let God do the work. Instead he did the work himself. Moses was asked to do just the footwork and leave the outcome to God, but he took charge of the outcome and that was the sin, then, as now.
In our desire to know, our need to accurately predict, to be certain, we assume God-like powers, attempting to manage people and situations to suit our own ends because we start to believe that our plan is God's plan. When this happens to me (as inevitably it does, as it happens to most all of us) the best form of course correction I know is to pause for a moment, and in the stillness to pray the simple seven-word prayer, not my will, but thine, be done.2
1 Numbers 20:12
2 Luke 22:42