Water is scarce in the desert. Traveling through a barren wilderness, the children of Israel would no doubt have seen miles upon miles of billowing dust, gnarled and misshapen brush, and precious little greenery. This was why they were always sensitive about the scarcity of water and ready to mount a mutiny at the drop of a hat.
But time and again they forgot the provision of God. They forgot how God had provided for their needs before they even realized they were present. Leading the children of Israel for forty years through an unforgiving wilderness would at times have seemed like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. A thankless task that required infinite amounts of patience. But Moses loved the people, regardless of their weaknesses and failings. He showed them the greatest tenderness and compassion, almost paternal care. A shepherd tending to his weak and foolish flock.
But there came a time when even the patience of Moses was worn very thin. As they neared the end of their forty years of wandering the Lord allowed the faith of His people to be tested yet again. The supplies of water began to dwindle. Soon there were whispers and murmurs rising up from the camp like fine mist at dawn. Before long the complaints had swelled to angry shouts billowing and foaming like roiling clouds overhead. A thundercloud of mutiny ready to burst and rain down wrath on the head of their leader; Moses.
And yet, though Moses was their visible leader, Israel kept forgetting the presence of the One who guided them wrapped in a gauzy pillar of cloud by day and a smoldering pillar of fire by night. They demanded water, in such loud and angry voices, tinged with such violence that Moese was driven to his knees before God pleading for intervention, fearing for his life.
God instructed Moses to go up to a rock, planted in the desert, brown and unmoving, and to speak to it, plainly directing water to spring out of it. In his anger and frustration, Moses struck the rock instead. The rock split apart and water gushed out of it, cool, sweet, and abundant. Israel was happy but God was displeased by his servant.
Moses had struck the rock when he was asked to speak to it. For this single act of disobedience, committed in a moment of thoughtless anger, Moses was disbarred from entering the promised land. It was a bitter blow. He fell on his face before God, pleading loud and long for clemency but God would not be swayed.
Why was Moses penalized for such a small indiscretion? After forty years of faithful service, why did one wrong step, within view of the very borders of the promised land, lead to a forfeiture of everything he had worked so hard for? First because, as Jesus said in Luke 12:48 “For unto whomsoever much is given of him shall much be required”
Moses had spoken with God face to face, had received the law from his hand. No man had witnessed and experienced the power and glory of God as Moses had. And so the standard that Moses was held to was a higher one. His experiences were far richer and sweeter than anyone within the camp of Israel had known and for this very reason, God expected more from him. More faith, more patience, more surrender.
Second, God wanted to make it very clear to His people, then and now, that sin, even the smallest kind of sin, has a great and far-reaching impact. We should never underestimate the devastating impact of sin. For though the mercy and grace of God are great, so are the awful consequences of sin.
On their approach towards Canaan, Israel was directed to camp in the shade of Mt Nebo. Here, Moses handed over the leadership of the people to Joshua and then climbed the mountain. From its great height, God gave him a panoramic view of the promised land. But it would have been a bittersweet experience, for though he could view it from afar his feet would never walk those green hills.
As Moses lay down to rest, his mind would have played over the last 120 years of his long and fruitful life. He had served God well and yet a single foolish moment of weakness had deprived him of one of his most cherished hopes. Moses fell asleep on Mt Nebo and according to the Bible his body was resurrected and he was taken to heaven. In that sense, Moses did cross over the threshold into the eternal Canaan. He walked the fields of gold and stood on the sea of glass.
But his experience on the borders of the promised land serves as a warning to us. We must not be deceived, for God is not mocked, whatever we sow, that we will also reap. If we are not prepared to reap the whirlwind then let’s think twice about sowing to the wind.