But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Numbers 20:12 NASB
Not believed Me – It seems like such a trifling matter. It seems perfectly justifiable. In fact, the result is the same, or so it seems. But Moses and Aaron lost a precious objective in this momentary display. We know what happened. What we might not know is why it happened.
God tells Moses to speak to the rock and it will produce water. Moses, furious with the obstinacy of the people, strikes the rock twice. Water still comes forth, but God calls Moses to the bar. Notice what God does not say. He doesn’t say, “Why did you strike the rock?” He doesn’t say, “Why didn’t you listen to Me?” He says, “Why didn’t you believe Me?” We might object, “But, Lord, Moses did believe You. He acted upon the rock, fully believing that water would come forth. And the proof of his belief is that water did come forth. The ends justifies the means. He accomplished what You intended.” That excuse might seem valid until we read the Hebrew. The translation “not believed Me” is from the Hebrew lo-he’emantem. This is the combination of lo, the strong negative (not), and ‘aman, a verb meaning to be firm, to build up, to establish. This combination suggests two important ideas. First, Moses’ action was not merely a momentary failure. The strong negative implies the action was not a result of circumstances, an accidental misstep. This is the lo of the Ten Commandments – absolute prohibitions – the equivalent of “do not ever.” It is not ‘al, a less intensive negation that suggests circumstantial consideration. When God uses this adverb, He strongly condemns Moses’ action. Secondly, the verb ‘aman is primarily about providing stability. It implies trustworthiness and reliability. Moses’ action usurps the declaration of YHWH. By not following YHWH’s command, Moses displays a disregard for the Lord’s directive and that suggests God’s word is not utterly reliable. The final element here is that Moses displays this lack of trust in front of the people, thereby diminishing the reliability of YHWH in the eyes of His chosen ones.
Notice that even though the result is the same, what matters to God is the means, not the ends. Moses’ action insults God’s character. It doesn’t matter that Moses reacts to a lifetime of frustration with an obdurate population. What matters is God! Moses diminishes God’s character and that cannot be ignored. Moses is God’s man, the man God chose to lead His people out of bondage. As such, Moses is to represent God’s character at all times and in all ways. A leader represents the one who empowers him. Moses failed.
We might have imagined this was such a small thing that God would overlook it and forgive Moses. After all, it was really the fault of the stubborn people. But our rationalizations fall on deaf divine ears. It isn’t the fault of the people. It is the fault of not believing God. God does exactly what He says He will do. “I will be who I will be” doesn’t make mistakes and it is a terrible mistake not to trust Him. A small misstep can impugn the glory of the Lord. There is a price to pay for this lack of attention to the details. God can certainly accomplish what He wills without the intermediary of human hands, but when He asks for our cooperation, He looks for our strict obedience, not our substitutions to reach the goal. How we accomplish what God asks is far more important than what we accomplish.
You and I are working toward objectives God has provided. Are we paying attention to the how more than the what? Do we really believe Him?
Topical Index: not believed Me, lo-he’emantem, lo, ‘aman, Moses, Numbers 20:12
A Personal Request: Most of you know that my daughter, Rachel, joined the Navy and is now in boot camp. If you would be so kind as to send her a note of encouragement, it would mean a lot to her – and to me. Just a small note would do. If this is something you would like to do, her address is:
SR Moen, Rachel
Ship 3 Div 148
3600 Ohio Street
Great Lakes, IL 60088-3156
She has 3 weeks to go. Thank you.