Check Your Staff

While medical experts now say that the commonly stated need of eight 8 oz glasses of water a day is not a hard and fast rule, we do indeed need water.  Water, while perhaps not ultra-exciting, is a staple of life that God created and provides to sustain the life He created.  Thank God for water.

Today as we look again to “The Tale of Moses and His Staff,” we will see water, or more specifically, the need for water, play a central role in these events of history.

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Exodus 17:1-7 (NIV)
  •  no water
  • complained, “quarreled” with Moses
    “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to . . . die of thirst?!”
  • Moses calls out to God.
  • God answers – “take in your hand the staff”
  • Moses strikes the rock; water flows.

Moses brought his fear, worry and total sense of “I don’t know what to do” to Yahweh God.
  The time he spent leading the Israelites through their nomadic desert life provided ample opportunity for Moses to call out to God for help and answers.

In one such event, some 40 years after the provision of water from the rock, we discover a very similar account; yet the outcomes prove to be light years apart.  As you explore this next event in the life of Moses with me, pay attention to the cause of the dramatically different outcomes.  Join me in Numbers 20.
In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him.  Numbers 20:1-9 (NIV)

Moses starts off well.  There is an old “Far Side” cartoon where two deer stand in a field and one of the deer says to the other, while noticing a large target on the chest of the other, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!” 

I don’t know if Moses had any birthmarks, but I do know that he could relate to Hal!  He took the brunt of all the frustration and fear among the people.  Yet, even with all the complaining and fighting directed toward him, Moses wisely took the issue before God.  That was a godly and well-directed move of leadership. 

Notice, however, that I said Moses started off well.  Something soon changed.

10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:10-12 (NIV)

Ronald Allen captures the emotion of that moment when he writes,

“Then, at last, Moses exploded! . . . Suddenly the accumulated anger and frustration of forty years bore down on [him] . . .”  (Expositors, p 867)

Moses exploded!  That is reminiscent of his smashing of the first stone tablets.

What went wrong?

He let anger cloud his thinking.

When we serve God in ministry to others, how often do you and I blame God for an issue that is really frustration toward another?
  That goes all the way back to Adam!  The first man, when confronted with his sin, complained to God and said . . .
"The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."  Genesis 3:12 (NIV)
Anger, guilt, fear (those and more) can cloud our thinking. 

In his anger, Moses assumed the work of God.  In his anger, Moses ignored God’s instruction to speak to the rock and instead he struck the rock as he did forty years earlier.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites . . .    Numbers 20:12a (NIV)

Moses failed to honor God as holy.  We do that anytime we say, in essence, to God, “I can handle this; I don’t need Your help.”

Moses started off well by asking for God’s help; but in the stress of the moment, Moses ignored God and did it alone.

Listen to a text that I think contains some of the most sobering words in Scripture.
48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan,the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites.52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”  Deuteronomy 32:48-52 (NIV)

We heard those key words in verse 51 that declare why the outcome of the second “water from rock” episode turned out so differently.  God, in that verse, tells Moses that in his rash decision, he . . .

1)    Broke Faith

2)    Did Not Uphold My Holiness

“Difficult to swallow” does not begin to define the struggle Moses must have experienced when God told him that his sin cost him entrance into the land of promise. 

In testimony to that fact, right before Moses climbed Mount Nebo to see the land he would not enter, he blessed the tribes of Israel.  Notice a few of those words; they show the heart of Moses.
Blessed are you, Israel!
    Who is like you,
    a people saved by the Lord?
He is your shield and helper
    and your glorious sword.
Your enemies will cower before you,
    and you will tread on their heights.”
Deuteronomy 33:29 (NIV)
As we serve God, we need to take time to check our staffs.  We need to make sure that we serve with a devout trust in God and a good love for His people.  Make note of two things Moses did.  Moses voiced:

1)    A blessing to the people.

2)    An acknowledgment of God’s work.

Check your staff as you serve the Lord so that you will receive the full blessing from your service rather than merely catching a glimpse of it from atop a hill.  You want to enter the land, not just gaze upon it.  Listen to God and use your staff only in the ways He directs.

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