By Drew Zuverink
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land I have given the Israelites. After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy in their eyes.’”
While reading through the Old Testament I find myself having a recurring thought, “Really God?” Many times it seems like God is overreacting by punishing people for certain things and I often find myself wondering why.
One of the biggest examples of this is when God tells Moses that he won’t enter into the promised land because of, what seems to me at least, a small disobedience.
What happened was this;
Moses was leading the Israelites towards the land of Canaan which God had promised to them after freeing them from Egypt. At one point in their journey they came to a place called, “The Desert of Zin.” As you might gather from the name, there was no water at this place so the Israelites quarreled with Moses and his brother, Aaron. They became dramatic and said things like, “We wish we would have died earlier,” and “Why did you lead us here just to kill us?”
Moses and Aaron begged God for help. He told them to gather the people together in one place and then speak to a rock and the rock will pour out enough water for the thousands of people and their livestock to drink. So Moses and Aaron gather all of the people together and then Moses says, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses struck the rock twice with his staff and water gushed out.
Did you catch what Moses did wrong? Maybe you didn’t because to some of us it’s barely different than what God commanded. Moses disobeyed God by striking the rock with his staff instead of saying whatever God wanted him to say to it. Not much of a difference right? Instead of talking to a rock he just hit it. Water still came out, the people still drank, so what’s the big deal?
Well apparently this was a big deal to God because he tells both Moses and Aaron that they will die before they enter into the promised land because of this disobedience.
Really God? This is the same Moses who faithfully led God’s people out of the land of Egypt and in the wilderness for years. This is the same Moses who would meet one on one with God, who saw God’s form, and who would speak directly to him. This is the same Moses who had faithfully obeyed God over and over again, even when most of the other people would rebel against him. And now, because he hit a rock instead of speaking to it, he wouldn’t be allowed into the land that he had been leading the people towards for so many years. It doesn’t seem fair - why would God do that?
I think for one very important reason.
This was probably to be a major lesson for God’s people that they are not to try to decide which of God’s commandments are important and must be followed, and which one’s were not important and could be disobeyed. Although Moses had been a faithful servant of God’s for many years, it was still important for God to show that the role of his people is not to try to discern which commands were worth following and which were not, they are to obey them all.
This might sound discouraging to you but if you take time to think about it - there is so much freedom in this lesson. Our society often looks down on people who are “followers.” Parents often advise their children not to be followers, but be a leader. Sometimes that is good advice but do you know how freeing it is to just follow someones good leadership? Following a good leader frees you from having to make decisions on things that you probably aren’t qualified to make decisions on. My dad and my father in law are both pretty handy guys. My father in law helped us remodel our bathroom a few months ago and I was able to help. I am not a handy person. I wouldn’t have the first idea of how to remodel a bathroom and I wouldn’t even want to try because I’m not qualified and I’d do more harm than good. It was very freeing to follow the leadership of my father in law. He would tell me what to do and I would just do it without questioning him because I knew that he knew what he was doing. There is no shame in that, I have no desire to learn enough to be able to remodel a bathroom, so having the role of just following his lead was freeing for me.
This is how our relationship with God ought to be. We aren’t qualified to discern what things are a big deal in life and what things aren’t. We don’t know what the natural consequences of every action is but God does, and honestly, don’t we have enough decisions to make every day without trying to discern which of God’s commandments are important to follow and which ones aren’t? Sometimes decisions can be exhausting can’t they? So when he commands us to do something, or to avoid something, we ought to enjoy the freedom of just saying, “ok.” The church has done a poor job of this over the years, attributing higher importance to certain commands over others. For example; rarely is continued gossip mentioned with the same concern as sexual immorality.
The truth is that there is a reason behind every one of God’s commands. He is the only qualified one to decide what is important, harmful or beneficial in life. God is a good God and he wants only good for the people of the world. He has plans to accomplish that good through his various commands in scripture but when we get in the way of those plans by ignoring certain things that don’t seem like that big of a deal - we are inhibiting God from doing the good that he wants to do in the world. And inhibiting God from doing the good that he wants to do seems like a big deal doesn’t it?
We are not wise, God is. We must acknowledge that we are unqualified to discern what is a big deal and what is not in life. Freedom is offered to us, not only in trusting Christ for our salvation, but in trusting in his leadership for all of life.
Be a follower. Release your need to discern and accept the freedom that comes with trusting Christ’s wisdom instead. There is freedom in unquestioned obedience, even if the devil tries to convince us that there is not. Praise be to God for being such a wonderful and wise leader.