IT'S NOT MY FAULT: Deuteronomy 32:48-52

WHAT IS YOUR BITTERNESS REALLY COSTING YOU?

INTRODUCTION:

Moses is a Biblical hero who through intense struggle, persecution, personal sacrifice, and extreme closeness to the Creator of all things (YHVH) manages to drag potentially millions of people out of Egypt and into the promised land for over 4 decades. As with all of us, Moses' flaws are exposed against the backdrop of this arduous expedition. In this post we will explore Moses's decision to "break faith" with YHVH in Numbers 20:2-13, his subsequent actions as the Israelite people approach the promise land, and the root of bitterness that found fertile soil in Moses's heart. Then we will explore how his story mirrors so many of ours when it comes to anger, hurt, bitterness, and consequences.

 

ANGER, REBELLION, HOLINESS:

In Numbers 20:2-13, Moses hears the voice of God instruct him to provide water for the Israelites once again while they journeyed through the wilderness. However, this time his response would change his life forever. Numbers 20:2-13 esv "2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before YHVH! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of YHVH into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of YHVH appeared to them, 7 and YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 8 'Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.' 9 And Moses took the staff from before YHVH, as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, 'Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?' 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And YHVH said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.' 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with YHVH, and through them He showed Himself holy."


There are some critical pieces of action that need to be reviewed before we continue: 1. People complain, accusing Moses and Aaron of taking them out of Egypt to die. Note, the people do not blame YHVH, they blame Aaron and Moses.

2. Moses and Aaron initially handle this correctly. They fall on their face before YHVH, allowing Him to answer their petition. All they have to do now is obey. 3. Moses does not speak YHVH's words, he claims that he and Aaron will bring water from the rock. They presumptively rob YHVH of His glory as the provider for the people. 4. Moses strikes the rock twice, instead of simply speaking to it. 5. YHVH answers Moses despite his rebellion, and provides for the people anyway. 6. Moses and Aaron are corrected for their unbelief, and they are excluded, because of one wrong action, from the promise land YHVH is giving to the people. All my life I struggled with why YHVH was so harsh with Moses after all he had done. Decades of obedience and suffering just vanish because of one rash decision. However, the text is clear, this wasn't just about disobedience. Moses was YHVH's appointed leader, it is his first and primary responsibility to lead the people into covenant with YHVH by honoring God's holiness before the people (V.12). At the end of Numbers and Deuteronomy just before Moses dies, YHVH offers even more insight into why this single infraction is so detrimental to Moses's relationship with Him.

Numbers 27:12-14 esv

"12 The Lord said to Moses, 'Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)"

Deuteronomy 32:48-52 esv "48 That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, 49 “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. 50 And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, 51 because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” YHVH tells Moses something very interesting, He says that Moses "broke faith" with Him and as a result Moses did not treat Him as holy before the people. This phrase "broke faith" in the Hebrew is the word "maal: מָעַל" and it means to "trespass" or to "act treacherously" as a wife might do against her husband. What Moses did before the people is the exact thing the people had done when they made the golden calf, as the people would continue to do throughout all of history (including you and I). YHVH punished them with instant death. Let's take this a step farther. Moses trespassed against YHVH's direct instruction to him on how to handle the grumbling and complaining of the people. In this moment Moses had the opportunity to once again demonstrate YHVH's enduring faithfulness and love, confirming and supporting God's holiness before the people. Instead, Moses scolds them with an unbridled tongue, calling them "rebels". As if that wasn't enough, Moses in his rage, takes YHVH's honor for himself, by declaring he and Aaron will bring water from the rock for the people. The people didn't know YHVH's instruction, only Moses and Aaron did. As far as they were concerned Moses was speaking the word of God and doing as he was instructed, after all Moses had been speaking to God on their behalf for decades, why would he fail them now? You see, Moses had the peoples' trust, and in his anger Moses abuses this trust people had placed on him. You may be thinking to yourself, "he was just angry, he wasn't intentionally preying on anyone." Well, does the Bible give us a list of justifications for transgressions? Does it permit our rebellion under certain circumstances? What does Scripture say about the responsibility of YHVH's appointed leaders? Let's take a look at some Scriptures that offer some insight into what Moses really did, and why YHVH deals with him so firmly.

James 1:19-26 esv "19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." James sums up what most of Scripture says in such a beautifully succinct way, which offers the perfect rebuttal to Moses's anger. Human anger does not lead to righteousness. It leads to transgressing YHVH by no longer being "doers" of the word, and in most of our cases, just like with Moses, we often do not bridle our tongues, laying aside gentleness and weakness. We too, in our anger behave just as Moses did, lashing out in a manner that only appeals to our flesh and self-justification rather than exhibiting a humble resolve that leads us into obedience that demonstrates to others YHVH's holiness and glory. We must learn before it is too late, that human anger is costly, and learn to live in peace and meekness before YHVH. James continues later with another fitting warning:


James 3:1 esv "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." Moses was certainly dealt with firmly by YHVH, but let's not miss out on the mercy God showed him as well. As I stated earlier, on multiple occasions throughout their wandering, the Israelite people transgress against God in a similar way as Moses did, and they are killed instantly. The earth swallowing some, plagues, sickness, and beyond were decisively inflicted upon the people at the moment of their sin. Moses was not only shown grace and allowed to live, he was able to view the promised land and see the people reach its borders with his own eyes. Which brings us to one more harsh reality, a single sin is a transgression against an all holy and eternal righteous and just God, He must punish sin. We have all walked this path of anger as Moses does, but we must learn from his imperfect example and humble ourselves before the Lord in repentance, instead of justifying our defiance with the sins others have committed against us.

 

ROOTED ANGER PRODUCES BITTERNESS:

Unfortunately, the Bible never records a single instance following his actions in Numbers 20 where Moses repents of his transgression against YHVH. In fact, he continues to blame them, bitterly holding onto his grudge against them. Deuteronomy 1:37 esv "37 Even with me YHVH was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there."


Deuteronomy 3:23-26 esv

"23 “And I pleaded with YHVH at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon. ’26 But YHVH was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And YHVH said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again."


Deuteronomy 4:21-22 esv

"21 Furthermore, YHVH was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that YHVH your God is giving you for an inheritance. 22 For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land."


Moses continues in his deception, repeating the people are the reason why YHVH was angry with him. Yet 3 times God tells Moses why he was being punished. Moses was blind to his transgression, unrepentant and stubbornly holding onto his self-righteousness before God. In this way Moses continues to repeat the sin that he is being punished for over and over again. Remember YHVH says Moses "did not treat/honor me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel", and every time he repeats this lie, he slanders God before the people, and continues to not honor YHVH as holy before the people. His bitterness and anger has cost him dearly, yet he cannot see his error, instead he wanders about spewing lies with his unbridled tongue and defames YHVH before the people. We too are guilty of this same behavior. We too have become blind and drunk with bitterness, stumbling about casting blame on other for our transgressions rather than humbly acknowledging our sin and repenting before God. The cost for Moses is nearly unbearable as he pleads with YHVH to be released from his punishment, even without repentance. The cost for us is also great.