Sunday, February 12, 2012

When You Want to Throw in the Towel

I know what it's like to be bitter. I have spent near sleepless nights dreaming of what I would say to the one whose lies have caused my family such pain. I have cried in anger over the unforgivable injustice my husband has suffered, have questioned God's justice, have felt the bile welling up in my soul to choke off any forgiveness I had already offered but would need to extend again and again...and again.

Even so, I also know what it's like to let it go and move on, to serve God and accept His just decision to not act...even when my circumstances don't change.

Although I'm neck-deep in the book of Jude, my head keeps turning to look further down the rabbit trail of Moses' act of defying God, the action that kept him from stepping foot into the Promised Land.

Leading a group of malcontents could not have been the easiest job in the world. In fact, except for the meeting with God face to face part, it sounds pretty miserable. Throughout Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the Israelites were constantly complaining about something--no food, daily manna but no meat. Add 2.5 million "are we there yet's," to the mix, and Moses might have been able to blame them for his prematurely grey hair, had being in God's immediate presence not taken care of that already.

The Israelites' complaints may have started differently, but they always seemed to end the same way--"we might as well have just stayed slaves in Egypt."

This time when Moses finally lost his temper and sinned against God, "There was no water for the congregation" (Num. 20:2). And so, this new generation did what their fathers before them had done 38 years before--come to Moses to complain: "The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, 'If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why then have you brought the LORD’S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink'" (v. 3-5).

My humanity would have felt like calling down a lightening rod to grind them into powder right then and there, but like always, Moses went to bat for the people. In the very next verse, he and Aaron "came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces" (v. 6).

God was clear. Moses was to "speak to the rock" (v. 8). But as we well know, Moses did not. Instead, he "struck the rock" (v. 11). It seems even a man who meets face to face with a holy God on a daily basis still must contend with his own humanity.

But why? What was different after 38 years* to make Moses "not believ[e] Me [God], treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel" (v. 12). Why did Moses' anger at the people's discontent boil over into disobedience? Was it a rash act of anger? Or was it a conscious choice to disobey, to strike versus speak?

Scripture doesn't record Moses' heart. Yet, though man saw only the action, God did see the heart--the heart of both Moses who struck the rock and of Aaron who did not, both hearts which were condemned for lack of faith in God and disrespect for His holiness.

There is one major difference about this people's complaint than the others, something mentioned one verse before the lack of water scene plays out: "Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there" (v. 1).

No matter their differences over Moses' choice of a wife or their differences caused by the time Miriam challenged his authority so that he had to pray for God to spare her from leprosy--this was his sister, the one who had helped her mother hide him from Pharaoh's swordsmen, who had watched from the reeds as he floated down the Nile in a basket made of reeds towards a princess. This was his sister, his helper, the "prophetess" who had led the women in worship with "the timbrel in her hand" after Moses held up his rod to part the Red Sea (Ex. 15:20).

Could it be that Moses was still mourning his sister's death when the people started complaining about lack of water? Could his human grief have played a part in his anger against a people with an "It's all about me attitude" lack of sympathy? Or could human grief have even played out as lack of faith in God?

I don't know. But what I do know for certain is that after God chastened Moses, he didn't walk away. Even after Aaron's death at the end of the chapter so that Moses was now without brother or sister, even then, Moses did not abandon this stiff-necked people.

Surely he was lonely to now be one of three remaining aged ones in a group of youngsters. Surely he was more than a little disappointed to not be allowed in the Promised Land after dragging several stadiums worth of people around the wilderness for forty years. A lesser man would have been bitter, would have turned his back on God when He said "No Promised Land for you!"

But Moses continued to follow the Lord, to lead the Israelites all the way around Edom to the Jordan River where they would finally cross over and take possession of the covenant land of promise.

This is what should give us pause--that Moses accepted God's decision as just, that he did not let his disappointment get in the way of his ministry, his divine appointment in God's kingdom plan.

Even with the Holy Spirit residing within us, even meeting with God on a daily basis, it's easy to become disappointed or bitter over circumstances, and leave what God has called us to do, be, or even God, Himself.

Let's strive harder to be like Moses. To not walk away when anyone else would.

*Date per Matthew Henry Complete Commentary

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a reflection! I needed this today. Thank you for the reminder. That, alone, is worth your story ever leading us through.