Allow me to take you on a trip backward in time for a moment to 1888. In that year in England, Queen Victoria is on the throne and Robert Cecil, Marquess of Sailsbury (a Conservative) is her Prime Minister. Dunlop patents the pneumatic bicycle tire, the Lawn Tennis Association is formed, the Football League begins play, and Jack the Ripper terrorizes London. And on sunday morning June 24, 1888, Charles H. Spurgeon preached a sermon at the Metropolitan Temple in the Elephant and Castle district of London to about 2,000 people titled “Moses-His Faith and Decision” (you can read it in full here).
And why do I bring this all up? Because I have been thinking how much like teenagers we all are. Teenagers are full of angst and everything is dramatic for them because they are experiencing so many things for the first time. The first time a friend betrays them, the first time they compete and lose (or win), the first time they may have the responsibility of a job, the first time they fall in love. These things make them think that no one else has ever conquered, or loved, or lost or hurt as they do. But as adults we look at them and say,”This is not such a big thing.” Because we’ve been there, done that and know what they are going through is commonplace.
We’ve been talking about Moses in a negative context, using him as a contra example, because it is in his flaws we can, if we will, recognize our own. It is when we see his insufficiency we will recognize our own and, ultimately see the super-sufficiency, the over abundance of God. So here’s the major premise: Moses was a coward essentially all of his life. Here’s the minor premise: so are we. Now Moses was not fearful in every situation, nobody is, but at the very end, on the cusp of complete victory, Moses was a no show.
Can you think of anything particularly fearful that Moses did? I can think of a couple of big things like running away after he killed the Egyptian Overseer, or trying to talk God out of sending him to lead the Exodus. There were also instances where he seemed fearless like protecting the daughters of Jethro at the well or standing while Pharaoh’s chariots rumbled up at the Red Sea but none of those are the incident I want to talk about.
We have noted before that one of the remarkable things about scripture is that it paints a full picture of the lives of the people of God. These were not storybook lives, the heroes of scripture are presented to us in all their human frailty and so it is with Moses. Last week we saw that, among the remarkable things that can be said of Moses, God said he spoke to Moses as face to face. Exodous 33:11 says “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, the way a person speaks to a friend.” God confirms this later in Number 12:8 where he says,”With him [Moses] I will speak face to face, openly, and not in riddles; and he will see the form of the Lord.”
And yet a few chapters later in Numbers 20:12, before the Rock of Meribah, the Lord says to Moses (Aaron too), “Because you did not trust me enough to show me as holy before the Israelites, therefore you will not bring this community into the land I have given them.”
How could that happen, what had Moses done? What was his sin and, much more important, what are we to learn from this incident?