|International Sunday School Lessons|
Lesson for September 19, 1943
The Sin of Moses and Aaron
Numbers 20:1-13, 27, 28
GOLDEN TEXT: “Be ye angry, and sin not.”—Ephesians 4:26
ISRAEL’S fortieth year after leaving Egypt was God’s appointed time for them to enter the land of Canaan. Moses was in his one hundred and twentieth year, but, still quite vigorous. His sister Miriam had died previously; His brother, Aaron, still lived, but died the same year.
It was in the spring of that fortieth year that by divine command through Moses, they assembled at Kadesh, prepared to enter the land of promise. But the water supply was scant and the people and their cattle were famishing. Murmurings arose, and inquiries if it were not as well to have perished in Egypt or elsewhere as to perish there from thirst.
The burden naturally fell on Moses, shared, however, by his brother Aaron. Moses and Aaron vent to the Lord with the matter, desiring guidance from Him, the real Leader of Israel. The Lord graciously manifested Himself—“The glory of the Lord appeared unto them.” This glory has been surmised to have been a ray of light emanating from the mercy seat in the Most Holy, and may possibly have been manifest also to the people of Israel.
They were to take the rod, presumably “Aaron’s rod that budded,” which was kept in the ark in the Most Holy. The Lord particularly directed that Moses should speak to the rock, and that in response to the word, waters would come forth. On a previous occasion, about thirty-eight years before, in a similar experience near Mt. Sinai, Moses had been instructed to smite the rock; but in this case the rock was not to be smitten. Here Moses and Aaron sinned. “The meekest man in all the earth” forgot himself, and allowed a spirit akin to pride, self-sufficiency and anger to control him for the moment. Smiting the rock, he cried aloud to the people, “Ye rebels, must we bring you water out of the rock?”
The water indeed came forth, the people got the blessing the Lord had promised, but one of the most illustrious men and servants of God there fell under divine disapproval. The Lord’s decree was that neither Moses nor Aaron should enter Canaan. Moses, however, was permitted to go with the people to the end of their journey, and from Mt. Nebo to see the land across the Jordan.
According to Dark-Age creeds Moses was more alive after he died than before; and even had he left this planet entirely he could have tarried long enough to give the promised land a thorough inspection before departing. How much more satisfactory that would have been, than to merely glance ever the landscape from distant Mt. Nebo. But God knew that Moses, in death, would be actually dead, that he would be unconscious and remain so until the resurrection, so He permitted him to take a brief look at the land as a token of His abiding love.
God’s displeasure with Moses does not signify that he was assigned to eternal torment or to any lasting dishonor. Moses doubtless received his entire punishment then and there, before death, as do all His servants, who, in this life, qualify for future service. Whatever stripes, chastisements, punishments, shall in the future be meted out to mankind in general because of their wrong doings in the present life, there are none reserved for the saints, the consecrated people of God. The apostle explains that they are chastened in the present life, that they may not come into condemnation or judgment with the world in the future.—I Corinthians 11:32
St. Paul points out that the smiting of the rock was symbolical. As the manna, the bread from heaven represented Jesus, so the smitten rock represented Him also. The refreshing water from the rock symbolized the blessings which flow from Christ’s sacrifice. The smiting of the rock at the beginning of Israel’s wilderness experience was authorized of God. And so it was necessary that upon Jesus should fall the rod of affliction, even unto death, as it is written: “The Lord laid upon Him”—the death penalty—“the iniquity of us all,” and “by His stripes we are healed.”—I Corinthians 10:4; Isaiah 53:5,6
It is not necessary to suppose that this second smiting, which God did not authorize, is intended to be typical, but it does teach a valuable lesson. That Moses was punished indicates clearly that it was a wrong course. Any denial of the Redeemer on the part of His consecrated followers would signify a crucifying afresh, putting Him to an open shame, a smiting of the Rock a second time. Paul explains that such repudiation of the work of Christ by those once enlightened would indicate unworthiness of any place in the heavenly Kingdom—that they would die the second death.—Hebrews 6:4-8
The fact that both Moses and Aaron participated in the sin, and that neither entered the land of Canaan, seems to indicate that the most enlightened members of the royal priesthood might be in danger of committing sin, as illustrated in the second smiting of the rock—a sin that would lead to serious consequences.
If “the meekest man in all the earth,” after long years of training and experience, made such a failure, the lesson to all spiritual leaders should be an impressive one. It says to us in inspired words, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12) What all need is humility, meekness, patience, longsuffering, brotherly-kindness, love—loyal obedience to God and faithfulness to our covenant.
What was represented by the rock which supplied Israel with water in the wilderness?
Why was it a sin for Moses to smite the rock the second time?
Is it possible for Christians to commit sin which, in principle, would be like Moses’ sin?