Hukkat and Balak
For the week of July 15, 2000 / 12 Tammuz 5760
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 19:1 - 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8

Crossing the Line

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them." (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:12).

One of the most tragic episodes in the life of Moses concerns how he was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. This happened during one of the times that the people had no water. Most of us have never gone a few hours without consuming liquid. We think we know what it means to be thirsty. But to be in the kind of wilderness environment that these people were in, and to have absolutely no water is unimaginable. Then to be the leader of such a community - such pressure Moses must have felt!

When Moses and Aaron sought God, God said,

Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:8).

Now as it turned out Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it.

God’s response:

Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:12).

Many people think that the reason why God said that Moses would not lead the people into the Land is because Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it. I do not think that is correct.

This is not to say that God doesn't have the right to tell us what to do. It is God's prerogative to respond to our actions any way he sees fit. But is God really that harsh and picky? To judge Moses for hitting and not speaking is to turn God into some sort of Great "Simon Says" Being in the sky. Mess up on one little detail, and you're out! In the midst of such pressure, who could keep level-headed? Especially since the last time God did the water-out-of-the-rock thing, Moses was supposed to hit the rock.

So what did Moses do that was so bad? Look again at what God had said to him:

Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:12).

Something that Moses did was described by God as not honoring him as holy. If it was not the striking of the rock, then what was it? Look at what Moses said prior to hitting the rock,

Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock? (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:10)

This way of speaking was so out of character for Moses. Yet who can blame him? He was just trying to be faithful to God's direction in his life. And through it all he remained humble before God and the people.

But it was not just that he became irate, although that surely contributed to what he did. Where he crossed over the line was when he said, "Must we bring you water out of this rock?"

God is holy, meaning he is not like us; he is separate from us. While he has gotten involved in human affairs, we must never forget that he is God and we are not. In the heat of the situation, Moses set himself apart from the people and inappropriately put himself on equal footing with God.

As we read the Scriptures we see how much God actually puts up with. His commandments are clear, but he is not sitting in heaven waiting to see if we slip up, so that he can squash us. Many people see God that way, but that is not what he is like. So in order for God to treat Moses this harshly, it had to be crucial. And this is an area that God will not tolerate.

God wants us to know him intimately. There is a great deal that we need to learn about his love. But we also need to remember that he is still God and that we must always relate to him with the utmost respect.

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