For the week of July 5, 2008 / 2 Tammuz 5768
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 19:1 - 22:1
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 11:1-33
Learning from Moses
Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:6; ESV)
What do you picture when you think of Moses? Do you have visions of the Great Man of God with his face shining and the wind blowing though his hair? Do you hear a Prophet with booming voice, instructing God's people in his ways? Or how about the Wonder Worker with staff extended by the Red Sea as it parts miraculously before the people? Or do you see a Man of Steel confronting the King of Egypt demanding, "Let my people go, or else!"
While Moses did do these things, I don't think this truly provides an adequate picture of the man. Like anyone else, Moses was a complex human being with strengths and weaknesses. The extraordinary things he did were actually the work of God. God chose him for these tasks. God sent the plagues, parted the Red Sea, dictated the Torah, and protected and provided for the people all the years in the wilderness. As for Moses himself, when he was younger he tried to stand up for his people in his own way, resulting in his running for his life and spending forty years as a shepherd in the wilderness. When God eventually called him, he felt inadequate and fearful to the point that he basically told God "No".
This week's Torah portion relates another tragic affair in Moses' life. It is difficult to tell exactly what he did wrong in the rock-hitting incident, but God said to him, "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" (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:12; ESV).
If Moses failed at the end of his life, what hope is there for the rest of us? One could look at this and wonder how anyone could successfully serve God, but is that the intended message? Partly. One of the themes of Scripture is our intrinsic weakness, or perhaps more accurately, our sinfulness. The Bible confronts us with our inability to attain God's requirements or to meet his standards. We cannot make it on our own. In spite of all the books and seminars trying to tell us how to be successful, at the most basic level, on our own, we are doomed to failure. While it does seem that there are those who possess a veneer of success, as far as the things in life that count most, such as character, relationships, true spirituality, and so on, we all, like Moses, fall short.
In spite of Moses' failings, he demonstrates to us the key to living life the way God intended. Even though he did not do this perfectly, it was a foundational element in his life, especially once he accepted God's call. Once he embarked on his mission, he faced issue after impossible issue - whether it was Pharaoh's obstinance or his people's fickle ways; from an oppressive environment to the threat of hostile peoples; having to deal with political infighting, moral decadence, despair, and fear - Moses faced problem after problem after problem. But how did he deal with them? Prior to the hitting of the rock, there was no water - a life and death situation for the two million people that Moses was leading. The people, we are told, had "assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron" (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:2; ESV) - no water and a possible revolt. It's one thing to read this story, it's another to stop and realize what was really going on. Most of us get edgy when we miss coffee break and we fall apart when any one says a nasty word to us. May I suggest that this situation was far worse?
But what did they do? We read,
Moses and Aaron went from being in the presence of the people to being in the presence of God. This wasn't some nice sweet prayer meeting. The Torah tells us they "fell on their faces." Moses and Aaron expressed great humility in God's presence as they demonstrated complete dependency upon him. It was in that place that God told them what to do. That Moses didn't do exactly as he was told, only underscores the point.
God calls us to be dependant on him. As we look at Moses throughout the Torah, this is what we see him do over and over again. With each and every challenging situation, Moses looked to God for wisdom and guidance. When we realize that Moses was in so many ways just like you and me, we may also see that we can and should follow his example.
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