The Undoing

My Dear Shepherds,

When my Elder Board chair called me to say he needed to see me, I knew why. Woodshed time. He rightfully called me on the carpet for being harsh and graceless in our board meeting the previous evening. I was ashamed and apologized to each person.

Pastor Moses put up with so much for so long, and so humbly. Then, after 40 years in the wilderness, at 120 years of age, with the Promised Land almost in view, he lost it.

You remember the story of that new generation’s thirsty, faithless complaining but you can read the details in Numbers 20. Moses’ undoing happened like this:

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

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.” (Num. 20:9-12)

It’s easy to assume that when it comes to such hardened, ungrateful sinners, the heart of God’s holiness is righteous indignation. Moses was right: they were rebels who didn’t deserve so much as a sip. I have never served a congregation like that. I was blessed with people who loved Jesus and me. I hope that is true for you as well. But even when our people are mostly a joy, we are vulnerable to Moses’ sin.

Since dispensing grace in word and action is so delightful, why are we so prone to laying down the law with a whack? Moralism so easily trumps mercy.

You recall, I’m sure, that the Lord instructed Moses to speak to the rock, not strike it. But, really, what was so terrible about what he did? How did he undermine God’s holiness? Moses’ complaint wasn’t that God was going to give water to thirsty people. It was that something had to be done about their abysmal attitudes. It seemed like what God had in mind would let them off scot-free when they clearly needed to sober up.

The Lord apparently intended to give this new generation of the hard-hearted a refreshing taste of grace, perhaps quenching more than their thirst; perhaps giving them a foretaste of the Promised Land. But instead, it became heavy water, toxic with guilt. Some people think that Moses’ angry indignation suits the holy God to a T, but it doesn’t. The Lord’s holiness, most often, comes as a flood of grace.

My heart breaks for Moses in this story. He had come so far. He had endured so much. He had been so faithful. But then on the verge of the Promised Land he choked on the grace of God. He just couldn’t swallow it, and so he couldn’t deliver it. And when that happens to any of us with “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God,” we simply do not have what it takes to bring people into the blessings God has promised.

Giving grace is always risky. A lot of grace seems to go to waste, at least from our human perspective, but that has never stopped God. So, dear brothers and sisters, let’s keep our wits and gamble on grace.

Be ye glad!

Pastor Lee

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