Numbers 20: 7-12 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
12 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “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.”
32 They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
33 for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.
Psalm 106 walks us through a great deal of the history of Israel. The Psalmists wants to help the nation remember the faithfulness of God even in the face of the nation’s unfaithfulness. And here in verses 32-33, we see a brief summary of the failure of Moses at Meribah. The Psalm helps us to see where God says Moses messed up.
In Numbers, God said that Moses did not believe in him so as to uphold him as holy. We see lots of speculation as to why this is. Some people say that the issue is Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it as he was commanded. Some suggest that Moses appears to take credit for giving the water, and this is the problem. And, I would suggest that those are true issues.
But Psalm 106 helps us when it tells us that it is the bitterness of spirit and rashness of speech that dishonored the Lord. Moses got mad. Moses got bitter. And Moses let his bitterness lead him to speak in a way that dishonored the Lord. Moses stopped focusing on the power and glory of God. Moses used his mouth simply to tell off the people. And, yes, Moses spoke as if he was the one doing the work. Moses chose to do things his way instead of God’s way, because the people got under his skin.
This should remind us to watch our actions, our words, and our attitudes. In our fallen world, it is easy to let bitterness into your spirit. It is easy to get angry with the folly of the foolish. It is easy to just want to squash dumb dumbs with your words. And our culture has made this all socially acceptable. After all, how many YouTube videos are supposedly funny moments where somebody just goes off on somebody else? How many movie scenes show a person getting their comeuppance when the meek character finally snaps? How much Facebook or Twitter content includes people spewing out pent up frustrations? How often do you see someone acting like a buffoon in public if they feel insulted by anybody for any reason?
Honor God as holy. Trust God. From the account in Numbers, this has to mean that you do not take personal credit for the work of Almighty God. It also must mean that you obey the instructions of God in his word as he gives them. And, from Psalm 106, we learn that it also means to guard against bitterness and rashness of speech.
Where do you need to be careful? Are you growing bitter? Is your speech becoming more self-focused and harsh? Are you able to keep your discourse focused on the Lord and his word rather than stooping to the low-hanging fruit of sarcastic personal attacks?
Or, perhaps do you need to grow by being willing to follow the direction of God even when faced with a nasty, complaining crowd? Even in the face of mass foolishness, Moses was still required by God to obey the command of God, as God gave it, for God’s glory.