At first glance it seems like overkill, the equivalent of sentencing a jaywalker to 30 years in prison, or grounding your son for six months because he came home five minutes late. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime.
It’s clear that there was a problem at what would later be called Meribah (Numbers 20). God had told Moses to speak to a rock, and water would come gushing out to quench the thirst and save the lives of the people of Israel. Instead, Moses spoke to the people (“…shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”), remarkably excluding any mention of God. Then he smacked the rock with his rod, like he had done once before.
Yeah, he made a mistake, but the water flowed anyway. Mission accomplished, no harm done, right? Because we know what he was told to do, we’re prepared to see Moses get a slap on the wrist for not following God’s command to the letter.
What came next is shocking – and sobering. God lowered the boom on Moses and Aaron: “…you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (20:12). Because of this episode, neither of these men would set foot in the Promised Land.
God obviously saw this as more than a “mistake.” It was a grave failure of leadership, with serious consequences. He explained His reasoning before pronouncing His decision: “…you have not believed me, to treat me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel.”
This is where Moses and Aaron failed. They did not treat God as holy in the sight of the people they were leading. They did not lift up His trustworthiness, His power, His faithfulness, His “otherness.” In fact, they didn’t lift Him up at all. The people did not come away in awe of God, because their leaders were too busy drawing attention to themselves.
Want to hear something really thought-provoking? The project was successful! God acted, the miracle happened, lives were saved. It’s likely that the people were impressed by Moses, and that his stock went up. He was the Rock Striker, the Water Provider. On one level, he had succeeded. But in God’s eyes, he had failed.
That’s right, it’s possible for leaders (and we are ALL leaders – see Part 1) to fail while succeeding. We can impress others, while falling far short of God’s standard. It’s dangerous to allow ourselves to settle for apparent success or popular approval when His “Well done…” is what matters most. And we must be wary of the temptation to draw attention to ourselves when we should be drawing attention to Him.
In his book The Fight, John White includes a chapter called “On Being a Signpost.” He calls Christians to be like signposts along the side of the road, giving directions to travelers: “…the essential features are that (the signpost) must point in the right direction and be clear about what it is pointing to.” What he says next is especially true of leaders: “You do not exist to draw attention to yourself, but to draw people’s thoughts to a divine destination.”
Real influence requires self-denial, refusing to intercept the attention that only God deserves. It takes advantage of every opportunity to draw people’s thoughts not to the strengths of the leader, but to a divine destination. It follows the example of John the Baptist, who said once of Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
I’m praying that God would remind me that I must decrease in order for Him to increase; that attention drawn to me is stolen from Him; that I am a signpost and not a destination.
I’m asking Him to remind me to treat Him as holy in the eyes of His people.
He deserves that kind of servant. And His people need that kind of leader.
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