All of your life’s work – gone in an instant. One moment of weakness is all it takes. That’s what happened in the wilderness near Kadesh to the most unlikely person. Yes, even the sin of Moses could not be overlooked.
You can make the case that Moses ranks second only to Jesus when it comes to important Biblical characters. He was one of the greatest leaders in the Bible. By most accounts, he’s responsible for writing the first 5 books of the Bible, which lays the groundwork for the nation of Israel. Numbers 12:3 also says he was the humblest man on earth. Without him, Israel may never have found the home God promised.
That is what makes Moses’ sin at Kadesh so stunning. We wouldn’t expect someone of his stature to mess up so badly. He seemingly had it all together, and then “BOOM!”, it happened.
We can criticize and try to say it diminishes who Moses was as a leader. But, when you look at it, Moses’ sin was SO human. In the end, his sin sounds exactly like something we would do.
That is what makes it scary. We are not immune from making this same mistake. If it can happen to one of the greatest men of all time, it can surely happen to us.
And if he was rebuked by God, then the same correction can come our way. We don’t need to be afraid of God’s correction. A good father corrects his children when they need it. But, if we can avoid going down that road, then so much the better.
So, what was Moses’ sin? What did it cost him? And is there anything we can learn from it so that we don’t make the same mistake today?
The Backdrop that Led to Moses’ Sin
Once again, the people of Israel are a mess. Ever since they left Egypt, they have done nothing but complain about their circumstances.
Their most recent complaint led them to disobey God when he instructed them to enter the Promised Land. 10 spies had returned with a negative report about the land. Only Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people to rise up and take the land with God’s help.
That rebellion against God cost a whole generation of people their reward. Everyone over 20 years of age would not enter the land God promised. Instead, they were forced to wander the wilderness for 40 years until that generation of people died off. Their children would possess the land instead.
Now, the new round of complaining would add one more victim to that list.
No Water Again
Once again, there is a water shortage. And once again the people complain to Moses about it. It’s the same refrain we’ve heard from them over and over again:
“Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is not place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is not water to drink.” – Numbers 20:3-5
To his credit, Moses sought the Lord about this as he’d always done. Instead of trying to solve the problem himself, he asked God, who was right there with the answer:
“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.” – Numbers 20:8
Seems simple enough. God had done this and so much more before. How could this simple action possibly lead Moses to sin against God?
Poof! – Rewards Gone
Moses did indeed assemble the people before the rock. Aaron was also there. And Moses brought the staff as God requested.
But what happened next was not in God’s plan. Moses addressed the people and acted, but not in the way God had instructed:
“…and he [Moses] said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’” – Numbers 20:10
Moses then proceeded to do something he had never done before. He went against God’s word. He sinned. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it with the staff, twice.
This had worked one other time when the people had needed water (see Exodus 17). In that case, God had told him to strike a rock with the staff. But not here. God’s instructed Moses to speak to the rock instead to get water from it.
It may not seem like a big thing to you or me. A miracle did occur, and the people got the water they wanted. But God didn’t see it that way. He said to Moses:
“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.” – Numbers 20:12
And just like that, in an instant, all the rewards Moses had been anticipating were gone because of this one sin.
What Can We Learn From Moses’ Sin?
Moses could have avoided this sin. However, he lost sight of some things and gave in to something he had struggled with all his life. Let’s take a closer look to see where Moses faltered and what we can take away from it to help us today.
Moses’ Character Flaw
When you read Moses statement to the people in Numbers 20:10, what word comes to mind?
If you said “anger” you would be spot on. In this case, it finally caught up to him.
We’ve seen anger issues before from Moses. As a youth, he had killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:11-15). That had forced Moses to flee for his life out of Egypt.
Later, he didn’t seem very happy at the burning bush when God called him to lead the people.
And then, he destroyed the first set of stone tablets that God wrote the Ten Commandments on when the people rebelled at the golden calf incident. So yes, Moses had anger issues.
On the one hand, who could blame him? The people were bitter, obstinate, and ungrateful complainers.
But still, Moses’ inability to control his anger resulted in sin. In fact, Ephesians 4:26 commands us to not let our anger lead to sin. Moses never dealt with it or learned to manage it. And now, years of frustration boiled over in one very public moment.
So the takeaway for us to acknowledge our weaknesses. We need to take steps to mature in that area so that the weakness doesn’t become a perpetual issue.
Moses’ Personal Pain
As you read the Bible, always look to see the content that is before and after passages. Sometimes it may not be entirely relevant. Other times though, it can be, as in this case.
Let’s take a look at Numbers 20:1, the verse just proceeding the story of Moses’ sin:
“And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.”
If you recall, Miriam was Moses’ sister. She had been an important figure of leadership among the people. Now she is gone.
We don’t know how she died or how much time had passed between her death and Moses’ sin. But both things happened at Kadesh. So, we can assume a relatively short time frame between events.
We also don’t know how Moses mourned her death. But again, we can guess. After all, Moses was human. Like anyone else who has lost a loved one, the pain of grief must have been great.
Miriam’s death does not excuse Moses’ sin in the least. However, if Moses had not entirely processed his grief, it makes sense how his emotions from her passing spilled over into another area of life.
That’s important for us to realize. Our capacity to sin is heightened when we are dealing with deep emotional pain of any kind. We should be on guard during such times so that we don’t let that emotion out on someone else.
Moses’ Spiritual Missteps
Moses had human flaws like us. He got angry. He dealt with personal tragedy and pain. But ultimately, he took his eyes off of God and that was the real issue that resulted in his sin.
Spiritually speaking, Moses was a giant of the faith. He’s commended in Hebrews 11 as such a man. But here, for a moment, he forgot three critical things:
1. He forgot about loving people
Moses had always been on the side of the people. Every time they faced a consequence from God because of their sin, Moses came to their rescue. He would pray and intercede on the people’s behalf before God.
Not here though. In this case, we see Moses referring to them as “rebels” (see v. 10). That doesn’t seem like a loving comment on his part. It shows he’d had enough of them, which runs counter to God’s love for mankind.
2. He forgot who was doing the miracle
Moses actually said the word “we” when asking the people if they wanted water. Who was the “we” he was referring to? It was himself and Aaron.
Moses had always pointed the people to God. Moses knew he was just the vehicle through which God performed miracles. But here the language is different. There is no praise or glorification of God in his question to the people. Only a focus on self.
3. He forgot God’s ultimate standard – holiness
God always demanded holiness of the people. His famous phrase, “be holy for I am holy” is found all through the book of Leviticus. All the laws for the people and the priests were focused towards this standard.
Here, it’s actually what Moses gets called out for. God said in Numbers 20:12 that Moses failed “….to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people…”. In the end, that was the real sin. He diminished God through his disobedience.
It didn’t matter that Moses was the leader and most important person in the camp. It didn’t matter that he had spoken to God personally. In fact, those things should strengthened him and helped prevent this.
But that’s what happens when we lose sight of the big picture and what really matters.
Final Thoughts on the Sin of Moses
Moses was just like us. He was human. He faced the same life challenges that we do. In the end, one of them (his anger) caught up to him.
We shouldn’t be surprised he sinned. There were probably other times he sinned that the Bible does not record. But this sin by Moses was very public.
In this moment, Moses showed his disregard for God’s holiness. God had to respond with consequences. Otherwise, the people would view Him differently, as one showing favoritism to certain people and not really serious about His own words.
Ultimately, that should be our standard as well. Our actions should reflect God’s holiness. If they do and we keep our eyes on Him, we will be less likely to stumble.
Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: What other lessons do you pick out of the story of Moses’ sin? Does your anger ever get the best of you? What moments of weakness have contributed to you doing something wrong?