The word chode is an Old English word, the past participle of the word chide. If we were to give it a modern application, we would probably say that it means to oppose noisily with the exhibiting of bodily violence. When the people chode with Moses (Numbers 20:3), loudly making their requests for water, their faces probably turned red, and the veins on their necks protruded. They were most likely gesturing with their hands, and they perhaps threw dust up in the air, as they demanded, “Why have you brought us out here?”
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I just wish I could die”? The children of Israel expressed this desire: “Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!” Numbers 20:3. They were referring to the incident when the earth swallowed up Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their supporters. (See Numbers 16.) They whined, “Those people all died; we wish to God that we had died too.” They were not concerned about anything but themselves. When this is the case, watch out!
When all of this complaining and all of this bitterness began boiling up and manifesting itself, what happened? Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle, where they knew there would be protection, and they fell on their faces. They probably covered their heads with their hands and said, “Lord, the fire is going to fall. We do not want to be a part of this.”
Lessons to Learn
One lesson we can learn from this experience concerning the children of Israel is that a discontented heart makes for a very reckless tongue. Forty years of divine chastisement had taught them absolutely nothing. They could not see the hand of God in their leading. They could only see Moses and Aaron; they could not see God.
Do we have those kinds of things happening today? I think so. When things are not going the way they should—or the way that we think they should—we begin to complain about that which is visible to us. That which we can see is that which we blame. Should we not be asking ourselves, “Does God have a hand in all of this?” Is He not the One to whom we should be appealing for help?
There is another lesson in all of this for us, and that is to answer the question, Is God leading, or is He not leading? I would like to suggest to you that perhaps, in the not too distant future in the historic movement, because the number of leaders are dwindling and the focus of attention is more and more upon those who remain, there may come about circumstances in which the water will stop. What are we going to do then? Are we going to focus on the leaders and cry, “You have led us on a merry chase; would to God we had stayed with the denomination; you got us out here in the wilderness to kill us”? I would like to suggest to you that something similar could happen in the very near future. We need to ask ourselves, Where am I going to be found in all of this? On whose side am I really going to be? Am I going to focus on the leadership and chide them, or am I going to carry my problem to God who will be merciful and will supply my needs? It is something to ponder.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together . . . .” This is the rod that Moses had used to perform miracles before Pharaoh. “. . . thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.” Numbers 20:7, 8.
You see, sometimes we have to make sure that we are rightly dividing the word of truth. Moses, perhaps, only heard part of what God told him. The part he heard was, “And thou shalt bring forth to them water.” Moses should have known that the source of the water was God and not himself.
There is a tendency for us to hear only certain kinds of things in our distress. We have to make sure that we do not allow a discontented heart to bring forth a reckless tongue, because Moses, in this regard, was just as guilty as were the children of Israel. The people had been pressing on him for so long and he had been through so much with them, that this became, as we say, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” But, even so, there was no excuse.
Here is where Moses failed. He did not follow the counsel that God gave to him. God told him to speak to the rock, and it would bring forth water. Moses received a test here, which shows us that we never reach a point in our Christian experience where we are beyond the point of testing. We never reach a level or an age where we are not presented with decisions and tests. Many times we like to believe that God passes us by without a test, but He does not. How are we going to relate to such testing?
“Take the rod, Moses, and go over to that rock with the rod in your hand and speak to that rock.” Moses was naturally an impatient person, and he had 80 years previously failed that same test. He killed the Egyptian, because he was impatient and angry at what was taking place. (See Exodus 2:11–14.) God was going to work out every last bit of this part of his nature, so He said, “I want you to go and speak to this rock.” But Moses “lost his temper.” The people had raised his blood pressure. They had rebelled against God once again, and Moses was angry. Moses went out to the rock after hearing God speak, probably fully intending to do what God had told him to do. But when he was actually confronted with the situation, he failed the test.
If Moses had a problem, he should have gone into his closet alone and complained to God. God would have listened to every complaint Moses had, if he would have gone to God alone. When you go into your closet, you can tell God anything you want to tell Him. You can pour out your heart, even if it is filled with bitterness. He is able to deal with it in a way that is altogether different than if you pour out your bitterness in front of people.
This was Moses’ sin. God was not sanctified before the people by what Moses did. He knew what God told him. He did not have any question about it, but perhaps, because of his anger, he heard only a part of it, and then he moved ahead. The Bible says, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17.
It was a sin of greater magnitude than if the congregation had done the same thing, but Ellen White wrote that Moses and Aaron “were not chargeable with willful or deliberate sin; they had been overcome by a sudden temptation, and their contrition was immediate and heartfelt.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 419. As soon as Moses struck the rock—twice—instead of speaking to it, the conviction of the Holy Spirit was there, and Moses said, “Oh, Lord, please forgive me.” Mrs. White said that their contrition was immediate and heartfelt. “The Lord accepted their repentance, though because of the harm their sin might do among the people, He could not remit its punishment.” Ibid.
No Respecter of Persons
“The transgression was known to the whole congregation; and had it been passed by lightly, the impression would have been given that unbelief and impatience under great provocation might be excused in those in responsible positions.” Ibid., 420. Consider that for just a moment.
Suppose that was the case. Suppose that somehow there was “Exemption 102” that said it was all right for a leader who was under great provocation and stress to lose his or her self-control—but only under great stress and provocation. Can you imagine the effects that such behavior would have on the congregation of God’s people? (We think we have turbulent spirits now!) “But when it was declared that because of that one sin Moses and Aaron were not to enter Canaan, the people knew that God is no respecter of persons, and that He will surely punish the transgressor.” Ibid.
No one is going to escape. It does not matter how your past faithfulness has been. Ezekiel 18 says that all the righteousness that you have done will never be mentioned, and all the sin that you have sinned is going to come back upon you, if repentance does not take place. (Verses 24–26.)
The moral of the story is given in the words of the Spirit of Prophecy: “But few realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Men flatter themselves that God is too good to punish the transgressor. But in the light of Bible history it is evident that God’s goodness and His love engage Him to deal with sin as an evil fatal to the peace and happiness of the universe. . . .
“Past faithfulness will not atone for one wrong act. The greater the light and privileges granted to man, the greater is his responsibility, the more aggravated his failure, and the heavier his punishment.” Ibid.
In 1 Corinthians 10:11, we are told: “All these things happened unto them for ensamples . . . upon whom the ends of the world are come.” So we may ask, “What is our responsibility in all of this?” Well, the responsibility we have is in the acknowledgement that there is a Saviour who is able to save to the uttermost. In the process of salvation, not only is there justification for the past, but there is also sanctification for the present. By going through that process of sanctification for the present, we begin to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ that would, or should, bring us to the point where we are not repeating these historical failures. This applies especially to those in positions of leadership.
We need to begin to train our thinking so that we will be able to relate to this in the right way—not flattering nor exalting those in positions of leadership, but realizing that those who are called into positions of leadership are going to have far greater accountability than those who are within the congregation. Therefore, everyone in the congregation is responsible for contributing to the peace, prosperity, and safety of those who are in positions of leadership. The members of the congregation should not endeavor to throw stumbling blocks in the way of leadership.
Some people say, “You are just trying to pad your own place.” No, I am not padding my own place. I am just trying to make it into the kingdom of heaven with the calling that God has given to me. I know that Pastor John Grosboll is in that same category. He is trying to make it into the kingdom of heaven with the calling that God has given to him, as well. We are not going to be able to do it without your help. There must be a supportive aspect of the congregation saying, “We are behind you. If you step off the path, we are going to have a visit with you concerning it, so we all stay on the path together.”
This is why Ellen White tells us that the work will never be finished until the laity and the ministers work together. “The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers.” Testimonies, vol. 9, 117.
I see the passage of Scripture, Numbers 20, as outlining these very things and showing us how to again get back on track. We see the failures that took place with the children of Israel. We do not want to repeat their history, but we are destined to repeat it unless we learn the lessons that are there.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Verse 12.
I would like to say, “Poor Aaron,” but I cannot do that. Aaron had his own set of problems. It was not because of what took place with the golden calf that Aaron was closed out of the kingdom. It was because he had an association with Moses when they went to the rock. He was Moses’ mouthpiece. It was here that he should have nudged Moses and said, “Let me do the talking for you.” Aaron had an opportunity, but he was silent. He had known his brother for 120 years. He could probably tell when Moses’ temperature gauge was rising, and he should have said, “Shh, let me do the speaking for you. Rock, bring forth water.” Perhaps both Moses and Aaron could have gone into the Promised Land. But Aaron, as the helper of Moses, did not speak when he should have spoken. Was it because he was afraid of Moses? No, I think that Aaron just did not respond when he should have.
Wisdom to Counsel
This leads us to yet another lesson. When we have been placed in the position of counselor to someone, we need to give counsel in God’s wisdom so that our associates do not experience failure. With the Lord’s help, we need to be on a level of communication that we can share things without becoming worked up or upset about them. Doing this may prevent us from a greater failure down the road.
As it was, Aaron climbed the mount Hor, and his clothes—the priestly robes—were removed and placed on Eleazar, and Aaron died. Verses 25– 28. Moses, though he pleaded with the Lord, was not going to enter the Promised Land either.
There are some tremendous object lessons in the story of the children of Israel for us. The thing that we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we up to learning the lessons?” I pray that we are.
Pastor Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to Life. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.