IS GOD FAIR? Out of the multitude of God’s servants of all times, Moses would surely be ranked in the top ten, if not in the top five. He was a great man in many ways. He was a natural leader — a military commander, a nation-builder, a prophet! Moses was a man whom God used mightily — a legend in his own time.
It was Moses who for 40 years led the murmuring, complaining Israelites toward the promised land. Without Moses’ prayerful intercessions, God would have given up on that sinful nation. Any lesser man than Moses could not have accomplished what he did. Israel never had another leader like him (Deu. 34:10).
Yet after almost a century of service, after trials and triumphs, after 40 long years of leading a rebellious multitude through the wilderness, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land of rest (Deu 34:1-4). How could this happen? Why would God turn His back on a servant like Moses? Numbers 20:1-13 gives the reason.
GOD’S COMMAND: It is the first month of the fortieth year of wandering. The people have almost reached their promised land. Moses’ job is almost finished. The entire Israelite community has arrived at the Desert of Zin; but there was no water.
The people blamed Moses. They murmured; they complained; they quarreled. Moses took the problem to God in prayer. God told Moses what to do: “Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, 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” (Num 20:8). For the most part, Moses obeyed God explicitly. He took the staff and assembled the people before the particular rock that God had mentioned; but then he departed from God’s specific instruction. Instead of speaking to the rock as God commanded, Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff (Num 20:11).
GOD’S REACTION: Men are tempted to want to excuse Moses for what may seem like such a “little thing”. But the Lord said to Moses, “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” (Num 20:12). Moses disobeyed God! God authorized speaking to the rock. Moses substituted striking the rock. Moses sinned. God punished.
WHAT LESSON DO WE LEARN? God’s reaction to Moses’ sin should teach us something. Only the things God has authorized are acceptable to Him as worship. God is the authority. Any additions, any subtractions, any substitutions to His word dishonor and displease Him. This AUTHORITY PRINCIPLE is stated in the New Testament. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col3:17). “In the name of Jesus” simply means by His authority. Only by doing what God has authorized can man please God.
Let’s be specific. Only unleavened bread and fruit of the vine are authorized as elements of the Lord’s supper (Mat 26:17-30). Anything else is excluded. Pizza and Pepsi would be sinful if added to the Lord’s table. Only immersion is authorized for baptism (Rom 6:4). Sprinkling and pouring are not authorized and cannot be substituted. Prayer is to be offered to God the Father (Mat 6:9). Prayers to the Virgin Mary, dead saints, or the apostles of Jesus are not authorized and therefore wrong. Christians are commanded to sing certain kinds of songs with the heart and lips in worship to God (Col 3:16). When a banjo, guitar, or piano is added to God’s command, God must surely be displeased because He has only authorized singing.
Lacking of Biblical authority, then, is what makes Auricular Confession, baptizing of images, baptizing of infants, canonization of saints, celibacy of the clergy, lighting of blessed lamps and vestments, sprinkling for baptism, using musical instruments in worship, and a hundred other things that God has not authorized, wrong. Their authority derives not from God but from men.
GOD IS FAIR: Moses knew what God wanted but he substituted something else. He deserved the punishment he received. Man can know what God wants today. The New Testament is a pattern (Heb 8:5) of what God expects. Any deviations from God’s pattern are sinful and deserve His judgment.