The Consequence of Unbelief
Moses rose from his sister’s grave and slowly walked back to the camp. He lowered his head as he made his way through the tents. He avoided making eye contact, but he could feel the people’s stares burrowing into him. The multitude he was tasked to lead had taken a toll on him. He was emotionally bankrupt. He had not even had time to mourn his sister’s death before the people were back to their bickering. Their squabbling was like a whining insect in his ear, always annoying with no way to make it stop. He had little left to give. He was extremely frustrated with them. But more importantly, he was frustrated with God.
His frustration with God was easy to understand. It was God who had called him to this miserable task. It was God who had led them into the wilderness. It was all God, but in the eyes of the people, it was all Moses’ fault. Now the whole congregation had assembled together against Moses and his brother Aaron. Their words were cruel and cutting as they heaped blame on him.
“Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!” they sneered. “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 no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”
Silently Moses and Aaron turned and went to the entrance of the tent of meeting. They fell on their faces, prostrate before God. In a moment, the glory of the Lord appeared to them. At last, God spoke.
“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and before their eyes tell the rock to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”
Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him. Then he and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock. Inside he was fuming. When at last silence spread across the group, he glared at them and shouted above the crowd, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”
At this, Moses lifted up the rod with his hand and struck the rock. A loud crack rang through the air. Again he lifted the rod and struck the rock, and again the blow reverberated through the air. The sound echoed across the wilderness. Immediately water gushed out. The thirsty throng surged forward, cupping the water in their hands, filling their parched mouths with the cool sweet water. A shout of joy erupted through the congregation as the water filled the pool below.
The sound of Moses’ striking the rock was also heard in heaven. But instead of joy, sadness began to seep from the throne room of heaven as God the Father considered the consequences of this singular act.
Finally God spoke 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.”
The people drank like wild animals, oblivious to what had just transpired in the heavens. Moses slowly closed his eyes. A tear filled the corner of his eye. Finally it spilled over and traced a wet line down his weary, dusty cheek.
(Adapted from Numbers 20:1-12, ESV).
When I consider this period in Moses’ life, I am filled with sorrow. I cannot comprehend how devastated he must have felt. His sister Miriam had just died. The sand mounded on her grave had not even settled. Add to this the ongoing pressure of trying to lead a multitude of unruly people through the desert. Surely he was emotionally and physically drained. In his humanity, he did the unthinkable. Instead of following what God has said to do, he took matters into his own hands.
The consequence was staggering. Instead of joining the people when they finally took possession of the land that God had promised to them, he was only allowed to see the land from afar. He would not step one foot on the land. Can you imagine? After all the problems, all the complaining people, all the wandering, because of this one act he was not allowed to enter.
If you are like me, you question why this is such a big deal. Gratefully, in his response to Moses and Aaron, God tells us why this matters. This is what he says:
“Because you did not believe in me…”
Let that sink in for a moment. Do you understand the consequence of unbelief? Do you understand that when you chose to live your life apart from God’s design that there are consequences?
Trusting God is not optional. Following God is not discretionary. We don’t get to decide when it is right to obey, and when to do it in our own way. It is all or nothing. Doing the right thing in the wrong way is always the wrong thing to do.
As I walk by faith, I’ve chosen to live my life completely reliant upon God. Many years ago I made a commitment to rely solely upon him. As God has led me in my relationship with him, I do not share my needs with others. I bring my needs to him, and then I wait for him to provide however he sees fits. This is non-negotiable for me. It is not that I am more spiritual than others. In fact, it is the opposite. I know how unspiritual I can be! I know my humanity! I know I can make emotional decisions. I know that when I am physically exhausted I can make horrible choices. I’m aware that I can easily try to manipulate others to get what I want. I actually find security by following God in this way. It sets a boundary for me in my walk with God. It minimizes my humanity. Sometimes that means I have to wait. But for me, the difficulty of waiting on God is easier than dealing with the consequences of unbelief.
As we live by faith, you and I have similar opportunities presented to us. Like Moses, we hear the word of God. We move forward in faith, believing what God has said, he will do. Then trials heap upon us. We grow weary. We feel a deepening frustration. “What if…” We begin to doubt. It’s only human. My friend, in these moments be very, very careful. When you are emotionally drained, or when you are physically exhausted, the enemy will tempt you to take things into your own hands. These are the moments when the enemy will question your confidence in what God has said.
In these moments, choose to have confidence in the word of God. Believe that what he has said is true. He will be faithful. Wait patiently for him. Do what he says to do, when he says to do it.
Remember, the consequence of waiting is always better than the consequence of unbelief.
This article was originally published in the June 2016 Newsletter.