And the Lord said 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." (Bemidbar / Numbers 20:12; ESV)
This week's parsha (weekly Torah portion) includes the sad story of God's forbidding of Moses to enter the Promised Land. He led the people of Israel for forty years, putting up with so much grief from the very people he had been assigned to help. He stood against the world power of his day and led an oppressed nation of slaves through stark wilderness and antagonistic territory. He diligently taught them God's ways and handled their disputes. When God himself was fed up with their rebellious attitudes and evil behavior, he pleaded for patience and mercy. No one should ever blame Moses for losing it. Anyone else would have given up long before he did.
But he did eventually fail. It's not too clear exactly what it was that prompted God to be so harsh with his otherwise faithful and humble servant. The incident involved the people grumbling yet again - this time due to lack of water. Like so many other times before, in spite of the people's inappropriate attitude, God directed Moses to perform another miracle. This was the second time God would cause water to come from a rock. Almost forty years earlier in a similar situation God told Moses to strike a particular rock with his staff and water would be provided as a result (see Shemot / Exodus 17:1-7). This time Moses was instructed to speak to the rock. There was no mention of hitting it. But hit it he did. If I read the story properly he hit it with an uncharacteristic anger towards the people. A great amount of water came out anyway, but something about Moses' handling of the situation resulted in God's forbidding him to enter the Promised Land.
I can't say for sure what it was that God disapproved of. Was it that he hit the rock, when he was told simply to speak to it? Or was it his expression of anger? Whatever it was, God said that Moses failed to uphold him as holy in the eyes of the people. Again, how he did that is not clear, but this is a serious charge. What is clear is what was behind Moses' failing to treat God properly. God said to him, "Because you did not believe in me."
Moses didn't believe in God? For many of us, that sounds as if he had no faith in God at all, which of course is not the case. Most people don't know that the Hebrew word aman' that is here translated "believe" can also be translated "faith," or "trust." The particular English word chosen depends on what makes the most sense in English in a given context. I think "trust" is better here. Reading it as "Because you did not trust me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people" gets across the correct idea in this particular case. It was Moses' lack of trust that resulted in his not being allowed to enter the Promised Land.
God was not completely rejecting Moses or discounting everything else that happened in the last forty years. It was not as if Moses' not trusting God in this instance caused him to forgo his status as a true child of God. He only lost the privilege and benefit of entering the Promised Land. This is not to say that this is no big deal. Far from it! To lead the people all that way only to fail in the end was huge. Moses would plead with God to change his mind, but God said "no" (see Devarim 3:23-29).
From this we learn that while general faith in God through the Messiah is completely sufficient to establish a right relationship with him, ongoing faith is necessary to live out the kind of life God desires for us. Our ongoing struggles with doubts and fear need not lead us to think that we are not God's children. But as God's children we need to grow in our trusting of him. Lack of faith will always result in a substandard walk with God. The more we trust him, the more effective our lives will be.
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