It doesn’t seem fair that Moses doesn’t make it to the promised land. He was chosen by God to free the Israelites. He faces Pharaoh. He is the mediator between God and the people. And when God desires to affirm their relationship by revealing God’s face to Moses, God even shields Moses so that Moses will not die. God continually protects Moses. But in our reading from Numbers today, Moses disobeys God. The people are thirsy and are complaining. Moses talks to God and God tells Moses to command a certain rock to give water to the people. Moses leads the entire people to the rock. They gather around it. And then Moses strikes it with his staff. Water comes forth and the people drink but Moses has sealed his fate. God said to speak. Instead, Moses struck with his staff. And now Moses, like the other leaders in our reading from last week, will not enter the Promised Land.
So what are we supposed to do with this text? In fact, what are we to do with all of the rebellion texts in Numbers and the rest of the first five books of the bible? One way to frame their presence is to examine what happens in many of the cases. The turning away from God is usually tied to an example of idolatry. Now, idolatry can mean many different things. For some Israelites, it meant creating a golden calf and calling it a god. For others, it meant not trusting God’s promises and reverting back to their own strengths and fears. And, for still more, it mean putting something other than God at the physical (and spiritual) center of their lives. Wealth, knowledge, pride, and fear are all examples of idolatry. Anything that convinces us to put our trust in ourselves, our resources, or something other than God is just an attempt for us to try to be our own gods. And, like we saw in the Exodus story, the people didn’t free themselves from slavery. God did. God brings freedom and life. Everything else, according to the earlier books, just brings us back into a type of slavery and death.
This explanation isn’t designed to excuse the violence in these texts. The violence in the bible is something I will always struggle with. But the question of what gives us life, energy, and purpose is an important one. What’s at our center and does it feed our soul or devour it?
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 1st Sunday in Lent, 2/28/2016.