No study of the life of Moses would be complete without looking at the event that kept him from realizing his dream. Back at the burning bush, as 80-year-old Moses stood barefoot, God said in Exodus 3:8, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” He was called not only to deliver the Israelites but to lead them into the land of plenty.
But because of one misstep, just laps from the finish line, Moses would never experience the rest of Canaan, or enjoy its fresh fruit and produce. As the final artistic strokes were applied to the canvas of his life, a dark smear marred this work of art. Though barred from entry, God did allow him to see the beautiful land atop Mount Nebo in Moab before his death. God’s last recorded words to Moses were, “…I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” (Deuteronomy 34:4) 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
What’s tough about this account found in Numbers 20 is that God seems to get Moses on a technicality. The offense is so small, especially for the guy who gave the final 40 years of his life to pastor a grumpy congregation in the desert.
It reminds me of the time when my dad called me out and took something promised away at the last minute. The year was 1978, and the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeves had just come out. I was just a youngster playing in the church parking after service when the adults decided to take us all to see the man of steel on the big screen. For us, this was better than celebrating Christmas six months early. My friends and I wound up sitting in the very back of the van on the way to the movie. I don’t remember how, but someone said the word “butt” which made us all laugh. We just started saying it over and over again – fat butts, big butts, flabby butts, butthead. I’m not sure how dad heard, but I believe a super spiritual, brown nosing, goody two shoes church member said, “Hey, your son’s in the back saying the word butt.” (I’m not bitter anymore, really.) Embarrassed and shocked, dad turned the van around and said he would not reward me with a movie for that kind of talk. I blew up in tears and pleaded for grace but found none. We got into another car and went home. Sitting in the kitchen, I wailed for about an hour as dad snuggled in his chair with a book and a cup of coffee. All because I said the word “butt.”
What Moses did in Numbers 20 seems small, but we learn that small acts of disobedience are big in God’s eyes. Let’s take a closer look.