When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)
Moses was very humble, more than any other man on the face of the earth (Numb. 12:3). Wow! What statement about the character of Moses. God calls out Miriam and Aaron to come out to the tent of meeting and God dealt with their arrogance and rebellion against Moses, God’s chosen leader. We know from Exodus that Moses was insecure and struggled with God’s call to lead Israel out of Egypt. But after some debate God pressed him into service, along with Aaron, to represent Him before Pharaoh. When I think of the fact that the Scriptures identified Moses as the most humble man in all the earth, that forces me to ponder the magnitude of such a statement. Who would not want that inscribed on their headstone; who would not want this as their legacy – this person was very humble before the Lord.
But then there is this second statement that God makes to Abram: because he did not treat God as holy before the people, he would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land. Abram had become very frustrated with God’s people because, as usual, they were stubborn, obstinate and disobedient. Any leader must deal with that frustration, but even in the legacy of humility, he disobeyed God in how God wanted His instructions communicated to the people and God took issue with it. God did not so much punish Abram, but He took away the privilege of experiencing God’s promises in their full expression in this new mode of existence in the Land of Promise. It is in this context that we learn three things:
1. No matter how people act around us, God always expects us to treat him as holy. People can drive you crazy and it is easy to get frustrated in interactions with others, but leaders are especially vulnerable to this temptation. Think about it – God called Abram to lead, he had this God-given responsibility and he was likely feeling like he was failing as a leader because the people were not doing what God was telling them to do. It would seem to be very justifiable to get frustrated with uncooperative people and we know it happens. The problem was not necessarily that he became frustrated and “jumped” on their stubbornness with both feet. From God’s perspective he dishonored God by acting in a way that did not respect and treat God as holy.
2. God never wants us to take matters into our own hands. We are called by God to obey Him, not force others to comply with what we want them to do. There is a saying that one of the defining responsibilities of a leader is to get them to do what they don’t want to do. I get the underlying premise – we can be lazy and selfish, so the idea is to motivate people to obey God and live by faith. But manipulation and driving people to conform is not the same as empowering people to obey. Jesus painted our “philosophy of leadership” in Matthew 20 when he told his disciples to NOT lead like the Gentiles who exercise their authority to make people do what they wanted. The disciples were to model Christ – to be servants. Their leadership style demanded being servants of God first who were to serve His people at God’s direction.
3. Leadership is always about trusting that God will look after things whether I look successful as a leader or not. Leaders are called by God to lead; that means not only doing what God wants us to do but also doing things in the way that God wants things done. No matter how uncooperative people are, no matter how stubborn, no matter how resistant they are to what we are “leading them to do”, their actions never justify us not treating God as holy.
4. God wants us to be holy not happy. Moses was not happy. But following God will not always be a happy experience. There is an old saying that floats around leadership circles – “leading would be a piece of cake if it were not for people”. That being said (and take it with a grain of salt), leadership has great moments where we see the power of God in remarkable ways and it has its challenges. But God wants us to be holy above being happy. God calls his people to be holy as He is holy. When we understand that “holiness” is about being “set apart” to serve Him, then obedience is a delight and joy, not a burden.
In the grace of Christ, Pastor Brad.