When I was growing up, my mother read books with titles such as, “Raising a Strong-Willed Child” - probably with good reason. If I decided on a course of action, such missing curfew, I would do it despite knowing I would face punishment and consequences. I anticipated what the punishment might be (such as grounding) and reasoned with myself that my parents couldn’t ground me forever; built into the punishment was grace. If 2 or 3 weeks being grounded was a fair exchange, I would do still go on with my plan. You could say I abused the grace my parents offered.
I approached my relationship with God in the same manner. I exploited grace by treating it as freedom to do what I wanted. In my bratty, know-it-all rebellion, I challenged God to prove 2 Timothy 3:16 was true – that all Scripture was useful. I started with the book of Numbers. In my ignorance, I believed Numbers to literally be about numbers because I had not read past the first chapter.
Challenging God, I’ve learned, causes him to act. The book of Numbers is my life-saver. There are plenty of applications we can learn from Numbers – it’s not just a book of census numbers – however, it wasn’t until chapter 20 that I was arrested by God.
Numbers 20:6-13 describes the second time God provided water through a rock. Forty years before, Moses had struck a rock at the Lord’s command and water gushed from the rock (Exodus 17:1-7). The innocuous action of striking the rock, instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord commanded for the 2nd miracle caused Moses to forfeit his entrance to the Promised Land. I was struck dumb (pun intended).
God is holy. I did not become indignant that God would punish Moses – the man I considered closer to God than anybody. I was humbled and I repented of my rebellion. I could not anticipate the consequences of disobeying God and think that I could handle it; that simply showed my immaturity. I could not out-wait the mighty hand of the Lord. We cannot challenge the Holy One of Israel and not expect consequences.
Moses was his friend – they had conversations and Moses saw his glory and yet he was subject to God. He could not challenge God without him taking action. I meditated on that for a long time; I still meditate on the holiness of God and I have to repent of my rebellion towards God. Because of the work on the cross, we live by grace but God is holy and his word endures.
At the death of Moses, I’m touched by the loving-kindness of the Lord. At the age of 120, Moses climbed Mount Nebo and the Lord showed him the whole land. I feel the Lord’s heart when I read (and reread) that passage. The Lord was grieved he couldn’t bring Moses, his friend, into the Promised Land but the standard of the Lord doesn’t change. Instead, God gave him the next best thing – he showed Moses the fruit of his labour for the people in the desert. Moses saw with his own eyes, the land he had tirelessly lead the people toward. And then in a final act of sweetness, the Lord buried his friend. It was a private moment between two beings that loved each other. God didn’t love Moses any less but Moses’ sin forfeited the promise for himself.
I finished reading Numbers (and a few other references from the Torah) and I came away with two important lessons:
1. God is holy and he cannot be mocked.
2. All Scripture is useful, and I’ve poured the last 13 years of my life proving it through study and teaching.