The Fall of a Great Leader(Moses): Sawyer

                           Calvary Baptist Theological Journal 5.1 (Spring, 1989) 12-27

            Copyright © 1999 by Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, cited with permission;

                                       digitally prepared for use at Gordon College] 



    The Fall of a Great Leader

as Illustrated in the Life of Moses


    Vince Sawyer

   Pastor, Faith Baptist Church

      Corona, NY


            One distinctive feature that sets the Bible apart from other

historical writings is its relentless willingness to mention the

transgressions of its heroes. Even Moses, who without a doubt, is

regarded as the greatest and most dynamic of the OT prophets and

leaders, does not have his failures omitted. He was one who was

tremendously used of God and yet one who fell into sin. Lessons

can be learned from the sin of Moses for the benefit of God's

leaders today. Such lessons will aid the leader when pressures

mount; will guard against the hideous sin of unbelief; will reveal the

increased demands that come with the title "leader;" and will warn

against the high cost of disobedience paid by God's leaders who sin.


The Pressure of Difficulties on Leadership


In Difficulty People-Pressure is Inevitable


In Numbers 20:1-5, Moses the leader faces the pressure that

comes when difficulty arrives. After 37 years had passed, the stage

seems set for history to repeat itself, when the second generation

appears no different from the first in their complaint about a lack of

water at Kadesh. Why did God allow the situation regarding the

lack of water to occur in the first place? What was His purpose?


Sawyer / Moses 13



First, the second generation was to be put to the test in order to

find out whether it was better than the first; second, Yahweh's

greatness and might were to be impressed upon them by His

ability and readiness to help them in their hour of need in order

to prove Himself as the God of their covenant. By purposely

creating a situation in which the people lacked water (a most

precious commodity in the desert), Yahweh causes the second

generation to realize their dependence upon Him, as well as His

readiness to help them as He had done to their fathers.1


Difficult times tend to come all at once. This appears to have

been the case with Moses. At Kadesh, Moses experienced pressure

from all angles. In verse one, Miriam's death no doubt was a

burden to Moses. The absence of water not only would cause

irritation among the nation of Israel, but also with the leadership of

Moses and Aaron (v 2). The effect of this great need was collective

opposition (v 2b) and verbal strife (rib).

This opposition apparently was initiated by "ringleaders" who

called and assembled the people together. Moses faced verbal

complaint in verse three by the people who cried out, "If only we

had expired or breathed out (gara') our lives when our brethren

died before the Lord!" In other words, they were implying that

anything would be better than this!" More pressure is added in

verses 4 and 5 as Moses' motives are questioned and he is credited

(blamed) for a work that he did not do. It was God not Moses and

Aaron who led Israel out into the wilderness. And it was the sin

of Israel that resulted in her roaming around in the desert for 40

years; it was not Moses' fault. Moses also faced internal pressure

as he recalled the last experience at Kadesh 37 years earlier. He

was very concerned that Israel would produce a repeat performance,

incur God's judgment again and restrict him from ever entering the

land as he so greatly desired.


In Difficulty God's Prescription is Indispensible

The leaders, Moses and Aaron, did what all of God's leaders

should do in times of pressure and need--they entered God's

presence and sought Divine answers (v 6). "They fell upon their

faces; and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them." God then

gave Moses and Aaron exact prescriptions (commands) which in turn

demanded exact obedience (v 8). Moses is explicitly told 1) to take



14 / Calvary Baptist Theological Journal/Spring 1989



the rod, 2) to assemble the congregation, and 3) both Moses and

Aaron were to speak to the rock.2

It is interesting that God told Moses to take "the rod" with him,

since he was not to use it, though he did use his rod in other

miracles involving water (Num 7:20, 14:16). This time, however,

"Moses took the rod from before the LORD." This phrase points

to the same rod that budded in order to vindicate the Aaronic

priesthood. After this event, it was then kept "before the testimony

to be kept as a sign against the rebels" so that God might put an

end to Israel's grumblings (Num 17:10). Now Israel is grumbling

again, so God tells Moses to get the rod to remind the nation about

her former sin of grumbling.

Moses did obey with exact obedience on two of the three

commands. He took the rod (v 9) and he with Aaron gathered the

congregation together to witness the miracle that God intended to

perform. If Moses had obeyed the third command exactly, it would

have been a testimony to the people who witnessed. The act of

speaking to the rock by its unusual nature would draw attention to

the rock and not to Moses. This indeed was God's intention, for

the NT describes this rock as none other than Jesus Christ (I Cor

10:4). Thus "speaking to the rock" would reveal the rock as being

the source of water and not the efforts of Moses. Moses, however,

failed in regard to the third imperative.


The Sin of Disbelief by Leadership


Attitude: Disbelief Manifested in Mood


In the Bible, God speaks of leaders who had moments of

unbelief. Such lack of faith manifested itself in despair, such as

Elijah who fled from Jezebel and John the Baptist who had moments

of doubt concerning Christ. In Numbers 20:10, God records Moses

as one who also manifested a lack of complete trust in Yahweh by

the attitude he displayed. In this verse he "shows his exasperation,

his famous temper (cf Exod 2:11-12), and his astonishing egotism."3

"The faithful servant of God, worn out with the numerous

temptations, allowed himself to be overcome, so that he stumbled,

and did not sanctify the Lord."4 Moses, who needed at this point to

fully trust God for patience and self-control did not.

Moses was about to sin internally which like 'slippery steps'

would lead to outward disobedience. In verse 10, he displays three


Sawyer / Moses 15


sinful attitudes: 1) impatience, 2) anger, and 3) pride or self-

exaltation. His impatience is evidenced by his abrupt appeal for

Israel to "listen." His anger is seen as he addresses them as "rebels."5

Though his description was accurate and true, his tenor was one of

anger. Psalm 106:32-33 describes Moses as having been "provoked

to wrath at the waters of Meribah . . . [and] because they were

rebellious against his spirit, he spoke rashly with his lips." A man's

anger never exhibits the righteous behavior that God expects (James

1:20). In his self-righteous anger, Moses then displayed a spirit of

pride and independence by his question, "Shall we bring forth water

for you out of this rock?" Moses' downfall began when he took

additional presumptuous action and spoke to the people (v 10) about

their quarrels, threats, and unjustified arguments, rather than doing

exclusively what God said; namely, "speak to the rock" (v 8).


Presumption: Disbelief Manifested in Word


Moses' "rash words" mentioned in Psalm 106:32-33 are the words

reflected in his implication that he and Aaron had the power to

provide water out of the rock. Such pride by its very nature fails

to foster true belief in and reverence for Yahweh. Many argue that

the word "we" in verse 10 refers not to Moses and Aaron but to

Moses and God. The most obvious antecedents to the plural

pronoun "we" however are Moses and Aaron. The "we" is

blasphemous, nonetheless, whether Moses intended it to refer to

himself and Aaron or even to himself and God. The Bible is clear

that it was God not Moses, who provided the water out of the rock.

In Psalm 78 it is evident that God "split the rocks in the wilderness,

and gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths. He brought

forth streams also from the rock, and caused waters to run down like

rivers" (vv 15, 16; cf Isa 48:21). Moses not only usurped God's place

in word ("we") but this led also to deed ("he smote the rock").


Disobedience: Disbelief Manifested in Action


In the Bible, God shows no distinction between faith or trust

and obedience. Faith always results in obedience and unbelief

always results in disobedience. Such was the case with Moses. In

Numbers 20:12, God's response to Moses' disobedience reveals his

disbelief. The Lord said, "You did not believe [trust in] Me."

Commands omitted. The external manifestation of Moses' sin

was two-fold: 1) He did what he was not told to do --- he struck


16 / Calvary Baptist Theological Journal / Spring 1989


the rock, and 2) He did not do what he was told to do --- speak to

the rock. Omitting from God's commands is just as dangerously

wrong as adding to them.

It is important to note that an omission will eventually pave the

way for an addition. Because Aaron was Moses' translator (Exod

4:14-17), Moses was to speak to the rock and Aaron was to repeat

his words loud enough for all of the people to hear. The sin was

not merely in Moses' striking of the rock, but in both his and

Aaron's failure to "speak to" it. If the sin was exclusively in Moses'

striking of the rock, the transgression of Aaron could not be

explained (v 12). This truth reveals that sins of omission are just as

costly as sins actually committed outwardly.

Sins committed. Along with Moses' failure to speak to the rock

as commanded (v 8) his disobedience is seen in his action of striking

it. God by commanding Moses to speak to the rock "before the

eyes" of Israel intended the people to rejoice at the sight of

abundant water and to


doubly and trebly rejoice at the knowledge that their God is with

them and is showing Himself by one of his happiest miracles. It

is this circumstance which Moses, in a fit of indignation, turns

into a bitter denunciation; he curses the people, and in smiting

the magic rod against the rock, destroys the hallowed moment

that God had so clearly intended.6


In order to honor God as "being holy," trust or belief is a

prerequisite. The idea in the original is that Moses did not have

enough trust in God to treat Him as being holy (v 12). His striking

the stone revealed a lack of faith. It had been striking the rock that

brought results the last time God provided water for the people

(Exod 17:6). Consequently, this time, rather than obeying God's new

directions and "speaking to it," Moses struck it and for good measure

he struck it twice. Moses' act of striking the rock twice was so done

as if producing water "depended upon human exertion, and not upon

the power of God alone."7 Moses' disobedience revealed his failure

to trust God's faithfulness to His word.

In summary, Moses' sin was an unbelief that manifested itself

in: 1) mood, 2) words, and 3) action. His anger, which served as a

catalyst, prompted him to utter words he was not to speak. Moses'

pride underlies his question "must we bring forth water. . ." and

detracted from Yahweh's exclusive ability to provide the necessary


Sawyer / Moses /17



water. His forceful striking of the rock twice indicates his continued

anger as well as his lack of faith in regard to the ability and good

will of God to provide water the way He intended. Moses' reaction

as a whole was diametrically opposed to the plan and intention of

Yahweh which Moses was made to understand very clearly.8


The Increased Demands of Leadership


Leaders are Responsible to Pay for Their Own Sin


Deuteronomy 1:37 has caused much controversy concerning the

time Moses' sin and restriction from the land took place. In this

verse Moses says, "Also the Lord was angry with me for your sakes,

saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither." In the context (vv 34-40)

of verse 37, Moses is basically recalling the unbelief coupled with

grumbling and complaining of Israel when they refused to enter the

land after hearing the bad report of the ten spies (Num 14:28-30).

At that time God took an oath saying, "Not one of these men, this

evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your

fathers" (Deut 1:35). The only exceptions were Caleb (v 36) and

Joshua (v 38); Moses was not even included as one of the

exceptions. Although Moses did not have part in the unbelief

evidenced at the time Israel refused to enter the land (Num 14:26-

27), the implication from verse 35 is that God in His foreknowledge

knew Moses also would not enter the Promised Land. Though the

announcement of Moses' exclusion from the land occurred 38 years

after that of the Israelites at Kadesh, the reason for the exclusions

was the same --- unbelief. While Israel refused to believe God's

word at Kadesh (Num 14:22-23; Deut 1:32), Moses refused to

believe God's word by the waters of Meribah at Kadesh (Num


The phrase "for your sakes" (v 37) still needs explanation. The

phrase, which occurs two other times in Deuteronomy (3:26; 4:21)

seems to show that Moses is shifting the blame for God's anger and

judgment toward him. The questions that must be answered are:

When was God angry with Moses because of Israel? And when did

God say, "not even you shall enter there"? Basically two views are

held to by theologians brave enough not to by-pass this perplexity.

One view bases its position on the proposition that leadership

bears full responsibility for the sins of the people it leads. For


18/ Calvary Baptist Theological Journal/Spring 1989


example, an employer whose worker makes a mistake stands fully

responsible for that error.


The reason for Moses' exclusion from the promised land, in this

context (Deut. 1:34-39), seems to be directly related to his

responsibility for the Israelites (i.e. “on your account ") before the

Lord. Although Moses was personally without blame for the

failures of the Israelites at Kadesh-Barnea, his identification with

the people as their leader meant that he also accepted with them

the result of their failure.9


This view asserts that Moses' restriction from the land was

because of corporate guilt, not individual guilt. That is, Moses as

the representative of Israel was corporately restricted from entering

the land while at Kadesh-Barnea (Num 14:22-39), while being proven

and declared to be individually guilty by his own personal unbelief

and rebellion 38 years later (Num 20:12-13). Those who espouse

this interpretation make the application that sin affects others.

When the ten spies lacked faith and sinned, Israel also sinned. The

national sin left its toll on Moses who was forensically restricted

from entering the Promised Land "on account of” Israel.


Whereas, in I Kings 14:16, the people are punished because of the

leader's apostasy, in Deuteronomy 1:37, 3:26, 4:21, the leader is

punished because of the peoples' lack of faith. This truth, is

further evidenced in II Kings 8:19, where Judah is preserved by

God “on account of David His servant's sake."10


While this view does contain elements of truth, it conflicts with

God's principle that "everyone shall die for his own sin" (Jer 31:30;

Ezek 18:19-24).

According to a second view, in Deuteronomy 1:37 it, at first

glance, appears that Moses was forbidden to enter Canaan in

consequence of the people's disobedience at Kadesh in the second

year of the Exodus. This problem is easily resolved when it is

remembered that the context is primarily hortatory and secondarily

historical. Keil and Delitzsch state the following:


We are not to infer from the close connection in which this event,

which did not take place according to Numbers 20:1-13 till the

second arrival of the congregation at Kadesh, is placed with the

earlier judgment of God at Kadesh, that the two were

Sawyer / Moses / 19


contemporaneous, and so supply, after "the Lord was angry with

me," the words "on that occasion." For Moses did not intend to

teach the people history and chronology, but to set before them

the holiness of the judgments of the Lord. By using the

expression "for your sakes," Moses did not wish to free himself

from guilt.11


Moses says "because of you" not to blame-shift, but to warn Israel

not to sin in the same way she did before.

When was God angry with Moses? And when did God restrict

him from the land? It was not at Kadesh-Barnea when Israel

sinned; rather, Numbers 20:12 and 27:14 reveal that it was on

account of Moses' own presumptive anger and disobedience at the

same spot, but on a different occasion 38 years later.

God's divine commentary on the sin of Moses in Psalm 106:32-

33, provides an indisputable answer as to when Moses sinned and

faced the judgment. of God. In Psalm 106 God describes Israel's

rebelliousness in chronological order. Israel moves from Egypt (v

7), through the Red Sea (vv 8-12), into the wilderness (w 13-18),

to Sinai (vv 19-23), and then to Kadesh-Barnea (vv 24-27), and Baal-

peor (vv 28-31). After God had already mentioned Israel's refusal

to enter the land at Kadesh (vv 24-27), in verses 32-33 God

introduces a distinct account; namely that of Meribah, where it is

said that "it went hard with Moses because of them." This context

clearly states that it was at Meribah that "they [Israel] provoked

Moses to wrath. It was at Meribah where it went "evil [hard, bad,

troublesome from ra'a] with Moses." In other words, it was at this

point that Moses sinned and received the consequences for it. It

was at this time, when the provocation to wrath and evil was

"because of them." In verse 33, God gives the reason why it was

"because of them" (v 32) that Moses was provoked to wrath and evil.

He states that they (Israel) rebelled against his (Moses') spirit with

the result that Moses "spoke rashly with his lips."

Deuteronomy 1:37 and 4:21 declare that God was "angry" with

Moses. The word used is 'amnap which literally means "to breathe"

or "to emit breath through the nostrils." As a verb it occurs only

in the figurative sense "to be angry."12 In both Deuteronomy 1:37

and 4:21 the verb is used in the Hithpael stem and indicates God's

action of showing Himself angry with Moses. A very clear statement

in Deuteronomy 32:51 records God telling Moses that he would die

as Aaron did (v 50) "because you (plural) broke faith with Me in


20 / Calvary Baptist Theological Journal / Spring 1989


the midst of the sons of Israel. . . [and] because you did not treat

Me as Holy in the midst of the sons of Israel" (v 51).


Leaders are Prone to Sin like the People They Lead


In Numbers 27:14 God clearly reveals that Moses sinned just

like the people did. In addressing Moses and Aaron, God said, "You

disobeyed [rebelled, plural from marah] My command in the Desert

of Zin in the disobedience [marah] of the congregation." Moses'

failure to carry out the Lord's instructions precisely was as much an

act of unbelief as the people's failure to trust God's promises instead

of the spies' pessimistic reports (Num 14:11).13

Like Moses the sin of Israel began in their hearts (Psa 78:8,

95:7-11), manifested itself in their speech (they "murmured" Deut

1:27, 34; Num 14:2), and resulted in disobedient action (they refused

to obey the command to enter the land, Num 13:31-33). Israel's

disobedience was also like that of Moses in that they presumed upon

God when they later attempted to take the land in their own

strength (Num 14:41-45).

While Moses' sin matched Israel's in degree (quality), a

distinction is seen in the duration (quantity) involved. Moses' one-

time act of unbelief and disobedient rebellion is contrasted with the

continual sin of Israel. In Numbers 20:10 Moses addresses Israel

calling them "you rebels." The phrase "you rebels," a masculine

plural Qal participle of marah, literally "the rebelling ones" describes

their rebellion as a permanent condition. Hebrews 3:10 quotes

Psalm 95:10 to describe the first generation of the Exodus as ones

who "always go astray in their heart." It is further evident that Israel

had persisted in her unbelief. In Deuteronomy 1:32 the participle

is used with the negative ("you were not believing") to indicate that

the nation's unbelief was continual. When Israel sinned at Kadesh-

Barnea, God pointed to their continual disbelief and unfaithfulness

(v 51). He declared that they put Him to the test ten times (v 22)

in only two years. Apparently those times were: 1) at the Red Sea

(Exod 14:11-12); 2) at Marah (Exod 15:23,24); 3) in the wilderness

of Sin (Exod 16:2); 4) and 5) in connection with Manna (Exod

16:20,27); 6) at Rephidim (Exod 17:1-3); 7) at Horeb (Exod 32:7);

8) at Taberah (Num 11:1); 9) the complaint of the mixed multitude

(Num 11:4); and now 10) at Kadesh-Bamea (Num 14).

While God, on the one hand, declared that "all the men. . .

[who] have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened


Sawyer / Moses / 21


to My voice, shall by no means see the land. . ." (w 22-23), on the

other hand, Moses their leader sinned at Meribah one time and was

restricted from entering the land.


Leaders Face Stricter Judgment than the People They Lead


Judgment on leadership is more strict because of the fact that

of all people leaders should know better. James 3:1 says, "Let not

many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we

shall incur a stricter judgment." Jesus declared the principle that "to

whom much is given much shall be required" (Luke 12:48).

While Israel faced God's judgment for her perpetual rebellion

and unbelief, Moses did so for his one-time act.


Moses' unbelief was not a total distrust in the omnipotence of

God, but rather was a momentary wavering of that immovable

assurance, which the two heads of the nation ought to have shown

the congregation, but did not show.14


Moses' transgression was extremely serious because it was committed

in public. In front of the entire congregation of Israel, Moses

"broke faith" with Yahweh (Deut 32:51). The phrase "broke faith"

is derived from the verb m'l meaning "to act treacherously" or "to

be faithless."15 The fact that it is a perfect verb points to Moses'

one-time act of faithlessness "at the waters of Meribah." The verb

translated "treat Me as Holy" kiddashetem again points to the one-

time incident when Moses and Aaron failed to "set God apart" by

their disobedience.

While Israel faced the consequences for their continual

faithlessness and failure to uphold the holiness of God, Moses as

the public leader faced a stricter judgment, when he received the

consequences for his one-time sin. This should serve as a sobering

warning to anyone who is leading God's flock today.


The High Cost of Disobedience in Leadership


Failure in Testimony is the Result of Disobedience


A testimony fails despite pragmatic results. When Numbers

20:8 is compared with verse 11, one finds that although Moses totally

disobeyed God's instructions, God still provided abundant water.

Moses' disobedience still brought about results. Though Moses'


22/ Calvary Baptist Theological Journal/Spring 1989

striking of the rock brought forth water, it was not produced in the

divinely intended way. This sin marred Moses' testimony as he failed

to sanctify God "in the eyes of the children of Israel." An important

lesson for contemporary leaders and preachers to learn is that the

end does not justify the means and that results do not justify


A testimony fails despite the fact that God still receives glory.

God is concerned that His leaders uphold Him as trustworthy and

holy in the midst of His people, because His reputation is vitally

important to Him (Deut 32:51; Ezek 36:16-38). Moses' failure in

preventing the full power of Yahweh from becoming evident in the

eyes of Israel robbed God of the fear and reverence that was due

Him. The miracle would have been more impressive if Moses spoke

to the rock rather than striking it as he had done before in the

presence of the elders (Exod 17:5-6).

However, in contrast to Moses' faithlessness God demonstrated

His faithfulness because the waters flowed "abundantly." God

received glory even though it was not through His leader Moses.

Numbers 20:13 has an assertion contrasting from that in verse 12.

On the one hand, while God said that He was not shown to be Holy

(qadash) by Moses; Yahweh proved Himself holy (qadash) among

the people (v 13).


The meaning of [yqdsh] here is not passive, but reflexive, "He

made Himself holy"; within this context, "He showed, proved,

asserted His sanctity"; more accurately, "He reasserted it after it

had been desecrated."16


Deuteronomy 32:51 reveals in an interesting play on words that it

was at Kadesh (qadesh) that Moses failed to uphold God as holy

(qiddash). And yet it was at Kadesh where God received glory even

through man's disobedience (Num 20:13).


Restriction in Blessings is the Result of Disobedience

The result of Moses' disobedience was a limitation on the

blessings he could have received. While God no doubt had a desire

for Moses to enter the Promised Land, because of sin he was now

restricted to merely seeing it from afar. He saw it from "Abarim,"

the range of mountains east of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea

(Numbers 27:12; Deut 34:4-5). Moses is limited to a "look" at the

land. In Deuteronomy 32, God commands him to go up Mount


Sawyer / Moses / 23


Nebo and "look at the land of Canaan. . . for you shall see the land

at a distance, but you shall not go there" (vv 49, 50, 52).

Desecrating Yahweh's name is extremely serious as evidenced

by the magnitude of the restriction. "The retribution stands in direct

relation to the nature of the transgression and its enormity."17 It is

also very important to note that the severity of the discipline is

matched to the sin based on Moses' position as the leader of the


The regret of a leader. The result of disobedience is always

regret. The regret of Moses is evident by his repeated statements

that he would not enter the land (Deut 1:37; 3:27; 31:2). His regret

is also evident by his pleading with God to enter the land (Deut

3:23-29), and by his somber statements such as: "I shall die in this

land, I shall not cross the Jordan" (Deut 4:22).

In Deuteronomy 3:23-29 the lesson to be learned is that sin

leaves lasting scars (consequences). In this section Moses unveils, in

his personal testimony, his earnest desire to enter the Promised

Land. Moses testified that he pleaded or quite literally "sought favor

or grace" (qnn) with Yahweh to enter the land. "The verb used

(qnn) is a strong one, implying a solemn request for the Lord to be

compassionate (see Psa 30:7-8 for a similar use)."18 In verse 24

Moses addresses God as "Master Yahweh" or "Lord Yahweh"

('adonay yhwh) a name or title for God used only twice in

Deuteronomy in prayers of Moses (cf 9:26). The combined title is

indicative of a deep personal tone of request. Moses in desperation

appealed to God's character to His greatness, strength, uniqueness,

and mighty works. He appealed saying that he as Yahweh's servant

had only just begun to see all that God would do (v 24). Moses'

request shows the deep sorrow and tragedy in his life.


He had begun to see the marvelous works of the Lord, from the

Exodus to the conquest of the lands east of the Jordan. But now,

just when the climax was drawing near, he would be unable to see

the Lord's fulfillment of the ancient promise. It was a promise to

which he had devoted his whole life, and the thought that he

would not see its fulfillment was too much for him to accept

without question.19


In verse 23, Moses next appealed to God's emotions, begging

Yahweh to allow him to cross over and see the "fair land" beyond

the Jordan that "good hill country and Lebanon" (v 25). All of this


24/ Calvary Baptist Theological Journal/Spring 1989


pleading, however, was to no avail. Because God had declared that

Moses would not enter the land, He would not so much as listen

to Moses' plea. But God in reply said, "Enough! (rab) Do not

continue to speak to Me anymore about this matter."

Leaders need to be on guard for the unintentional misplacing of

priorities. Moses' persistence in intercessory prayer for Israel was

a great quality he possessed. His request for God to alter His

prohibition by His grace was probably not in itself illegitimate either.

However, Moses' persistence in requesting a reversal of God's

prohibition in a sense reflects a slight shift in Moses' focus. The

vision of the promise had become a consuming passion to set foot

in the land, but the vision had slipped from the Lord of the promise

to the promise itself. Moses had taken his eyes off of the God of

Canaan Land and wrongly refocused them on Canaan Land itself.

The removal of a leader. Disobedience brings its own

consequences. That God was now ready to remove Moses from his

position of leadership is evident by His stern words, "You shall not

bring this assembly into the land" (Numbers 20:12). God's refusal to

hear and heed Moses' proposal in Deuteronomy 3:23-29 reveals the

tragic result of sin.

Forgiveness of sin does not always carry with it alleviation of the

consequences of that sin. While sin can be removed, its scars very

often cannot be. For example, when God restricts a divorced man

from holding the office of pastor or deacon (II Tim 3:2,12) this does

not imply that such a sin is unforgivable. What it does mean, as

with Moses, is that the scars of that sin are not removed. The

leadership of Moses faced a restriction and God's leaders must be

devoid of such restrictions to remain qualified to serve in an official


Does God's refusal to restore Moses to the former privilege of

entering the land mean that God did not forgive Moses for his sin?

No! David, who sinned with Bathsheba (II Sam 11:1-13) and

murdered Uriah her husband (II Sam 11:14-27) was forgiven (II Sam

12:1-15; Psa 51). But it is vitally important to note that the

repercussions, the after-effects, never were removed. Nathan the

prophet told David, "Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart

from your house. . . The child also that is born to you shall surely

die" (II Sam 12:10, 13). The Bible's universal, unchanging principle

that "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal 6:7)

was again proven true.


Sawyer / Moses / 25


The result of Moses' disobedience was a premature death.

Moses would be gathered to his people, just as Aaron was, even

though he might have enjoyed many more years of leadership. This

is evidenced by the words following the account of his death,

"Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he

died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated" (Deut 34:7).

The replacement of a leader. No leader is irreplaceable. Even

though Moses was the most uniquely privileged human leader to

ever live (Deut 34:10-12), God replaced him with the faithful man-

Joshua. As "great" a shepherd as Moses was, he was not

indispensable. Yahweh saw fit to remove Moses and replace him.

God, foreknowing the damage one sin could cause, was not found

"short-changed" to meet the need that resulted from sin in the life

of His leader. The same truth applies today. None of God's

preachers, teachers, etc. are irreplaceable. While it is never God's

will for one of His representatives to be disqualified, God in His

holiness demands that His standards be upheld (I Tim 3:1-7) and

replacements be made as necessary.

The sheep learn by watching the shepherd. Therefore, the

shepherd's life is to be a model for them to follow. When a leader's

testimony fails he then becomes incapable of credible teaching. For

the welfare of the people he must step down so that God can

replace him as was necessary in the case of Moses (Num 27:18-20).

In Numbers 27:16-17 Moses demonstrates his concern over his

failure in his responsibility as leader by requesting that the Lord

place a spiritual man over the people. In his concern "that the

congregation of the Lord be not as sheep without a shepherd" (Num

27:17) Moses demonstrates the compassion of a great leader. Even

though the people had provoked Moses to sin at Meribah and he

had missed his heart's desire to enter the Promised Land, Moses still

had a loving concern for the people. This same type of concern is

demonstrated to an even greater degree in Matthew 9:36 and Mark

6:34 by the "Great Shepherd" Jesus Christ. Just as Moses when he

was about to die prayed that a replacement for himself be given to

an unworthy people, Jesus Christ knowing of His approaching death

and of the desperate need "was moved with compassion" and asked

his disciple to pray for workers to be sent out into the harvest fields

(v 38). Israel at the time of Christ's public ministry was without a

spiritual leader among the nation. In fact the leaders of the

theocratic kingdom at this time were so totally corrupt that when


26 / Calvary Baptist Theological Journal / Spring 1989


Jesus saw the multitudes, "he felt compassion for them, because they

were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt


Even though Israel would enter the land and Moses would not

he did not let this heart-breaking personal loss keep him from being

faithful to fulfilling his task. Moses was obedient in proclaiming

God's Word to Israel even though he knew he would die. As the

people are being prepared to enter the land, Moses gives them

God's Word and warns against the greatest danger they will face. In

Deuteronomy 4:21-22 he warns the people to take notice of his own

fate which was the result of divine chastening for disobedience. The

people, having been reminded of the result of Moses' disobedience

in leadership, that is, his restriction from entering the land, are

warned not to forget the covenant (v 23). Such forgetfulness would

lead to disobedient idolatry (v 36b) and result in God's judgment,

that is, expulsion from the land (vv 26-27). The strong warning is

based on the fact that "the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a

jealous God" (v 24). Because the covenant relationship was one of

love, initiated by the love of God and responded to by the love of

Israel, "to construct images would be to indicate that the first love

of the Israelites had been forgotten and to this the response of the

Lord would be jealousy."20 In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews after

describing the chastening or discipline of. the believer (vv 3-11) and

the moral purity demanded by a Holy God (vv 12-27), the Lord

commands the believer to show gratitude and awe (v 28), based on

the fact that "our God is a consuming fire" (v 29).




Just as Moses and the nation of Israel found out by experience

that it was impossible to escape divine discipline for sin, the NT

believer, especially the leadership, is also warned that divine

discipline for sin is inescapable. "If those did not escape when they

refused Him Who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape

who turn away from Him [Jesus Christ] who warns from Heaven"

(Heb 12:25). With a new covenant, more revelation, and greater

benefits having been provided by Christ, much more is expected of

Christians today than was expected of Moses and the nation Israel.

Christ's leaders today must not depend upon their experience or age


Sawyer / Moses / 27


to keep them from sin and its resulting disqualifications. Moses' sin

came at the end of a life of great spiritual victories, faithful service

and astonishing miracles. In spite of all this he was still disqualified

because of his sin. If you are a leader today "take heed lest ye fall."

Leaders should dread the thought of being "a castaway" of being

rendered useless; of being disqualified for service (I Cor 9:27). The

believer's and especially the leader's goal ought to be that stated by

the apostle Paul, who when ready to die said, "I have fought a good

fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith!"



1 M Margaliot, "The Transgression of Moses and Aaron Numbers 20: 1-13" JQR

74-2 (1983) 217-218

2 Note the plural verb form dibbaretem.

3 Eugene Arden, "How Moses Failed God" JBL 76 (1957) 52

4 Keil and Delitzsch, "The Pentateuch" Commentary on the OT (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1985) 1:131

5 Literally "you continually disobedient ones!"

6 Arden, "How Moses Failed God," 52

7 Keil, Pentateuch, 131

8 Margaliot, "Transgression of Moses," 218

9 Peter C Craigie, "The Book of Deuteronomy" in NICOT ed by RK Harrison

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976) 105

10 Thomas W Mann, "Theological Reflections on the Denial of Moses" JBL 98

(1979) 490

11 Keil, Pentateuch, 289

12 F Brown, S R Driver, C Briggs, The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius

Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979) 60

13 Gordon J Wenham, "Numbers" in Tyndale OT Commentaries (Downers

Grove, Illinois: Inter-varsity Press, 1981) 150

14 Keil, Pentateuch, 130

15 Brown, Driver, Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, 591

16 Margaliot, "Transgression of Moses," 226

17 Ibid 228

18 Craigie, Deuteronomy, 126

19 Ibid

20 Ibid, 137



This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary

1380 Valley Forge Road
Lansdale, PA  19446


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: