Moses was one of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament. He was the man who led the Israelites out of Egypt in triumphant fashion. He met with God face to face numerous times, and led the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Despite all his greatness, Moses was still a flawed man. If one hearkens back to Exodus 3-4 to the time when God called Moses out of his exile to lead his people home, Moses was skeptical and resistant. It took a lot to get Moses to take the job. There were other bumps along the way with the Israelites, who had a propensity for forgetting or neglecting all that God had done for them. Even Moses’ brother Aaron, who God gave to Moses to assist him, allowed false idols to be made. Perhaps the most devastating mishap though occured after Moses sent twelve men into the Promised Land to scout out what they were up against. The Lord had promised them this land and was ready to give it to them. However, ten of the twelve spies came back with negative reports, saying that the people in the land were too big and too powerful and that it was a death sentence to try and take the land (this is tragically ironic, as we’ll see in a second). Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, came back with positive reports, fully trusting in God and his promise to deliver the people into the Land. Moses however listened to the ten negative reports and the people who supported them and decided against trying to take the land. This was the most tragic miscue of Moses’ time as a leader. The consequences of this decision were that no one of that generation was going to be allowed into the Promised Land except the two spies who trusted the Lord, Joshua and Caleb. The rest were going to perish in the wilderness (remember the tragic irony) because they did not put their trust in the Lord. This led to forty years of desert wilderness wandering for a people who did not obey.
All this leads to the question of how could this have happened? And even more staggering, how could Moses, who had met with God face to face, take the word of the spies over the promise of God? Numbers 14:18 just adds to the confusion even more. Moses, in talking with God after God gives the punishment, says, “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love, forgiving iniquity and rebellion. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generation.” This is not a revelation that comes to someone overnight. This comes from experience and an intimate relationship with someone. Leading up to this moment, Moses had experienced all of what he declared about the Lord. But despite that, he still makes a monumental mistake that leads to forty years of aimlessly walking through the desert.
The lesson that we see here is that while a personal relationship with God is of the utmost importance, it is only part of our walk with him. Obedience is the other half that Moses had difficulty with. Despite seeing miraculous workings of God, his faith still wavered which led to disobedience in not thinking they could take the Promised Land. Moses’ statement in Numbers 14:18 displays an intimate knowledge of the Lord. The book of Deuteronomy closes out Moses’ life saying, “No prophet has arisen again in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unparalleled for all the signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do” (34:10-11). Joshua and Caleb were willing to be obedient to the Lord and take the land, and for that, they were rewarded as the only ones from that generation who were allowed to enter. Did they have the personal intimacy with God on the level that Moses did? It doesn’t seem like it. But they were willing to be obedient because they trusted in the promises of God. A personal relationship with God is crucial, but if it is not accompanied by obedience to what God has called us to do, we will continue to walk in the wilderness of our lives. True life in Christ comes from relationship and obedience. Let us pursue him with our lives, even when the odds are stacked against us.