This week, at one of my ESL classes, we read the story about the people of Israel complaining of their thirst in the wilderness. This happened at least twice because it’s recorded twice that they complained enough for Moses to ask God to give them some water. The first time, Moses asks and God says to hit a rock with his staff. Moses does so and water comes out of the rock to quench the people’s thirst. The second time, the people complain and Moses asks God for help. God says to him to take the staff and tell the rock to produce water. But when Moses goes before the people, he ridicules them and then hits the rock with the staff twice. Water still comes out, but at a dear price – Aaron and Moses will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land, because they did not believe God and take Him at His Word.
This is one of those stories that I have usually just skipped over. I love reading about Moses, but this one, for some reason, seems to just register and then I go on to the next thing. But my student did not. She had some questions, like:
If Moses had done it once before, then why didn’t he believe it would happen again the way God said it would?*
If Moses believed God, then why did He test him again?*
These are great questions! I love watching a non-believer respond to the Holy Spirit, even if they are just questions, because asking questions are a sign that God is working on them. I love the promise that God’s Word is living and active – It always does a work when spoken or heard.
The first question, well, how often do we forget what God has done in our lives before? Moses was the advocate for the people of Israel and he came to God many times to petition for forgiveness for their forgetfulness of God’s love and provision…but he was not exempt himself from forgetting. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lead people who constantly griped and complained about everything, but that one single action – that one burst of anger and pride – led to him not being able to enter the promised land. Look at the wording:
“Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”
– Numbers 20:10, ESV
It wasn’t, “Shall God bring out water for you?” but “Shall we…” God says that because Moses and Aaron did not uphold Him as holy before the people, they will not bring those people into Canaan. A little later in the chapter, Aaron’s death is recorded and his robe and office of high priest are given to his son, Eleazar.
The second question speaks to God’s nature and not Moses’. Why does God test those who have, thus far, proven that they follow Him? Why did God ask Moses to just talk to the rock this time instead of striking it again? Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac after he had waited for 100 years to have him?
We’ve been talking in church the last couple of Sundays about Great Stories in the Bible and this last week the story was Abraham and this sacrifice. My pastor spoke about how God did not throw a challenge like that on Abraham right off the bat. Yes, asking him to leave his family and home to go to some land that he had never heard of was a big challenge, but it was a test comparable to his level of faith. And it’s not like Abraham never failed at a test that God gave him. God promised him a son in his old age and beyond his wife’s physical ability, and rather than believe the fullness of God’s promise, Abraham cut a corner by sleeping with Sarah’s handmaiden.
God tests us; it continues throughout our lives as believers. He will give us challenges at various times, but praise God, that He takes into account the level of faith we have at that time. We may not pass them, but it is not because God has given us a challenge greater than we can handle, but because we are doubting ourselves, doubting Him, or believing a lie (or all of the above).
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV
So, back to the second question, why does God continue to test us? It’s to grow us and to make us more like His son. We will not be perfect until He makes us so, and that won’t happen until heaven. But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to start us on that road now. And the successes in our life, our conquering those tests and moving on, serve as testimony to the lost that our God is a great and mighty God. That He is concerned with our lives and with our hearts. That He can change a person from being selfish and in despair to being selfless, a servant, and filled with hope.
And that verse above gives me hope that when I face a challenge to my faith and in my life, God has already gifted me with the strength I need to endure it. What I have faced before now has only added to, not taken away from, the arsenal in my will to resist the devil and move forward in maturity in Christ.
*paraphrased into English