Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered June 26, 2010 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Moses’ Hard Rock Café

Deuteronomy 3:23-26

(RealAudio available)

Could anybody imagine how disappointed and depressed Moses must have felt when God gave him the bad news?  It was near the end of his life, and this aged saint heard the depressing words. Let’s look at what God said in Deuteronomy 1. These are Moses’ reflections after the fact.

Deuteronomy 1:37-38 "Even with me the LORD was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.’" After approximately 120 years of experience, Moses didn’t get to go in? I can’t even begin to imagine how he felt.

This is also referred to in Deuteronomy 3, so let’s look at that as well. Evidently this was something disturbing to Moses, because he pleaded with God.

Deuteronomy 3:23-28 “And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?  Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’  But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me.’”

Now, how would God have said that? Would God have snapped at Moses?  Hard for me to imagine that.  Maybe God said like this.  “’Enough from you. Do not speak to me of this matter again.”  You’ve heard my answer, in other words.  It’s not going to change.

Verse 27.  “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.  But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’”

Have you ever wondered why God was so severe with His friend Moses? After all, He had put up with the Israelites’ misbehavior so many times, their grumbling and complaining. He had to let one generation die off, and the next wasn’t much better, was it?

God took them into Canaan, but not His best friend at age 120 or close to it. Moses longed to go in, as we just read. He begged and begged. And God said, “No.” And Moses must have realized that what he did was very devastating. How could it be so bad? Let’s look at the story because it gives us a brilliant revelation of the truth about God and what He wants of us.

I invite you to open your Bibles to follow the story with me in Numbers. This is the story of Moses’ Hard Rock Cafe Experience and it is in Numbers 20.

Numbers 20:1-5 “And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there. Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.  And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD!  Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”

Pause right there. How would you like to have been in Moses’ place at that moment in time? It’s not hard to imagine at all how Moses must have been under great pressure with the misbehavior of the people, right? Think of this from Moses’ perspective: in his mind, this was the generation that was supposed to go in to Canaan. Perhaps he might have been thinking to himself, “If they go on behaving like this, even this generation won’t be able to go in.” And then if they weren’t able to go in, there might have to be another long wait. So was Moses under heavy pressure? Maybe he was. Let’s continue reading with verse 6.

Numbers 20:6-10 “Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them,  and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  ‘Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.’  And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.  Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them.” 

Now, what would it have been like if he had said this: “Friends, in spite of all of your misbehavior, and it has been incredibly bad, I asked God what to do, and do you know what He says? Just give them water. Give them lots of water.” Well, that’s not what Moses said, as you know, but what effect might that have had on the people? What about Romans 2:4? You know it says, “the kindness of God leads us to repentance.”

And here was Moses with this incredible chance to take this incredible response from God to those misbehaving, grumbling, ungrateful people and perhaps in the process win them so they’d be ready to go to Canaan. So instead of correcting and rebuking them, and really giving them a richly-deserved lecture, God basically said, reading between the lines here, “Make no scene out of this, Moses. Just go and speak to the rock and give them abundant water. It might win some.” I believe that would be God’s preferred method. The kindness of God can certainly lead to repentance, if we let it.

But that’s not Moses’ message. Let’s continue reading with verse 10.

Numbers 20:10-12 “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them.”  Imagine how Moses might have said this.  He’s had enough.  He is steaming.  “‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’  And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.”  And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you disobeyed Me, you don’t get to go in‘? No, that’s not what God said. Did God say, “Because you destroyed a symbol (which they did), you don’t get to go in”?

Of course, the usual explanation for what Moses did wrong was that the rock was a symbol of Christ. First Corinthians 10:4 says, “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” And the rock was to be smitten once just as Christ was smitten once. But Moses struck the rock again and thereby spoiled a symbol.

Now, not to trivialize this, but would God say, “I don’t like it when people spoil my symbols. So you don’t get to go in”? Let’s read the whole of verse 12 and note what Moses and Aaron did wrong. Numbers 20:12 “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.’” It says they didn’t believe Him or trust Him—same meaning. They didn’t have faith in Him. And that word implies a lot.

When you trust someone and you admire someone and you are a trustworthy friend yourself, would you want to misrepresent that person in the eyes of others? And if God is your trusted friend, would you not want to make God look holy in the eyes of others? The KJV says for verse 12, “And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me” — that means to honor God as holy.

How did Moses not honor God as holy? Well, God, said, in effect, “Don’t make a scene here, just give them the water they need.” And that’s the most wonderful thing here about our God. That really is making Him look holy. God at His best is God treating undeserving people in the most gracious, generous way. Isn’t that the message of Christ dying for undeserving sinners.  According to Romans 2:4, that’s how God wins rebels to repentance. But in this experience, Moses didn’t picture God correctly. He misrepresented Him by picturing Him as angry when God wasn’t. How serious was that?

Well, let’s put something else with this. Something from Numbers 12. Do you remember the time when Aaron and Miriam spoke out against Moses because he had married the Cushite woman? Well, this is what God said on that occasion: Numbers 12:5-8 “And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward.  And he said, ‘Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.  Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house.  With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’”

God gave Moses a very special status, didn’t He? And didn’t the people rightly believe that Moses spoke for God with authority? When Moses went up the mountain and came down carrying the 10 commandments written with the finger of God, and his face shone so brightly that they couldn’t look at him, don’t you think Moses spoke with authority to the people?

If that happened here at our church and Pastor Gettys came out on the platform with his face shining so brightly that he had to wear a veil out of consideration for the congregation, and with the ten commandments in his hands, wouldn’t he have great authority? So, yes, the people knew that Moses had a very close relationship with God. Now when you have that kind of authority, what if you misrepresent God? Would that not be far more devastating?

This is the way I look at it. On that occasion at the rock, God wished to be seen as absolutely gracious and forgiving, like the Father of the prodigal son chose to be, in order to lead the children of Israel to repentance. And Moses deprived God of that opportunity on that occasion. Moses certainly pictured God as being very just, but also rather exacting, unforgiving and severe. And God said, “Moses, you broke faith with Me at the rock, and you didn’t honor Me as Holy.” So when God’s friends let God down, that’s the most serous thing they can do—when they misrepresent Him. But, if in addition, they are people of great influence, greatly trusted by the people, then the damage is devastating.

Now, let me ask you a question: Who was the most influential of all God’s created beings in the universe? He was respected by all the angels. They loved to do his bidding. And so he had enormous influence among them. And he caused the whole war in God’s family and all the trouble that surrounds us. So what did Lucifer do that was so bad? Did Lucifer do anything that would lead us to disfellowship him from the church? Did he run around with pretty angels and get drunk? It was none of those things.

In fact, even the loyal angels weren’t entirely sure where Lucifer was wrong. Lucifer so piously and subtly undermined the reputation of God. And the Bible tells us that he led one third of the mighty, intelligent angels to agree with him. God was wrong and couldn’t be trusted, as Lucifer argued, because He is arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe.

So, on the human sphere, at that time in Israel‘s experience, was there any one greater than Moses in his influence over the people? And Moses was doing what Lucifer did, in a sense. And that puts it on a completely different level. That’s the worst sin.

And we can make this practical for us.  How well it would be if we ourselves would make it a habit to pray, “God, did I misrepresent you to [you name it, whoever… my children, or my students, my spouse, my friends, my co-workers or to anyone]? Did I misrepresent you today as arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe? If so, help me repair the damage done and make it right”?

On the whole, Moses represented God beautifully all those years, but at the rock he let God down. He misrepresented God, and God had to go on record by severely disciplining Moses, and Moses died before entering Canaan.

Thankfully though, that’s not the end of the story. You see, God had some good things in mind for His friend. Reading between the lines from the book of Jude, verse 9, the Bible tells us that God came back to resurrect Moses and take him to heaven.

And as the years went by God Himself came down to this earth in human form. And apparently God the Father needed someone from heaven to go down and talk to His Son who was about to undergo the most severe pressure anyone has ever suffered in the history of the universe. Who did He pick to encourage Jesus? It was Moses and Elijah, who had by that time been translated to heaven.

Now, Moses had not survived the pressure perfectly, had he? He collapsed. And under pressure, Elijah collapsed in his own way, giving in to fear and depression. But God had not only forgiven them, but was treating them magnificently, just as if they had never let Him down. And how fun it is to imagine Moses saying to Jesus after His resurrection and ascension, “You did it. You didn’t collapse. We watched you right through those last hours. Elijah and I would have collapsed. But you didn’t.”

And the beautiful truth is here, that in spite of Moses’ own collapse—his hard rock cafe experience, as I’ve called it—God still chose to honor Moses as He did, resurrecting him and bringing him, not to earthly Canaan, but to heaven. And God will treat us as if we’ve always been His loyal children and friends.

So who looks good here? It’s always God.

Yes, the smiting of the rock broke a symbol, and, yes, Moses disobeyed God. But I believe, all together, it is far more significant to imagine God at that time saying to the angels and the rest of the universe, “You know how I love Moses, but I must go on record that to misrepresent the truth about Me and My government is the most damaging thing a person can do.” But then even when Moses let God down, look at how God treated him. The hero of scripture is God; He is the only one who looks good.

And what about you? Are you going through a hard rock experience?  Hang on, is what this story tells us.  Hang on, and trust in God to help you stay on track, survive the pressure, because of what Jesus has done, and thus represent God well.  That’s what I want. What about you?  The scripture says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Let’s hang on to that.

 Hymn of Praise: #88, I Sing the Mighty Power of God
Scripture: Deuteronomy 3:23-26
Hymn of Response: #330, Take My Life and Let it Be
Sermon Notes:  Sermon notes available as PDF

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 7/13/10