Moses was a great servant of God, but passion for God doesn’t mean immunity from struggles — whether we’re talking about Moses, Noah, Esther, David or anyone else. And there’s no hesitancy on the part of biblical writers to call out mistakes, flaws or weaknesses of the people they write about, and that’s one reason we love the scripture. It was “real” and “authentic” long before those were fashionable concepts.
Stephen tells us about Moses’ presumptiveness in Acts 7:23-29. Moses wrote about his own hesitancy to respond to God’s call in Exodus 3:1ff, 4:1-17, and then there are his words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 3:26 that “the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me.”
It’s healthy to want to go the extra mile with people like Moses and give them the benefit of every doubt. In the case of these words, I’ve wondered if we could take them to mean something to the effect of “God was angry with me because (I was being too harsh with) you.” Or “because of you (i.e., God protecting you), He was angry with me.” I suppose these are possible, but they don’t seem very likely. Daniel Block suggests we understand Moses to be saying that if the Israelites hadn’t rebelled against God at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 13), then Moses would never have been in the situation he was in. Sigh… In the end, the most natural meaning of the words seems to be that Moses was trying to shift responsibility away from himself and onto Israel.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the events of Numbers 20 took place, but it doesn’t appear that much time had elapsed between Moses’ stumbling and his request of God, and then his report of it in Deuteronomy 3. That needs to be factored in as we try to put his denial in context. Then, too, Moses’ desire to complete his ministry by leading Israel into the promised land was so strong and his disappointment at not being able to do so was so keen that it probably warped his perspective on his own behavior.
The truth is, none of these things are difficult for us to understand because for most of us, most of the time, being confronted with sin — or even having it politely pointed out — will knock the wind out of our sails. Being defensive or minimizing it are close to reflexive behaviors. It usually takes some prayer and processing before we are able to see our sin for what it is.
I think this is where Moses is when he speaks the words, “the Lord was angry with me because of you.” That reaffirms that he was not some glossy, two-dimensional character that we really have nothing in common with, but struggled as we do, didn’t always succeed and then had trouble on the backside owning everything.
That is someone we can relate to, isn’t it?
You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: a-taste-of-grace-with-bruce-green.com