The Harsh Reality Of Holiness

This….. is a tough one. I have always struggled with this passage of Scripture in Numbers 20.  I have been intimidated by it, grieved over it for Moses’ sake, and quite frankly, been frightened of it for my sake.

Frightened for two reasons- I have struggled to understand it, so therefore, since I could not quite figure out what was so bad on  Moses’ part, I feared I would suffer a “harsh” response from the Lord myself. I did not grasp why the Lord responded as strongly as He did. Secondly, if Moses could not avoid such catastrophe, then who am I to think I can withstand warranting such unforeseen, heartbreaking consequences coming my way. It would be like stepping on a hidden land mine and realizing too late what I had done to myself.

The jest of the story is that God instructed Moses on how to handle the latest rebellion of the Israelites as they grumbled about their current food/water conditions. The fact that they had just sabotaged themselves out of entering their own free promised land flowing with milk and honey seems to have been lost on them. The issue that they did not have all their needs met by now was their own fault.

Have you ever noticed that rarely do we complain about our own faults but instead, focus on blaming others? (Note to self:) We would be much better served if we took responsibility and blame for ourselves more and focused on others less. The devil has a field day with distracting believers with the critiquing of the business of others while we ourselves are the hot mess!

Unfortunately, Moses was not without his sin either as he did not follow the Lord’s instructions specifically. He veered from what he had been told, and in his anger and frustration in dealing with such an ornery crew, he took matters into his own hands.

He was told to take the staff and speak to the rock and water would gush out for the people and their livestock. Instead, he ranted to the Israelites ( and believe me, I understand why !) and in verses 10-11, he said “must we bring you water out of this rock” and then he struck the rock twice with his staff and water gushed out. It should be noted that water was supplied by God as He once again met their need in spite of ALL their sin.

I see two mistakes. First, he said “we”. Bad choice! It was not “we” but God. Moses had crossed a line at that moment and was equating himself with the authority of the LORD. He let his familiarity and intimacy with God blur the boundary line. Secondly, he did not obey God’s instructions but took liberty to instead hit the rock.

God responds with relatively few words in His rebuke to Moses and Aaron but oh what weight those words had!!! Numbers 20:12 says, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

Wow!! You mean that?! After all that Moses had been through with them? After all he had persevered through and put up with because of their constant grumbling and rebellion? It was like he was dealing with a million children, not adults who should have known and behaved better.

Over the years however, God has begun to help me understand what this lesson is about: The LORD is Holy. There is none like Him. None! And it is hard to wrap our minds around “holiness ” because it is so foreign to us, as we are so unholy in and of ourselves.

My Holman Bible Dictionary helps educate me in this tension of a Holy God calling us into an intimate relationship with Himself.


God is Holy (Perfect, set apart, filled with superhuman and potential fatal power, one who evokes awe, being frightening beyond belief). Moses forgot that. And he paid a very high price for it! It may seem harsh and overwhelming to us, but in that moment, for that leader of the whole nation of Israel, God was upholding the standard that could not be compromised. He was Holy. And everyone needed to remember that! Moses needed to remember that! We need to remember that!

So as I have grown in understanding the harsh reality of this passage of the Bible and the holiness God was upholding, I try to be very mindful that although I feel close and intimate with a Loving Abba Father, He is still terrifyingly Righteous and Powerful. I must always approach Him as such. With fear and trembling, and in the saving grace of my Perfect Savior who gives me boldness, I draw near to the throne of my Awesome God! Hallelujah and God have mercy!

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