"Ye Rebels"

or, The Thrice-smitten Rock.

One of the worst things Moses ever did, and one of the best things he ever said, have been brought together in Numbers 27:12-17.

What was said by Moses on that particular occasion has been remarked upon in a former paper, and is contained in verses 15 to 17, where he addresses God in view of his decease, and on behalf of His people, after they had provoked him to commit the sin which exposed him to God's displeasure, and which caused him to forfeit the land of Canaan.

The expressions of his regret at the loss he had sustained are recorded in the early part of the book of Deuteronomy; and, in connection with them, he reminded the people of the strong provocation they had given him to act as he had done at the waters of Meribah, saying, "And I besought the Lord … saying … Let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me." (Deut. 3:23-26.) Instead of fainting beneath the rod, after failing to obtain his wish, he rose superior to his circumstances, bore up God's chosen people upon his heart, and made his final request for them to the effect that they might enjoy the good of that land, which God had called them to inherit.

One of the worst things Moses ever did is referred to in verse 14, where the Lord charges him with committing an offence similar to that which the Israelites were guilty of at the same time. "Hear now, ye rebels," said Moses; "must we fetch you water out of this rock?" and, instead of speaking to the rock, he smote it twice over with his rod of power and judgment, after having smitten it once before, by divine command; which smiting was intended by God to be "once for all." (Num. 20, Ex. 17.)

There are two kinds of anger spoken of in scripture - righteous anger and what may be called fleshly anger. We have a striking example of the former in the case of Moses, when he came down from the mount with the tables of stone in his hands, and witnessed the idolatry of the people. He acted in defence of the holiness of God by breaking the tables in pieces beneath the mount; and, although his anger "waxed hot," his behaviour was in perfect keeping with the exhortation, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath." (Eph. 4:26.) But when Moses raised his rod in order to smite the rock, and said, "Ye rebels," his anger had degenerated to such a degree that, instead of defending the character of God, as he had done on the former occasion, he exposed himself to His righteous indignation, by acting in direct opposition to His word and will. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water … of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin." (vv. 12-14.)

Moses had never used his rod before except at the divine commandment. But the mere raising of it at Meribah was a sign of rebellion against the One who was dealing in grace towards His people, when Moses desired to act on the principle of righteousness.

The sin of Moses in smiting the rock, and that of Gehazi the servant of Elisha, in taking the money from Naaman the Syrian in connection with his cleansing, are of a somewhat similar character.

At the same time, it is important to distinguish between the persons themselves; for although Moses had to suffer the consequence of his sin as well as Gehazi, the former we know was a man of God, and the latter was a covetous person. But the resemblance of their sins consists in the fact that what Moses did in smiting the rock, Gehazi did in taking the silver from the cleansed leper. They misrepresented God, who was acting in grace at the moment -  a sin which is very grievous in His sight, as is seen by the severe judgment which fell upon those who committed it. For God is no respecter of persons, and therefore, according to His governmental dealings, Moses had to suffer the consequences of his sin, as well as Gehazi. The former died without entering into Canaan, and the leprosy of Naaman clave to the latter.

As to the future, we can say nothing with respect to Gehazi, but Moses appeared with Elias in glory on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17), and the apostle in writing to the saints at Corinth says, "When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (1 Cor. 11:32.) We see, then, what indignation God shows towards those who interfere with His ways in grace, and dare to seek to hinder its outflow, whether towards saints or sinners. Therefore, while Moses was permitted to smite the rock, his sin in so doing was not allowed to stem the tide of God's grace, which rose higher than the sins of His people - including that of His servant Moses - and which was seen in what took place after the rock had been twice smitten: "And the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also." (Numbers 20:11.)

The same grace of which we have been speaking, and which ministered to the need of the Israelites in the wilderness, is seen in the days of Elisha the prophet, making way for itself among the Gentiles through the instrumentality of a little maid from the land of Israel: "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy." (2 Kings 5:3.) The little maid said nothing about silver, gold, or changes of raiment, but simply proclaimed the free, unconditional grace of God for the benefit of her master. Naaman evidently did not understand it, or he never would have offered to recompense the prophet for cleansing him from his leprosy, and thus mar the joy of the man of God, and likewise the testimony of the little maid. And because God must have all the praise, Elisha the prophet refused to have any of the silver, gold, or changes of raiment.

"As the Lord liveth," said the man of God, "before whom I stand, I will receive none." And afterwards he bade him "Go in peace." (vv. 16 to 19.)

The Syrian captain had not long started on his homeward journey, without his leprosy, and with all the silver, gold, and changes of raiment he took with him to Elisha's door, when the covetous Gehazi came up behind the chariot, and, with lying lips, began to plead for a portion of Naaman's money in his master's name. After hiding his ill-gotten gains in the tower, he appeared before Elisha, who, with holy anger, was used of God to administer the chastisement which Gehazi had merited by his sin, saying, "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow." (v. 27.)

The Galatians, again, it appears, had not long started on their way rejoicing, when they were overtaken by the Judaizing teachers, who prevented their running the heavenly race, by teaching them that they must be circumcised and keep the law, in order to be saved, thus causing these once happy, liberated saints to fall from grace. It was this which constrained the apostle in holy anger to say, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" "I would they were even cut off which trouble you."

The Galatians were already, as the result of Paul's preaching, free from condemnation through the death and resurrection of Christ. The truth of this had been, in measure, made good in their souls by the Spirit of God, and nothing, in reality, could lessen the value of the work of Christ, or weaken the authority of the word of God. And yet, through listening to these teachers of the law, the Galatians suffered themselves to be brought again into bondage, and they thus lost the assurance of salvation. It was in order to undeceive these subjects of grace that the apostle affectionately exhorted them, saying, "Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are," etc. (Chap. 4:12.)

The enemies of the gospel had succeeded in disturbing the faith of the Galatians to that extent that the apostle entertained serious doubts with regard to the issue, though he was not without confidence in the Lord concerning them; and in that confidence he could say, "Be as I am; for I am as ye are." "The truth" which made the apostle "free," made the Galatians "free" likewise; but the former remained free, while the latter had allowed themselves to be brought again into bondage. Therefore the apostle invites them to come over to his side, which, in reality and through grace, was their own side. And, again, he exhorts them to "stand fast … in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." (Chap. 5:1.)

The life which the believer possesses, and which God imparts to him by the Spirit, can never be touched by the enemy. But the liberty which is intended of God to accompany it is that which Satan hates, and seeks, by every possible means, to deprive us of. His agents, therefore, are as active as ever, seeking to bring into bondage the subjects of grace by binding them down to keep the commandments, instead of proclaiming liberty. The God of all grace is misrepresented, and the hearts of the righteous are made sad, while seeking to fulfil that law from which - it is their privilege to know - they have been for ever delivered through the death of Christ. H. H.

The Man who in the might of His love touched the leper, without being defiled, was the God who alone could remove the leprosy which made the one afflicted with it miserable and an outcast.