LOST BY IMPATIENCE
"And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." Numbers 20:12
Moses was 120 years of age when he died. His life seemed to have been determined by divisions of an equal length. In spite of his being brought up as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, he chose to stand with his afflicted people in their servitude. At the age of 40, inspired with the desire to deliver them, he slew an Egyptian who was oppressing a Hebrew. The news of this came to Pharaoh, and Moses was obliged to flee to Midian.
It was not enough to be zealous. It is not enough to have a good objective. We must never be knowingly identified with any effort designed to achieve God's purpose but which takes no account of how God requires it to be done. That is probably one of the greatest weaknesses of modern Christendom. God's way may be slow, but it will be sure. Our ways may appear to be more brisk, but they may banish us from the fulfilment of the task.
The second period was one of 40 years spent largely in the desert as God corrected the mind of Moses, enlightened him and sustained him. This prepared him for the revelation of the burning bush that inspired him to return to Egypt to be God's instrument for the deliverance of Israel out of the hands of the Pharaoh of that day. The third period of his life, 40 years, was devoted to leading the people in and through the desert. At the beginning of that journey from Egypt to Canaan, Israel had come to the border of the promised land, but at Kadesh Barnea they had revolted and refused to go forward to occupy the land. Wherefore all of the age of 21 years and upward who had come out of Egypt were sentenced to eke out their years in the wilderness, with the exception of the two faithful spies, Caleb and Joshua.
This chapter finds us back at Kadesh Barnea, forty years later. The generation brought out of Egypt has perished. A new generation has arisen as deeply dyed in bitterness, ingratitude and unbelief as any who went before them. Like their fathers, they complain of the lack of water. As before, the medium of supply is a rock. On the previous occasion Moses had smitten the rock in view of the Amalekites, but this time he is commanded to speak to it. Evidently he is irritated. He turns roughly, not without some reason, on the Israelites and, instead of speaking to the rock, he smites it.
There is no outward difference; the water gushes forth and the multitude are satisfied. But God is grieved because Moses smote the rock when he should have spoken to it, the penalty is pronounced. It is a severe penalty, possibly the most severe that God could have conceived. The land towards which Moses has looked for possibly 80 years he shall never enter. He shall see it, but no more. Whether there be any valid deductions to be made in seeking the difference before God between smiting and speaking to the rock we will leave. It will be enough for us if we concern ourselves with the evident impatience of Moses and its results. Wise shall we be if, as we think about it, we keep a watchful eye upon ourselves. The first thought about it is a somewhat startling fact that
1) A CHRISTIAN CAN BE IMPATIENT AND YET USEFUL
One would have supposed that when Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it, God would have withheld the water. As a matter of fact, it came out "abundantly." Out from the rock poured the water in such abundance that every man, woman, child and animal was completely satisfied. Such a copious supply would seem to indicate that God was graciously pleased with Moses. Quite evidently Moses was much in the favour of God! That is how we make our reckoning. We are all impressed by increasing congregations, baptisms, memberships and offertories. A few years ago we had over here a Baptist minister from the United States, and every Monday he received a cable telling him how many children there had been at Sunday School the previous day, the number of the congregations morning and evening, and the amount of the collections to the nearest dollar. The figures were very impressive, and any humble Baptist minister in this country hearing them would think of his own little Chapel with its miniature congregation and perhap s long for this great and masterly opportunity.
The Romanists, of course, would understand this, for they hold that once a man has been episcopally ordained, then by virtue of his office, and not necessarily because of his character, Divine ministries can and will proceed through the mass and in the confines of the confessional. The case of Moses is not really parallel, because basically Moses was a man of God and this display of impatience, while perhaps part of his mood and temperament, must be understood in the light of great self-discipline exercised through the years.
Let the lesson then be learned. That complexity of disposition, that duality of nature of which each of us in greater or less degree is conscious, can find us presumably acting for God and enjoying blessing, yet God is nevertheless grieved. When as Christians we stand within the arena of Divine operation as we certainly do in worship, in prayer, in service and testimony, there may be reasons why God in His higher wisdom will not withhold the blessing, but the gushing water in itself is no evidence that God is well pleased. This, however, will be certain. If God is grieved with us He will see to it that we know, for gushing waters cannot permanently continue through any Christian with whom God is grieved. And this brings us to consider
2) THE ESSENCE OF MOSES' IMPATIENCE
The charge against Moses was of unbelief and failure to sanctify God in the eyes of these faultfinding, rebellious people. How could Moses sanctify God? In what way did he fail? Could any one of us fail in the same way? Is it likely that we have done so? As I have looked into this incident, feeling that there must be an important issue here to carry with it such a disciplinary act on God's part, I have reached the conclusion that I have sinned in this respect far in excess of Moses. I hazard the view that few of us, if any, can escape condemnation.
We can, of course, readily understand Moses at 120 years of age, after leading these people in the desert 40 years, finding their critical faultfinding complainings something of a burden. They were indeed rebels. We can understand that in peevishness of spirit, because of their complainings, he denounced them and in so doing, in his sudden passion struck the rock when he should have spoken to it. The very heart of this failure to sanctify God, however lay in the subtle and serious fact that the man who desires to go right through with God into the promised land must see to it that his words, actions, attitudes and thoughts are never dictated by what others say or do to him, but must always be controlled and disciplined by what he knows to be God' s attitude to him.
In Jesus we see it clearly: when He was reviled He reviled not again. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Our Lord's attitude to men was always determined by His relationship to God the Father. Impatience always arises when the words, acts and attitudes of others determine what we shall say or do. For forty years Moses had been the mouthpiece of God to Israel, but here he failed tragically.
Alas, we cannot bear to think of our own record. Not an uprush such as in the case of Moses, but there may be some here with deep-seated prejudices, biases, even hatreds, all determined by what others have said or done to them and allowed to obliterate what God has done for us. So we fail to sanctify God in the eyes of others. This is the failure to sanctify God in the eyes of others. When we allow our thoughts and attitudes to others to be determined by what they have said or done to us instead of remembering that everything in life is to be determined for the believer by what God has done for him!
3) THE PENALTY OF IMPATIENCE
The people who grumbled about the lack of water within a few months, under the leadership of Joshua, entered the Promised Land. On the whole they were a miserable crowd and they failed to possess what God had promised to them. Moses, who had done so much, never set his foot inside the land. True, he was allowed to see it, but not to enter it. When young people think about old people they may think them rather quiet, morose, uninteresting or even odd. Very often children have no more to do with their aged parents than they can help. But old age is a significant time of life. One sees so clearly what one should have done, but did not. One sees also what Moses saw, that impatience is a calamity. We may think we have never had the wonderful opportunities the young people have today, but it may well be with us as with Moses; the frustration of life, bitter as gall, has been due to our impatience with others. Wherein as professing Christians we have failed to show forth the nature, disposition and grace of God in every situation as we should. And so life is ending in disappointment!
Only two more things need to be said:
First, if one is on the senior side of life, impatient, frustrated and bemoaning that life is yielding little when we so richly deserve something better, then remember that more may have been lost by impatience than probably by any other single cause. Moses certainly failed to enter the Promised Land at that time, but he was there on the Mount of Transfiguration, a very high honour indeed. And therefore, if you are frustrated, life is a great disappointment, take an opportunity of seeking the face of God alone, ask Him to accept your renewed submission, submit to His tender judgments. Life will immediately begin to be sweeter and what you lose on this side will be abundantly recompensed on the other. Don't go down to your grave bemoaning and broken, but keep right on to the end with the vision not of what you have lost but of what yet remains to be yours.
The second thing I would say to young people. The way of the world is dignity and pride, but if we follow it we shall find ourselves at the end frustrated, and, it may be, bitter. Seek the supreme grace of God to conquer every kind of impatience and plead that throughout your life in every relationship and situation you may be found acting to others in the way God has acted to you, and so God shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.
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