Finishing Strong and Avoiding the Big Mistake – Numbers 20

Reading from the book of Numbers:

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.  Numbers 12:3 (NKJV)

Moses was a remarkable man of faith.  Like God Himself, he put up with a tremendous amount of opposition throughout the forty years the Israelites lived in the desert wilderness.  Many times, he interceded on behalf of the people when their rejection of God had placed them in a very precarious position with Him.  And God always pardoned the people as the result of Moses’ prayers.

But after forty years of diligent faith and living out the remarkable path that God had chosen for him, Moses made a serious mistake in God’s eyes.  While it would not have an impact on his eternal standing – he centuries later appeared before Jesus Christ and some of His disciples along with the prophet Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, as recorded in Matthew 17 – it did have profound implications for his earthly leadership.  And to make matters worse, it happened near the end of his long, victorious life.  How he must have wished for a do-over!

Reading from Numbers 20:

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.”  Numbers 20:2-5 (ESV)

True to form, at the cusp of finally entering the Promised Land after having rejected God’s first directive to enter 38 years before, the people harshly complained against Moses. 

This was not the first time the people needed God to provide them with fresh water in order to survive in the desert.  In earlier situations, the Lord had made bitter waters sweet, then later, had Moses strike a rock with his staff, leading to abundant fresh water flowing out a cleft in the rock to meet all of the people’s needs.

But this time, the Lord instructed Moses to speak to the rock rather than strike it.  Instead, Moses, in his anger with the people, reared back and struck the rock twice, defying God’s command.  The water did still come forth to meet the peoples’ needs, but God was not happy with Moses’ act. As a result, he lost the privilege of leading the people into the land of milk and honey.

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.”  Numbers 25:12 (ESV)

Some have interpreted that the rock actually represented Jesus Christ, and the living water, the Holy Spirit. By striking the rock rather than speaking to it, Moses was symbolically crucifying Christ a second time. Of the Israelites in the desert, the apostle Paul later wrote:

and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.  1 Corinthians 10:4 (ESV)

We all make mistakes.  We all sin.  And when we confess our sins to God, He readily forgives us.  That is the great joy all believers experience in Jesus Christ.

But we see from this account that even when we are forgiven for our sinful actions, they can still have serious negative consequences in our lives.  We especially want to avoid making the Big Mistake, particularly towards the end of an otherwise successful life’s journey.

What kinds of things can result in making the Big Mistake?  Anything that prevents us from finishing strong qualifies.  Impulsive actions can seem like a good idea at the time, as they often appeal to our natural instincts and emotions. But those natural responses can lead us to make regrettable mistakes that seriously degrade the overall quality of our lives.

Moses’ anger and pride led him to try to place himself in a position above God, leading to a poor choice of action.  It was a big error, and it ultimately cost him the triumph of personally leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.  He did finally make it into that land, though, hundreds of years later, on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus Christ.


Where am I in danger of making a Big Mistake in my life today? 

Father God, open my eyes to allow me to see where my natural ways are leading me down dangerous paths. Grant me the spiritual strength and direction to help me adjust my attitudes, desires, and actions to avoid any fateful error that would harm my life or those around me that I love. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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