I was recently reading in the Old Testament about the life of Joshua-who of course succeeded Moses. I was actually struck once again about a particular reference to Moses and why he did not get to enter the promised land of Canaan.
At the end of Deuteronomy 34 Moses is referred to in glowing terms. The text actually states in verse 10 that “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses.” This is high acclaim. But there was a clear reason why Joshua succeeded Moses and why Moses did not get to enter Canaan. We find that reference in Deuteronomy 33:51. In reality the verse states that there were two reasons why Moses did not get to cross the Jordan River. The verse says it was “because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh . . . and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of all of the people of Israel.” As a man, Moses broke faith with God and he did not treat God as holy. As a leader, he did these two things “in the midst of all of the people of Israel.” The incident in question is revealed in Numbers 20. This is during the time that Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and towards the promised land. But the people were not easy to lead, to say the least. There was great complaining on more than one occasion. In Numbers 20 the people confronted Moses and Aaron about their thirst. They question God’s goodness and providence. They question the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses seeks God’s counsel as to what to do. God tells Moses to speak to a certain rock in view of the assembled people and water will flow from the rock to meet their needs. On one other occasion Moses had drawn water from a rock in the eyes of this congregation by striking the rock. Moses disobeys God and strikes the rock rather than speak to it. Water does come out and quench the thirst of the people-but Moses was severly rebuked by Yahweh for his disobedience. Numbers20:12 states, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel . . . you shall not being this assembly into the land.” There are the two sins. Moses did not act in faith on what God had clearly told him to do. He struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock. And, therefore, he did not treat God as holy. But the leadership sin was that this was public. At the very moment when the people needed a clear demonstration of faith and righteousness they received neither. Anyone could have sinned in a manner similar to Moses, the man. But only Moses, the leader, could have a truly multiplied impact through his sin. He was their leader and he did this in their midst.
I believe this is why God takes a leader’s sin so seriously. We all sin. But a leader’s sin is leveraged. A leader’s sin has a multiplied impact. A Christ-centered leader is to be about correcting sin and demonstrating faith and righteousness to a the flock as a model. Ultimately I think the sins of Moses stemmed from pride. In Numbers 20:10 Moses addresses the congregation and says, “. . . shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Moses obviously is appealing to himself and Aaron-not Yahweh as he carries out the task. Pride by definition is trust in self and leads to treating God as less than holy.
This thinking about a leader’s sin is also echoed in the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 4 Paul admonishes Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and your teaching . . . for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Later on in 1 Timothy 5 Paul instructs Timothy that if a church leader persists in sin that he is to rebuke them in the presence of all. Because a leader’s sin is public, the rebuke must be public.
A leader is never going to be perfect. And there will be times when a leader will sin in such a way that it will call for public confession. But a leader dare not take sin lightly. In one sense, there is no such thing as private sin because all sin will affect those around you and will become evident. But a leader’s unchecked and unconfessed sin has a leveraged affect. A Christian leader lives out his or her leadership in the midst of others. May we fall upon the grace of God and take sin seriously. God does.