When Nehemiah led the Jews in national repentance after the exile in Babylon, their prayer acknowledged their history back to the days of the book of Numbers. As they confessed their sins, admitting that their ancestors had been “arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands.” Thankfully, the Lord is “a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Neh. 9:16–17).
Moses had had more than enough of the “arrogant and stiff-necked” Israelites, and for a moment he took his eyes off his loving and faithful God. He may have been grieving the death of his sister, Miriam (v. 1). But there is no excuse for disobeying God’s command!
What started as just another cycle of the Israelites’ complaint—whining by the people, intercessory prayer by Moses, provision by God—unfortunately turned into a watershed moment for Moses. Instead of simply following the Lord’s instructions to supply water, Moses decided to do things his own way. Perhaps he was grandstanding or prideful, perhaps he felt angry, perhaps both. Worse, he took some of the credit or glory for himself (vv. 10–11).
Because of this sin, Moses never entered Canaan. What Moses did—with the staff of Aaron that had budded, no less (v. 9)—publicly dishonored the Lord and showed a lack of trust in Him. Leaders are held to a higher standard! Aaron was also part of this sin (v. 24), and because of it he, too, was condemned to die in the wilderness rather than enter the Promised Land.
God’s holiness is absolute. No one, not even Moses, who was close enough to God to speak with Him as a friend (see Ex. 33:11), had the right to disobey God’s command and take the credit for the Lord’s provision.