Moses’ moment of doubt cost him the Promised Land

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

If someone was threatening to kill you, would you like to stand in front of that person without any protection? 

In a sense, that is exactly what happens in Sunday’s first reading, Ex 17:3-7.

Moses complains to God: “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!”

In response, God instructs Moses: “Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel.”

This is amazing! The people want to kill Moses, and he has to stand in front of them, without any defense. Or, is he really without any protection? Because God assures him: “I will be standing there in front of you.”

God promises to be there. God will protect Moses. But will God follow through with that promise? Will Moses place his trust in God?

In this moment, Moses’ faith in God is tested. Similarly, because the people had doubted that God would provide for them in their complaint about the lack of water, the people were testing God and God’s care for them. The people lacked faith in God. They ask: “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”

That testing provides one of the names for the place where this event occurred. “Massah” means “testing” in Hebrew. Similarly, the other name for the place, “Meribah,” means “dispute” or “quarrel,” because the people were quarreling with Moses.

In the Bible, this moment stands out in the history of the Israelite people as the classic example of failure to trust in God. It is referred to several times: “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. There your ancestors tested me; they tried me though they had seen my works” (Ps 95:8-9).  (See also Ps 81:8 and Ps 106:32.)

When the Book of Numbers recounts this moment in the history of the Israelite people, it describes Moses, also, as lacking faith in God.

He strikes the rock twice with his staff, perhaps because he thinks that once would not be sufficient to work the miracle. Or perhaps Moses does not trust in God’s mercy toward the people, to provide them with water.

In any case, as punishment for his lack of faith, Moses will not be permitted to enter the Promised Land: “Because you were not faithful to me in showing forth my sanctity before the Israelites, you shall not lead this community into the land I will give them” (Nm 20:12).

The lesson is clear: Trusting in God leads to fullness of life.

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