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Oh, pride. How dangerous. How death-dealing and destructive. How hated. Hated by whom? People? No. At times, we rather like it, thank you very much. God hates it, though (Proverbs 8:13). He resists proud people (James 4:6). So, in this post we are going to look at a man Scripture says was the humblest man on earth (Numbers 12:3), but who was also overtaken by pride and then dealt with severely: Moses.

Consider with me, for a moment, how easily Moses could have vaulted himself into the heights of pride. Was there anyone else in Egypt—or in the world—who could cause a body of water to divide? To his credit, Moses took no credit whatsoever for this (Exodus 15). He was also the supreme leader of around one million people. Talk about temptation. We know nothing about the battle Moses fought against becoming proud, but it must have been a bit of a battle, wouldn’t you think? I mean, we boast about all manner of deeds that are tiny compared to what happened in Moses’ ministry.

However, it came to a head when, after so many miracles, he broke.

He broke as we all do.

A little background.

Israel was complaining that they had no water. Moses wasn’t at all happy with them, but the Lord didn’t seem angry. He said, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink” (Exodus 17:5–6).1 This is what Moses did, and water did indeed flow from the rock.

However, it was the second time Israel complained about water that drove Moses to his prideful error. As before, the people of Israel were thirsty and criticized Moses for being uncaring. The Lord, again, didn’t seem angry and did not raise His hand against them. He said this: “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8).

But when Moses took up his staff, instead of speaking to the rock, said, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10). Then he hit the rock twice and water flowed once more. The Lord, instead of being angry with Israel, was angry with Moses and said, “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 20:12).

This is strict punishment. After all he’d been through, he would not enter the Promised Land. What was Moses’ error? Pride. Exalting himself. He did not uphold the Lord “as holy in the eyes of the people.” Moses said, “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Clearly, Moses and Aaron could never have caused water to flow from a rock, and they knew it.

So, what is the Lord teaching us? Consider these verses from Jesus’ teaching:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3–4). It is imperative to understand that this is Jesus’ response to His disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1b). The disciples’ question was not about salvation. It was about self-exaltation.

I trust you can see from these verses how vital it is that we humble ourselves; otherwise we may not “inherit the earth,” and in some way not enter the kingdom of heaven. Our problem with these verses is that we equate entering the kingdom with salvation. Sometimes that is the case in Scripture, other times it is not. Why? Because hell is not our future dwelling place if we fail to humble ourselves—thankfully. We are not saved by works. However, we will be excluded in some way—how, I do not know. Further, it is indisputable that Moses went to heaven—we see him with Elijah when Jesus was transfigured on the mount (Matthew 17:1-4). The account of Moses in Numbers is a figurative warning for us: Do not exalt yourself, claiming you did something that, in truth, only God did. Like Moses, you can do nothing by yourself. You go to work, but only God provides. You plant. You water. But only God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).

May the Lord be merciful to us.


1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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