Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV
Moses knew that his days were numbered. While had had been the one to lead the people of Israel from captivity all the way to the edge of the land of Canaan, God had told him that he would not be the one to take them into the land. It all went back to an event that had happened during their time of wandering in the wilderness. They had come to the wilderness of Zin. Moses had just recently buried his sister, Miriam. When the arrived at Zin, they found no water, so the people did what they were so prone to do. They complained bitterly to Moses, questioning his leadership and wondering why they had ever allowed him to take them away from Egypt. Their complaining made Moses angry, but he and Aaron took the matter before the Lord, and God gave His answer. “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 ESV). God was going to provide water for the people and their livestock – miraculously. But the Scriptures make it clear that Moses did not follow God’s instructions carefully. “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock” (Numbers 20:10-11 ESV). Rather than speak to the rock, Moses chose to strike it. He made it all about him. He let the people know just how angry he was and just how undeserving they were. He really did not believe that God was going to provide for them, which is why he sarcastically said to the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” We know that Moses did not believe it was going to happen because God immediately responded, “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 ESV).
As a result of his unbelief at the wilderness of Zin, Moses lost his right to lead the people into the Promised Land. And yet, as disappointed as he probably was, when the time came for the people to make their long-awaited entrance into the land, Moses prayed that God would provide them with a worthy leader. He knew the people of Israel well and recognized that they would be like sheep without a shepherd if God did not provide them with a capable leader. As much as he would have liked to have been that leader, he knew it was not to be the case. But rather than pout and have a pity party for himself, he prayed. While he had been constantly mistreated and disrespected by the people of Israel over the years, he loved and cared for them. He wanted the best for them. And he knew that godly leadership was one of their greatest needs. So he asked God to “appoint a man over the congregation.” He wanted this to be a man of God’s choosing, not the peoples. He also knew that it would not do for some self-appointed leader to step to the fore and claim responsibility for the well-being of the people. His sister Miriam and his brother Aaron had tried that once before and it had resulted in God striking Miriam with leprosy for her insubordination and presumption (Numbers 12). Moses understood that the only kind of leader that would work would be a God-appointed leader. He desperately wanted God to provide the people with someone who could lead well because he listened well to God. He longed for someone who had a relationship with God like he did. God had told Aaron and Miriam, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6-8 ESV). Moses knew what it was like to have God speak to him directly and clearly. He had even been given the privilege of seeing God’s glory and living to tell about it. Moses was painfully aware that godly leadership was only possible with God’s help. He had struggled in leading the people of Israel for over 40 years and, even with God’s help, it had been difficult and, at times, impossible.
The people of God still need godly leadership. But how often do we pray for God to raise up men and women of His own choosing to lead His people? How many times have we prayed for God to appoint the right individual to lead the body of Christ and provide them with godly direction for the future? Moses knew that even God’s people were prone to godliness without godly leadership. And if you study the history of the kings of Israel, you see this fact proven out time and time again. Ungodly kings repeatedly led the people to make ungodly decisions. Ultimately, godlessness if disbelief in God. Just as Moses struck the rock because he doubted God, so godless leaders tend to make decisions apart from God because they don’t truly trust God to lead them. They take matters into their own hands. They rely on their own wisdom and strength. But God’s people must be led by God and we must pray that God provides men and women who have a heart for God to provide leadership for His people.