Lesson 7 of 7

Several times God tested Moses to see if Moses really understood the character of God. He did understand it. But he had some failures along the way, as we all do.

Therefore, God kept testing Moses, in part to prove to Moses his own understanding of God’s character and how important it was to always exhibit God’s character, not our fallen sinful nature.


The first example comes from Exodus 32. After the people convinced Aaron to build a golden calf, and while Moses was still on the mountain, God told Moses that He wanted to destroy all the Israelites except him.

Ex 32:9-14 Then the Lord said to Moses: “I have seen this people. Look what a stiff-necked people they are! 10So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation.” 11But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people, whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger, and relent of this evil against your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants, to whom you swore by yourself and told them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants, and they will inherit it forever.’” 14Then the Lord relented over the evil that he had said he would do to his people. (NET Bible)

 Then, after Moses descended the mountain and saw the golden calf that had been made, this happened.

Ex 32:30-32 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a very serious sin, but now I will go up to the Lord – perhaps I can make atonement on behalf of your sin.”31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has committed a very serious sin, and they have made for themselves gods of gold.  32But now, if you will forgive their sin…, but if not, wipe me out from your book that you have written.”  (NET Bible)

When Moses said he was willing to die instead of the people dying, he was not only showing that he understood the character of God, but that he agreed with it and was willing to follow it by doing what God does. He was willing to be Jesus to these people even without knowing Jesus directly. Moses was given a test, and passed it with flying colors.

(Deuteronomy chapter 9 also describes the Golden calf incident.)

 The next example is after the Israelite spies returned from the Promised Land but the Israelite people refused to act in faith.

Numb 14:11-20  And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” 13But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, 14and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people. For you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16‘It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ 17And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, 18‘The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.” 20Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. (ESV)

Numbers chapter 16 is the story of the rebellion of Korah and his followers.

Numbers 16:20-24 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 21“Separate yourselves from among this community, that I may consume them in an instant.”  22Then they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all people, will you be angry with the whole community when only one man sins?”  23So the Lord spoke to Moses: 24“Tell the community: ‘Get away from around the homes of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’” (NET Bible)

Numbers 16:41, 44-48  But on the next day the whole community of Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the Lord’s people!” … 44The Lord spoke to Moses:  45“Get away from this community, so that I can consume them in an instant!” But they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground. 46Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take the censer, put burning coals from the altar in it, place incense on it, and go quickly into the assembly and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord – the plague has begun!” 47So Aaron did as Moses commanded and ran into the middle of the assembly, where the plague was just beginning among the people. So he placed incense on the coals and made atonement for the people. 48He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. (NET Bible)

So we can see that in each of these cases, Moses demonstrated that he understood that God leans toward mercy, grace and forgiveness, more than punishing offenses against His holiness. He knew that God does not want to punish, but does so when someone has refused all His overtures of forgiveness. God wants us to learn His holiness and His love toward others. He has a very high standard of holiness, but he also remembers that we were made of dust (Ps 103:14).


The answer has to do with what happened at a place called Meribah.

Num 20:10-12 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?” 11And 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. 12And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “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.” (ESV)

Moses had already shown that he understood God’s character; he knew God prefers mercy over punishment. Yet in this case, Moses put himself first, did not give glory to God as the provider of miraculous water, and got mad at God and at the people. Ray Vanderlaan says that the rock represented God Himself, so when Moses struck the rock, he was striking God. That is why God considered the striking of the rock as rebellion against God.

This rebellion on the part of Moses and Aaron was done publicly where all the people could see it; this left a very bad example for the people. Since the sin was highly visible, the punishment for it had to be highly visible. God could not allow the negative influence of this bad example to go unchecked.

Usually, God will not punish us for one act of sin, rather He looks to see if we have accepted or rejected His offer of salvation through His son, Jesus (Jn 3:36). However, Moses was very close to God and Moses carried a level of leadership responsibility that was unlike anything we carry. The closer one is to God, the more is required of him. Also, the greater the level of responsibility, the greater the impact of each decision and each act. Not only did Moses lead the entire nation of Israel out of Egypt, across the desert and to the edge of the land God had promised to them, he also was the instrument through which God gave the Law. It would often be called the Law of Moses, even though it was really the Law of God given through Moses. That shows how much responsibility he carried and the great influence he wielded for generations to come.

Even in the death of Moses we see a combination of mercy and holiness. Moses was indeed punished for being a bad example. He was also shown honor when God took him without allowing his body to see burial. The same appears to be the case with his brother Aaron. That act on God’s part placed these two men in the company of a very small and elite group along with Enoch, and Elijah.

In summary, God is characterized by holiness and mercy; Moses showed that he understood God’s holiness and mercy and he knew that God favors mercy over punishment. Therefore, on several occasions, Moses acted like God by pleading that mercy be shown the rebellious people of Israel. By taking Moses away without death, God was weighing the life of Moses and dealing with him using holiness and mercy combined.


Moses understood God’s character, and most of the time, he acted in ways that showed he understood it. We likewise need to put into action a balanced view of who God is. We need God’s help in applying God’s type of balance between compassion and holiness to our relationships with people around us. Each of us probably has a few relationships with people who are living in ways that are obviously contrary to the way God wants us to live and designed us to live. We need God’s help in showing those people both God’s compassion and His holiness.

We should ask ourselves the following questions:

Who are the people in my life to whom I need to purposefully show God’s love and holiness?

What do I need to change in my relationships with those people in order to properly show them God’s balance?