09 Sep 2012

The Buck Doesn’t Stop With Moses

Religious 47 Comments

In my nightly Bible reading I recently came across what I consider to be a hilarious aspect of the Old Testament. In Numbers 20 we see the Lord get angry at Moses for doubting His words:

20 Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin…

2 Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. 3 And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: “If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.” 6 So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them.

7 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.” 9 So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him.

10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.

12 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”

It’s a little bit vague to me personally, but the conventional interpretation of the above story is that the Lord was angry that Moses struck the rock twice. (Sort of like, “Is this thing on?”) In any event, clearly God is mad at Moses.

Yet when Moses is recounting his punishment, he tells the Israelites (Dt 1):

26 “Nevertheless you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; 27 and you complained in your tents, and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’

29 “Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified, or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet, for all that, you did not believe the Lord your God, 33 who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.

34 “And the Lord heard the sound of your words, and was angry, and took an oath, saying, 35 ‘Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the Lord.’ 37 The Lord was also angry with me for your sakes, saying, ‘Even you shall not go in there.

I guess that’s the prerogative when you write the story down…

47 Responses to “The Buck Doesn’t Stop With Moses”

  1. Dan says:

    One of the questions I have is why God would get mad? Since He knows what is going to happen in advance it seems odd that He would get mad when it happens. How would you explain His anger? Do you think the anger is more to elicit a desired result rather than an actual emotion?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Did you see the libertarian reaction when the Republicans didn’t nominate Ron Paul?

      • Blackadder says:

        Did you see the libertarian reaction when the Republicans didn’t nominate Ron Paul?

        This is really brilliant.

        • Ken B says:

          Yes that’s Bob’s best line in a long time. I was gonna give it a +1 but I know that would have ruined it for Bob, and I thought I’d let him enjoy it it a while longer.

      • Dan says:

        Ha! That’s pretty fantastic!

      • Dan (DD5) says:

        Oh so you’re saying God, like the Ron Paul supporters, was delusional and basically in denial?

    • Sam Geoghegan says:

      Anthropomorphic traits possessed by God, unsettles me.
      Charactertisations like ‘angry’ or ‘pleased’, are either metaphors; owing to the incomprehensibility of God, or, is fallacious reasoning.
      I’m unable to reconcile the concept of an omnipotent, omnipresent being. with one who possesses pluralistic character traits. This implies a dual mind or division; subject and object, relativism and so on.
      Pluralism exists inside a medium, i.e., two or more states or things in antagonism, pertains to finite and defined elements interacting inside “something else” (like your head), and God is supposed to be all pervasive. This demotes him to a further entity in my view. Or I just don’t get it.

      Hope this made sense.

      • Ken B says:

        “Hope this made sense.”

        Well, depends. If you mean that the believers here play a game, where they feel free to assert some congenial conclusion based on a presumed property of god, but then feel free to turn around and deny a less pleasing conclusion based on the same property, and if you mean they do that a lot, because they really exempt god talk from the rules of logic, and this is why the discussion always seems so wooly and circular, then yup, perfect sense.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Hey Ken,

          Please be more courteous, OK? I realize there are others who are “just as bad” but, doesn’t matter, you are being a jerk so please stop.

          • Ken B says:

            Like these shining example of courteusness Bob?

            “either this is a lie on your part, or you have comprehension deficiencies”

            ‘”troll … troll”

            “[he] deliberately misleads his readers”


        • Sam Geoghegan says:

          No, I wasn’t attributing motive at all but okay, sometimes there are inherent contradictions contained in faith, which his why I’m unable to take the leap. Who knows, maybe believers are privy to something I’m not?

          I meant that I hope my description made sense. I just think it odd that an infinite, all pervasive being contains duality. That makes him carnal. I’m hoping for more out of God if he exists.

        • ABT says:

          How is it that I keep agreeing with you that the logic of faith is indeed circular?! I cannot keep agreeing with you Ken, its looking bad on me….

          Logic is the method by which we can communicate among common observable experience. So if your beginning assumption is that God doesn’t exist, then you can quickly deduce and view the interpretation of those who do believe as circular. And quite honestly, you wouldn’t be incorrect for pointing it out. Because basically what a believer says is “God is good. Why? Because God by definition is good so therefore any good is derived from God, and anything not authorized by God is not good. Thusly God is good”

          Faith is the way to understand the world beyond what is directly observable. Hmmm conceiving of the “unseen”, sounds strangely Bastiaty…

    • Jules says:

      I finally “got it” (Reconciled God’s love with his wrath) when my son became a teen. It was like one day he loved me, trusted me, liked my company, “needed” me; then almost overnight the “needing Mom” for guidance, teaching him how to do things himself (like cook, do laundry correctly, sew a button on, how to drive – safely, potential pitfalls in various relationships, what to be aware of, how to avoid hurting and being hurt, etc). Then he starts talking with and listening to me…holing up in his room with on line video games, almost never returning my calls, not telling me anything going on in his life unless I ask and ask till he finally gives me a few disinterested blurbs. I know, he’s growing up, thinks he knows all, doesn’t think he needs parenting anymore and doesn’t understand why we still like/want his company (we’re so boring), nor can he understand that for all he knows, he’s still naive enough to be prey & victim to bad people, the likes of whom he cannot fathom yet. He may hate it, but he still needs a certain amount of supervision and guidance, and the kind of love and help only a parent provides.

      Ok, so how’s this relevant to God rebuking Moses? Ok, first remember God’s our father (“dad”); He “begat” us (gave us life and brought us into the world). He loves us sort of like I love my son…so much that He wants us to be safe and happy (joyous), not get into trouble that hurts us or see us get hurt by evil people. When my son wears his know it all / I don’t care/I’m fine and don’t need your help/rebellious teenager hat, it hurts my feelings, sometimes I get worried or frustrated and feel like he’s forgotten how much I love his company and miss his shows of affection. And I’ve got a great kid who’s very affectionate (in short bursts), great grades, no trouble w/school or law, athletic, sober, patient, generous and kind (esp for an 18-year old!
      Now, view all reasoning people who are “of age” as know-it-all teenagers who believe we’re all responsible adults who don’t need anything from our parents (esp advice!!); oh–and we all deceive ourselves into believing “that’ll never happen to me”. Does anyone know any parent of a teen who ignores them, does stupid things that’ll cause them and/or others to suffer harm, who never gets upset, never chastises, never disciplines, never punishes a teen who’s done something wrong & potentially dangerous? If you do, please note that a parent is deemed a neglectful, irresponsible parent who doesn’t put their child’s best interests first if they allow their children to run wild, doing whatever they want, unsupervised, causing any kind of trouble. Society calls such parents unfit.

      So why is it that God the Father gets a bad rap for loving his kids and doing just what most people would call good parenting? He sets rules to keep us out of trouble and harms way; yet we don’t listen to Him and, like rebellious teenagers, deliberately disobey, get mad or defensive when we get rebuked or disciplined. Some of us just pretend we have no Father who loves us enough to try to keep us out of trouble (the atheists out there); some of us pretend to be little angels when we know we’re being watched but sneak out to party and have sex, or go steal things, or sell drugs, or turn vulnerable girls to prostitution, or…and the list goes on.

      God, in the OT days, literally spoke to a few chosen people; he made his hand appear to write on a young king’s wall during a lascivious party to warn him to remember his earthly father’s advice and teachings and return to doing good, both out of respect for his Father(s), and to try stopping the youngster from embarrassing himself and losing the respect of his subjects before it was too late; God proved his existence, wisdom, love, concern, and final disciplinary power to the punk king who practically flipped God off. After saving the Israelites from Egypt, and about ten times of telling them the rules of goodness that prevent/minimize the harm caused by so many of us acting like total idiots, and then time after time after time, after time, being ignored, disowned, disrespected, having your “house rules” violated, and watching your kids, who you love dearly, getting drunk day & night (which experience tells us leads us to behave in embarrassingly amoral ways), stealing property or spouses from others, lying to hide the truth from those we know will be hurt or judge us or seek revenge, justifying to ourselves that there’s no God, or the Bible must be unreliable for whatever reasons we can imagine, or God can’t love us if he threatens us with the dire consequences if we choose to obey our lust for sensual comforts (which lusts are put on us by Satan, NOT God)…our so often choosing to do what we know, despite our self-deception, is NOT good, kind, honest, respectful behavior that will expose you to bad people wholl try to con you and profit at your expense. God’s rules are intended to help you recognize them and keep you under their radars so they might not target and harm you, or worse sway you to do the bad they do until someday your life on earth as you know it is ruined and you’re miserable.

      God was here before all, he created us, he wants us to live long, happy lives filled with love. But let’s be real…if your kids treated you like most of us treat God, you might be motivated to take a firm hand with serious discipline to keep them safe; and if that failed & your kids kept sneaking out and coming home drunk after you grounded them or doubled their chores, would you finally, after trying forever to get them to listen to you, resort to punishment? What punishment is appropriate if your kids are engaging in human sacrifices and beastiality and necrophelia and rape and murder? That’s exactly what God was watching his children do, and it’s amazing He was as patient as he was.

      He finally sent Jesus to talk to us, but many haven’t listened to him either.

      Anyway, God’s trying to keep us out of trouble, and with so many kids doing so much harm to one another, His threats of punishment better be severe…since WE DONT LISTEN. Just like rebellious teens. And God doesn’t play favorites…not even Moses.

      So, why’d God rebuke Moses for hitting the rock? 1) God told Moses to TELL the people what He said; 2) Instead Moses got mad at the people and yelled at them for having no faith and being punks; 3) that was NOT the message God told Moses to convey; 4) Moses’ temper tantrum gave the people a misimpression of God’s character and conveyed the wro g message. God knew this would lead to more confusion, justifying, loss of faith in our creator, and eventually to resuming the abominable behavior that brought down the specific rules and discipline on humans in the first place.

      All input welcome, for by the grace of God we might someday fully understand God’s Word…and apply it to our daily lives. Amen.

  2. James says:


    God’s anger here is odd only because of if we assume that it’s odd for someone to get angry about a predictable event. No need to make that assumption though.

    • Dan says:

      Yeah, I guess so. It just makes more sense to me if God’s emotional outburst were primarily to elicit a desired result. I mean, He knew when He asked Moses to do that that Moses would not follow His words completely. I would assume there would have been some different wording that God could have used that would have got Moses to strike the rock only once as commanded. God would just make more sense to me if He didn’t have a temper, but he knew showing anger would drive the results where they needed to be.

      If any of you much better read theologians on here know of a book that discusses things along these lines I would appreciate a recommendation.

      • Ken B says:

        Well, Why I am not a Christian is always a good place to start, but a more serious suggestion is The God of Old by Kugel, which is about differing views of meetings with the divine in the OT. Not just about anger but I think you’ll find it related.

      • James says:

        When God gave the ten commandments to the human race, he knew that the human race wouldn’t be 100% in compliance. Do you also assume that this is due to choice of wording?

        It’s pretty far off the mark to take God’s anger here as an emotional outburst. Where the Bible refers to God’s anger, the author is relying on a human concept to describe God’s reaction to something, not saying that God became overwhelmed by negative emotions and lost all self control. You don’t need a theology book to understand any of this.

        Christianity’s God doesn’t make sense to you because you have made multiple assumptions that are incompatible with Christianity. You are right to notice a disconnect between your assumptions and Christianity but that’s as far as it goes.

        • Dan says:

          The ten commandments point is a good one, but it still doesn’t really answer my question. I would still find it weird if God created the ten commandments and then got mad at people who didn’t follow them, considering He would know who would defy His will in advance.

          I’m not trying to take a shot at Christianity. I’m trying to understand it better. I honestly have nothing negative to say about the religion. I’m very sympathetic to it and get a lot out of reading Dr. Murphy’s Sunday posts.

          It would be dishonest of me to say I’m convinced Christians are correct about God, but I also have doubts about my lack of faith.

          I say that just so you understand I’m not asking my question as a way to mock Christians, or that I think I’ve discovered a flaw in the Christian God. I just have always thought it is weird for an omnipotent and omniscient being to ever get mad at something He created. My question is more an attempt to understand the Christian God’s wrath. It would make more sense to me if God’s wrath was a means to create a desired end rather than an actual emotion.

          You say that God’s reaction is not an emotional outburst, so what would you say His reaction was? Again, I’m admittedly ignorant about much of religion and I’m just trying to understand Christianity better. Do you believe God’s reactions to any given situation is simply what He knows is necessary for people to hear at that moment, or is it more an emotion like frustration towards us for the decisions we make with our free will? Or is it something else entirely? Also, if it is something akin to frustration, is there any explanation on why God would chose to create a situation that resulted in Him being frustrated? My guess would be that it has to do with the consequences of free will.

          • ABT says:

            Just one point that may help the understanding.

            God is beyond time, and does not react because that implies a time dimension. You can think of God’s wrath as u seem to be saying.
            I believe God is not “upset” at a particular event or action, but the response is deeper. It is message, a story to inform beyond the particular event. So by God’s wrath to an event is to provide insight into right and wrong. It is incorrect to doubt God’s power, thus reprimanding Moses is an insight not a knee-jerk, surprise that God was defied.

            Hope this helps.

        • Egoist says:

          How the hell do you know what God “knew”?

  3. Ken B says:

    Getting angry at him for their behavior is more plausible than the strike twice notion. That’s really a stretch. God has a habit of punishing proxies in that book. Better I think to accept and live with the vagueness.

  4. Ken B says:

    In my nightly Bible reading I recently came across what I consider to be a hilarious aspect of the Old Testament. In Numbers 20 …

    Numbers 20? I think it gets hilarious before the end of Genesis …

  5. Egoist says:

    God apparently has a sense of humor not unlike a sadistic human:

    Create entities with free will. Then when they exercises free will, kill them with a flood.

    It’s like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown.

  6. joeftansey says:

    I don’t get it.

    God says to “Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water;”

    Moses strikes the rock twice, so God gets mad? What? God didn’t even say anything about striking the rock. And the text is most straightforwardly interpreted as two consecutive taps without a period of hesitation in between. It makes more sense that god was angry with Moses and Aaron for these lines:

    “”It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.” So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces.”

    They didn’t know how to answer the people’s complaints because they didn’t have faith that god would take care of them, so they had to go pray to sort it out themselves.

    • Blackadder says:

      IIRC, the traditional view is that Moses was acting as if he was the one who was bringing forth the water, not God.

  7. Ken B says:

    “I guess that’s the prerogative when you write the story down…”

    I hope Bob is just making a joke here, as the ellipses suggest, but the traditional story is that Moses wrote the Torah, and we know he did not. This has been known since the 19th century.

    • joeftansey says:


      The consensus among biblical scholars today is that there was never any exodus of the proportions described in the Bible,[12] and that the story is best seen as theology, a story illustrating how the god of Israel acted to save and strengthen his chosen people, and not as history.[13] Nevertheless, the discussion of the historical reality of the exodus has a long history, and continues to attract attention.

      • Ken B says:

        Yeah. I mentioned this in passing on one of Bob’s homilies. There probably was no exodus. That is pretty crushing to anyone who wants to take the Bible remotely seriously. However I don’t know enough to get into a rumble over it so have not pushed the point. I used to know a bit about the composition of the Pentateuch though so I’ll fight Bob on that if he wants.

        • Egoist says:


          “Nevertheless, the book posits that the exodus narrative perhaps evolved from vague memories of the Hyksos expulsion, spun to encourage resistance to the 7th century domination of Judah by Egypt.”


          “The authors take issue with the book of Joshua’s depiction of the Israelites conquering Canaan in only a few years—far less than the lifetime of one individual—in which cities such as Hazor, Ai, and Jericho, are destroyed. Finkelstein and Silberman view this account as the result of the telescoping effect of the vagaries of folk memory about destruction caused by other events; modern archaeological examination of these cities shows that their destruction spanned a period of many centuries, with Hazor being destroyed 100 to 300 years after Jericho, while Ai (whose name actually means ‘heap of ruins’) was completely abandoned for roughly a millennium before Jericho was destroyed, and not being re-occupied until 200 years afterwards.”

          • Ken B says:

            I recommended that book actually. It’s very good. And there is a PBS series based on it. You don’t have to accept their theories to see the problems with the existence of the exodus though.

    • Blackadder says:

      “I guess that’s the prerogative when you write the story down…”

      If Moses was going to re-write the story to make himself look better, you’d think he would have left out the part about God being angry with him in the first place.

      • Egoist says:

        But that would have prevented the actual writers from presenting a moral they wanted to advance.

        • Ken B says:

          Don’t you mean an immoral?

          • Egoist says:

            I get the joke, but…

            “…presenting an immoral they wanted to advance”?

            That is sloppy.

            Morals are viewed as good and bad. You used “immoral” to mean a moral you consider bad, which means a good moral to you is understood as “moral.” OK, fine.

            • Ken B says:

              Egoist do you and Bob share an office? Because when Bob analyzes jokes he ends up with who on second too.

              • Egoist says:


              • joeftansey says:


              • Egoist says:


  8. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, I think the accepted interpretation is that God is angry at Moses for striking the rock, thereby making it appear as if Moses was doing it himself. Instead, God wanted Moses to go up to the rock, speak to the rock, and say something like “Rock, please grant us water in accordance with the will of God!”, so that the people would realize the glory of God. That is why he says that Moses did not “hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel”.

    • Justin says:

      Don’t you just love how interpretations fill in the gaps not in the actual text. maybe these text are purposefully vague to allow people to read what they want into it and not feel bad about their behavior

  9. DT says:

    Wouldn’t it be silly for a pot in it’s infinitely inferior mind to question the potter?

    In the same way ’tis it silly for a foolish man to question the ways of the Maker.

    The real reason men mock the Bible in disbelief is simple, they are proud and in their pride choose not to submit to the one who gave them life but would rather continue to live in their sin.

    And so they make up a million and one ways to justify not believing in the savior and repenting of their pleasurable yet sinful ways.

    Take the good person test: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCSUKIhjevo

    • Dan says:

      I don’t really agree with this. I used to mock the Bible, but it was out of ignorance and not a desire to live a sinful life. In fact, one of the aspects I never mocked the Bible on was in terms of morality.

    • Justin says:

      Not so i mock the bible because i dont find it particularly moral by its own standard.

      • Ken B says:

        In fairness, I don’t know that it *has* a standard. It has many different standards, different conceptions of what’s moral. Some, “love your neighbor as yourself” being less bloodthirsty than others. What’s worth pointing out and yes mocking are the attempts to harmonize these as all aspects of one thing. The bible is not one book, it was not written at one time.

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