DANGERS IN LEADERSHIP
D. M. PANTON.
Moses sums up for us an overwhelming danger, and therefore a priceless warning. The parallel between Israel in the Wilderness and the Church of God [Christendom, i.e., the whole body of regenerate believers] is close, startling, inspired: "in these things," Paul says, "they were FIGURES OF US" (1 Cor. 10: 6): therefore Moses' experience reveals our own danger.* Here were the chosen people of God - the only people of God in the world; under the Blood; out of Egypt - the world; definitely self-given-over to God, yet on the verge of apostasy: exactly so vast sections of the Church today - the only People of God in the world - are turning back, in open rebellion against those who would lead them into the Kingdom. Therefore in Moses are vividly pictured, for all time but signally for the last days, the perils of leadership, and dangers indeed for all of us, as we confront the Church at the end.
[* "In these things": it is deeply significant that the things stressed as especially types of us are the ten revolts against Jehovah, with a consequent exclusion from the Kingdom under Divine oath.]
The leadership is genuine and God-endorsed. No words could more splendidly establish the character and conduct of Moses than the defence God Himself advances, in his presence, when silencing the criticism of Miriam and Aaron. "My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all mine house: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses?" (Num. 12: 7). This wonderful tribute from the Divine lips is repeated in the New Testament (Heb. 3: 2). God's 'house' - both then and now - is the [redeemed] people of God; and while Aaron was a priest, Miriam a prophetess, Joshua a commander, Moses led in all departments; and in all he was 'found faithful'. And for criticizing him on only one point - his marriage - Miriam was smitten by God with leprosy.
But now comes a danger that can overwhelm a perfectly faithful servant of God. The sullen temper of the people, unchecked by a sudden judgment of fire (Num. 11: 1), now assumes a more dangerous character - formerly refusing to go forward, they now propose to return to Egypt; and Moses, forgetting that God has made us responsible for our own perfection and not for the perfection of others, utterly breaks down. He repudiates the magnificent responsibility God had put upon him, and asks for death. He says to God: "Wherefore hast thou evil entreated thy servant, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Kill me, I pray thee, out of hand" (Num. 11: 11, 15). It is the very prayer of John Knox. At the end of the Scottish reformer's life he lost heart, withdrew from public life, and wrote despairingly: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, and put an end at Thy good pleasure to this my miserable life, for justice and truth are not to be found among the sons of men. John Knox, with deliberate mind, to his God."
Now to master the danger we must thoroughly understand the situation. The facts were exactly as Moses stated: it had now dawned on him that the people whom God had committed to him, to transport whom across the Wilderness was to have been the joy of his life, would never cross the desert at all: they behaved (as he says) like a fretful, self-willed infant, impossible to control. So his heart-cry is: "Kill me: let me not see the wretchedness!" let me not live to see my complete and utter failure. How justified Moses was in his view of the facts is overwhelmingly revealed by the graver action of Jehovah Himself. "The anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague" (Num 11: 33).
So then our first danger is clearly defined: the coming days are certain to test our grace to its utmost limit and may provoke despair. The ablest and holiest leaders can collapse under their burdens; not having grasped the fact that burdens of responsibility, with the heart-breaking disappointments they can bring, instead of being a sign that they "have not found favour" with the Lord, can be the highest honour from God. At the moment Moses was asking for death, he little dreamed that forty years of as wonderful a service as man ever knew lay before him; and he suddenly learns what he had overlooked - that God is always equal to every crisis. Jehovah at once meets his fearful pressure by raising up the Seventy Elders, and endowing them with the Spirit which He had put upon Moses himself so as to make them competent to share His servant's burden. God can easily and at once master our worst crisis. It is most wonderful to remember that Elijah, who under the juniper asked for death (1Kings 14: 4), and Moses who prayed, "Kill me," are the two men who appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Christ.
Moses now makes a wonderful recovery. He remains faithful; for he passes on to the people the words of appalling severity in which Joshua summed up his character and conduct (Num. 14: 39) - a fidelity that would hardly lessen his unpopularity: but, while he was faithful to them to their faces, he was no less faithful to them behind their backs. Suddenly God says to him; "I will smite them, and will make of thee a nation greater and mightier than they" (Num. 14: 12).
What a moment in the history of a man! Alone in the history of the world (as God intimates to him) a nation might have been wiped out, and this man's children have become God's chosen people. But he loved and cared for the people who had rejected him. "Pardon, I pray thee," he cries, "the iniquity of this people!" And God hears. He saves the lives of these two millions: nevertheless judgment immediately falls, in their exclusion from the Kingdom. "I have pardoned according to thy word: but surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers" (Num. 14: 20).*
now emerges our full and final peril at the close of the dispensation.
The rejected generation is now dead, and God has in view those about to enter Canaan;
the black sky of forty years is breaking and the glory of the Kingdom dawning:
when Moses, who was to invoke a fresh gush of living water - in symbol, the
final outpouring of the [Holy] Spirit* - for the first time publicly denounces the
People of God, and that to their face. "Hear
now, ye rebels; shall we bring you forth water out of this rock?" (Num. 20: 10). Let us carefully remember how
fearful was the test. Two millions of
God-favoured people were in open revolt, not only against their God-commissioned
leader but against Jehovah Himself, hurling at Moses bitter invectives, their
worldliness reinforced by an open threat of apostasy. It was not that
he took too black a view, for the Most High took a blacker, and stated the
facts in blacker terms (Num. 14: 35).
Nevertheless, Moses should have remembered Jehovah's rebuke to Miriam, when
defending himself: "Wherefore were ye not afraid
to speak against My servant?" - in this case, my servants. In anger,
he expresses open contempt for a mutinous nation not worth being helped, and so
he completely misrepresents Jehovah on the threshold of the Kingdom. Therefore
instantly he shares the rejection of the dead generation. "Because ye believed not in Me, to
sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of
[* By striking the Rock in temper Moses marred a beautiful type. For there is not to be a second Calvary to create a second Pentecost, but only a speaking to the Rock - prayer to Christ - for the final outrush before the Kingdom.]
words of our Lord cast a lightning-flash on this judgment of Jehovah, revealing
our own peril. Speaking of temper between Christians, our Lord
says: "Whosoever shall say (to his
brother)" - exactly as Moses was addressing his brethren - "Moreh" - the very word
Moses uses, only in the singular -"shall be in
danger of the Gehenna of fire" (Matt. 5: 22).* Whatever
the sins of the people of God, they are His people, loved by Him and the
Most High is acutely sensitive over all fundamental attacks on His own. Jehovah
had locked the door into the Kingdom; but He had never revoked the Blood, nor
withdrawn the Shekinah Glory from off the Mercy Seat,
nor shattered the Rock that followed them - "and
that Rock was Christ" (1Cor. 10: 4).
"There is not a single one of God's people in
whom we cannot find some good thing, provided only we look for it in the right
way" (C. H. Mackintosh). Therefore Moses himself now
shares the loss of
[* Internal reasons are decisive that it is one believer denouncing another of which our Lord speaks. For (1) the unbeliever is not in danger of Gehenna, but certain of it, if he remains in unbelief (Rev. 21: 8); (2) he incurs Gehenna, not for a single sin, but for a sinful attitude and state (John 3: 36); (3) his mere avoidance of this particular sin cannot deliver him from Gehenna; and (4) if it is one unbeliever addressing another, the one addressed is a 'rebel' (Col. 1: 21). It is obviously a 'brother' speaking in anger to a 'brother', and the only 'brethren' known to the New Testament are the regenerate.
** It is needless to note that Moses himself will enter the Millennial Kingdom, not only as appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration, but because ALL prophets will enter (Luke 13: 28). All Moses lost was Canaan; but Canaan is a TYPE of that Kingdom towards which the Church has been travelling for two thousand years, and therefore in the antitype the loss of Canaan is the loss of the (Millennial) Kingdom. ]
Nevertheless it is a golden comfort to see the lovely flower which the Holy Spirit plants on the grave of these gigantic failures in the Wilderness, failures both in the leaders and the led. Immediately after warning us not to repeat their mistakes, He says: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able" (1 Cor. 10: 13). It is going to be tremendously difficult to be loyal to the truth, truth derided and largely abandoned, and yet at the same time to remain loyal in our love to all the really regenerate: nevertheless these difficulties - even the worst - are adjusted to our strength; and therefore each of us is capable of the highest: not one of us but CAN be "presented faultless with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).