Monday, January 20, 2014

Sanctify the LORD (or Moses' Mistake)

Kind of an odd phrase isn't it? I mean when you really stop and think about it. 

No not the second one in parenthesis-- the first one: sanctify the LORD. 

I know what you're thinking... you want to get to the part when you find out why this punk kid is presuming to say that the great prophet of God and liberator of the children of Israel had some mistake that I'm going to call him out on. Well hold your horses; I'll get there. But think about that phrase first. It always kind of confused me. 

When we think of the word 'sanctify' what do we think of? (Ok so you might not think of that word that often but on the rare occasion when you're reading the King James Version of the Bible...) the word sanctify means to make clean or holy, to purify, venerate.  Its usually used in Scripture to describe something that God does to us. However I came across this phrase in the classic apologetics verse: 1 Peter 3:15.

1 Peter 3:15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 

What's he talking about? Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts? Usually we focus on the last part of the verse but what in heaven does that first part mean?? Can we add anything to God? How can WE make the Lord God clean and holy in our hearts? That's supposed to be something He does to US right? That's not the only time it's used either!

Isaiah 8:13  Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 

Before I tell you my conclusion about that let me tell you something else that's always bugged me in the Bible. (I mean, since we're already talking about it.) In fact, this is something I know has been confusing to a lot of people that I've talked to about it! 

Here it is: why didn't God let Moses go into the Promised Land?!?! I mean what is up with THAT?? Moses of all people! This is the guy who didn't even want to go at first because the people wouldn't believe him. This is the guy who's put up with a stiff necked stubborn people who are continually complaining and questioning his leadership and doing stupid stuff! This is the guy who stood as an intercessor between God and the people when the LORD'S wrath was kindled and He wanted to kill them! Then seemingly in one moment he loses his temper (rather justly I feel! Just like God seems to have done with this people on occasion) and suddenly--just like that--he's not allowed to go in. WHAAAAAAAT????? That seems just a wee bit harsh if you ask me. (I know you didn't, but just play along.) The punishment wasn't even that severe when he broke all ten commandments at once! (Haha see what I did there?) But seriously after all the guy's had to put up with? Check out a couple of these statements out of Moses' own mouth:

Numbers 11:11-15 KJV  And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?  (12)  Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?  (13)  Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.  (14)  I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.  (15)  And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

This is Moses who interceded for the people!  But look at this story, and try to explain to me the harsh punishment inflicted on him.

Num 20:1-13 KJV
(1)  Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
(2)  And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
(3)  And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
(4)  And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
(5)  And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
(6)  And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
(7)  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
(8)  Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
(9)  And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
(10)  And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
(11)  And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
(12)  And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
(13)  This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.

I've heard people say that it was because he got angry. I've also heard people say it's because he disobeyed. You know? God said to speak to it and he hits it twice. But I find that hard to swallow and can't help think there's something deeper going on here. Then I thought: Hey let's see what God says about what HIS reason was for keeping Moses out of the promise land. He says it twice; once here, and once later in Scripture. Let's take a look.

Numbers 27:14  For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. 

One phrase stands out to me in both: "to sanctify their eyes".  Again, a slightly confusing phrase.  Several times prior to this, the LORD has said He wants to prove that He is the LORD that sanctifies them, that makes them holy.  That makes sense.  But for us to attribute holiness to God?  So back to the original question.  What does that phrase mean?

In the context of 1 Peter 3, he's talking about when we suffer for righteousness's sake, and he says not to be troubled but to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts.  When I was studying this chapter once, it dawned on me.  Whenever we're going through trouble wrongfully (or even sometimes if we deserve it) who gets the most blame...especially if we seem to be doing everything right?  God does!  We say, "God, I'm faithfully serving You!  Why are You letting all these bad things happen to me?  It's not fair!  It's not right!"  We know in our heads that God is just and holy...but when it seems like it's the opposite case, we become troubled.  But Peter warns us against that, and tells us to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts!  We have to change our perspective of God, and acknowledge that He IS holy.  The Hebrew word for 'sanctify' means to ceremonially pronounce as holy.  So when we pronounce God as holy in the midst of our suffering, that stands out to people because it seems completely counter-intuitive!  God is allowing us to suffer for doing what's right, but we still say He's holy, and we still hope in Him!  That will prompt some questions, and we need to always have a meek answer ready for those who are wondering about this hope that it is in us.

The context of Isaiah 8, is again one of fear and turmoil.  The mighty, cruel, vicious Assyrian army is marching against Israel, and King Ahaz wants to go to other nations for help.  But Isaiah is telling him to trust the Lord!  Let Him be your fear and your dread, and sanctify Him!  Don't trust a the LORD!  I know it's scary right now, Ahaz.  I know it doesn't seem like the promises of God for Israel are going to hold true.  I know it feels like you should be coming up with your own plans.  But instead of that, pronounce God as holy!  Acknowledge that He knows what He's doing even in these troublesome times!  Sanctify Him, and He will be a sanctuary to you.  Ahaz needed to set an example of sanctifying the Lord and trusting Him for his entire nation.

So from what I can see, sanctifying the Lord means to pronounce Him as holy, even in the midst of strife, and trouble, and suffering.

Now we get back to Moses.  Now, I still feel like there's a lot of nuances to the story that I'm just not getting (so if you have any insights, please feel free to comment and tell me about them!) but I think this may be one aspect.  Apparently, he did not sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the children of Israel based on what He did.  What did He do?  God told him to take his staff and speak to the rock so that they could all have drink when they were complaining to Him that He was not taking care of them.  Moses gets angry, takes the staff, strikes the rock twice, and yells, "Ye rebels, must we fetch water out of this rock?"  I believe Moses did not accurately represent the holiness of the Lord in this situation.  God wanted to give water to His people.  He wasn't planning on leaving them out there to die with no water.  The people were striving with Him.  That's what Meribah means...strife.  But God wanted to show them that He IS holy.  He didn't bring them out there to die.  Moses, however, portrayed God as angry and frustrated with the people.  Moses represented God to the people, we know this was a pattern from Exodus 4 through Exodus 7:1 through Exodus 19 and 20 and 34.  God wanted him to represent him accurately in spirit.

We know from verses like Leviticus 10:3 that God wants to be shown as holy in the leaders over His people, and, therefore, He holds His leaders to a higher standard.

We also know from verses like Ezekiel 20:41, that He wants to be shown as holy among the heathen and all the nations, in His people by the things He does among them.  I'll show one more verse to illustrate what I believe is an absolutely vital point:

Ezekiel 36:23  And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. 

God's people represent Him.  When we, as His people represent Him inaccurately, we profane His name.  We make His character look unholy, and defiled and impure.  God's desire is to be represented accurately in the way HE acts.  He wants us to sanctify Him in the eyes of others, so that they can know His TRUE character.  We identify with Moses, because his reaction is very human and makes sense to us.  He had a right to be frustrated, we think.  These people were constantly challenging the faithfulness and holiness and love of God even though they'd seen it time and time again.  The way Moses went about giving them water from the Lord was not pleasing to Him.  Moses didn't sanctify Him in the eyes of the people.  He didn't make Him look holy.  Thus, Moses didn't get to go into the Promised Land.  It's very serious.  We may justify the way we handle a situation sometime because we're right.  We're doing what's right and they're treating us badly, so we treat them badly in return. (Even though that's not what Jesus did when He was being led as a lamb to the slaughter.)  We see trouble arising and we want to appeal to logic and reason and put things in place to protect ourselves.  (Even though God said He would protect us.)  We're fed up with people and treat them harshly when we give them what they're asking for. (Even though they're upset with God...not us.)  We're representing HIM...let's sanctify Him in our dealings with others.


  1. Amazing! This is simply the best look at this confusing passage that I have ever read! And I completely agree with your conclusions though I had never seen it in that light before. I love how thorough you were in bringing many Biblical passages to bear in illustrating your insight on this! I think this is my favorite blog post that you've written so far! Well done, brother!

  2. Also, the Rock in the instance where Moses smote it twice was a representation of Christ Himself. It was to represent that Christ was first smitten for us, but then after that, spoken to (i.e. we talk to Jesus, we view Him in terms of relationship since He has already suffered for us). To smite the rock twice was abominable because it was messing up the foreshadowing of Christ's suffering and subsequent victory.

  3. Another interesting thing is that after Moses was dead, he did get to go into the Promised Land. When Peter, James and John went up to the mount with Jesus, Moses came and talked with Jesus.