All great men in history were tested. They were men who went into their baptism of fire and emerged with their stories and wounds. There are also Biblical figures whom God delighted in, whose histories are less known, whose stories we never get to hear about. But for the most part, these men and women of renown had to undergo their tests.
While I’m a firm believer of tests and examinations, I have difficulty convincing my young daughters that these are good for their development, especially the one taking her Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) this year.
Abraham and Moses, Governors Joseph and Daniel, King David and the apostles, all underwent great and multiple tests. It was David, a man after God’s own heart, who cried out, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind” Psalm 26:2. See how God answered his prayers and qualified Him to rule and reign with King Jesus during the Millennium.
Bill Johnson put it this way: “The purpose of a test is to see how much we can carry.” Moses, one of the most famous prophets, if not the greatest ever, knew what it was like to be let down by people. He thought he was doing everyone a favour, reaching beneath his status to kill a low-level bully, only to be sold out by those he sought to serve, and consequently being confined to a life on the run.
He went from burying a bully to burying his future. He used to walk in palaces and survey the land on chariots, but ended up clipping sand between his toes while tending to sheep.
Yet, despite the mundane and seeming meaninglessness of his existence, when given a chance by God to make his life significant, Moses turned it down flat. He insisted on not taking up God’s job offer to the point of frustrating the Almighty.
I think Moses turned it down because he knew people. He knew what Pharaoh was like, what the Children of Israel were like and, above all, he knew what he was like. And he was right. But Moses didn’t quite know what God was like. At the burning bush, he was only starting to know God. We’ll only begin to know God for ourselves when He tests us.
As Moses accepted his mission and journeyed back to Egypt and out, he was tested continuously for the next 40 years. There were tests of his leadership skills, relational skills, endurance, temperament, humility before men and God, and his tolerance and tenacity.
To be sure, Moses didn’t pass them all. What was said about Elijah is true of every biblical hero. They were men with a nature just like ours. We won’t always come out with a distinction when tested and there’ll be the occasional failed grades. But, what if we fail the really important ones? What then?
August is considered the ‘low point’ in the Jewish calendar. The 9th of Av was the day the people of Israel chose to receive the negative report of the 10 spies and refused to enter the Promised Land. The result was that the month of Av became a month of mourning and destruction.
The failure of a people is the failure of the leaders. So, when the Children of Israel failed, the leaders failed. When the 10 spies failed, they poisoned the people’s minds with a lack of faith and the punishment was on the entire people group. But that wasn’t the end of the series of tests on Moses. Even as he grew in intimacy with God to the point of being called a friend, God continued to test him. He tests us not so that He will know us, but that we will know Him.
In what must be a heart-wrenching episode, Moses failed in a seemingly routine test and paid a huge price for it. In Numbers 20, Moses was commanded to speak to the rock before the Children of Israel, and water would flow out to quench the thirst of 3 million people. He had passed a similar test before in Exodus 17, so why did he fail this one, and what exactly did he fail at? Why did he strike the rock instead of speak to it?
Regardless of the reason, Moses failed and God said, “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.”
The punishment seemed harsh, but is it really so when we consider that the Holiness of God was offended?
Moses begged to no avail for the rest of his life. But despite God’s refusal to reverse the punishment, the Father heart of God was on full display in Deuteronomy 3. You cannot miss how it must have pained God to refuse His friend the pleasure of entering the Promised Land.
I always imagine Moses climbing Mount Nebo in Deuteronomy 34 and sitting there looking across in the setting sun. He did not sit alone. His Friend came to him and gave him an audio tour: “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”
With that, Moses’ storied life ended along with the opportunity to enter the land. Except that it didn’t. The story did not end there. Centuries later, on a night when God the Son needed comfort, the Father sent his trusted friend to Mount Tabor to minister to His beloved Son on the night of his Transfiguration (Matthew 17). A beloved friend ministering to His Beloved Son. With that, Moses set foot in the Promised Land but this time unencumbered by the people he was leading. This time, he ministered to God himself.
This is the redemptive story of failed grades. It is the same with us. Look to God, there may yet be an epilogue.