Whilst the book of Numbers spans almost the entire period of the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness, we wish to focus our attention on the events that are centred on the second year in the wilderness. It is during this time that probably the most significant state­ment about the character of Moses is made: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of earth” (Num 12:3). This is a wonderful paradox expressed here. He was above all men because he was the lowest of all men. Humility alone can achieve this greatness in the sight of God.

In the same chapter he was given the title, “my servant Moses,” and declared to be “faithful in all mine house” (Num 12:7). His humility was an­chored in the fact that he was diligent in the house as a simple servant. Miriam and Aaron craved greater glory but in doing so missed the whole thrust of Moses’ life. The man who refused to become great in Pharaoh’s court eschewed human glory in God’s court. His family couldn’t understand that and neither could the princes of the congregation. We, too, must understand that the greatest amongst us must be servant of all (Mark 10:44).

The record in Numbers 12 goes on to give fur­ther credence to his position when in verse 8 Yah­weh says that He will speak “mouth to mouth” with him—an expression which is not found elsewhere and gives even more emphasis than the parallel phrase “face to face”. Moses had this honour—“the similitude of Yahweh shall he behold”. The word “similitude” denotes appearance, manifestation or embodiment. Moses talked with the Father’s representative on earth because there was no moral barrier between them. They were friends; the angel represented God’s view to Moses; Moses was able to represent those same qualities to the people.

In contrast to the exalted status of Moses before God we have the petty accusation brought against him by Miriam and Aaron. He was accused of mar­rying a foreign woman, someone whom God had provided from the godly family of Jethro. But he is recorded as saying nothing in his defence. God heard every word in what might be seen as a family squabble and defended Moses immediately. What a wonderful example of a man who, rather than jump to his defence, is prepared to commit himself to a God that judges righteously (1 Pet 2:23).

When God smote Miriam with leprosy Moses could have rightfully claimed his superiority but instead demonstrated his humility and remained silent, only speaking forth when requested by Aaron, to intercede with a sincere request, “Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee”. Revenge played no role in the drama.

In our search for the godly attributes of Moses we find a rich source of instruction in the first and second national rebellions of Israel—when the spies brought back an evil report and when Korah, Dathan and Abiram sought the pre-eminence.

In Numbers 14:11,12 Yahweh responded to the faithlessness of the people, “How long will this people [note, not ‘my people’] provoke me? … I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them”. The response of Moses is a wonderful in­sight into both his understanding and his care. His concern was both for the fame of Yahweh’s Name and for the people’s welfare. How hard it is to get that balance right. He had witnessed awesome displays of power, yet his appeal went like this: “And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, say­ing, Yahweh is longsuffering, and of great mercy …” (v17–19). He knew that Yahweh’s greatest power lay in forgiveness and restoration. Moreo­ver he knew that an appeal to this glorious power was an open invitation to plead for mercy. What a wonderful example of leadership that all of us can take heed to.

Despite all that Moses did for them, despite the fact that Yahweh’s punishment for the first rebellion was still fresh in their memories, the “princes of the assembly” led by Korah, Dathan and Abiram still dared to rise up and question the authority of Moses. We can imagine the sadness and frustration which would have enveloped Moses. He was an unwill­ing leader of “this people”, a people who refused to trust in the salvation of their God. Yet despite all this, when confronted by Korah, he “fell upon his face” in reverential appeal (Num 16:4, cp 14:5). There wasn’t the slightest hint of presumption in the mind of this servant.

With Korah having “gathered all the congrega­ tion against them unto the door of the tabernacle” (Num 16:19), God instructed Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from among this congregation. The immediate response of Moses and Aaron was to fall upon their faces again, and Moses, as mediator for Israel, interceded with the request, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?” (Num 16:22). He couldn’t excuse the evil leaders, but he could pray for the life of the sheep.

The Psalms record two interesting titles in con­nection with this man’s life. They are “Moses the man of God” (Psa 90:1) and “Moses his chosen” (Psa 106:23). They reveal a great deal about what he was really like. The man of God describes a man who is “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:17). The word “perfect” is artios and means “completely fitted out”. There was nothing lacking in his demeanour. Moreover he was God’s ‘chosen’ He had been selected from among the people to represent them and care for them. He had not chosen himself. His own interests were nowhere to be seen. He was the epitome of selfless service for others.

When we come to the end of the book of Num­bers we see tragedy strike. Provoked sorely by a faithless generation he fell. Driven to his wit’s end he smote the rock and lashed out in frustration: “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” (Num 20:10). In a moment of weak­ness he failed to honour God and for their sakes was not permitted to lead the nation into the land. Psalm 106:33 informs us that “he spake unadvisedly with his lips”. The word has the idea of rashly or thoughtlessly. He is only recorded doing this once in forty years! Even in failure he makes us feel ashamed of how we speak at times, even when we are not provoked.

Let us appreciate the wonderful example he has left for us to follow, knowing that the highest God is prepared to dwell with those like Moses who are of a contrite and humble spirit and who tremble at His Word.