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1: On the Brink of Failure?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series The John the Baptist Experience: Book 3

The John the Baptist Experience
Book 3: The Fellowship of the Forerunner
Chapter 1: On the Brink of Failure?

Copyright © 20231

Jim Kerwin

A Personal Story

Title graphic over a photo of the Jordan River in IsraelThings could still go wrong if… and unless…2

As we launch into this final book in the series, let me share a very personal experience, something from my early days as a Christian. This cautionary tale contains a dollop of wisdom that I believe applies to us as we prepare to implement the full-orbed Gospel in our sharing with those around us. At first, this anecdote may seem to have nothing to do with our subject of John the Baptist or his heart-preparing message; but please humor me — there is an important point to make.

I found — and was found by — the Lord Jesus in 1968. Once I had a glimpse of Him, and all He offered to me and required of me, my heart’s cry was and has been, “My utmost for His highest!”3 Among other things, that has meant seeking to understand and develop the inner, spirit life — seeking God for the inner cleansing of entire sanctification, as well as becoming spiritually mature. Among the books read during my first two years as a Christian, then, was Watchman Nee’s4 three-volume work, The Spiritual Man.

The Spiritual Man is a rich and lengthy Bible study which painstakingly sorts out the tripartite being of man, especially pointing out the crucial differences between soul and spirit. That book (along with Nee’s The Latent Power of the Soul) was foundational for me, and I was very excited during my senior of high school about what I was learning from it.

Two weeks after high-school graduation, the Lord had arranged for me to go on an ad hoc personal ministry trip to Dallas, Texas. During my weeks there, teaching at small home groups, praying for and leading people into the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, having the Lord interpret dreams and visions, I stayed with the lovely Christian family of Gus and Helen Lundberg. During our many hours of fellowship together, I mentioned to Helen what I had been learning from The Spiritual Man, and, eager as she was for learning about the things of God, she must have gone out to buy a copy almost immediately.

Weeks later, when I returned home to Southern California, one of my two fathers in the Lord, Dr. Ray Rempt, learned of my interest in The Spiritual Man, and he exhorted me to share the book only with greatest care. In fact, there was a mild rebuke from him about having shared it with my Dallas hostess. I didn’t understand his remonstrance, because Ray had been the one to introduce me to that very book!

When I asked for clarification, Ray pointed me to the introduction to another of Nee’s books, What Shall This Man Do?5 I was surprised and sobered by the author’s words about his own book The Spiritual Man:

‘Some years back I was very ill, and the doctors said I could only live a few months. In the face of this I felt burdened to write down in book form what the Lord had shown me on the subject of “the spiritual man”,6 and thus to share with others the light I had been given. I did so and it was published and the edition is now exhausted. It will not be reprinted.7 It was not that what I wrote was wrong, for as I read it now I can endorse it all. It was a very clear and complete setting forth of the truth. But just there lies its weakness. It is too good, and it is the illusion of perfectness about it that troubles me. The headings, the orderliness, the systematic way in which the subject is worked out, the logic of the argument—all are too perfect to be spiritual. They lend themselves too easily to a merely mental apprehension. When a man has read the book he ought not to have any questions left; they ought all to be answered!

‘But God, I have discovered, does not do things that way, and much less does He let us do them. We human beings are not to produce “perfect” books. The danger of such perfection is that a man can understand without the help of the Holy Spirit. But if God gives us books they will ever be broken fragments, not always clear or consistent or logical, lacking conclusions, and yet coming to us in life and ministering life to us. We cannot dissect divine facts and outline and systematize them. It is only the immature Christian who demands always to have intellectually satisfying conclusions. The Word of God itself has this fundamental character, that it speaks always and essentially to our spirit and to our life.’8

Unlike the concerns of our late, martyred Brother Nee, for his work The Spiritual Man, I am not under the misapprehension that the previous two books in this series are either “too good” or “perfect.” But I have shared many Gospel-related truths that can too easily lend themselves to so-called religious “understanding” — and implementation — “without the help of the Holy Spirit.”

Therefore, in this initial chapter of Book Three, I would like to take a step back to ask, “Having come so far, could we be on the brink of failure?” What are the dangers of implementing the changes through human zeal and intellect, and how do we avoid the pitfalls? I’ll explain the reason for my concern, then, in chapter 2, explore the life of John the Baptist to see how he not only escaped such failure, but served as the prototype for how to do this kind of preaching and evangelizing in the Spirit.

A Quick Review

We have come a long way together in this The John the Baptist Experience series.

In the first volume, The Exceptional Messenger, we focused on John’s life and ministry, learning how God used him to “prepare the way of the Lord” in God’s people.

In the second volume, The Extraordinary Message,9 we explored the interlocking, interdependent components of John’s message — the straightedge of God’s righteousness, His serious call to repentance, heart-felt confession of sin, restitution and reconciliation — and how each part is integral in preparing someone’s heart as “good soil” to receive the Gospel “seed.”

And now we are eager to implement this, because…

  • Our hearts are stirred by the need of the worldly, sleeping Church, as well as the desperate need of the unsaved for whom Christ died;
  • We are in agreement that the dynamic and content and purpose of John’s ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit is needed to bring about the necessary, radical change in our sharing of the Gospel; and,
  • We have settled it in our spirits that in order for heart-preparing counseling and teaching, preaching, and sharing to be complete and effective, it must include the key elements we saw in The Extraordinary Message, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It’s wonderful that we are in one accord so far and hungry to be used by God. But please bear with me as I share from my heart this word of caution.

A Word of Caution: Stricter Judgment!

Preaching, teaching, mentoring, counseling — all of these spoken communications and more — fall under the category of speaking for God. Representing God and His mind and will and heart to people is a great privilege; but it is also a solemn privilege that carries with it a playing-for-keeps responsibility and accountability. Woe to us if we misrepresent God’s truth or His heart to our listeners!

Let me remind you of the warning James gives us:

    • Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
    • James 3:1

Lest the point be missed in that phrase we will incur a stricter judgment, see how other translations deal with it:

  • isv: We who teach will be judged more severely than others.
  • leb: We will receive a greater judgment.
  • niv: We who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • rv: We shall receive heavier judgment.
  • Weymouth: We teachers shall undergo severer judgment [sic].
  • Williams: We teachers are going to be judged with stricter judgment than other people.

It’s very enlightening and sobering to read the entirety of James 3 with this exhortation to teachers and preachers in mind. In other words, it’s not just a chapter about the “evil” of the tongue in general (though it works on that level). Rather, given James’ starting point, the “tongue chapter”10 is specifically about the tongues (and therefore the hearts) of unwary spiritual leaders. We won’t pursue James 3 further here, but you may do so to your profit.

James may have Moses’ sin in mind when he gives out this exhortation, especially this point: We’re not only responsible for the content of what we share, but the heart-attitude in which we share it. Since the sin of Moses, the lawgiver, is usually erroneously interpreted (sad to say), let’s spend a few moments investigating what really went on. As spiritual leaders, we can learn something of the fear of the Lord by understanding what triggered God’s ire against His servant.

Moses’ Sin

On the second occasion when Moses struck the rock,11 “stricter judgment” weighed heavily upon Israel’s leader. Let’s read the story in Numbers 20:2-13:

2There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. 3The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! 4Why then have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? 5Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.”

6Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them; 7and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8“Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.”

9So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; 10and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 11Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.

Now here comes the “stricter judgment.”

12But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 13Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He proved Himself holy among them.

And the Lord was so serious about the consequence that He wouldn’t change His mind. Despite all their labors and trials and leadership hardships of forty years, despite having worked for those four decades towards the goal of bringing the children of Israel into the promised land, Moses and Aaron are denied the final prize. Aaron died shortly after this (Numbers 20:22-29).

Subsequently, God used Moses to lead Israel to stunning, decisive victories over the armies of Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og, king of Bashan. Even so, God didn’t change His decree concerning Moses:

  • 12Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go up to this mountain of Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. 13When you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was; 14for in the wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)12
  • Numbers 27:12-14

As for Moses, even this great intercessor didn’t succeed in altering God’s decree, as he said several times afterwards:

  • “The Lord was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there.’”
  • Deuteronomy 1:37
  • 23“I also pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, 24‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours? 25Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the Lord said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter. 27Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.’”
  • Deuteronomy 3:23-27
  • 48The Lord spoke to Moses that very same day, saying, 49“Go up to this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab opposite Jericho, and look at the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the sons of Israel for a possession. 50Then die on the mountain where you ascend, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, 51because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel. 52For you shall see the land at a distance, but you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving the sons of Israel.”
  • Deuteronomy 32:48-52

Talk about “receiving a stricter judgment”! But why was Moses judged so severely?

There are many among us who have been taught, quite erroneously, that Moses’ sin was in striking the rock twice with his rod (Numbers 20:11). Others have been told that the problem was that Moses struck the rock at all, because God had said, “Speak to the rock” (Numbers 20:8), not strike it.

However, that’s fairly weak logic. After all, back at the first water-from-the-rock incident, the Lord had told Moses to “take in your hand the staff” and to “strike the rock that water may come out of it” (Exodus 17:5,6). Here in the second water-from-the-rock event, the Lord also commanded Moses to “take the rod” (Deuteronomy 20:8) in order to perform the miracle, and Moses obediently complied: “So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him” (Numbers 20:9).

Why would God tell Moses to take the rod if He didn’t mean for him to use it? No, Moses’ sin wasn’t in using the rod. It wasn’t because he failed to “speak to the rock.” But ironically, His sin was because of something he did speak. We aren’t entirely certain about this until the Holy Spirit reveals the matter in the Psalms. Then it all becomes clear.

Psalm 106 is a poetic retelling of the many sins of the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings (vv. 6-33) and subsequent moral failures in the Promised Land (vv. 34-46). In the list of the people’s sins in the desert, we find this enlightening passage:

32They also provoked Him to wrath at the waters of Meribah,
So that it went hard with Moses on their account;
33Because they were rebellious against His Spirit,
He spoke rashly with his lips.
— Psalm 106:32-33 —

That’s the nasb reading. Note how in the first line of verse 33, the translators imply that the people were “rebellious against [God’s] Spirit.” That’s one possible, perfectly valid translation.13 Without a doubt, the people were rebellious against the Holy Spirit.

Ah, but there’s an alternate way to render that Hebrew phrase, as represented by the translation of the Jewish Publication Society:

For they embittered his spirit,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.

That is to say that it was Moses’ spirit which was “embittered.” Other translations follow this understanding of the passage:

  • brenton (LXX): they provoked his spirit
  • darby: they exasperated his spirit
  • esv: they made his spirit bitter
  • Geneva: they vexed his spirite [sic, following the old English spelling]
  • ylt: they have provoked his spirit.

Certainly both conditions were true: the people were rebellious against God and His Spirit, and they provoked and embittered Moses’ spirit.14 But considering how the logic of the passage flows, it seems more likely that all the personal pronouns refer to Moses. Thus:

  • Because of the people’s rebellion and false accusations, “it went ill with Moses’” (Psalm 106:32b).
  • After forty years of putting up with repeated expressions of the people’s unbelief, Moses’ spirit became bitter towards them (106:33a).
  • It was out of this bitter spirit that Moses “spoke rashly with his lips” (106:33b).15

Ah, when we pull this thread — that Moses spoke rashly with his lips — we get to the heart of Moses’ sin, and why that sin was so serious that the Lord had to make a “stricter judgment” example of him in the eyes of the people. What was it that Moses said?

Moses’ only recorded words during this incident in Numbers 20 are these: “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”

  • We see no sin in the first phrase: “Listen now, you rebels!” Manifestations of the people’s rebelliousness stretched back almost forty years (at that point) to their refusal to enter the promised land (Numbers 13-14). Many years later the rebelliousness manifested itself again in the uprising of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). That brings us to our “waters of Meribah” incident in Numbers 20, the passage we are now considering.16 We don’t see how God could fault Moses over such an obvious designation.17
  • Let’s jump to the last phrase, “out of this rock.” That was God’s chosen means for providing for the people.18 There is still no sin to be found in Moses’ words.
  • That leaves us with the phrase, “shall we bring forth water for you.”19 That translation seems fairly neutral. But in light of what Psalm 106 tells us about Moses’ spirit being “embittered,” there are translations that bring out the “bitter flavor” of Moses’ words:
    • “Do we have to bring water…for you?” (gnb, nirv) Or, perhaps even better and clearer…
    • “Must we bring water for you” (nkjv, kjv, niv, bishops, brenton/LXX, rv60).

Ah, there we have it! In fact, that word “we” is at the very heart of the matter. Who is the “we” speaking? “We” are Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:10). But they are God’s representatives, standing in for Him, bringing about a miracle of His making, for the people He has chosen and loves. So…

…as God’s representative, when Moses says, “We,” he presumes to be communicating the mind and heart of God, by clear implication. So what do the words “must we” convey about the Lord when Moses shouts, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” They convey this: God is unwilling or grudging or reluctant or loath to provide this life-giving necessity to His people.

Remember what we said earlier in this chapter as we looked at James’ warning about the “severer judgment” that awaits those who speak for God? Representing God and His mind and will and heart to people is a great privilege; but it is also a solemn privilege that carries with it a playing-for-keeps responsibility and accountability. Woe to us if we misrepresent God’s truth or His heart to our listeners!

Now that we know what to look for — that Moses “spoke rashly with his lips” — and how he misrepresented God’s heart before all the congregation — “Must we bring you water?” — we have a much clearer context for understanding God’s reaction:

    • “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
    • Numbers 20:12
    • “…during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water.”
    • Numbers 27:14
    • you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel.”
    • Deuteronomy 32:51

Note the consistent theme in these three passages: You did not treat Me as holy in the midst of / in the sight of / before the eyes of the sons of Israel. And note the various facets of that sin:

  • “You have not believed Me.”
  • “You rebelled against My commandment.”
  • “You broke faith with Me.”

It’s as though the Lord said to Moses,

“How could you represent Me that way to My people? ‘Must “we” bring forth water from the rock?’ I’m not like that, Moses. I am not unwilling or grudging or reluctant or loath to provide for My people, rebellious and sinful though they may be. But that’s how you portrayed Me to them.

“Don’t you remember that when I passed before you and revealed Myself to you on the mountain, I said,

‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin’?20

“At the rock, before the people, did you portray Me as compassionate? Gracious? One who abounds in lovingkindness? Someone who is slow to anger, who forgives?

“The rest of what I said to on the mountain is still true, and will not change, that I will

‘by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’21

“But that’s not how I asked you to portray Me when My people were thirsty. Did I express any anger with my people at all? No.22 I even caused My glory to appear23 so that all might see that I am present and ready to meet their need. Yet you allowed your bitter spirit and the accumulated years of frustration with this people to color and taint and — yes, even defile — the provision and blessing that I intended for them.

“Because you have the privilege and responsibility of speaking for Me and representing Me, I hold you to a stricter standard, and thus a severer judgment, Moses. Because you misrepresented Me and My heart, My people need to know that I am not like that. When they realize the severity of the punishment I lay upon you — exclusion from the promised land you’ve sought for forty years — they will understand that My heart toward them is not how you characterized it: bitter, grudging, reluctant. For this reason I have to make a public example of you.”

Moving Forward with Tender Hearts

When we consider James’ warning about ministers being under “stricter judgment,” when we understand the nature of Moses’ sin, and when we contemplate the reason for and severity of Moses’ punishment, it’s time to pause and meditate humbly on how God would have us to proceed in preaching and teaching which bring forth “repentance unto life,” “repentance unto forgiveness of sins.” We’ve seen that we have the straightedge of the Law as a tool, and we don’t want to compromise the standard of God’s righteousness in any way.

Looking at it another way, we have learned a great deal about how to preach a fuller, more balanced gospel. That’s good! But in that knowledge we could find ourselves unwittingly on the brink of failure, because in untempered knowledge lies hidden, unappreciated danger; as Paul puts it:

    • 1…“knowledge” puffs a person up with pride; whereas love builds up. 2The person who thinks he “knows” something doesn’t yet know in the way he ought to know.
    • 1 Corinthians 8:1c-2 jnt24

No one who knows of Paul’s character and ministry will accuse him of half-heartedness or cowardice. His pre-Christ-encounter Bible knowledge and zeal drove him to shameful excesses. Later, this tough-as-nails Gospel warrior would write these words in what may be his most famous New Testament chapter:

  • 4Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant [puffed up],25 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never fails…
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

After forty years of faithful service, Moses’ love apparently “failed;” when that happened, he fell over “the brink of failure” into God’s “stricter judgment.” When we consider the fate of the lawgiver, we should settle it in our minds to move forward in the fear of God with humble, loving hearts. Moses discovered a truth which James captured in words nearly 1500 years later:

    • 19…But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
    • James 1:19b-20

What do we do with the strong truths we have to share? How do we proclaim them in an uncompromising, faithful way, but in a manner and spirit acceptable to God, a way that fully and truthfully represents His heart? The prophet Jeremiah blazed this trail long ago, as I myself discovered.

I have detailed elsewhere that I made a commitment the night I was saved to read through the Scriptures at least once per year. That meant encountering God’s Old Testament prophets at least annually. I read through their oracles and their rebukes and denunciations with a mixture of dread and fear. Hey, this must have been real preaching!

But back around 1974 I was blessed to be able to enroll in an Old Testament survey course. I did not know it at the time (or I would have realized the great privilege that the Lord had provided), but the man teaching the course was one of America’s foremost evangelical Hebrew scholars and Bible translators, Dr. William C. Williams.

As our class moved through the Old Testament, we arrived at last in the Prophets. I remember the day when Dr. Williams, this man steeped in Hebrew and all things from the Old Testament, read aloud — very dramatically and passionately — from various passages from Jeremiah’s writings. But what I heard was not the “Die, wretched sinners!” tone and invective I had imagined in my own reading. No, here was the man I had heard called “the weeping prophet,” but neither Jeremiah’s weeping nor its cause had ever “clicked” with me. This was the prophet who had written the Book of Lamentations. This was the preacher with a broken heart, representing God and His broken heart.

For all that, God managed to combine Jeremiah’s “weeping heart,” and Ezekiel’s “forehead… like a diamond, harder than flint” (Ezekiel 3:8-9 leb) into the person and ministry of John the Baptist. Only the Holy Spirit can create the proper balance in us and for us.

Yes, we have a clearer view of the full foundation-laying message of John the Baptist. We see that the Church’s lack of “the John the Baptist experience” has been at the root of many problems in the lives of Christians, real and so called. But we are on the brink of failure if, in our zeal to set things right, our hearts don’t match the heart of God. We could fail spectacularly; worse, we could sin as Moses sinned and suffer the same “severer judgment” that he suffered.

Why do I fear that we could be “on the brink of failure” (as I propose in the chapter title)? Simply this: Operating on “Bible knowledge” alone, I can see in my mind’s eye those who could take off into preaching in their own zeal and understanding, and in their own soul-power. “Everyone else is missing the point! You must preach the Gospel this way or it’s in vain!” The end result will not belong to God, but will be a disaster. Just at the point when we’ve arrived at an understanding of a more thorough, Biblical way to proclaim the Kingdom of God, we could be on the brink of failure. To reverse the common saying, we could be ready to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

So we’re in a delicate, precarious position. We’ve uncovered and recovered some elements which can empower the proclamation of the Kingdom. We’re eager to trumpet forth the full gospel, but first we may need a heart-check, lest we launch in hot, hasty, untempered zeal. We know that James has warned us of a “stricter judgment.” And we have seen that stricter judgment imposed on Moses because of his misrepresentation of God. “It went hard with Moses… because he spoke rashly with his lips.” His anger didn’t “achieve the righteousness of God.”

There is a balance which the Holy Spirit will help us to find. We see it in God’s servant, John the Baptist. What made John, with his hard message and uncompromising standard of God’s righteousness, so attractive that tens of thousands of sinners went to hear him and respond to his call? What made John so appealing? In the next chapter26 we’ll explore that very thing, and trust to find the Holy Spirit’s way forward — a way to preach straight-edged righteousness in the love of God, a strong, uncompromising way that avoids Moses’ sin, yet produces John’s fruit.


  1. This is a preview chapter from the book The John the Baptist Experience: Book 3: The Fellowship of the Forerunner; copyright © 2023 by Jim Kerwin. All rights reserved.

    Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from New American Standard Bible (nasb) Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA. All rights reserved. Used by Permission. www.lockman.org

  2. The underlying Jordan River photograph is copyright by Rex Wholster and used under license from iStockphotos.com.
  3. Many thanks to Oswald Chambers for that exquisite phrase which became the title of his most popular book!
  4. Originally born Ni Shu-tsu, in 1925 he changed his name to Ni Tuosheng, or Nee T'o-sheng, from whence we get the English translation Watchman Nee.
  5. The title keys off of Peter’s question to Jesus about the Apostle John in John 21:21 — “Lord, and what shall this man do?” The book is a compilation by Angus I. Kinnear of some of Nee’s sermons. Bibliographic information: What Shall This Man Do? Copyright © Angus I. Kinnear (1961?), was published by Christian Literature Crusade (new printing, 1969), Quebec, Canada.
  6. That is, The Spiritual Man, originally a three-volume work written in 1927 and comprised of approximately 700 pages.
  7. Despite Nee’s stated determination, The Spiritual Man is still in print, many years after his death in 1972 in a labor camp in Communist China.
  8. This passage appears in Kinnear’s preface to the book, pages vii-viii. Nee’s concern, no doubt, was that when well-meaning, soulish Christians had read his three-volume work, having seized the truths through mere “mental apprehension,” they would believe themselves to be spiritual, leaving “the last state of that man… worse than the first” (Matthew 12:45c).
  9. At this point, the chapters of The Extraordinary Message are still in development, so are not published yet. They will be released for preview occasionally, until the entire book is complete and ready for publication.
  10. Not the “tongues chapter,” which seems to be a designation for 1 Corinthians 14.
  11. The first occasion was early in the “wilderness wanderings,” not long after the departure from Egypt, and before the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. See Exodus 17:1-7. The second occasion was just before the conquests east of the Jordan began, the period leading up to the entry into the promised land. Therefore the two “rock striking” events were nearly 40 years apart.
  12. Pay attention to the phrase in the parenthesis of Numbers 27:14. Some readers don’t, and come to the conclusion that the “rock accounts” of Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 are one and the same. They are confused by two similarities:
    1. The name Meribah is used of both places. But Meribah isn’t so much a place name as it is a word to describe what occurred at the location so named. The word in Hebrew (מְרִיבָה / mərîḇāh) means quarreling or rebellion; hence the meaning, the place of strife. The name for this location pops up occasionally in other Old Testament passages, most often in the compound form of Meribah-Kadesh or Meribath-Kadesh (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:51; Ezekiel 47:19; 48:28), meaning “the Meribah near Kadesh” (Kadesh was in the southernmost reaches of what became the territory of the tribe of Judah.)

      But the Exodus 17 location was given a dual name of “Massah and Meribah.” Massah (מַסָּה / massāh) in Hebrew means despair or trial. Yes, the people quarreled (meribah) with Moses, but they were newly liberated slaves with little experience in trusting God, hence in the midst of their trial (massah) they gave into despair (massah) at having no water. Later in the Old Testament, this place is usually referred to simply as Massah (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:16; 9:22; 33:8; and Psalm 95:8, whence the quotation in Hebrews 3:7-11).

    2. Zin or Sin? Confusion also arises over the similarity in names (at least in English) of the Wildernesses of Sin and Zin. We have alluded to the fact that in Numbers 20, Meribah is near Kadesh. The writer says that this is “in the wilderness of Zin” (Hebrew: צִן / ṣin). But the events of Exodus 17 occur in the Wilderness of Sin (Hebrew: סִין / sîn), an area of the western Sinai.

      The pronunciations aren’t as similar as they might appear in the English transliteration from Hebrew. Zin (צִן / ṣin) is pronounced tsin, starting with a sound like the “ts” of the final two letters in boots; and the vowel is a short “i” sound, like in the English word pit. Sin (סִין / sîn), on the other hand, starts with a simple “s” sound, but the “i” is more like the i in our word machine — a “long e” sound.

      Thus Zin should be pronounced tsin (rhymes with pin); and Sin should be pronounced seen (rhymes with teen). To sum it up — two different words, two different spellings and pronunciations, two different locations.

      And, for those of you who are wondering, this name Sin / סִין / sîn has nothing do to with the various Hebrew words we translate into English as sin, that is, disobedience to God and the breaking of His laws.

  13. This understanding of the passage is also expressed in such translations as the kjv, asv, leb, nib, nkjv, rv, lbla, nbla, and rv60.
  14. The old kjv is wisely ambiguous in this regard — they provoked his spirit — without leaning to either interpretation.
  15. It’s important to note, in Moses’ defense, the many times he interceded for the people. Consider these examples:
    • As the sin of the golden calf was revealed to Moses by God, Moses interceded with Him for the people (Exodus 32:7-14).
    • In the aftermath of the golden-calf incident (Exodus 32:30-35), Moses begged for forgiveness for the people, even offering to have his name blotted out from God’s book.
    • When the people listened to the negative report of the ten spies and God’s judgment on the people was imminent, once again Moses intervened (Numbers 14:11-21).
    • Moses refers to these same intercessory interventions (relating to the golden calf incident and the ten-spies-report rebellion) almost forty years later (Deuteronomy 9:13-29).
    • Moses (with Aaron) interceded with God once again in the matter of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:20-22).

  16. Soon to follow in the record is the rebellion which ended in the erecting of the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:4-9), and (despite heartening victories and conquests, detailed in Numbers 21:21-35) the enthusiastic participation in the rebellious, licentious, fornicatory rites involved in the worship of Ba‘al-Peor (Numbers 25).
  17. In God’s dealings with the people, through Moses He had called them “rebels” and much worse. See, for, example, Exodus 23:21 (“rebellious”); Number 14:9 (“do not rebel”); 17:10 (“the rebels”); Deuteronomy 1:26 (“rebelled”), 43 (“rebelled”); 9:7 (“rebellious”), 23-24 (“rebelled… rebellious”); 31:27 (“your rebellion and your stubbornness”).

    But note that in the case of Moses’ sin, God categorized that, too, as rebellion: Numbers 20:24 (“…you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah…”); 27:14 (“…you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water”).

  18. What do you picture in your mind when you imagine water coming forth from the rock? A babbling brook? A stream? A pleasant little river? Considering that this water supply had to satisfy the thirst of several million people and their tongue-parched cattle, God’s miraculous water-source had to have torrented forth as a mighty river!

    Not surprisingly, the Scriptures confirm the same. Consider these words in Psalm 78:15-16 and 20 —

    15He split the rocks in the wilderness
    And gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths.
    16He brought forth streams also from the rock
    And caused waters to run down like rivers.…
    20“Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out,
    And streams were overflowing….”

  19. Shall we bring forth: Following the nasb in this regard are such translations as asv, esv, Geneva, and rv.
  20. Exodus 34:6-7b
  21. Exodus 34:7c-d
  22. Read the Numbers 20:1-13 passage carefully. Just as at Massah/Meribah forty years earlier (Exodus 17:1-7), the Scriptures never indicate that God was angry or displeased or impatient with His people in their parched condition.
  23. Numbers 20:6
  24. Stern, D. H. (1989). Jewish New Testament : A translation of the New Testament that expresses its Jewishness (1st ed.) (1 Co 8:1-2). Jerusalem, Israel; Clarksville, Md., USA: Jewish New Testament Publications.
  25. is not arrogant here in verse 4 is the same verb found in 1 Corinthians 8:1 — φυσιόω / φυσιόομαι (phusióō / phusióomai) — puff up, blow up, inflate, often translated as be proud, be arrogant.
  26. The Secret of John’s Appeal
Series Navigation2: The Secret of John's Appeal >>
1 comment… add one
  • LInda Brown March 1, 2023, 12:42 am

    I often felt sorry for Moses. I wondered why God was so harsh with him concerning this story. Well I have a lot more to learn about God. He loves us so, but he does not play! His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. This article humbled me. It made me look at how important what I do for Christ is. It makes me love God more, and to think that he has in trusted me with his work. I’m glad he equips who he calls. Thanks so much for the story

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