The most important word

Published on Wednesday 10 May 2017

In Numbers 9, the Israelites are pressing Moses for an answer on a difficult question regarding the law. They are commanded to keep the Passover, but that law clashes with the law concerned uncleanness after touching a corpse. What should they do?

It wasn’t only a difficult question, it was an urgent question, too: ‘They came before Moses and Aaron on that day‘ (6). Often as leaders we can feel under pressure to give an answer, especially when time is a factor.  We receive suggestions from others about direction, activities, tone - which are usually helpful, but often contradictory!

What happens next is instructive. We don’t know how long it took - presumably up to a month, because the answer was to keep the Passover a month later, when the people were ritually clean again. But, there was an answer: indecisiveness, procrastination, delaying to avoid the issue, are not options.

Instead, Moses gives the wise answer: ‘Wait, so that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you’ (8). He knows three things:

  1. An answer is necessary
  2. He does not know the answer
  3. God does

Moses exercises restraint (’wait’) and trust (’so that I may hear’). He does not rely on his own intelligence, but on God’s command.  As a church leader, too often I am tempted to rely on my (God-given) intuition, skills and intelligence. Too little do I have the wisdom to say, ‘Wait, so that I may hear what the Lord will command.’

The most important word here is not ‘wait’, but ‘hear’.  Waiting by itself is not good enough - that is simply a delaying tactic, procrastination.  No: we wait, so that we may hear what the Lord will command.

Courage and competence are important for church leaders, but prayer is most important.