A black and white image captures Moses, head bowed, as he defiantly breaks the stone tablets engraved with God's commandments, revealing his act of disobedience.

How Did Moses Disobey God?

The story of Moses is central to the Old Testament, as he was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. However, despite being chosen by God and given immense responsibility, Moses was still human and susceptible to disobedience and mistakes.

In examining Moses’ life, there are a few key instances where Moses directly disobeyed clear commands from God.

Moses’ disobedience reminds readers that even chosen servants of God can still reject God’s commands. His mistakes serve as sobering lessons that while God may use flawed people, disobedience always has consequences.

Moses Struck The Rock

God’s Command To Speak To The Rock

After leaving Egypt, the Israelites traveled through the wilderness for many years. At one point during their journey, they camped at Kadesh. There, Miriam died and the people had no water. They complained bitterly to Moses about their thirst.

God told Moses, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Numbers 20:8). God was providing water from the rock again, just as He had done years before shortly after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 17:1-7).

However, this time, instead of striking the rock as Moses did previously, God commanded him to simply speak to the rock.

Moses Struck The Rock in Anger

Moses and Aaron gathered the people before the rock as God had instructed. However, instead of speaking to the rock, Moses said to the people, “Hear now, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff.

Water gushed out, providing drink for the people and their livestock (Numbers 20:10-11).

Some Bible scholars believe Moses’ anger and impatience prompted him to strike the rock, rather than obey God’s command to speak to it. He likely felt fed up with the Israelites’ constant complaining. After decades of wandering in the wilderness because of the people’s unbelief, Moses became frustrated and lashed out angrily.

Consequences for Disobedience

Although God graciously provided water from the rock despite Moses’ disobedience, He disciplined Moses and Aaron for their lack of faith and obedience. God said, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

As a result, Moses and Aaron would not be permitted to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. This seems like a harsh punishment for what appears to be a minor offense. However, Moses was the leader of God’s people. God held him to a high standard and expected full obedience.

Moreover, the rock symbolized Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). By striking the rock when God said to speak to it, Moses ruined this typology that would have pointed the Israelites to Christ.

Moses’ act of anger and disobedience displayed a lack of trust in God before the entire nation. It set a poor example of leadership that undermined the holiness and authority of God. Even the greatest leaders sometimes fail. But through it all, God remains perfectly faithful to His people.

Moses Struck The Egyptian

Moses Kills An Egyptian Overseer

As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses lived a life of privilege in Egypt. However, he sympathized with the suffering of his fellow Hebrews under Egypt’s cruel slave labor system. One day, Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.

Overcome with anger, Moses struck down and killed the Egyptian overseer, thinking no one had witnessed the crime (Exodus 2:11-12). However, the very next day Moses discovered his violent act had been found out.

Moses Tries To Hide His Crime

When Moses came upon two Hebrew men fighting the next day, he questioned why one was striking the other. Shockingly, the Hebrew man responded, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me like you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13-14).

Moses was alarmed since his crime from the previous day was now out in the open. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Moses killed the Egyptian overseer without divine permission. Realizing his life was in danger, Moses fled from Pharaoh to the land of Midian as a wanted fugitive.

God Still Used Moses Despite His Crime

Even though Moses disobeyed Yahweh by murdering the Egyptian overseer, God still had great plans for Moses’ life. The Bible says after 40 years in Midian as a shepherd, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and commissioned him to lead His people Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-10).

What an awesome display of God’s grace, forgiveness and patience! Moses made a terrible mistake by taking justice into his own hands, but the Lord used it to prepare Moses to lead Israel. This shows that God can redeem even our failures for His glory.

Moses Initially Resisted God’s Call

God First Appeared To Moses In The Burning Bush

The story begins when God first appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush while he was shepherding his father-in-law Jethro’s flock (Exodus 3:1-3). This miraculous burning bush that was not consumed symbolized God’s fiery presence.

From the bush, God called Moses by name and told him He had seen the oppression of His people in Egypt and would send Moses to deliver them out of slavery.

Moses Objected To God’s Call

Initially, Moses resisted and raised several objections to God’s call. Firstly, he asked “Who am I that I should go?” expressing doubts about his worthiness and capability to confront Pharaoh (Exodus 3:11). God answered that He would be with Moses.

Next, anticipating skepticism from Israelites, Moses asked what God’s name was so he could tell them. God identified Himself as “I AM WHO I AM” and told Moses to inform them that “I AM” had sent him (Exodus 3:14).

When God reaffirmed His assignment to Moses, he pleaded “Please Lord, I’m not very good with words and I feel clumsy and slow not bold and eloquent” (Exodus 4:10). God reminded him that it is He who made man’s mouth. Still looking for a way out, Moses urged “Lord, please send someone else”.

This clearly shows he was reluctant and raising excuses to avoid the divine commission out of likely fear or nerves or disbelief in own capabilities.

God Reassured Moses And Gave Him Signs

Each time Moses objected, God patiently provided reassurance and miraculous signsto demonstrate His power and confirm that Moses was chosen to lead Israelites out of Egypt. First, God asked “What is that in your hand?” and when Moses said his staff, He turned it into a snake.

Secondly, He put Moses’ hand inside his cloak and took it out with a deadly skin disease then healed it (Exodus 4:1-7). These wonders helped convince Moses that God truly sent him.

As a final encouragement and sign of authority, God said that after Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they would worship God on that very mountain. After a decade in Median, Moses still lacked confidence but he could no longer make excuses before God’s persistence, promises and undeniable display of power.

Ultimately, he submitted to the divine call and did according to all God commanded him (Exodus 7:6).


In examining key moments in Moses’ life, we see clear instances where he directly disobeyed God’s commands, despite being chosen by God for a special purpose. His mistakes remind us that even great leaders of faith are still flawed humans.

However, God did not utterly reject Moses but continued to work through him. May Moses’ example of both successes and failures encourage us in our own walks of faith.

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