Numbers 20 tells the story of Moses and the Israelites as they wander in the desert without water.
If you’re familiar with the story, you know that the Israelites often complained bitterly and incessantly to Moses because they considered their wandering in the desert to be a much harsher experience than their slavery in Egypt. At least there they had grain, figs, vines, pomegranates, cucumbers, and leeks among other culinary delights. Here, they didn’t even have water. They made sure to continually remind Moses of their discontent.
The first point of interest to me in this story is that the early chapters of Exodus record the Israelites crying out to God for deliverance from their enslavement. God hears their prayers and responds by answering them. He sends Moses to deliver his people with miraculous signs and wonders, not only out of Egypt, but into the promised land. How quickly they forget what God has done for them! Instead of giving Him thanks and praise, He is rewarded with constant complaints and grumblings from His people. We often read these encounters in the Old Testament and are shocked and awed by their behavior.
But aren’t we often guilty of the very same thing? How many times do we cry out to God, pleading for Him to change our situation only to find ourselves, not too much later, complaining about our new circumstances?
Back in our story, Moses and Aaron fall of their faces before the Lord and His glory appears to them. When we find ourselves in need, do we grumble and complain, or do we fall on our faces before the Lord seeking His glory? I think there is a great lesson in this one verse. (Numbers 20:6)
In response, God tells Moses to simply speak to the rock and water will come pouring from it. I think sometimes God asks us to perform such a simple task that we have a hard time seeing its value. Yet, our response is simply to be obedient. Moses, however, says to the people, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” The text says that Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod, “and water came out abundantly and the congregation and their animals drank.” (v.11)
Verse 12 tells us, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, ‘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.” It seems like a pretty harsh punishment, doesn’t it? True, God did ask Moses to speak to the rock, and instead he struck it twice. The water still flowed, so what’s the big deal?
If you look back at Moses’ words to the people, he asked if “we” must bring water from the rock, not God. I’m definitely reading into this, but it sounds to me like he wanted the glory rather than to give it to Whom all glory is due. I’m pretty sure we have all been guilty of this a time or two.
Some Bible commentators have speculated that it was Moses’ anger that caused him to strike the rock. Scripture records many times when Moses complained to God about the people God asked Moses to lead. Anger usually causes more harm than good, but I don’t think that was enough for God to keep them all from seeing the promised land.
In the New Testament, Jesus puts a great deal of emphasis on the heart of believers rather than the outward behavior we display. I think Moses had a heart problem more than an anger issue. God asked him to perform a task, which Moses did, but in his own way. He didn’t believe God, but rather displayed anger or frustration instead of the glory of God.
On the surface, this looks like a rather harsh punishment for simple disobedience. But when we dig a little deeper, we see that unbelief and disobedience come at a great cost. Let us learn a lesson from Moses the next time we feel that we don’t need to take God at His word.
That being said, isn’t it wonderful that Moses is still considered a man of Biblical faith? (See Hebrews 11) God doesn’t use perfect people. He calls us and then provides what we need to do the job. This always makes me feel better when I know I fall short.
Friends, let us not allow disobedience or unbelief to hinder our relationship with God. If we are saved, we are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30) We need not worry about losing our salvation. However, sin does hurt our relationship with God. I don’t know about you, but I want to be in the promised land with Him, not wandering the desert, bitter and complaining.
Oh, Lord, that You would help us to draw so near to You that You would always receive the glory that belongs to You alone. Help us to honor and praise You above all else that we would not miss out on any of the promises You have for us! In the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
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Do you think it’s interesting that Scripture refers to God as a Rock and to Jesus as Living Water? I’m not a theologian so I have little to say on this matter. I just thought it was something worth pondering.