In Numbers 20, we read about the incident where the people of Israel quarrelled with Moses because there was no water for the community. They complained, saying in Numbers 20:4-5, “Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”
Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the ‘tent of meeting’ and fell on their faces. The glory of the LORD appeared to them, and God spoke to Moses, saying, in Numbers 20:8, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”
At the LORD’s command, Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock and said in Numbers 20:10-13, “…Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “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.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.”
God pronounces judgment on both Moses and Aaron, resulting in the harsh punishment of being unable to enter the promised land. What was the reason for this great punishment, even though Moses had years of continuous service and exceptional patience (Numbers 12:3)? We can see some actions that may have led God to respond in such a manner. Moses speaks in great anger toward the people, usurps God’s authority, and shows doubt. In Numbers 20:10, Moses declares, “…shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” At this point, there is a level of pride and arrogance manifested through Moses. Moses was known to be very meek, more than all the people on the earth (Numbers 12:3), yet, at this incident, there seems to be a disposition of supposed supremacy, moral anger, and a level of superiority resulting from “self” rather than God.
When Moses declares, “shall we” bring water for you out of this rock, he usurps God’s authority, rising above the highest office a man can hold under the supreme God and elevating himself to be in equal authority, looking down in pride. Moses is seen as taking credit for the miracle with Aaron instead of attributing it to God. Not only were these words spoken, but his response resulted in a prideful action and not believing or obeying God’s direct command of speaking to the rock. Instead, he struck the rock twice by doubting God, thus dishonouring God as holy before the people.
There is some symbolism here compared to a similar incident in Exodus 17:1-7, where God commanded Moses to strike the rock, and the water would come out. Notice, In Exodus 17:6, the LORD would stand before him on the rock at Horeb, and Moses was to strike the rock. When Moses sang in Deuteronomy 32, God was called the “the rock”. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his way are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” Also, in Psalm 78:35, we are told, “They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.”
When all of this is considered, it becomes evident that by disobeying God’s direct command to speak to the rock and instead striking the rock twice, there was a gross dishonouring of God as holy. Especially with the symbolism where “Christ is that rock “(1 Corinthians 10:4). Moses was elevating himself to a higher standard than anyone else, co-equalling himself with God’s authority and rule by going beyond His spoken word. What this story does reveal to us is that Moses was also just a man like us, and he, too, had shortcomings just like us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, yet we have received redemption through Jesus Christ as a gift (Romans 3:23-25).
If we are to examine ourselves, we, too, sometimes condemn others from a high place and get carried away with the zeal for God and in the name of God. Usually, we assume we have all the knowledge and justice that we do not possess, but only God. We are always to know our place, be utterly obedient to Christ, never elevate ourselves in the position of sovereign God Almighty, rather be humble in obedience to Him, having complete faith, and not going beyond the commands of the LORD. Amen!
We are always to consider God holy, and our actions and thoughts also display that. Obey His commands, be humble, and rely on His Holy Spirit to lead, teach, and guide you daily, so that God is glorified and His Holiness is represented before the world, that they too might see His attributes and give glory to God. Amen!