Moses Strikes the Rock Numbers 20


Moses Strikes the Rock

Yesterday we read the story of Moses and his striking of the Rock in Numbers 20. The background to this began back in Ex. 17:1-7. There the people grumbled because there was no water. God at that time told Moses to take some of the elders of Israel, his staff, go to the rock at Horeb, and strike the rock.  The simple record is that 'Moses did so'. "So" is a big word here. He did WHAT God said AS God said.

Now years later the people again grumble for lack of water. This time God again gives Moses instructions on what to do: take his staff, assemble the people, and tell the rock. However there is no 'Moses did so' because he did not do 'so'. He took the staff, he assembled the people, and he struck the rock twice.

God indicates his anger at Moses for this handling of the instructions by charging him with two errors.

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.” (Numbers 20:12)

He did not uphold God as holy in the eyes of the people. In Psalm 106:32-33 we read that "they angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, 33 for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips." What he said that was wrong was 'must WE bring water'. A dangerous slip to not give God the glory for providing the water. Yet it is mentioned again in Num. 27:12-14: "… failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes." Then again in Deut. 32:51 it is stated about this event that God said to Moses "you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel." That which almost escapes our notice in the reading, "must WE bring water", is seen by God as serious attitude problem.

Moses knew about such holiness of God. At the burning bush he was told to remove his sandals for the very ground was holy when in the presence of God. At Mt. Sinai the mountain was holy and not even to be touched by man or beast. The tabernacle and the holy of holies was where the glory of God was manifest and was holy. When Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire, Moses had stated that: “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified’ ” ( Leviticus 10:3). The holiness of God is serious business for God's people.

 AS for the striking of the rock instead of telling the rock, God assessment is described as 1) "you did not believe in me" (Num. 20:12); "you rebelled against my word" (Num. 27:14); "you broke faith with me" (Deut. 32:51). Moses did NOT do as God said. There is no 'Moses did so' this time.

The result of these two mistakes is that God was angry with Moses (Deut. 1:37, 3:26;). The temporal penalty for this was that after all his years of leading Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land, now he would die and not be allowed to enter the land (Num. 20:12; Deut. 32:48-51). Moses died without entering. God keeps his word.

We should learn that our actions indeed have consequences. In the temporal world such consequences sometimes cannot be undone. Moses later pleaded with God to be allowed to enter the land. God's answer was a short " Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again" (Deuteronomy 3:26). I believe that Moses was forgiven and died in the mercy and grace of God yet in the temporal world the judgment stood firm. So it may be with us. We can be forgiven but our consequence in the 'here and now' may not be taken away.

Behind the rebellion against God's word, even in such apparent minor things as striking the rock instead of speaking to it, is the more serious problem of not holding God as holy. To sanctify God in our hearts is to elevate Him to Lord and God. Such holding God as holy will result in our obedience to do what God says AS God says. Much better was the statement in Ex. 17:6: "Moses did so."