Scripture: 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. Numbers 20:12-13 ESV
Observation: The Lord, having squashed Korah’s rebellion and reaffirmed Moses and Aaron as his leader and high priest, respectively, reiterates to Aaron the duties of the priests and Levites (chapter 18) and reviews with Moses the laws for purification (chapter 19). Then chapter 20 briefly mentions Miriam’s death and burial in Kadesh (wilderness of Zin) and narrates yet another incident where Israel grumbles against Moses for leading them to a desert where there is no water. Questioning Moses’ judgment in leading them to this arid climate of Zin unsuitable for sustaining their and their livestock’s lives, Moses and Aaron wisely part company and humbly seek direction from the Lord. Unlike the previous rebellions, Yahweh makes no threat to wipe out Israel and instead directs Moses to take his staff, assemble the congregation, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water (20:1-9).
Moses follows all but one detail of God’s instructions and strikes the rock with his staff, as he did on the rock in Horeb (Exodus 17:1-7), instead of commanding this rock to produce water. While water gushed from the rock and ended the uprising, the Lord had one matter to address to Moses and Aaron in private (Numbers 20:10-11). Because they demonstrated a lack of faith through their actions and failed to give the glory to God before the people, Yahweh would no longer allow them to lead the nation into the Promised Land (above verses).
Takeaway: There are a couple of lessons to extract from this story. On a positive note, whenever Israel stepped out of line, lodging accusations at Moses and threatening to revolt, he wisely stepped away from the escalating conflict and sought the Lord’s guidance. On the negative side, Moses leaned on what had worked in the past at Horeb and demonstrated a lack of faith in God’s directive that speaking the word would be sufficient to cause the rock to produce water. It’s hard to be critical of this man of God who continually exercised patience and humility in responding to his fellow people’s childish behavior. But this one lapse of faithful obedience would cost him dearly. Yahweh would permit Moses to lead the people to the door of the Promised Land and climb Mount Nebo to view this land flowing with milk and honey before passing away. But the privilege of leading Israel into the Promised Land would now be that of Joshua’s.
So what’s the takeaway for us? Similarly, we would do well to retreat from escalating conflicts and take time to seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit in prayer and the wisdom of trusted believers before redressing the issue. The time away also allows those who unfairly lodge accusations at us to cool down and think about their behavior. And taking a page from Moses’ misstep, we must carefully consider whether our planned response to our adversaries will demonstrate faith in God and bring him glory. This two-step process provides an essential check and balance that will keep us in good stead as we navigate a world that often contentiously looks for someone else to blame for their problems.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who always obeyed your directives without a misstep. And we thank you that under the Covenant of Grace your Son instituted, we can always seek your forgiveness when we misstep. Still, we ask you to help us avoid heartache and guide us toward godly counsel to ensure we act in faith to your glory. Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling