Numbers chapter 20 picks up thirty-seven years after the events in chapter 19, and the new generation of God’s chosen people have started falling into old patterns of sin. This chapter begins with the death of Miriam and ends with the death of Aaron. It also includes Moses’s attempt for the people to pass through Edom by peaceful negotiations but were met with rebuff and conflict. And we see Moses falter in obeying God and the consequence of his sin.
The whole Israelite community are at the Desert of Zin and they stayed at Kadesh. This is where Miriam passes away and is buried. There was no water for the people, and they gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They say, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (v 3-5)
Notice that while they complained, they referred to themselves as the Lord’s community. They knew who they were, but did that knowledge play out when trials hit. Their words say they were the Lord’s, but their actions did not reflect the belief in that claim. Remember that the Lord kept providing them Manna for years on end, and even then, in the sight of no water, rather than pray for provision and trust in God, they chose to grumble. As I read this, it was a convicting reminder of how at times I behave the very same way. My words say that I am the Lord’s, and he is my provider but do my actions always reflect that truth. Am I quick to grumble and complain or turn to the Lord before I do anything else.
What do Moses and Aaron do when the people complain?
“Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.” (v 6)
What does God instruct them to do?
“The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” (v 7-8) (emphasis added)
What does Moses do?
“So, Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” (v 9-11)
Partial obedience is not obedience to God.
Does Moses follow God’s instruction, he kind of does. Moses takes the staff and gathers the people as God tells him to. God tells him to speak to the rock. If Moses was only to speak to the rock, why did he have to take the staff. If we look back at Num 17:10, when God made Aaron’s staff bud and blossom, it was to be kept at the tabernacle as a ‘sign for rebels’. And so, by holding the staff, it was meant to be a reminder to the people of their rebellious behaviour.
Moses addresses the people, he says, “Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of the rock” and proceeds to strike the rock twice. In this sentence of Moses, we get a glimpse into the frustration and exhaustion he might have felt when the people complained again. What did that frustration lead to, disobeying God. We see a willful neglect of following God’s instructions when he strikes the rock not once but twice. And neither do we see Aaron stop Moses and say this is not what God told us to do.
Take note that when God instructs Moses to speak to the rock, Moses would speak, and water would gush out. God then goes on to say, you will bring water out of the rock. The Lord would enable it to happen through Moses. When Moses speaks to the people, he says; must we bring you water. Where is the mention of God making it happen. Moses was the instrument, but it was God who would make the water come from the rock. When we are mere instruments of the hand of God, all glory needs to point to Him. We might think it absurd to think that such a feat was anything else other than God, but if we look back at Exodus 32, remember how easily they worshipped the golden calf. So, how easy would it be to think that either Moses made it happen or the staff held some sort of power. Also take note that the people when they complained said ‘Why did you bring us into this wilderness’, they seem to direct their attention to Moses instead of God and Moses’s words that ‘must we bring water’ only feeds into their perception.
After what Moses and Aaron did, God speaks to Moses “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”(v12)
From God’s words to Moses, we understand that within Moses’s heart there was a lack of trust. And having the privilege of the role that Moses had and how close he walked with the Lord, he also had a profound responsibility to honour him as holy through all he does.
Moses allowed the people, the situation and his frustration in that moment to inform his trust and obedience to God.
How important it is for us to ensure that we do not allow our challenges to chip away at our trust but instead to let our trust in God weaken the frustration and fear that our trials cause.
Consider the importance of taking captive every thought that could lead away from sincere and pure devotion to God.
Even though Moses faltered and endured consequences, it did not cause him to fall out of fellowship with God.
Lord, you have called us, your children and we are yours, may not only our words but also our actions reflect that truth. In this world, there are many things that draw our attention away from you. May we remember that we have to guard our hearts and our minds, so they remain focused on you Lord. Help us to take every thought captive that could lead us away from complete devotion to you.