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God’s Word for You

Numbers 20:2-11 Moses and the rock

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Water From the Rock

2 There was no water for the community, so they assembled together against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the LORD’s assembly into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? 5 Why have you taken us up out of Egypt to bring us into this horrible place? This place does not have grain, figs, vines, or pomegranates. There is no water to drink!”

They were once again at Kadesh (but this may have been some way distant from the valley where they had previously stayed), but most of the Israelites complaining this time about the lack of water had been very young or not born yet when their parents made a similar complaint. When they talk about their “brothers” who perished, they mean the Israelites like Miriam who died, one by one, of old age. They rebelled against the manna here, bringing up all kinds of other foods that the spies had found and brought back from Canaan (Numbers 11:23,27). They also challenged God’s providence by failing to pray for water. Instead, they only complained that there wasn’t any.

6 Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. They fell facedown. The Glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD spoke to Moses: 8 “Take the staff and assemble the community. You and Aaron, your brother, speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will pour out its water. You will bring water for them from the rock and provide water for the community and their livestock.”

The Lord God does not permit a void to appear in our lives because he is absent-minded. In this case, we can judge this new generation of Israelites for their mistrust. God obviously wanted them to notice their need for his grace and providence, and then he would provide it. We’re not very good at being patient, either. If we need to make do or even do without something for even a short time, we get cross with God and question him, just like these children of the children of Israel. We might be willing to pray, “I will wait a year for this or that blessing,” but having prayed so, do we expect that a day or two, or a week, is all we really should be expected to wait? A constant lesson Israel needed was the lesson of trust: “When I found them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied they became proud; then they forgot me,” God says (Hosea 13:6).

Yet God did not make Israel wait very long. What he did was show them that requests given to their spiritual leaders would be heard by him. God surely hears the prayers of all his children, that is, of all who believe in him and trust in him, but they needed a lesson in trusting Moses and God’s high priest. Unfortunately, Moses may have needed a lesson, too.

9 Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence just as the LORD commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?” 11 Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff two times, and a great amount of water gushed out. The congregation and their livestock drank.

Moses was frustrated. He had heard these complaints for forty years in this desert, and now the children were every bit as bad as their parents had been. The Lord had told him to speak to the rock “before their eyes” and it would gush with water. Earlier, at Mount Horeb, God had told him to strike a rock to bring water for the complaining nation (Exodus 17:7). Now, God didn’t command any action at all, but only words. Yet Moses struck the rock. Water came out, and the people and their animals could drink at last. But more than striking the rock, Moses had said something that God did not command. He said, “Must we bring water?” Who did Moses mean by “we”? Whether he meant himself and Aaron, or himself and God, he was wrong. God is the source of all our gifts. “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16).

Like Adam, who did nothing as he stood by and let his wife fall into sin (Genesis 3:6), so Aaron stood by without correcting his frustrated brother. True, they were still grieving the death of their sister. True, they were old men, old and tired. True, the people were complaining and their complaint had to be a distraction like nothing they had seen in decades of wandering. But the Lord God wants us to be faithful to his word and to his will. “Seek righteousness,” the prophet says, “seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:3). The payment for sin does not change: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). As the leader of God’s people, Moses was also to set an example for them. “You know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).

However, we mustn’t lose sight of the miracle. God provided water for his people from a stone in the desert. Despite Moses’ attitude, frustration and sin, God gave his people what they needed. They were rebellious, they were sinful, they challenged Moses’ authority, but they were still God’s people. He was very nearly going to have to drag them kicking and screaming into the Promised Land. And this accomplishment was something God would do, as he does so many things to this day, despite his chosen leaders as much as through them. God works through sinners like Moses and like me to carry out his plans. Praise be to God our Lord, the Lord Almighty! “He is the One who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man; he who turns dawn into darkness, and treads the high places of the earth” (Amos 4:13). This is the God who shows us our sins and then forgives them, who shows our needs and then fills them, who puts the cork in the bottle of anything we lack, and who fills up our lives full to overflowing.

How good it is to sing praises to our God!
How pleasant and fitting to praise him!

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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