“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.” (Numbers 20:12-13)
As a background for this devotion, please read verses 1-13. For the purpose of this message, we will examine the significance of the latter two verses as they relate to the overall narrative, as well as to its practical application in our own walk with the Lord.
In previous chapters, the Book of Numbers gives us a clear view of the Children of Israel as they stood on the bank of the Jordan River. They had been delivered from Egyptian bondage; they had been miraculously conveyed across the Red Sea; they had received the Law of God on Mount Sinai; they knew without a question the Presence of God. But as they stood there on the bank of that River Jordan, their mind was occupied with excuses that would disqualify them from receiving the blessing God had promised.
So often we fall into similar situations. Through various means, the Lord our God has given us tokens of His beneficence (generosity) and benevolence (compassion). We read the Word of God and find therein many great and precious promises to His children; we are assured of His goodness, His power, His love. But as He has brought us through a great trial and to the point of fulfilling a great promise to us, we fall into the flesh’s snare to measure our situation by our inability and unworthiness, rather than by God’s power and grace.
This is the picture we have of the Israelites’ self-defeating complaints. Their self-pity eventually corrodes their mentality so that they begin to wish that they had stayed in Egypt or that they had all died in the desert wilderness. Ultimately, the reader is told that the Children of Israel could not enter into the Land of Promise because of their disobedience in unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19). And so it is that after many years of roaming about in the wilderness, we once again find the Israelites murmuring for their lack of obedience.
It is interesting to note the conflict in the contrast between the Israelites’ opportunity and what they had received in its place. On the one hand, the Lord had offered the opportunity to possess a land flowing with milk and honey – symbols of abundance, goodness, and prosperity. When presented with this opportunity, the Israelites instead rebelled against the Lord’s direction; and here they are crying out for a lack of water – a most-basic necessity for life.
In examining the implications of this Old Testament example, we should take heed that we do not surrender the abundant life offered to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and choose instead an impoverished life. We make this choice when we fail to obey the Lord’s directions, presuming upon His grace as a buffer to His judgment as a means of compensating for our disobedience. Simply stated – we must be careful that we do not view God’s graciousness as a license to sin. This is the lesson we learn from Moses in our text.
When we read this passage of Scripture, our heart almost breaks for the challenge faced by the two aging leader. Leadership itself is a challenge; and Moses and Aaron had their fair share of challenges. No one is perfect, nor can any person satisfy the demands of everyone else. But these two men felt the burden of responsibility for leading a nation of hard-hearted, stiff-necked, unfaithful, disobedient murmurers and complainers. We see that Moses and Aaron have just buried their sister Miriam; and the grumbling Israelites leave them no time to mourn their loss before they start blaming Moses and Aaron for all their problems. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Moses at this time, as the Israelites cry because of a lack of water.
In His mercy and grace, the Lord is going to provide water for His people, and He is going to bring this water forth from a rock. Or course, we know that this episode is presented in order to type-out a spiritual truth of the believer’s nourishment coming from Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). In presenting this type, the Lord is leaving no question as to the Source of this spiritual nourishment as He provides for the needs of His chosen people.
Here we are able to see the fulness of Moses’ error:
“And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice…” (Numbers 20:10-11)
Much is said by evangelicals about the fact that Moses’ act of smiting the rock was an act of disobedience, since he was told by God only to speak to the rock. As a type of Christ, the rock had already been smitten (Exodus 17:1-7); all that was needed now was to speak to the rock and its waters would flow in an abundance to show forth Christ’s ever-sufficient provision of the Living Water. The picture we have through Moses’ act of disobedience is of adding one’s own works to God’s work of grace.
But there is also the undeniable fact that Moses claimed some measure of credit for bringing forth water from the rock, with no mention of the Lord’s provision. Reader beware: Moses was a mighty man of God, by whom the Lord worked great miracles. But this man of God was at best an imperfect man. When the Israelites spoke against him, his pride caused him to exalt himself in their eyes rather than give all the glory to God. Moses was the true rebel in our story, and his rebellion cost him dearly.
Let us be mindful to always sanctify the Lord for His goodness, mercy, and grace, in His mighty acts toward us. And let us count ourselves as nothing so that He can be everything.