My very first inkling there was something magnificent in Scripture when God used the word rock was in a youth retreat study comparing the Israelites trek through the wilderness and the Christian lifestyle. There I came face to face with the notion of strict obedience to God’s word because He has special meanings for that obedience. At the time, I had no real idea of the kind of spiritual truth God was portraying with the physical illustration. When He told Moses to strike the rock for water at the first place of contention, Moses did and sweet, fresh water came pouring out of the rock. (Exodus 17:6) This was at the first Meribah (meaning place of contention, murmuring, quarrel, strife).
Then at Meribah-Kadesh, the second place of contention 38 years later than the first, the people said the same thing their parents and grandparents had said at the first Meribah: And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink." (Numbers 20:5) Their reaction to no water was anger they had been freed from their bonds. They preferred slavery to liberty... all for a drink of water, which God had proven over the past 38 years He was completely capable of providing.
Still in their grief over Miriam’s death, Moses and Aaron went to the door of the Tabernacle and fell on their faces. We don’t need it to be spelled out that God had heard the people’s murmuring, and that He knew the problem. Moses and Aaron waited in the door of the Tabernacle to hear God’s word in the same kind of faith the centurion exhibited to Jesus. The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. (Matthew 8:8) However, they did not follow through with that belief.
The Children of Israel proved their hearts were stone lumps when they had not consoled with Moses and Aaron over their loss of their sister, nor had they shown grief over loss of one of their leaders. Instead they grumbled in a contentious manner that there was no water, disregarding the providence of God for the past 38 years. Speaking to a rock that would obey instantly in floods of water for the humans and their stock would shame the Israelites. Their hearts were harder than rock because they did not obey. They had been spoken to many times, but full of the Egyptian lusts they could not see, or perhaps they refused to see what God had done for them.
God told Moses to speak to the rock for water to come pouring out, not to the people. But Moses spoke to the people and then struck the rock. In essence they stepped between the people and God. The brothers took glory upon themselves (“Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”) They did not honor or glorify Him before the people as the provider. They did not believe God. Unbelief is the ultimate disobedience. Because of that disobedience, God declared Moses would not bring the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.
Just why Moses disbelieved God and disobeyed Him is not clear. Several scholars present several different reasons. I think perhaps Matthew Henry’s suggestion that because God did not stand before this rock as He did at Horeb exhibits the propensity of all the Israelites the need for a sign to believe. This suggestion is certainly upheld down through the ages from Genesis to Revelation. Numerous times Moses spoke of his distrust such as when God called him to speak to Pharaoh and in Numbers 11:22. However, this was within private discussions between God and Moses. Here at Meribah, the exhibition was in full display before the Israelites. A godly leader shows hope and faith to the followers. Moses struck the rock twice that indicated he was frustrated because he did not wait after the first strike for water to pour forth. This action disgraced God before the people.
Two things to recognize here that are crucial for us to understand God’s character. Firstly, God had promised the rock would provide the water, water necessary for survival and for the physical body to maintain life. God never breaks a promise, and His work will always be done. Despite Moses’ disobedience for Moses exerted his own will above God’s command, God allowed water to flood from the struck rock. Secondly, there is a consequence of disobedience. God reminded Moses (Numbers 27:14) that he had rebelled against God’s commandment. The consequence in Moses and Aaron’s case it was physical death and they could not enter the Promised Land. They suffered the same mortifying disgrace as those unbelieving Israelites did of dying before entering the Promised Land.
One thing to take note of from a human viewpoint is that we are to be careful of our moods and attitudes as we go about God’s work. Moses was angry at the people’s regression back to their fathers’ mindset of griping and complaining. His angry retort about “we” fetching water from the rock is a good illustration of wounded self-importance. This contrasts with his anger at discovering the Israelites worshiping the gold calf. God recognized the difference between righteous anger and injured self-importance because the Israelites were grumbling against his own authority.
This act spoiled the illustration God intended. The spiritual drink is sweeter by far than the physical quenching of a body’s thirst. As Jesus proclaims to the woman at the well the Living Water quenches so there is no more thirst. Faith, hope, trust, belief are all kith and kin pouring from God Himself. As His children, we do well to believe without signs and wonders. There is much glory to God in that.
'Refreshment in Refuge' Copyright 2013 © Gina Burgess. 'Refreshment in Refuge' articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with their complete bio and a link to http://www.liveasif.org/ 2) 'Refreshment in Refuge' content may not be arranged or "mirrored" as a competitive online service.
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