Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 18 2019 - Numbers 20:1-13 – The waters of Meribah

Two days ago we read the Israelites reaction to those who had explored the Promised Land. They wished that they were back in Egypt or had died in the wilderness. And the Lord granted their wish. Because of their failure to trust God they would not enter the Promised Land. All the adults who had been rescued from Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, would die in the wilderness.

And yet the Israelites seem to have learnt nothing. Here they are again complaining against Moses and against God, this time because of lack of water: "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 corn or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!" (vv. 3-5). Did it ever cross their minds that, but for their rebellion, they would not have been in "this terrible place"? If they had listened to Caleb and Joshua and placed their faith in the living God who had promised to give them the land they would have been enjoying "corn, figs, grapevines, pomegranates and water."

But the real tragedy of this chapter concerns Moses. Moses and Aaron fall face down before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, seeking God's help and guidance. There in glory the Lord spoke to them. They were told to gather the people together and Moses, with the staff of God in his hand, was to speak to a rock and water would flow from it to satisfy the needs of the people.

This staff was no magic wand but a visual symbol of the power by which God came to his people's aid. This staff had been stretched over the waters of the Red Sea and they had parted to allow the Israelites to cross over on dry ground. This staff had again been stretched over the sea and the waters had rolled back to drown the pursuing Egyptians. This staff had been raised towards the valley in which the Amalekites were fighting against the Israelites and while Moses was able to stretch out the staff the Israelites prevailed against their attackers. Now Moses needed only to hold this symbol of God's power in his hand and speak to a rock and water would gush out from it.

But Moses is angry with the people and fed-up with his thankless job. So we read, "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." (vv. 10-11). Yes, he struck the rock with the staff of God, and he struck it not once but twice.

And for this act of disobedience, "the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘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.’" (v.12). Moses and Aaron are to share the fate of the rest of the rebellious people, they will not enter the Promised Land but will die in the wilderness. It is a truly awful incident from which we might draw out many practical and useful warnings concerning the cost of disobedience. But I want to focus on a different application.

Moses was a great leader of God's people, deserving of much honour, but we have a far greater leader in the Lord Jesus Christ. He also identified himself completely with us, the weak and rebellious people of God. He also came to share our condemnation and punishment. But he, unlike Moses, was perfectly obedient to his heavenly Father, obedient even to death upon the cross. And so he broke the power of sin and death. This also he shares with us and, by his resurrection from the dead he has taken away our condemnation and has guaranteed that we, with him, shall enter glory.

Father God, we thank you for our incomparable Saviour and for the hope we have in him. Help us to follow in his faithful footsteps and not to grumble or rebel against your great goodness and grace. May we encourage one another in thankful and trustful obedience.

Peter Misselbrook