I think the reading today from Numbers 20 is one of those “too hard” biblical passages which Ian spoke about last Sunday.
Too hard to read that faithful Moses, God’s chosen leader, and his brother Aaron were punished so severely for what seems a fairly human reaction to these whinging people.
Moses and Aaron were used to taking their problems to God and expecting an answer. After falling on their faces before God, (no need for pleading it seems) God said, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”
Moses did as he was instructed, mostly. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and, losing his temper, said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.”
Mission accomplished or mission undermined?
12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” It seems too harsh God.
But Moses’ theatrics at Meribah were not honouring to God. He was instructed only to tell the rock to produce water which would have demonstrated God’s power and holiness. Moses’ anger and frustration with the people in his charge overflowed before the water did. Here is a quote from R. Dennis Cole that I think sums up the incident: Moses struck the rock not once but twice as he vented his anger and frustration over this ever-rebellious lot. As in previous circumstances of this kind, the rock was a symbol of God’s mercy and benevolence, so striking the rock was in a sense a striking out against God. Moses had damaged severely the intimate personal relationship he had with God. His actions were detrimental to the maintaining of a reverence for God and his mercy in Israel. The trusted servant had fallen into the same trap as the many rebellious people he had complained about to God. Harrison calls Moses’ actions ‘an unpardonable act of insubordination.’
What about Aaron? It’s very hard to understand that Aaron, the first High Priest, appointed by God, and Moses’ right hand man and brother, was unceremoniously defrocked and died on a mountain top for his part in the rock incident, even though he was only a silent partner. God said to Moses, 24 “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Aaron, like his sister Miriam, was another of the older generation who was being replaced before God would allow his people to enter the Promised Land.
The death of Aaron must have been very hard for the people as we read they wept for thirty days after his death. Imagine how hard it would have been for Moses and Eleazar to strip him of his priestly garments and leave him on the mountain top.
Another hard decision made by God. Hard for me to read and understand. It seems God was instructing his appointed leaders and wanting their complete obedience as a model to his chosen people. The rock incident reminds me that God does expect me to follow his commandments to the letter, to put him first and foremost in my thinking and actions.
I’m grateful that Jesus is my Saviour, saving me from my own rock incidents where I think I know better than the Creator of the universe.