The children of Israel found themselves in the wilderness lacking water, and once again they complained loudly about God’s leadership. Moses and Aaron prayed, and God answered:
Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink (Numb. 20:8).
The chapter continues:
So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of the rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
We’re not used to seeing Moses on the receiving end of God’s anger. The only one faithful, yes (Numbers 14:12). Begging God to forgive everyone else, sure (Exodus 32:7–14). But the object of God’s anger, no! This time, Moses disobeyed, and he was not allowed to enter the promised land as a result.
We discover that there is never a good excuse for disobedience, even if there are many compelling reasons.
Even Though Moses was God’s Face-to-Face Friend
No prophet was as close to God as Moses (Deut. 34:10, Num. 12:8). But that still didn’t excuse his disobedience. Through Christ, we are the very children of God (John 1:12, Rom. 8:15), but we will never be so much God’s buddy that we can ignore His commands.
Even Though Moses was Beat Up and Stressed Out
It seems that Moses struck the rock because He was angry at the Israelites’ grumbling. Their constant moaning had worn out God (Numb. 14:22), and surely Moses, too.
Christians can never use the failings of God’s people as a reason to sin. Preachers will be tempted to say, “These people have done little for me, so I’m not going to put my best effort into these sermons and classes anymore.” Elders will be tempted to say, “After all this family has put us through, we’re going to leave them to their fate this time.” Wives will be tempted to say, “If he won’t pick up his socks, I’m not going to cook his dinner.”
We must not allow this spirit to slip in. Christian love means always doing what is right, even when the object of our love is less than lovely (2 Tim. 2:24).
Even Though Moses Only Disobeyed in One Small Detail
It takes a careful re-reading to figure out what exactly Moses did wrong. Look again, and you’ll see that God told him to “speak to the rock,” but Moses “struck the rock.”
It’s impossible to know just what was in Moses’ heart. Maybe it was simple carelessness. Maybe it was pride—glorying in his own power and authority rather than giving God the credit. God later commented, “you broke faith with Me … because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:48–52).
Who knows for sure? But we know the actual deed, and can see the actual consequence. Its smallness is cautionary. Let us never say, “I’ve obeyed most of God’s will, so that’s good enough.” Any such thought is tantamount to complete rebellion.
Even Though Moses Did What God Asked on a Previous Occasion
Just a few years earlier, in very similar circumstances, God commanded Moses to “strike the rock” (Exo. 17:5-6). The difference is simply that God issued a different command.
Parents often explain to children, “just because I asked you to take a shower in my bathroom last night, doesn’t mean I intended for you to take it in my bathroom every night.” Similarly, just because God was OK with instrumental music or Sabbath observance in the former covenant, doesn’t mean He intends for it in the present covenant. We must trust the wisdom of our heavenly Parent if He changes specifics.
Even Though Moses’ Disobedient Actions Still Blessed the People
Ironically, God’s intended blessing still reached the people, even though God was upset with Moses himself. The water flowed, while God scolded Moses.
Often, congregations can still manage to hear the truth out of the lips of a preacher motivated by greed or fame (see Phil. 1:12–20). Money obtained by criminal activity can still end up going to good causes. Wonderful children can come from bad relationships; the Messiah came from David’s affair with Bathsheeba.
While we can thank God that He can use sinful people to achieve righteous ends, we must understand that these ends never justify the means. Moses could have said, “Lord, You can’t be that upset; the prayer for water still worked!” No, that was beside the point. Let us not make that mistake when evaluating our actions. —John Guzzetta