7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 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?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:7-12 NIV)
God tells Moses to speak to the rock and to bring water out of the rock for the community. In contrast to God’s instructions, Moses strikes the rock with the staff twice and instead of offering the water for their lives he castigates them.
God calls Moses’ act a lack of faith and one that did not honor God. There is a contrast between the first part – “… just as he commanded him…”( vs. 9) and “Because you did not trust in me…” (vs. 12).
Interestingly… God still brings the water even though Moses and Aaron did not do as God instructed. Does Moses’ use of the staff suggest a belief in magic, in the inherent power of the staff rather than in God?
One of my favorite people used to complain to me about this story. His gripe? That after all that Moses did, after all his faithfulness, God denies him entry to the promised land for this one act. How could God be so unfair to Moses and Aaron? It was just one little thing.
Part of the answer lies in the detailed and often confusing instructions about clean and unclean (and their analogy to holy and unholy). Just as sacrifices had to be without spot or blemish, so did Moses have to be clean and holy in his leadership. How can a God who demands such scrupulous attention to the minutiae of life then ignore such a blatant disregard for clearly given instructions?
I think of colleagues whose ministry has been lost over a single incident, relationships broken over a single moment, opportunities lost by hesitation or foolishness. Life is full of these seemingly unfair consequences yet consequences they are.
The other issue here is honoring God – Moses actions seems to dishonor God, to not display faith or faithfulness. God gave Moses simple instructions for the provision of water. Moses instead chooses to make a drama of it – both in terms of the dramatic striking of the rock and his criticism of the people. Moses seems to take God’s glory and also God’s place as judge.
Leadership is serious, and there are sometimes no do-over’s. Discipleship, too. There is surely grace and that abundant. But there are consequences to actions that we cannot escape and there are moments of decision that cannot be re-visited.
Lord, it is hard to hear these words – to think that after all that they had endured, Moses and Aaron would not come to the land of promise. But you are a holy God, a God who will not share your glory with others even your beloved creatures. You are a God who seeks our faith in you – not in tricks or shows or own devices. Help me today to take seriously what you call me to do as a follower of your Son, to listen attentively when you speak, and to do what you desire and not what I think I should. Amen.