Look What Came Out of That Rock!


Moses was a fairly older man when the incident I’m going to share with you took place. He was maybe 100, maybe 114, or older. That’s getting up there. And he was the leader of a large group of Jewish people – maybe three million or so by that time. One old guy leading a large crew of wilderness wanderers. I see trouble ahead... how about you?

The scene takes place in a village named Kadesh on the outskirts of the Edomite region immediately after Moses’ older sister, Miriam, dies (recorded in the Bible in Numbers chapter 20). There is no water and the people send up a lynching party, or at least a union workers’ party to tell Moses and his older brother, Aaron, how they feel. The crowd didn’t really offer any suggestions, but only came to k’vetch (‘complain’). No surprise there.

Moses and his brother pray. They hear from God that they should 1) take Moses’ rod, 2) assemble the people, and 3) speak to the rock. Pretty straightforward. Simple: one, two, three. So Moses takes his rod (check), and along with Aaron, gathers the people (check). Then Moses, in no uncertain terms calls them rebels and expresses some pent-up rage against them. Verse 10: “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”

Maybe his own remonstration distracted Moses, or his grief was more severe than he could handle, but for whatever reason, Moses didn’t just speak to the rock. He struck it… twice! Not really such a bad thing when you think about it. Water did come out of it, so the need for a dialogue with the rock was overshadowed by the compensation of the running water, which was enough to feed the cattle, all the livestock, and the people of Israel. Great response. Thanks, Lord!

Except, wait a minute. God had told Moses to speak to the rock, but instead he spoke to the people. He was told to take the rod, but not to use it. But he used it. He got farmisht (a Yiddish word meaning ‘mixed up’). And as a result, God got miffed. He told Moses that his actions demonstrated a lack of faith. Ouch. In fact, God told him that his term of leadership would be ending soon, just before bringing the Jewish people into the Promised Land: “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” (verse 12).

There you have it. One sin and you are out.

My friend Gregg Dennington wrote a blog about this chapter and its impact:

Moses was showing the children of Israel that God was furious with them. Only problem is, God was not furious with them. For some reason, He had great compassion on them. And great mercy. Even though these people complained against Him, God wasn’t angry with them at all. What He wanted was for them to see His great love, patience, care, and generosity toward them. But that’s not what they saw, was it?

After commenting about our responsibility as leaders to represent the Almighty well, Gregg said something that really hit me: “They’re watching how we respond to their failures. They’re watching how we respond to our own failures.”

Wow, how do people notice my failures? And they are watching how I respond to them. Very insightful. I agree. Who is watching? My kids. My wife. My staff at work. My neighbours. Listen, I fail God, all too often. I am not perfect. No one would have ever imagined I was. I am short-fused at times. I get bothered when people don’t pull their weight or work hard for the money someone pays them. I fail to love people as I should.

Okay, so what do I do with my own failures? Cover them up? Excuse them? Excuse myself? Not a chance! I expose them, usually after someone else shows me my faults and I admit my sins before God and whoever told me. I am quick to admit failure. I want God to make me better. I claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

Moses and Gregg helped me today.
Maybe this story will help you, too.

When God says “speak,” then speak.
When he says strike, then use that rod.
And to the recipient.
And in the timing of the Almighty.

That’s what I'm doing today.
See, it’s not that hard.

Numbers 20:2: “There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron.”

Numbers 20:3–5: “The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why then have you brought the LORD’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.’”

Numbers 20:6–8: “Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘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.’”

Numbers 20:9–10: “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 this rock?’”

Numbers 20:11: “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.”

Numbers 20:12: “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.’”

Numbers 20:13: “Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them.”