Here’s the background to Numbers 20. The Israelites were at the end of their wilderness journey, and were coming together for the final push to the Promised Land. As they did , Mariam, Moses oldest sister died. To complicate matters, they were running out of water.
We find their reaction in Numbers 20:3-5, “They quarreled with Moses and said, ’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?…And there is no water to drink!’”
The Israelites enjoyed a good quarrel, especially with Moses. Tough times were their opportunity to vent. They loved to beat their leader with the same old stick, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt? Can’t you do better than this? Are you that lame? Did you bring us out here to die? Anyone could do that!”
As they complained, it went from bad to terrible. The final assembly to position themselves to take the land became a God-forsaken, miserable place.
We have names for our generations – the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millenials, Gen Z. For Israel, the previous generation was “The Doubters.” Here was “Generation Next,” but not much had changed. They followed the example of their parents. Not knowing what to do, Moses and Aaron went to the tent of meeting and fell down before the Lord. Here were the God’s instructions.
Numbers 20:8, “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…”
Moses had been here before. Just after leaving Egypt, the people threw a fit because they were thirsty. Enraged, they wanted to stone Moses. But as God directed, he struck the rock once, and water flowed. But here, at the end of his long career, God threw a changeup, “Don’t strike. Just speak the word and water will flow.” The command was clear. God’s promise was sure.
What did Moses do? Notice Numbers 20:10-11, “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.”
Moses took care of business. He got the job done and showed them who was boss. He accomplished the desired objective, but the way he went about it didn’t honor God. So God said in Numbers 20:12, “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.” What happened, and what can we learn?