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Daily Devotional | Sing to the Lord | Music in the Bible | A music score on a blue background. Daily Devotional | Sing to the Lord | Music in the Bible | A music score

Questions and Answers | Striking the Rock

When the Israelites needed water and Moses struck the rock to provide it, what did he do that was so wrong (Num. 20:1–13)?

We can best understand this passage in the context of the rest of the rebellion narratives in Numbers 11–20. Those stories detail Israel’s difficult journey in the wilderness after leaving Mt. Sinai. During this time, they encountered a variety of challenges, complained bitterly about them, and sometimes even rebelled!

In most cases their complaint was about a situation of which they disapproved. Although these needs may have been frustrating, in every case except the last, God had already provided what they needed to endure. But the people were dissatisfied with His solutions and complained. Because their complaints were illegitimate, God disciplined them.

However, in the situation you mention (Num. 20:1–13), they had a legitimate need for water. Although they complained, God intended to provide for them. He was not angry with His people, for we notice that the signals of His anger which were present in the other rebellions are not present here! In this case God instructed Moses and Aaron to provide water.

But Moses became frustrated and vented his anger at the people by shouting at them and then striking the rock instead of speaking to it! God told Moses what his sin was: “You did not believe in me to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people” (Num. 13:12). Moses did not believe God was making the right decision here. He believed the people needed more judgment. But God understood Israel had a real need. He wanted to meet that need, not punish them. Instead, by his reaction, by his angry outburst, Moses communicated that God was angry too. But this was not true. God was aware of their legitimate need and intended to provide for them.

Remember, Israel did not interact with God directly; that was Moses’ role. He was the one who spoke with God (Num. 12:6–8). Moses had a unique job as God’s direct representative (Ex. 34:34). Given that reality, it was critical for Moses to represent God well. This meant communicating exactly what God said and nothing more. In this case he misrepresented God. Moses’ behavior led the people astray. As a result, God punished him by not allowing him to enter the Promised Land.

BY Dr. Steven H. Sanchez

Dr. Steven H. Sanchez is professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute. His specific areas of study include the Israelite monarchy, the Pentateuch, the Second Temple period, and biblical archeology. Steven earned his BA from Columbia University (New York), and his ThM and PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary. He was one of 30 faculty contributors to The Moody Bible Commentary.

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