Numbers 20-21

Meribah 2.o

“This place was known as the waters of Meribah, because it was where the people of Israel argued with the LORD, and where he demonstrated his holiness among them. – Numbers 20:13 NLT

Meribah. That name had a special significance to the people of Israel – for both good and bad reasons. It was at a place called Meribah that God first did a miraculous sign by providing them with water out of a rock. All the way back in Exodus 17, we have recorded this first encounter with “the rock.” This time they were fairly early on in their wilderness experience and they came to the wilderness of Sin. There was  no water for them to drink. So the people did what they were always prone to do – complain. So Moses did what he was prone to do – go to God. And God instructed him to take the rod he had used before Pharaoh and strike a particular rock. When he did, water gushed from the rock. In the book of Corinthians, Paul tells us something significant about this rock. “…and all of them drank the same miraculous water. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4 NLT). Now there was a legend that the rabbis taught that said the rock actually traveled with the people of Israel, so that when we come to the passage in Numbers 20, we encounter the very same rock that Moses struck in the wilderness. But I think that what Paul is telling us is that the rock symbolized Christ. It was He who was with them all the time they were in the wilderness, providing life-sustaining water for them. In fact, when God told Moses to strike the rock back in Exodus 17, that word means to “strike, beat, scourge, ravage, slay, or wound.” It is the same word used when God “smote” the firstborn of Egypt. It paints a picture of the scourging and beating of Christ at His trials and crucifixion. Jesus would become the source of living water. During His encounter with the Samaritan woman  Jesus told her, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (John 4:10 NLT). Just a few chapters later in the book of John, Jesus tells the crowds, “If you are thirsty, come to me! If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within” (John 7:37-38 NLT).

In chapter 20 of the book of Numbers, we have not a retelling of the story of Meribah, but another Meribah. This is one of those “deja vu all over again” type of experiences. Meribah means ” argument” or “strife.” Both places get their name from the actions of the people of God, because they argued or quarreled with God both times. The second time, God instructs Moses to take the rod again, but this time He specifically tells Moses to SPEAK to the rock – not strike it. Back in Exodus 17, His instructions were to strike the rock. But now He was simply to speak to it. But in his anger, Moses disobeys God and strikes the rock twice. The water gushes out, but Moses incurs the wrath of God. Think about it. If what Paul says in 1 Corinthians is true – that the rock is a representation of Christ, then Moses is taking out his anger on Christ. The first time Moses struck the rock, it was a representation of the death that Christ must suffer in order that we might have life. But from that point forward, Christ’s life-sustaining power was available for the asking. There was no need to “beat” it out of Him. He had provided before and He would provide again. All Moses needed to do was ask. But instead He struck the rock in anger. This action would prevent Moses from entering the Promised Land.

This is a tough passage. It seems as if Moses and Aaron got too severe a punishment from the hand of God. But in his commentary on the Old Testament, Matthew Henry sheds some helpful light on this passage. “First, They did not punctually observe their orders, but in some things varied from their commission; God bade them speak to the rock, and they spoke to the people, and smote the rock, which at this time they were not ordered to do, but they thought speaking would not do. When, in distrust of the power of the word, we have recourse to the secular power in matters of pure conscience, we do, as Moses here, smite the rock to which we should only speak, Secondly, They assumed too much of the glory of this work of wonder to themselves: Must we fetch water? as if it were done by some power or worthiness of theirs. Therefore it is charged upon them (v. 12) that they did not sanctify God, that is, they did not give him that glory of this miracle which was due unto his name. Thirdly, Unbelief was the great transgression (v. 12): You believed me not; nay, it is called rebelling against God’s commandment, ch. 27:14. The command was to bring water out of the rock, but they rebelled against this command, by distrusting it, and doubting whether it would take effect or no. They speak doubtfully: Must we fetch water? And probably they did in some other ways discover an uncertainty in their own minds whether water would come or no for such a rebellious generation as this was. And perhaps they the rather questioned it, though God had promised it, because the glory of the Lord did not appear before them upon this rock, as it had done upon the rock in Rephidim, Ex. 17:6. They would not take God’s word without a sign.”

Disobedience, unbelief, and seeking glory for themselves. That was their sin. And it is the sin of many of us today. We disobey God because we do not believe God. And when we do obey, we do it in order to get the glory for ourselves. But God would have none of it from Moses and Aaron, and He will have none of it from us. He will provide, but He will have us obey. He will provide, but He will get the glory. He will provide, but He will expect us to believe. To trust Him. God is holy and demands that we treat Him as such.

Father, thank You for reminding me of Your holiness. You expect me to obey. You expect me to believe. You expect to get the glory due Your name. You won’t share Your glory with me. Forgive me for not showing you the respect you deserve. Forgive me for robbing You of glory. Forgive me for my unbelief. You have always provided. You deserve nothing but my utmost respect. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org