What Did Moses Do Wrong?

by Bruce Okkema & Lois Tverberg

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 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 20:11-12

Have you been wondering about this question? The Lord had clearly been developing Moses throughout his lifetime for the specific task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land. God had rescued Moses as a baby from Pharaoh’s edict to drown the Hebrew boys in the Nile. Then, through Pharaoh’s daughter, he had been raised in the royal palaces where he learned leadership skills and had access to the best education in the world. As a shepherd, Moses had learned how to protect a flock in the harsh desert while finding food and water, essential skills for what was to come. Then there was the call at the burning bush, the miraculous signs, the plagues, the deliverance, and all these years of leading this difficult people…

This story has puzzled Christians for ages: how the seemingly small sin of striking the rock could have made God so angry as to deny Moses the goal for which he had been raised. One answer comes from understanding what Moses’ actions would have meant to the people of his time.

Both the Egyptian and Canaanite religions believed that there were many gods. These gods were not supreme in power, but could be manipulated by invoking spiritual forces even more powerful than them. It was believed that by using incantations, occult magic, and fertility rites, people could force these spirits into obeying their will. God made it very clear to the Israelites that he was supreme and they must never make idols or do anything that treated Him this way.

Moses shouts angrily, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” By using the word “we,” he attributes to himself and Aaron the power to give them water, suggesting that he and Aaron would use pagan rites to force God into giving them water, rather than publicly acknowledging the Lord as the supreme power.

In that one weak moment, he undermined all of what God had been teaching them about his absolute sovereignty. In Moses’ desire to show his own authority, not only did he fail to give God the glory, but to the Israelites who had grown up in paganism, he was acting as an occult magician who controls the spirits. This was extremely serious to the Lord, especially because it is a public sin. This underscores the responsibilities of leadership.

God demands that we always treat him as sovereign, so he did not revoke this severe punishment for Moses. But, the story does not end there. In his kindness, God honored his dedicated servant by showing him a vision of all of the land of Israel. The story ends with these beautiful words from Deuteronomy 34:

“Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo … There the LORD showed him the whole land and said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, `I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is … Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”

Water Will Come Out

by Bruce Okkema

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. Exodus 17:5–6

En GediIn this story we find the Israelites “grumbling” to Moses and Aaron about their present circumstances. The Hebrew meaning behind this translation conveys a much stronger picture, that of a riotous mob wanting to kill their leaders. I find myself quickly judging the Israelites, thinking that since they had just been brought out of the land of slavery, how could they be complaining already? After all, they had seen the mighty hand of God on the night of Passover, they had experienced the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, manna appeared with the dawn, quail fell from the sky, and they had benefited from many other miracles. How could they be so ungrateful as to be complaining about thirst?

Yes, they were wrong in “grumbling.” Yet, if you have ever experienced the harshness of the desert in this part of the world, you know how vital it is to have drinking water there. A person can literally die within hours without it, so perhaps we would have been desperate too. Also, imagine poor Moses standing in a leadership position over more than six hundred thousand people without water! Can you relate to his grief as he cries out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me!”

As you read the Bible, try to put yourself into the story and experience it as if you were there. The people in these stories are members of our covenant family, so in that sense, we really were. Also, learn to turn your eyes to the Lord in each situation to see how he will redeem it. You will see a God with amazing patience who loves us, walks with us, and provides water even when we complain!

Living Water Flowing

by Lois Tverberg

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink!” John 7:37

Living water is one of the many physical images used in scripture to express spiritual truth. We as Westerners don’t usually recognize the significance of the Hebraic use of imagery, and we miss them.

The image of living water is known around the Middle East, where water is scarce and precious. In biblical times, when rain fell after months of clear skies, it was considered a miraculous gift from God. And, in the dry areas, lush plant life was only found on the banks of rivers. From this arose the idea of mayim chaim (MY-eem KHY-eem), life-giving water from the heavens or from a natural spring.

Jordan River.

This image recurs from Genesis to Revelation, strongly associated with the presence of God. In Jeremiah it says, “Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13). From Eden, where God dwelled with man, a river welled up that formed four mighty rivers (Genesis 2:10). In Revelation, the river of life flows out from under the throne of God (Revelation 22:1). So, when Moses struck the rock on Mt. Sinai to yield water it would have made sense to the people, because if God was present on Mt. Sinai, water should miraculously flow from that mountain too.

By understanding the imagery of the scriptures, we can hear God’s word better. We hope you will be refreshed by having a little drink of living water with us each day!

Walk on Ahead

by Bruce Okkema

“The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.“ Exodus 17:5–6

Welcome to “Water from the Rock”! Join us on this new journey through the Bible as we walk slowly, peaking under every rock, looking up and down and around, closing our eyes and listening intently to experience everything that we can soak in. We don’t know exactly where our Guide is going to take us, but this is His territory and He has much to teach us. Where will we go? How long will it last? What will the Lord do? Isn’t it exciting to begin such an experience, knowing that it will be full of adventure, discovery and challenge, yet not knowing what we will see or who we will meet?

We will do our best to provide refreshment and wonder, stimulation and encouragement, nurture and challenge by exploring the rich treasures of scripture packed to overflowing by authors who knew only how to communicate through story and picture. We will see that they are assuming that we know scripture very well, and we may find out that we might not.

We hope you will join us each weekday for “Water from the Rock” by reading what your friends are sharing about their discoveries. Because the Lord has gifted all of us differently and leads us down different paths, so much good comes from studying together in community. We also hope that you will want to participate in this project by sending us your contributions and encourage your friends to do the same. (Guidelines for how to do that can be found on the menu choices below.)

I have already run out of space, but I hope you can feel our excitement! The journey begins July 1. Come along with us, this is going to be great!