Wednesday 11 May 2016

Bible Book:

Numbers 20:1-13 Wednesday 11 May 2016

Psalm: Psalm 89:19-37


This is one of those stories where, if you don't pay closeattention, the conclusion can come as a surprise! The people neededwater (fair enough); God told Moses how water could be provided;Moses provided water; the people were happy... but God was angry!So what went wrong?

Let's wind back a bit - since yesterday's passage quite a lot hashappened, much of it relevant to today's tale. Whilst Caleb andJoshua encouraged entry into the Promised Land, the other spiesdisagreed, saying that the inhabitants were like giants and theywould all be killed. The people listened to these alarmist reportsand decided not to enter (Numbers 13:28 - 14:4). Impatient with therepeated lack of trust of the Israelites, God decreed that none ofthat generation would enter Canaan (Numbers 14:5-25), so they were doomed to tramparound the wilderness until the last person present in Numbers 13has died off. There has been a nasty case of rebellion at Korah (Numbers 16:1-35) leading to some unpleasantdeaths and (significantly) Aaron's rod has blossomed (Numbers 17:1-11).

Now we have an incident which explains why, along with all theirpeople, leaders Moses and Aaron were also barred from the PromisedLand (Miriam having died at the start of the story). Not for thefirst time lack of water is a real problem for this wandering race.The story has very close similarities to Exodus17:1-7 with one key difference. The name Meribah, meaning'quarrel', is used in both - whether it did occur at the same placeor the later use is a reference to the earlier story is unclear. InExodus Moses is told to strike the rock with his own staff (thenarrator is very specific here - he is to use "the staff with whichyou struck the Nile" (Exodus17:5)); in Numbers 20 the instruction is subtly different. HereMoses is to take "the staff" (v. 8), ie. Aaron's staff which is nowkept in the Ark of the Covenant (cf verse 9 where "Moses took thestaff from before the Lord"), but there is no mention of strikingthe rock, rather Moses is to "command the rock". It seems thatMoses (the "most humble man on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3)) gets a little above himself fora moment and falls into the trap which lies in wait for allspiritual leaders. Instead of following God's instructions to theletter he finds himself in a familiar situation and does what healways does - strikes the rock twice (probably with his own staff)and, sure enough, water flows. His authority is affirmed, the dyingnation is saved, but God is not pleased.

Disobedience has a cost; Moses' words, "Listen, you rebels" werecertainly not in God's script and perhaps give us an insight intoMoses' attitude at that point. God reprimands both Moses and Aaronbecause they did not "trust in me to show my holiness before theeyes of the Israelites" and so they too will die before the entryinto Canaan.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever been in a situation where your own way of doingthings has taken over from God's vision? What resulted?
  • The continued grumbling of the Israelites clearly wears bothMoses and God down. How can we better consider the effect ofnegative words on our leaders (and on God) before complaining?
  • 'Rock of ages, cleft for me' (StF 434) drawsparallels between the water supplied by God in the wilderness andthe water and blood flowing from the body of Jesus on the cross.Reflect during the day on how we can discover the guiding light ofChrist in the Old Testament stories too. 
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