Numbers 20
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
Rod and Staff

Numbers 20:8

Moses Smites the Rock

Numbers 20:10-11

I. It is a memorable incident in the Jews' history, and it is rich in warning to us at this day. What, you will ask, had Moses done, that he should be so sorely punished? He had failed in his duty towards God; and that in three particulars. (1) He had failed in strict obedience; God had bid him 'speak to the rock,' and he had smitten it, smitten it twice. (2) He had shown temper, used hard language, 'Hear now, ye rebels'. (3) He had taken to himself the credit of supplying the Israelites with water. 'Must we fetch water for you out of the rock.'

II. It is a standing admonition to us, (1) not to depart in the least jot or tittle from any law of God. (2) The immense importance attached to temperate speech; the necessity of keeping a check on temper, and not letting ourselves be moved, however we may be provoked, to hot and angry words. It is very noticeable how still our Lord was under provocation; when reviled, He reviled not again; He was never pushed by the taunt of His enemies to hasty, angry reply.

The want of self-control was visited—very heavily visited—upon Moses, and upon 'Aaron the saint of the Lord'. Because of it, they were shut out of Canaan.

III. The scene at the rock at Meribah is further useful as carrying our thoughts upwards to Him Who is the source of all our hopes, the nourishment of our soul, the very life of our religion—even the Lord Jesus Christ. The rock in the desert was but a type and shadow; the reality it typified is represented in Jesus Christ. Just as the water in the desert kept those six hundred thousand Israelites alive, so does the water which Christ has to give—which He offers freely and without price to all—serve to the comfort of unnumbered souls, to the cleansing, refreshing and sustaining, and the saving them from everlasting death.

—R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 100.

Reference.—XX. 10.—R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 166.

The Sin of Moses

Numbers 20:12

The life of Moses was so remarkable, his difficulties so great, his patience so terribly tried, his time of service so long, and his fidelity so staunch throughout the whole of those forty years that it does seem sad to find him, when very near the end of his work, cut off from the enjoyment of that land of promise to which, from the beginning, he had been leading his people.

One thing, however, it is important to observe, viz. that it affected only his enjoyment of Canaan, and left his soul perfectly safe. We know this because 1500 years afterwards he was seen, with Elias, conversing with the Lord Jesus at the Transfiguration.

What was the cause of his rejection?

He was directed not to smite the rock as on a previous occasion, but to speak. The direction was (v. 8), 'Speak ye unto the rock before their eyes'. Moses was to bring forth water for the people, but the instrument was to be not a blow but a word. How often we observe that a soft word will accomplish more than the hardest blow! But with this Moses does not appear to have been satisfied. He doubtless remembered how successfully he had smitten the rock in Rephidim, so he would do the same again, and, after using some very intemperate language to the people, he 'lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice' (v. 11).

Such, then, were the facts, and some people may say that it did not much matter whether he smote the rock or spoke to it, especially as the people got the water, so that nobody suffered. But it did matter supremely, and was the one cause why Moses never crossed the Jordan. What, then, was the sin?

I. There was Disobedience.—We do not know his motive. Some people think he lost his temper, and acted hastily as an angry man. Some think it was simple carelessness—that he was worried and vexed, and did not trouble himself to attend to the directions given him by God. He may have used those three words that have proved so fatal to many a noble enterprise, 'It will do'. At all events God told him to do one thing, and he went straight off and did another. He that was the great lawgiver, and the great upholder of law amongst the people of God; he, for some cause best known to himself, in the face of all the people, disobeyed. Surely it was high time that God should vindicate His own authority, and let even Moses learn that, whatever men may think of it, disobedience is sin?

II. It was an Act of Unbelief.—Disobedience and unbelief are continually linked together. Unbelief leads to disobedience, and disobedience strengthens unbelief. So unbelief is the sin especially mentioned in this v. 12: 'Because ye believed Me not'. Man could see the act of disobedience, but God saw the root of unbelief from which it sprang.

III. It Hindered God's Purposes.—Moses was a typical character, and what he was directed to do was typical. We are taught by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 10:4) that this very transaction was a type. 'They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.' There was a most important type both in the smiting of the rock and in the speaking to it. The rock gave forth no water till it was smitten, for it was necessary that our blessed Saviour should be 'smitten of God' before the water of life could flow through Him to His people. Then, again, the rock, when once smitten, required no second blow, for the first was sufficient; and after that blow was once given all that was required was that Moses should speak. Have we not here a wonderful type of the work of our blessed Saviour? When He died on that Cross He 'was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities'. But when He had once made that full, perfect, and complete satisfaction for sin there remained no more place for a fresh sacrifice.

References.—XX. 12.—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 122. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part ii. p. 361. XX. 23-29.—K. Moody-Stuart, Light from the Holy Hills, p. 50. XX. 27, 28.—H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 51.

And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, Thus saith thy brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath befallen us:
How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers:
And when we cried unto the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border:
Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king's high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.
And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.
And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing any thing else, go through on my feet.
And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand.
Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.
And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,
Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah.
Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor:
And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.
And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.
And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.
And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.
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