Numbers 20 & Psalms 58-59

Numbers 20

    And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.

    Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.

    Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.

    Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. And when we cried to the LORD, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King's Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.

    And they journeyed from Kadesh, and the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor. And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there.” Moses did as the LORD commanded. And they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.

(Numbers 20 ESV)

Psalm 58

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David.

    Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
        Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
    No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
        your hands deal out violence on earth.
    The wicked are estranged from the womb;
        they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
    They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
        like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
    so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
        or of the cunning enchanter.
    O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
        tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
    Let them vanish like water that runs away;
        when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
    Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
        like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
    Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
        whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
    The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
        he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
    Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
        surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

(Psalm 58 ESV)

Psalm 59

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.

    Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
        protect me from those who rise up against me;
    deliver me from those who work evil,
        and save me from bloodthirsty men.
    For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
        fierce men stir up strife against me.
    For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
        for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
    Awake, come to meet me, and see!
        You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel.
    Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
        spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
    Each evening they come back,
        howling like dogs
        and prowling about the city.
    There they are, bellowing with their mouths
        with swords in their lips—
        for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
    But you, O LORD, laugh at them;
        you hold all the nations in derision.
    O my Strength, I will watch for you,
        for you, O God, are my fortress.
    My God in his steadfast love will meet me;
        God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
    Kill them not, lest my people forget;
        make them totter by your power and bring them down,
        O Lord, our shield!
    For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips,
        let them be trapped in their pride.
    For the cursing and lies that they utter,
        consume them in wrath;
        consume them till they are no more,
    that they may know that God rules over Jacob
        to the ends of the earth. Selah
    Each evening they come back,
        howling like dogs
        and prowling about the city.
    They wander about for food
        and growl if they do not get their fill.
    But I will sing of your strength;
        I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
    For you have been to me a fortress
        and a refuge in the day of my distress.
    O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
        for you, O God, are my fortress,
        the God who shows me steadfast love.

(Psalm 59 ESV)

Something to Consider

Numbers 20: It's a similar scene at Mirabah as the Israelites begin to complain and criticize Moses concerning their lack of water. How quickly we forget the ways in which God has richly provided for us in the past. So Moses asks God for help, and once again, God delivers. However, something happens in the process that costs Moses significantly. God tells Moses to speak to the rock. However, Moses strikes the rock. Therefore, God tells Moses that because of your act of unbelief, you too will not enter the Promised Land.

This is Moses we're talking about. Does this penalty not seem a little too extreme? 

Well, in order to understand the context of this penalty, we must remember another time before in which God provided water through a rock for the complaining congregation of Israel. In that initial act of provision, God did in fact command Moses to strike the rock with his staff (Exodus 17). We must remember the significance of 'striking the rock'. God said,

"Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink." (Exodus 17)

Although God could have brought judgement upon His quarreling and unfaithful people, He displayed His amazing grace by providing flowing water for them through the rock that was struck. It was a rock that God's presence had descended upon ("Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock... and you shall strike the rock.") It was a symbol and foreshadowing of the True Rock who would one day be struck for His people bringing forth the Living Water that leads to the everlasting refreshment of eternal life. The apostle Paul would later communicate this same symbolism, "For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10).

Matthew Henry writes, "These [rivers of living water] flow from Christ, who is the rock smitten by the law of Moses, for he was made under the law. Nothing will supply the needs, and satisfy the desires, of a soul, but the water out of this rock, this fountain opened. The pleasures of sense are puddle-water; spiritual delights are rock water, so pure, so clear, so refreshing—rivers of pleasure."

Therefore, given the symbolic significance of what took place in Exodus 17, we might consider more carefully the seriousness of Moses' sin in Numbers 20. Moses was careless with God's command concerning the rock. God said, "Take the staff (the symbolic rod of judgement) and don't use it. Simply speak to the rock, and it will provide you with what you need. Don't attempt to do something that's already been done." 

While the symbolism is profound, the sin is simple. Moses acted in unbelief. Whatever his motivation may have been, Moses felt that more action was needed than what God had plainly said. Moses took it upon himself to add something to the way in which God said He would provide. He failed to trust that God's Word was enough.

May we caution ourselves from ever being careless with God's command concerning Christ. The Living Water leading to eternal life was forever made available when Christ our Rock was first struck by the rod of God's judgement upon the cross. Any attempts on our part to add something to the Way of salvation is an act of unbelief. This Water is now freely given (not gotten) through those who simply receive it through trusting what God has said. Don't attempt to do what's already been done for you. May we take God at His Word and trust that His Way of provision and salvation is all that is needed.