How quickly we tend to forget the ways in which God has richly provided for us in the past. Today is Day 46 of the bible reading plan, and it's a familiar scene at this place called Meribah as the Israelites begin to complain and criticize Moses due to their lack of water.
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, but Moses strikes the rock. And what seems like a tiny detail leads to a massive consequence as God tells Moses that because of this act, he too will not enter the Promised Land.
Now, think about this. This is Moses we're talking about! Let that sink in a little.
Doesn't this penalty seem pretty dramatic and 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. 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."
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 by the staff. But here is what separates that moment at Horeb from this later moment at Meribah - This first moment of provision was a particular rock that God's presence had descended upon ("Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock... and you shall strike the rock.")
Why is that significant?
God stands before Moses on a rock and tells Moses to strike that rock with the staff of judgement so the people can have water.
There is a gospel aroma in the air at Horeb.
You see, this initial moment of provision is somewhat of a symbol and foreshadowing of the True Rock who would one day be struck for His people to bring 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 at Horeb in Exodus 17, we might consider more carefully the seriousness of Moses' sin at Meribah in Numbers 20. Moses was careless with God's command concerning the rock. God was essentially saying, "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 add to 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 only Way of salvation is an act of unbelief. An unbelief that could disqualify us for the ultimate promised land.
The Living Water that quenches our greatest thirst and that brings eternal life is now freely given (not gotten) to those who simply receive it through trusting what God has said. Don't attempt to add anything extra to what's already been done for you. May we take God at His Word and trust that His Way of provision and salvation through Christ is all that is needed.