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The Lesson from the Waters of Meribah

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.10 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?” 11 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. 12 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.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.-Numbers 20:2-13

The Israelites had returned back to Kadesh, on the border of the Promised Land, where they first rejected the Lord’s covenant forty years earlier. Miriam, Moses’ sister, died at that time in Kadesh- a reminder that the Lord had said that the generation which refused to enter Canaan 40 years earlier would die in the wilderness, and the new generation would enter instead. Miriam, though a great help to Moses at times, also rebelled against Moses (Numbers 12) and thus sinned against the Lord.  So the Lord’s judgment against the original Exodus generation held true even for Miriam, Moses’ sister. Later, Aaron, Moses’ brother, would also die before entering the promised land.  Yes, even Moses would die and leave the honor of leading the people of Israel into the promised land to another.

As it happened in the past, the Israelites could find no water in the wilderness.  Their immediate reaction was to confront Moses and Aaron. In anger and rebellion people say the most ridiculous things. The Israelites complained “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!”  “Why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?

So Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting and fell on their faces before the Lord. Note the difference in attitude between Moses and Aaron and the people of Israel. Prayer before the Lord should also have been the first reaction of the people. Instead, they gathered to confront and ridicule Moses.

God clearly commanded Moses what to do.  Take the staff from before the Lord, gather the congregation, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Here is where Moses sinned. Instead of commanding the rock to yield its water, he struck the rock twice with the rod. He also began to lecture the people, “You rebels!”  Then Moses spoke another thing which he should not have said. “Shall we bring water from this rock for you to drink?”  We? No, the Lord would bring water from the rock by his power, by his will.  The Lord worked through the disobedience and unbelief of Moses. Water still gushed from the rock to satisfy the people.

But the Lord judged Moses’ unbelief and sin: “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.’”  God perceived Moses’ anger as unbelief. He did not follow God’s command to speak to the rock. In anger Moses struck the rock and defied God. Because of his sin, even Moses would not enter the Promised Land

Perhaps God’s treatment of Moses seems unfair and unwarranted. Moses had struck the rock at Sinai many years earlier and it yielded water. Why is it a sin now to strike the rock at Kadesh? It is a lesson that we are to follow the word of God exactly, without adding to it or taking away from it.

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” -Matthew 5:18).

Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deut.., 4:2).

” I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll (Rev 22:18,19).

We must be careful to fulfill God’s words just as he commanded them, not as we may choose to interpret them.  In the Lord’s Supper Jesus said, “Do this often in remembrance of me.” Therefore we “do this,” we do exactly as he did in the Lord’s Supper, We speak and we believe just as he clearly spoke.

Baptism is the same. Would it still be baptism if we changed the words of God and made up our own words concerning the application of water in baptism? Or if we baptized under another name? Or if we baptized for some purpose other than the forgiveness of sins?
Many churches today have been busily changing the words of God in Scripture, concerning human sexuality, concerning marriage, concerning the offices of women and men in the church. Such things will not bring down God’s blessing, but his judgment.  How careful we want to be to use God’s Word and follow his commands as he intended them.

Lord God, Even the great prophet Moses sinned against you and thereby lost the privilege of entering the Promised Land.  We know you forgave Moses, and when he died you took him to be with you in heaven. Grant us wisdom and grace always to clearly know and obediently carry out the direction of your Word, that we might have your blessing on what we do in our personal lives and in our church.  Amen.