Twice during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God provided water from a rock. In both instances, God’s people were encamped in a waterless desert. The first time (Ex 17) was toward the beginning of the forty years of wandering. The second time (Num 20) was toward the end. In both cases, the people, thirsty and fearing death, grumbled against Moses. They questioned Moses’ (and by extension, God’s) motivation for bringing them out of Egypt.
“But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”” (Exodus 17:3, ESV)
“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.”” (Numbers 20:5, ESV)
At Horeb (the first instance), Moses sought God for direction. God instructed Moses to take his staff and go before the people along with the elders of Israel. God promised to appear before Moses on the rock, where he was to strike the rock with his staff and God would produce water from the rock so the people could drink. Moses named the place Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling). The idea of quarreling implies a legal contention. The people came together to make a case against Moses. In verse 7 it says they “tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?”
At Kadesh (the second instance), Moses again sought God for direction. He and Aaron went together to the tent of meeting and fell on their faces before God. The scripture says that God’s glory appeared to them and the LORD gave them very specific instructions. This time, instead of taking Moses’ rod, they were to take the staff that was “before the LORD.” This referred to Aaron’s staff, the one that had miraculously budded after Korah’s rebellion when God had vindicated Aaron as a priest. Moses was to take that staff to the rock, but this time, instead of striking the rock, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock and God would again provide water. God provided water as promised, even though Moses & Aaron didn’t obey God’s instruction completely, but they were not permitted to lead God’s people into the promised land as a result. The LORD characterized their disobedience as unbelief and a failure to uphold God as holy before the people.
As I reflect on these two very similar stories, the context surrounding them captures my attention.
The first instance immediately follows the crossing of the Red Sea and the provision of manna from heaven.
The second story immediately follows Korah’s rebellion, where the ground opened up and swallowed up Korah’s household and God’s fire consumed the 250 men offering incense. When the people were offended at God’s judgment, a plague broke out killing an additional 14,700 people before Aaron was able to intercede and stop the plague. This was followed by God’s vindication of Aaron’s leadership when his rod miraculously budded as a sign confirming God’s unique calling upon his life as a priest.
It boggles my mind how a people could witness both God’s miraculous deliverance and provision, or God’s mighty acts of judgment, and so quickly move again into a place of complaining, unbelief, and dishonor toward God. It’s a good thing we never struggle that way.
Our need for God’s provision is real. There are times where we need water and all we have is a rock in the desert. We serve a God who is well able to provide. Yet still we grumble. We complain. We question his motives or even his presence. How often, I wonder, in the midst of present lack, do we quickly lose sight of our past experience with God. He has delivered us before, but in the moment of present struggle we can easily forget. He has provided for us before, but in the moment that reality easily fades from our consciousness. We have grumbled and complained before and that hasn’t gone well for us either. Thank God that this side of the cross God’s justice and wrath have been fully satisfied in Christ.
Do we sometimes think that if God would just appear, then we would believe? If he would just give us some kind of sign, then our doubts would vanish? If we could just get breakthrough this once, then the next time we need it, surely we wouldn’t grumble and complain again. Or would we?
What if Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling) don’t arise from our circumstances at all? What if our circumstances simply expose what was in us all along?
The most amazing thing to me is that even in the midst of our grumbling, God still gives us water from the rock. He meets our needs.
Do you have my new book yet? You can order one here: