But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’
Numbers 20:12 (NIV)
Read: Numbers 20:1-13
Consider: The book of Numbers recounts God’s dealings with the people of Israel after their exodus from Egypt, their wanderings in the desert and final entry into the land of Canaan. Today’s reading from Numbers 20 recounts an episode when the Israelites arrived at Kadesh and were, for the second time, facing entry into the promised land. In Numbers 13 we read of the first time they arrived at Kadesh and because of the adverse report from the majority of the spies sent into Canaan, the people rebelled against God and were refused entry to the land. Reading the narrative it is difficult to appreciate that approximately forty years pass between the Israelites’ first and second arrival at Kadesh (see Numbers 14:25, 33).
Numbers 20:2 tells us that at Kadesh there was no water for the Israelites. With a large number of people and animals this was a significant problem. As usual the Israelites failed to turn to God for assistance, but instead opposed Moses and Aaron and quarrelled with them (20:2-5). Bringing the problem to God, Moses was told: ‘Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so that they and their livestock can drink’ (Numbers 20:8).
It is at this point that things go wrong for Moses. Moses had been instructed by God on other occasions to use his staff to bring about a miracle. Firstly, when striking the Nile (Exodus 7:17) and secondly, when striking the rock at Rephidim to bring out water (Exodus 17:1-7). On this occasion Moses was instructed to speak to the rock. You may be asking the question: What does it matter how the water was released? In this instance Moses took the focus off God in performing the miracle and put it onto himself and Aaron. Reading Numbers 20:9-12 gives us a sense of Moses’ anger and frustration with the Israelites. The problem is that in his anger he says to the people: ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ (20:10). The consequence of Moses’ disobedience is that God excludes him from entering the promised land.
What are we to take from this passage? There is the obvious implication of not grumbling against God when things get tough, but taking the time to seek his assistance and intervention. This is particularly true at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Society seems intent on blaming government and officials for what they see as failures to act quickly enough, but yet they themselves fail to seek God’s help in the matter. As Christians we should not be afraid to publicly declare that we are seeking God’s help in this crisis. The second implication is for each of us to recognise that everything we achieve is only possible because God is the source of our abilities.
When reading these accounts of God’s dealings with the Israelites do not dismiss them as history and of little relevance to us today. Keep in mind Paul’s words to the Corinthians: Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).
Pray: Father, may we learn from history and not constantly repeat our mistakes. We ask for your intervention in the current health crisis, that you would bring relief to the world. Give the medical staff and scientists wisdom in dealing with the virus, but help us to acknowledge that you are the true source of all wisdom. Amen