Like children who are not getting their way, the Israelites had a nearly endless capacity to complain. Six weeks into the Exodus, the memories of God’s dramatic rescue must have faded from their collective memory. At first, the grumbling was over the “grub”. So, God responded by providing daily bread each morning and quail each evening. Surely that would be enough to satisfy the highly critical crowd. Sadly, a multi-faceted miraculous rescue, and supernatural bread and birds were not enough to quell the complaints. What could possibly go wrong next? Read on…
Read Exodus 17:1-7 – Strike the Rock
Next on the agenda for critical comment was the lack of water. The people accused Moses and God of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them in the barren wilderness. Apparently their quarreling with Moses was on the verge of turning violent. Before the people had a chance to stone him to death, Moses cried out to the Lord for a solution. God offered Moses another miracle.
God instructed the prophet to take Aaron’s staff, the one that had struck the Nile and turned the water to blood. Moses was to position himself in front of the people, accompanied by some of the elders. God would stand before Moses by the rock at Horeb. With the staff, Moses was to strike the rock. When he did, water flowed from the rock. God had done it again! Rather than respond in kind to the whiners and grumblers, God offered His people a gracious gift of water. The elders and the people witnessed God’s power to provide. The place where he struck the rock was called Massah (which means “testing”), and Meribah (which means “quarreling”). What a lovely legacy!
Read Numbers 20:1-13 – Speak to the Rock
Complain, complain, complain! It’s déjà vu all over again! While Numbers 20 is at the very end of the Exodus journey, it sounds strangely familiar to Exodus 17 and the beginning of the escape from Egypt. Many from the older generation had died. Even Miriam, Moses’ sister, had died. Those who were under twenty when the spies returned from the Promised Land were the new generation. They were poised to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:29-35). Despite the lessons of 40 years, what do we find the former generation doing? They are still complaining and quarreling with Moses – even so far as to wish that they had fallen in the wilderness like their brothers. For many, this death wish would come true soon enough! After reciting all of the culinary delights they were missing since being removed from Egypt, they proceeded to lament the lack of liquid.
Once again, God offers Moses an answer to this dilemma. God instructs the prophet to do what he had done before, with one major exception. Moses, accompanied by Aaron, was to take the staff and stand before the people. Rather than strike the rock, as he did before, God commanded Moses to, “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.”
With these unambiguous instructions issued, Moses took the staff and assembled the people. Then, rather than defer the glory and honor to God, Moses claims that he and Aaron will be the ones to work the miracle. Moses says to the complaining crowd, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” To compound the crisis, Moses took the staff, defying God’s clear instructions, and struck the rock, not once, but twice. God told him to speak to the rock, not to strike it! God’s gracious gift of water was not withheld from the people. Despite Moses’ unfaithfulness and arrogant defiance, water came from the rock. But, Moses was held accountable for his actions. God said to Aaron and Moses, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Tragically, the incessant complaining of the older generation, and the defiance of Moses and Aaron would deprive them of entering the Promised Land. It would be Joshua (which is the Hebrew form of “Jesus”), who would lead the new generation into the land, “…flowing with milk and honey.”
What is it that rendered the grumbling factions of the Israelites unable to appreciate the outpouring of God’s grace through miracle after miracle? Why was their tendency to see the negative and to complain at every turn? Simply put, they did not revere and honor God. Instead they lived as those entitled to God’s favor. They did not trust God. Rather than making their requests known through prayer, they chose to coerce God by accusing Him of wanting to abandon them, or worse, murder them in the desert. They did not remember. God had shown them over and over that He would graciously provide for them. But, their attitude was, “what have you done for me lately.” They failed to remember.
Remembering is absolutely vital if we are going to revere, honor and trust God. Perhaps that was why the Passover was instituted as a yearly memorial of the Exodus. That is why the New Covenant Passover Feast is also a meal of remembrance. The Apostle Paul wrote about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. At the beginning of chapter 10, he invokes the story of Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. Paul writes, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
Tomorrow, as we continue to walk the Pathway to the Passion, our explorations of the Scriptures will focus on the connection that Paul draws between the rock of the Exodus, and the Lord Jesus Christ.