Sometimes I read a Bible text and get confused. I think I’m not alone. Today’s reading in Numbers 20 was just such a passage. The situation was that the Israelites had nothing to drink, so this is what the Lord commanded Moses:
8 “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 they and their livestock can drink.”
9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “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.”
What? You have to read the text very carefully (or consult an online commentary, as I did – http://www.soniclight.com) to understand why Moses’ actions were interpreted as a lack of trust in God.
God commanded him to SPEAK to the rock, and water would flow out. Instead Moses first rebuked the Israelites and then STRUCK the rock twice with his staff, and the water flowed. He went for a more dramatic option, a potential consequence of which was that the Israelites might see the miracle as resulting primarily from Moses or his impressive staff, which had been involved in other miracles in the past. Either way, the attention for the miracle was diverted from God to Moses. (Personally I think speaking to a rock and having it gush out water would be impressive enough, but obviously not for Moses.) This is what Constable says about it:
The root of Moses’ sin in disobeying God (v. 11) was unbelief (v. 12). Quite clearly this was not a failure to believe that God could or would provide water for the people. Rather it was a failure to believe that simple obedience to God’s command was best (cf. Gen. 4:1-7). In this, Moses acted as the older generation of Israelites had done since they left Egypt.
Moses did more than God told him to do. He failed to believe that God’s way was best and took matters into his own hands. His motives may have been one or more of the following. He may have had a desire for the greater glory of God. He may have been proud or may have relied on his own ability to work miracles. We know he was impatient with the Israelites’ complaining and felt frustrated by their slowness to learn a lesson God had previously taught them (cf. Ps. 106:32-33). In any case he failed to accept God’s will as best, and this is unbelief.
“Faith is the correct response to God’s word, whether it is a word of promise or a word of command.”
Instead of speaking to the rock (v. 8) Moses spoke to the Israelites (v. 10) “rashly” (Ps.106:33; cf. Lev. 5:4). He struck the rock twice with the rod with which he had done many miracles (v. 11), as though this miracle required his power rather than simply the power of God. One interpretation is that Moses’ short speech in verse 10b, not the striking of the rock, was the actual transgression. The text does not seem to bear this out. Evidently Moses, in his frustration with the people, thought that he was the performer of the miracle rather than only God’s instrument. This is a common error in modern ministry, and it still produces great frustration: thinking that we need to be manufacturers rather than simply distributors of blessing to others.
Underlying this text then are a couple of truths:
Obeying God’s commands exactly is what is needed. Not an approximation, not a re-write, not our own version or preference. As Constable says, “Faith is the correct response to God’s word, whether it is a word of promise or a word of command.”
We can trust in God to provide blessing, and we need to understand our role as being a distributor of such blessing rather than a manufacturer of it. We don’t need to force it, as Moses did.
I like that thought. For a few years I’ve asked God to bless me that I might be a blessing to others, and I believe many times it has happened.
As you ask God to bless you today, think about the ways in which he already has. Then look around and see who you can bless. What resources, experiences, understanding has God given you in your life that could be used to bless another person. As a preacher once said, we are called to be a river, not a reservoir. We are to be a channel that flows to others, not simply hoarding the goodness of God for ourselves. Let it flow!