Today the people complain again because there is no water. God tells Moses and Aaron to take the rod, gather the congregation and “speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water.” Moses and Aaron take the rod and gather the congregation, but Moses out of anger says, “‘Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.”
The Lord is displeased with Moses’ and Aaron’s actions and responds by saying, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” So Moses disobeyed God by hitting the rock instead of speaking to the rock. Then Moses gave credit for the water to himself and Aaron when he said, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” As a punishment for their disobedience, neither of them will enter the promised land. We see that come true for Aaron as he dies in today’s reading, and his son Eleazar becomes the next high priest.
The Lord will later say to Moses, “because you trespassed against Me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin, because you did not hallow Me in the midst of the children of Israel. Yet you shall see the land before you, though you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving to the children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:51-52). The Lord is upset with Moses for misrepresenting Him and what He is doing through His Son, Jesus Christ the Rock. Jesus is coming to pour out living water, which is the Holy Spirit, on all who believe in Him. Later in the story, Paul will write a letter to the Corinthians reminding them of the failures of the Israelites in the wilderness and describing Jesus as the Rock – “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
Moses already struck the rock once in Exodus 17:6 to provide water for the people just as Jesus will be struck once when He is crucified for the sins of the world. Then Jesus will rise from the dead, and forty days later He will ascend to the right hand of His Father in heaven. Ten days after the ascension to heaven, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus will pour out the Holy Spirit upon His people. However, before Jesus’ crucifixion, He will say to the worshipers at the Feast of Tabernacle – “‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39). Some theologians believe that the Lord told Moses to speak to the rock instead of striking the rock again as a symbol of the everlasting prayers that will go up to Jesus our High Priest and Mediator.
After receiving water from a rock, the Israelites begin complaining again on their wilderness journey. Edom (descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother) refuses to let the Israelites cross through their land. Therefore, the Israelites turn and head in another direction where they encounter the Canaanites. The Canaanites attack them, but the Lord works on behalf of His people and defeats the Canaanites. However, the people grow weary and complain again about leaving Egypt and having no food or water. This time God sends fiery serpents to kill them, and Moses intercedes again for the people. The Lord instructs Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. He says that anyone who looks at that serpent with a look of faith will live. This is foreshadowing the day that our Savior will be lifted up on a pole to shed His innocent blood for our sins so that anyone who looks upon Christ in faith will have victory over death.
The reading ends with the Lord giving the Israelites a great victory over their enemies Sihon and Og. This is such a huge defeat that later in the story a Canaanite harlot named Rahab will say, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2: 9-11).
We will get to the story of Rahab soon, but next up is a talking donkey, so keep reading. (Numbers 19:1-21:35)