Numbers 20:1-13 | Hebrews 6:12

You can’t get blood from a stone… But water from a rock? That’s another story.

Have you read Numbers 20:1-13? If not, here is a quick recap. After many long years of wandering in the desert, the nation of Israel is finally marching toward Canaan, the land God promised them. Which sounds great, until Moses and his brother Aaron are faced with rebellion.

The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the Lord’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!”

Numbers 20:3-5 NLT

Seriously, Israel? After 30-some years, you’re still thinking about Egypt? Where you were slaves?!

Those might have been the questions of the exasperated Moses and Aaron. What did they do next? They took the problem to God.

Moses and Aaron turned away from the people and went to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where they fell face down on the ground. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to them…

Numbers 20:6 NLT

Wow. Can you imagine this experience? You and a cohort face a huge problem, so you go to your church building to get face down in prayer…and God physically shows up to answer you!

God told Moses and Aaron to get everyone together, then with everyone watching, speak to a particular rock. That would lead to a bucket shortage–because they were fixin’ to uncork some serious hydration…of biblical proportions! (That may be a paraphrase.) 

So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.

Numbers 20:9-11 NLT

“Moses did as he was told.” But wait…this story does not have a happy ending.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!”

Numbers 20:12 NLT

Moses and Aaron get pulled from the Promised Land roster for a fourth quarter technical foul? What a harsh turn of events.

Where did they go wrong? That is the question, because if you can answer it, you can avoid making that same mistake. “God doesn’t like it when people do this, so I’m definitely not going to do that. Like, ever.”

One small problem: it’s hard to say exactly what got Moses and Aaron barred from the Land of Milk & Honey. As Joél and Mia showed us, Moses struck the rock (twice) instead of speaking to it. 

Many point out that Moses said, “Must we bring you water from this rock?” They cite this as taking the credit themselves for the miracle, when it rightly belonged to God. On the other hand, some biblical scholars assert that the ‘we’ used in the original Hebrew text is more general in application, and that if the word ‘we’ were the main offence, a different word would have been used to emphasize the fact.

What most scholars agree on is this: God was displeased with Moses’s and Aaron’s attitudes toward him when they carried out his command. And as faithful believers in God’s just, fair, and patient nature, we can only conclude that the punishment He dealt them was quite merciful.

God loves you, and wants you to obey his commands out of love for Him. When you don’t, you can expect disciplinary measures.

“For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

Hebrews 12:6 NLT

That said…please don’t dwell on this. Instead, think of the mighty plans God has for your life. Think of the adventures you will experience as you set off through the wild following Him. Think of how he will provide refreshment for you in your driest times.

Yes, Moses took a harsh punishment. But he got to see the Glory of God as he led his people to freedom and blessing. Most of all, he got to be a child of God. You can, too.

Questions for Group Discussion

  • How does it make you feel to consider that Moses and Aaron did not get to enter Canaan, the Promised Land?
  • Do you find yourself criticizing Moses and Aaron for their behavior? Have you thought, “I definitely would not have done that”? That kind of speculation–believe it or not–is criticism. Isn’t that what the wayward nation of Israel did?
  • What is your best guess as to exactly what Moses and Aaron did to displease God in Numbers 20:10-12?

Challenge: First Time, Every Time, With a Happy Heart

“First time, every time, with a happy heart.” That’s how the mother of three boys told her sons to obey their parents’ instructions.

Can you do that?

We hereby challenge you to do it for one day. Unless you live alone on a desert island, you have at least one person who exercises authority over you. And the younger you are, the more opportunities you have for obedience.

  • Choose the person you most need to obey.
  • Resolve to, for one day, obey their instructions the first time, every time, with a happy heart.
  • At the end of the day, evaluate your performance and decide whether to commit to another day.
  • When you end the challenge, consider how your behavior will change, as well as the consequences of that change.

Evaluation Questions

  1. How did you do today at obeying the first time, every time, with a happy heart? (Did you meet your own expectations?)
  2. Did your improved obedience make a difference today? (For you, for the person in authority, etc.)
  3. Who benefited most today from your obedience?
  4. If your obedience needs to improve in one area more than others, which one is it? (First time, every time, or happy heart?)
  5. If you end the challenge here, how will your behavior change? What will be the consequences of changing your behavior?