Dr. Robert Ammons

NUMBERS 20:1-13

1 ¶ Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
3 And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
4 And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
5 And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to
6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
7 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
8 Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
12 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
13 This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.




     This chapter is a very solemn one.  It begins with the death of Miriam, Moses' sister and concludes with the death of Aaron, Moses' brother.  Sandwiched between these sorrowful events is the water tragedy.

     This incident takes place at the beginning of the fortieth year of Israel's wandering in the wilderness.  This is the second time recorded in the Scripture that Israel murmured about the lack of water and God miraculously provided for them.   The first occurrence took place not long after Israel came out of Egypt and involved a different generation.  This second occurrence shows us that the next generation did not learn from their predecessors the high cost of unbelief and rebellion. 

     Although they didn't learn from their ancestors, I trust we might glean some insight that will help us in this generation.  There is much we can learn about God from this story.  So, what is it we may learn today?




      What is our text trying to say?  It's talking about a God who can supply very, very basic needs.  God is aware of our needs—even in our desperation.  He is sufficient to meet them.

     They'd been here before.  Israel had been out of water in Exodus chapter 17.  They had seen the great miracle of God; will they believe this time?  They had been the recipients of so many miracles: God had opened up the sea and closed the water upon the Egyptians.  He had sent manna from heaven and quail in abundance.  Is there anything that God could not do for His people?  They thought it was send water.  And that was their great need.  But they would not let God be the God of their need.

     Does this sound familiar to you in your experience?  What need do you doubt that God can or will meet right now in your life?  We need to let God be God in our needs.  Needs as basic as the need these people had.  Certainly the Lord knew about it, but He was bringing them here to this crucial moment so that He might teach them through testing.




      A.  Israel's Theme: We're Gonna Die (v. 4b).

                 The recurring theme of Israel is "we're gonna die".  When faced with a crisis they responded with doubt and doom. 

     Before they were delivered from Egypt when greater hardship was placed upon them by Pharoah their response was that Moses had "put a sword in their [that is Egypt's] hand to slay us" (Exodus 5:21). 

     When they arrived at the Red Sea with Pharaoh in pursuit they complained: "Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (Exodus 14:12).

     Having traveled forty-five days the Israelites came to the wilderness of Sin and they murmured against their leaders Moses and Aaron because they were hungry: "And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Exodus 16:3).

     At Rephidim there was no water for the people to drink again they responded by murmuring doom and gloom: "Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" (Exodus 17:3).

     It seems that whenever Israel faced a crisis into which they were led by a loving God their reaction was doom and gloom: "We're gonna die!"  Moses you got us in this situation; you are trying to get us killed.

     How many of us respond the same way when we encounter a crisis: "Woe is me!  Nobody loves me!  I'm going to run away and eat some worms!  I didn't sign on to the Christian life to die a slow, miserable, lonely death.  That preacher and the Christian life is going to kill me!"—doubt, doom and gloom.    


      B.  Israel Attributes to Moses What God Did (vv. 4-5)

                 It was God who had brought Israel from Egypt's bondage, had led them in the wilderness and promised them a land that flowed with milk and honey.  It was God who tested them in crises to prove them.  It was a loving, caring, compassionate God who wanted them to see that there was a need for improvement in their relationship with Him.  They needed to know Him better and consequently love and trust Him more deeply.  He wanted them to understand that this was the path to blessing, the path to contentment.    

     To accredit to others the glory that belongs to God is the worst kind of irreverence.  "I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images" (Isaiah 42:8).

     How often we take credit for what God has accomplished in our ministries or lives.  "I did this or that.  This was my idea.  I won 50 souls to Christ."  If we don't take the glory ourselves we allowed others to praise us believing we deserve the accolades of our followers or constituents.  Nothing will bring the displeasure of God more quickly that robbing Him of His rightful praise and taking it for ourselves. 

     We must let God be the God of His deeds.  Our response should be: "God did it!  Let's give Him praise and stop complaining and doubting."  (Illustration: Jesus' temptation in the wilderness).    




      A.  Prayer of Moses and Aaron (v. 6a)

                 Moses and Aaron responded to this situation by going to God in prayer.  We would say "Way to go, Mo!  That's the proper response to a crisis!"

                 The first thing we ought to do in a time of testing is to go to God in prayer as quickly as we possibly can.  This is what the person of wisdom does.  But, alas, what is often our first response?  We try to solve the problem in our own wisdom and strength.  We only go to God when all else has failed.  Sometimes we act as self-sufficient as the world of unbelievers.  When we fail to pray we are saying, "I can do this myself; I don't need God for this one!"

                 By going to God first we are acknowledging that He is the God of our crises; He is in control.    


      B.  Presence of God (v. 6b)

                 When Moses and Aaron went to God recognizing their need of Him, God revealed Himself to them with the answer to the need of Israel.

                 God's presence was manifested in various ways to Israel: Angel of the Lord, His name, His face, the pillar of cloud, etc.  He manifests His presence to us today in the person of His Son, His Word and His Holy Spirit that dwells within us.  

                 We need the presence of God at all times especially in times of great distress.  Thank God for the manifestation of His presence in our times of crisis.


      C.  Power of God (vv. 7-8)

                 First, God told Moses to take the "rod".  The rod is the symbol of God's authority and power.

                 Perhaps Moses thought now we're getting down to business.  With this rod will get these rebels straightened out. 

     When dealing with stubborn, rebellious people like the Israelites we like to think of the rod as a symbol of punishment.  We think we can beat God's people into subjection.  That's not God's way.  The rod was God's way of saying Moses has authority to act and speak in my behalf.   

                 Secondly, God told Moses to "speak to the rock." There is power and authority in the Word of God.

     Humanly speaking there was a better way to obtain water:  Dig some wells, send out a search party, call the Corp of Engineers, etc.  But God's way was speaking to the rock.  As ridiculous as that might have sounded to Moses and Israel, it was God's way and it must be followed.

                 God has ways, methods to get His will and work accomplished.  In evangelism, church planting, missions, church administration, etc. He has his methods and when God reveals His methods we must follow His way rather than what we may think or reason.  God's methods may not be important to some and some may claim that they don't work, but they certainly are vital to Him and they will work.  Make no mistake about it. 


      D.  Predicament of Israel

                 What was the most pressing need of Israel?  The lack of water was not Israel's greatest need—although it was a need and God was aware of it.  Their greatest need was confidence in the Word of God—confidence in what God said.  Keep this in mind!


      E.  Problems of Moses

                 Moses was not without problems in his attitude and actions.  Moses did several things that were wrong.  Now don't be too hard on Moses.  If we were in his shoes we would no doubt have sinned more grievously and more often.


            (1.) Moses sinned in deed.


                 First, he disobeyed God (v. 11a).  This is what Moses had done previously—struck the rock, so, he did it again.  He acted on the basis of tradition rather than on the clear command of God.  You can never ignore God's commands without getting into trouble.

                 Secondly, he disbelieved (v. 12).  This is the root of Moses' problem.  It is the reason for his poor behavior.  Moses had spent many years walking by faith in God and His word.  He was obviously a man of faith.  But under these circumstances a lack of faith was a big problem with Moses.  This is a strong warning to us all.

           Thirdly, he got angry.  Psalm 106 comments on this event: "They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips" (Psalm 106:32-33).  He was acting in uncontrolled passion.  It is obvious that Moses shouldn't have gotten so angry, but all of us can understand why he did.  You and I wouldn't have lasted as long as Moses before we blew our top in dealing with these rebellious, stubborn people.  It's amazing how Moses dealt with them so patiently as long as he did. 

     In losing his temper, Moses sinned in his strongest area, for he was the meekest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3).  What a warning, cautioning us that we sometimes fail in our strongest point.

     Fourthly, he destroyed the message of Christ.  The first time Moses struck the rock (at Rephidim, Exodus 17), it was a great picture of Christ being smitten at Calvary.  To smite the rock a second time ruined the picture of Christ, for Christ was only smitten once.  "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28), "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins" (1 Peter 3:18), and "He died unto sin once" (Romans 6:10)."

     "These texts prove how important it was to keep clear and defined the fact of the death of Christ being a finished act, once for all.  It is evident that for the completeness of the likeness between substance and shadow, the rock should have been stricken but once. Instead of that, it was smitten at the beginning and at the close of the desert march.  But this was a misrepresentation of an eternal fact" (F. B. Meyer).


(2.) Moses sinned in word. 

     First, he denounced the people (v. 10b).  God didn't tell Moses to address the people.  Moses would have been wise to have kept his mouth shut.  In the psalm previously considered the Bible states "he spake unadvisedly with his lips."  What Moses said was true—they were rebels of the worst kind!  But it was the manner in which he spoke this rebuke to them that was wrong.  His manner of speaking is found in the meaning of the word 'unadvisedly' in the Psalms.  The word 'unadvisedly' is translated from a Hebrew word which means to shout loudly or vehemently.  He bawled them out is how we might put it.  Moses lashed out at the people in an uncharacteristic angry way for him, and that was wrong.

     Some preachers have the idea that God has called them to constantly, in anger castigate His people.  There is seldom any compassion or godly patience.  Moses was not of this nature, although in this instance, he gave in to his carnal passions.

     Secondly, he dishonored God (v. 10).  "Must we fetch water out of this rock."  He dishonored God in that he assumed some honor that did not belong to him.  The honor belonged to God.  It was God's power that brought forth the water from the rock, but Moses' speech put the honor upon himself and Aaron instead.

     Self glorying will always foul up our service for God.  There have been many who have fallen into this trap of Satan.  To hear some preachers and evangelists talk and write about themselves, you would think they are the greatest answer to the world's problems and that God is fortunate they are serving Him.  Pride robs many of their usefulness to God and will surely lead to destruction.  "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

           God had brought the people to this extremity so that they might see that only by speaking the word He could meet their needs; that they could trust His word. 

           Do you remember the story of the centurion in Matthew 8.  His servant was sick.  He came to the Lord Jesus beseeching Him to help him.  The Lord said "I will come and heal him."  "The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed" (Matthew 8:8). 

      "And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour" (Matthew 8:13).

           The world was created by the word of God.  "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast" (Psalm 33:6, 9).  The words "And God said" are found numerous times in the creation story found in Genesis.  God said and it was perfectly accomplished.

           There is power in His Word.  Preachers need to remember that speaking the Word is God's method of accomplishing many great things in the lives of His flock.  "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2).




      A.  What God Could Have Done

                 God could have said, "Hit it harder, hit it harder.  I hope you hit it all afternoon.  You're not going to get any water at all."  You know that's not what the text says.  You might have thought that that's what it was because, after all, this is the Old Testament.


      B.  What God Did (v. 11b)

                 God gave them water.  The people didn't deserve it.  The leaders didn't deserve it.  God is a God of grace.  It was a gift.  It was grace.  It was a surprise.  It was God once again benefiting the men and women and sons and daughters even though they didn't deserve a thing. 


C.  The Results Were Right Even Though the Method Was Wrong

           Sometimes men judge the methods by the results.  If the results are good, positive then the methods must be right they conclude.  This story teaches us that this is not necessarily the case.  Examples: Billy Graham crusades, seeker friendly churches, inter-marrying with the ungodly, etc.

           Just because there is the appearance of great success or agreeable results it does not follow that God approves of the methods—methods that are often the product of the carnal minds of unbelieving worldlings. 




     God is the God of our needs, even the very basic needs of life. 

     We must also recognize that He is the God of His deeds.  Every "good and perfect gift" is from His bountiful hand.  He is involved in each of our lives working to our benefit and His glory.  We should gladly give Him glory and praise.

     When a crisis comes He is God of the crisis.  We must go to Him in prayer seeking His guidance and help.  To trust in "the arm of the flesh" is sure to lead to sinful tragedy as we so clearly see in Moses and Israel when tested with a lack of water.

     If we fail—there will be times of failure—He is God in our failures.  In our failures He loves us and remains faithful to us.  Our unfaithfulness does not alter His commitment to His beloved.  Because He is a gracious God He blesses us even though we fail Him.  Nevertheless we must face the consequence of our sin.

     There is a powerful central message to remember from this account: God's word can be trusted in a crisis and His word is the solution to the crisis.  "Speak the Word" is a powerful admonition for us all.