Only twelve verses are given (Numbers 20:2-13) to the account the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. Of those, ten tell the story of the thirst of the people of the covenant, their complaining, the petition of Moses and Aaron for the provision of the LORD, Moses striking a rock producing water, and the resulting stream being named “the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.”
This story, with verses eight and twelve missing, closely resembles the story in Exodus 17 where the people of the covenant – having escaped from Egypt, having received manna from the LORD – complain of thirst. As in Numbers 20, Moses seeks the LORD and strikes a rock that pours forth water. That place, too, was called Meribah “because of the quarreling of the people of Israel”.
Those two missing verses, however, make all the difference in the world. Verse eight is a command from the LORD for Moses to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”. Moses strikes the rock twice, after which the rock gushes water.
This leads into verse twelve in which the LORD rebukes Moses for his unbelief and his failure to display the holiness of the LORD. Moses is told that as a consequence, he will not lead the people of the covenant into the land the LORD has given them.
Was Moses wrong to strike a rock in pursuit of water?
“No.” There was precedent.
“Yes.” Not only did Moses disobey a direct command of the LORD, Moses in producing water from the rock by his own means, took the glory due to the LORD for himself. He did things his own way apart from the LORD which is rebellion.
1 Samuel 15:23 states that rebellion equals divination or witchcraft.
Exodus 22:18 and Leviticus 20:27 provide precedent for the death of Moses under these circumstances. Certainly, by this point in the narrative, the LORD has brought about the deaths of many who have disobeyed his instructions including Korah from four chapters back.
So, Moses deserved death. The punishment Moses received is to live knowing that he will not reach his goal, that someone else will bring his people, the people to whom he has dedicated the previous forty years, into the land of promise.
To read a post (with pictures) about the present day wilderness of Zin: click here.
To read another take on why Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land: click here.