Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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.

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.

This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the Lord, and he was sanctified in them.

Numbers 20:11-13

The children of Israel had come to Kadesh in the desert of Zin. This was the same Kadesh from which Moses had earlier sent out the twelve spies to spy out the land of Canaan. Ten spies had came back with an evil report, which the children of Israel believed. In response to Israel’s murmuring and rebellion, Israel was sent to wander in the wilderness until all those who were twenty years and older had died. Now, after thirty-seven years of wandering, the whole congregation was again at Kadesh.

At this time a sad event took place in the life of Moses. There was no water in Kadesh. The people began to murmur and complain. The Lord instructed Moses to speak to the rock and God would give them water. But in disobedience Moses struck the rock. In anger, he addressed the people, “Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this rock?” The outcome of it all was that God gave Israel water from the rock. But as a consequence of their disobedience, God forbad Moses and Aaron from leading Israel into Canaan.

This whole account is very significant. One might wonder why one failure on Moses’ part disqualified him from leading Israel into Canaan. The answer is that Moses failed as mediator of God’s people. This brings us to the glorious gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have a Mediator who will not fail like Moses.


A wicked unbelief!

We are confronted here first with the unbelief of the nation of Israel.

The lack of water in Kadesh became the occasion for Israel to level horrible charges against Moses and Aaron. They charged Moses and Aaron with leading them out of the goodness and abundance of Egypt and into the barren wilderness exactly so that they would die. They indicated that Moses and Aaron had accomplished their purpose with many of their brethren. (Remember, a whole generation had already died in the wilderness.) And now Moses and Aaron had brought them to this Kadesh so that the rest of them would die. What horrible charges!

These charges were ultimately leveled against Jehovah God. This becomes clear from the name that was subsequently given to this place and the explanation given for that name, “This is the water of Meribah (striving); because the children of Israel strove with the Lord.”

These horrible charges arose out of wicked unbelief.

The people of Israel had God’s promise. The Lord through Moses had proclaimed His purpose to lead them from Egypt into Canaan. The Lord had also demonstrated His faithfulness to this promise through many mighty miracles. Through the ten plagues He had destroyed the power of Egypt and gained the release of the people of Israel from 400 years of slavery. At the Red Sea He had made a way of escape for them, while at the same time destroying Pharaoh and his pursuing army. During their many years in the wilderness, the Lord had fed them with manna every day. Again and again He provided water from the rocks of the desert. Miraculously, neither Israel’s shoes nor their clothing wore out.

But now in their disgust they lose sight of all these things and foolishly charge God with leading them into the wilderness to die. This arose out of wicked unbelief. This unbelief certainly was to be found in the carnal, reprobate element that was always present in Israel and sometime even dominated the nation. They were not all Israel that were of Israel. But even the believing element of Israel was often weak in faith. They too were a part of this foolishness.

This sad situation was made worse by the reaction of Moses and Aaron. Theirs was a reaction also of unbelief.

In response to the people’s complaint, Moses and Aaron went to the door of the tabernacle. There they fell on their faces to inquire of the Lord. The glory of the Lord appeared to them and to Israel. And the Lord gave instruction. Moses and Aaron were to gather Israel before the rock in Kadesh. Moses was to take the rod that was laid up in the tabernacle and that had been used to perform other miracles of salvation. This rod symbolized the power of the Lord to save Israel. But in this instance Moses was not to strike the rock with the rod, as before, but to speak to the rock. And the Lord promised that the rock would give forth water.

Moses, however, did not carry out the Lord’s instructions. Moses did gather Israel to the rock. But instead of speaking to the rock, he hit the rock twice in anger. And when he spoke, he spoke to the people. In anger he rebuked them, “Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water from this rock?”

According to the Lord’s own words, Moses and Aaron responded this way “because ye believed me not” (v. 12). What did Moses and Aaron not believe? They did not believe that God would at this time give them water from the rock but would instead let Israel perish in the desert. It is striking that always before, when Israel provoked the Lord to anger with their rebellion, Moses would plead with the Lord to remember His promise to bring Israel to Canaan. Repeatedly Moses turned away the wrath of God from Israel. However, this time Moses’ faith in God’s promise failed. All he could see was Israel’s rebellion. He was convinced that now Israel had gone too far. Surely the Lord, in weariness over their rebellion, would forsake them and allow them to perish.

Moses gave expression to this unbelief in his actions. He was angry with Israel for offending the Lord. Convinced that the Lord would not give them water from the rock, Moses refused even to try. He did not speak to the rock as instructed. He simply hit it with his rod. In his angry question to the people, he made clear his opinion that there would be no water for them because of their rebellion.


An appropriate penalty!

For their unbelief the Lord penalized Moses and Aaron. They would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land of Canaan.

We may be inclined to question the fairness and correctness of this penalty.

Had not Moses and Aaron served the Lord faithfully for all these years? Now, after this very human failure, the Lord would not allow them the privilege of leading Israel into Canaan? Is not this a bit extreme?

Besides, there was the fact that God allowed Israel to enter Canaan. Their sin in this matter was far worse than that of Moses and Aaron. In fact, Israel’s sin was the occasion for the sin of Moses and Aaron. Yet, Israel was allowed into Canaan, whereas Moses and Aaron were not! How could this be?

To see the correctness of this penalty, we must bear in mind that through their unbelief Moses and Aaron had failed to sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the children of Israel (v. 12).

We must remember that Moses was the mediator of God. The book of Hebrews emphasizes that Moses was the mediator of God in the old covenant. It was in this capacity that Moses led Israel from Egypt to Canaan. And Aaron, the highpriest, was inseparably connected to Moses as mediator. Without the altar, Moses could not function as mediator.

As mediator, Moses and Aaron were called to sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the children of Israel.

To sanctify someone in the eyes of another is to present that person as someone special and unique, someone to be revered and honored. It was Moses’ calling to sanctify the Lord God in the eyes of Israel. And he was to do this by representing the Lord in all His glory.

But Moses and Aaron failed to do this in this instance. In the weakness of faith, they represented the Lord as someone who was about to break His promise to Israel because of Israel’s rebellion. They portrayed the Lord as one who now was going to abandon His people. Certainly this did not sanctify the Lord God to Israel. Nor may this stand. Moses and Aaron had made themselves unfit to bring Israel into Canaan. Another must take their place.Interestingly, by laying this penalty upon Moses and Aaron, God sanctified Himself in the eyes of the people (v. 13).


A blessed gospel!

Moses and Aaron were types of Christ.

A type is a person, event, action, or institution in the Old Testament that pointed God’s people ahead to Christ and the work of His salvation.

As the mediator of the old covenant, Moses was called, along with Aaron, to bring Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, through the terrible wilderness, and into Canaan.

As such they pointed to a greater Mediator, who was to lead the church of God out of a greater bondage, the bondage of sin, through the wilderness of this world and into the heavenly Canaan. Not only are we able to see this from the vantage point of New Testament revelation, true Israel was also able to see this. In Moses they saw Christ leading them from sin and hell to heaven and glory. And in the altar that Aaron tended they saw the atonement for sin, which alone could deliver them from the bondage of sin into Canaan’s glory.

The blessed gospel we must hear is that, as our Mediator, Jesus succeeds where Moses failed.

In response to Israel’s rebellion and murmuring, Moses lost sight of God’s faithfulness to His promise. And so he failed also to sanctify the Lord God in the eyes of Israel.

This Jesus will never do!

Oh, we are no different from Israel. How often don’t we complain? In spite of God’s demonstrated faithfulness to us, repeatedly our faith in His promises fails. We quickly despair and are even inclined to charge God foolishly!

Yet Jesus Christ our Mediator always sanctifies the Lord God before our eyes. He never despairs of God’s faithfulness to save us. He does not despair because He has sealed the promises of God by His perfect payment for our sins at the cross. At the cross He has covered and overcome all our miserable sins. This is something Moses and Aaron did not and could not do. On the basis of His perfect sacrifice at the cross, Jesus Christ has perfect confidence that the Lord will forgive us and lead us on all the way to Canaan. In fact, He knows that in response to His highpriestly prayers the Lord God will provide us with Himself as the Water of life so that we may continue our way. Not only is this the confidence of our Mediator, this is also His word to us through the preaching.

This gospel, however, is not for the hardhearted who rebel without repentance. Those whom the Lord Jesus leads to Canaan He also smites with His word, so that they humble themselves before God in repentance. To them He gives the assurance that their sins are forgiven in Him and that the Lord their God will continue to lead them to Canaan.

And the Lord God is sanctified in our eyes.