Numbers 20: Moses Sins

This chapter presents another episode of disbelief that plagues the Israelites, however this time, Moses and Aaron also succumb to this doubt.


This chapter presents another episode of disbelief that plagues the Israelites, however this time, Moses and Aaron also succumb to this doubt.

Summary of the Event

Photocredit: Brinkman
After Miriam's death, the Israelites experience another shortage of water. In response, and per their history, the Israelites gripe and complain that they were better off in Egypt. God tells Moses and Aaron to speak to a rock, similar to the situation in Exodus 17, which will cause the rock to provide water. Instead of following God's instructions and instead of giving God the glory, Moses takes credit for the miracle and strikes the rock twice despite God instructing Moses only to speak to the rock. Aaron goes along with Moses' action, causing both brothers to irk God. Because of their disbelief, God tells Moses and Aaron that they will not lead the Israelites into the promised land. Like the original generation of Israelites led from Egypt, Moses and Aaron will die without entering the land.

What's the Big Deal?

Moses has been God's faithful servant and then suddenly after striking a rock instead of speaking to it, he loses his right to the promised land. Many people find this problematic and don't understand what the big deal was with the rock. In all my readings, I never questioned why Moses wasn't allowed in the promised land; I always thought Numbers 20:12 summed it up pretty well.
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.Numbers 20:12 KJV
I also, didn't necessarily interpret that to be the point that Moses lost his entry to the promised land. In Numbers 14, God says no one but Caleb and Joshua from that generation would enter the promised land. God made no exceptions for Aaron, Moses, or Miriam. Perhaps their indiscretions that are described after the fact were foreseen by God, but it is also possible that these faults were shown to us merely to prove that they were just like the other Israelites. After all, during the decision not to enter Canaan, we don't see Moses or Aaron jump on Caleb and Joshua's side to declare that God would not lead them to a dead end.

Regardless, I have found an explanation of the episode in Numbers 20 that makes the fallacy of Moses' actions immensely more clear. The beauty of the Bible is that in many of God's literal events, we find symbolism of future events. In the New Testament, we learn the Jesus is our rock; we are even given confirmation that the rocks in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 are in fact linked to Christ.
1Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.1 Corinthians 10:1-4 KJV
From this, one source explains that Moses is not merely striking a rock, he is striking Jesus.[1] When you take this into consideration, the first occurrence, in Exodus 17, represents Jesus' sacrifice; the strikes being symbolic of His first coming and suffering for us. The second time they run out of water, Jesus has already been sacrificed (or hit) for their water privileges. Like us today, all they needed to do was believe and ask. In stead Moses strikes the rock twice! This is a haughty display of disbelief. It would be akin to someone today sacrificing their cow for forgiveness. As God explains in Numbers 20:12 (quoted above), Moses and Aaron lost their faith in the moment; they didn't believe that by merely talking to the rock, God would bring forth water.

Parallels of Today

We didn't talk about this much in church. I don't remember Bible study focusing in on the details of the Exodus. In fact, I don't remember talking about the Exodus after my preschool-elementary Bible class. However, I think this passaged is chalked full of important lessons for believers today. As I mentioned above, this passage is about faith in God's Word. From a human perspective, sometimes God's Word seems like the impossible. It's easy to fall in the trap of questioning God. Moses did just that when God sent him to Egypt to deliver the Israelites. Similarly today, when God tells us to take action, we are quick to say "but how Lord?" when we should just start moving in the direction He commands.

Doubt is the most dangerous ground we can stand upon. Sure there are many sins and infractions we can commit, but doubt is the root of many of these holes we dig ourselves in. We take matters in to our own hands instead of following God's lead because we doubt His presence or His abilities. We take a chance on sin, because just like Adam and Eve, we doubt that God actually meant "ye will surely die." Our goal should be to emulate Joshua and Caleb, who were ready to go into battle against giants simply because God told them He would march with them. Top


  1. Shields, Thomas. "Why was God so upset with Moses for striking the rock the second time in the desert?". StackExchange: Christianity. April 2012

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