Have you ever had the feeling that God has put you through more than your fair share of suffering? Or have you ever felt that your life was shattered by a single event that has the feel of God punishing you unjustly? Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with an uncurable disease. Maybe someone stole all your possessions. Maybe a long string of misfortune as attended your way. I think Moses might very well have felt that way after God told him that he, Moses, who had brought the people out of Egypt, who had been a faithful mediator for the people, that he would not see the inside of the promised land. He had waited forty years for this. Forty years of wandering around in the desert, dealing with the rebellion of Israel against their God. Forty years of depending on the Lord’s provision. Forty years of depending on the Lord, who had been 100% dependable. And now, Moses was not to enter the promised land. That’s a bit rough, wouldn’t you say, and so many people have thought. After all, Moses’ sin doesn’t seem to be all that bad. Why did Moses strike out?
To learn this, let us look in some detail at our passage. We first have to realize that the people had been complaining for years about the lack of water, the lack of food, and then the lack of variety in their food, having had this lembas bread (I mean manna) for so long, that it was sticking in their throats. Do you ever feel like you are eating the same spiritual food all the time? “Why do I have to hear the Gospel again and again and again? Can’t I move past that now? Where’s the deep spiritual meat? I want some quail to supplement all this manna.”
The Gospel is what you need. It is always what you need. It applies to every situation you can possibly encounter. Do not try to supplement the Gospel, or you will take away from it. So, when the water ran out, and people duly pass on this fact to Moses’ attention, they are only doing what they have done probably thousands of times already. Moses and Aaron at first do the right thing, by going to the Lord. They fall on their faces, a sign of submission to God’s will. The Lord is very gracious to the people. He doesn’t tell Moses to stand aside, because the Lord is going to destroy the people. He tells Moses to meet the needs of the people. Moses is told to take the staff (probably Aaron’s staff, since it is the one that is located “before the presence of the Lord”), go to this rock, and preach it brother! This rock will then get so excited that it will react violently, giving its water. Moses obeys the first part of this command. Then, in verse 10, trouble comes. Moses told the people they were rebels, and why should I, Moses, do this for you? This question reveals Moses’ unwillingness to do this thing. He was aggravatingly tired of the people’s grumbling and complaining, and blaming everything on him. Notice the contrast between Moses’ reaction and God’s reaction. God is gracious, but Moses is not. Note one other thing about Moses’ statement. He speaks of Moses and Aaron bringing the water out of the rock, not God bringing water through them. And so, we see the first reason why God did not allow them into the promised land. Moses claimed for himself the miracle that would result. And he was ungracious where God was gracious. The second (or third, depending on how you’re counting) reason Moses struck out, was that he struck the rock, instead of preaching to it. Now, this becomes especially significant, when we look at the specific kind of rock that he struck. It was not the same kind of rock that he struck earlier at Maasah. You remember the very similar incident recorded in Exodus 17, where Moses strikes the rock, after the people file a lawsuit against Moses, and water comes out. Well here, the rock is a different kind of rock. A recent article in the Westminster Theological Journal gives us some light here. I am paraphrasing slightly: “Rainwater would dissolve chalk in the upper layers of limestone, and this mixture of water and chalk would settle further and further down the limestone layers until it came up against a harder rock layer. Then this mixture of water and chalk would travel sideways. The water would evaporate, leaving the chalk behind. This chalk would then build up, while water continued to build up behind it. All you would then need is a sharp blow in the right place, and the water would come out. So, in the other incident in Exodus 17, Moses was dealing with granite, a rock out of which you could not expect to get any water. So, when Moses struck that rock, it was a miracle to get water out of that rock. But here, Moses is dealing with this limestone, with deposits of chalk. If you knew where to look, and struck the right place, then you could expect to get water out of the rock. That is why God told Moses to preach to the rock. That is why Moses failed to maintain God’s holiness. Moses did not believe the Word of God spoken to him. Moses was guilty of lack of faith. So, Moses did sin. Let us not mince words here, or try to excuse him, if the Bible does not.
However, even if we understand Moses’ disobedience, we are still left with questions, aren’t we? The Israelites were guilty of far more than Moses’ lack of faith. They were guilty of outright idolatry. They had worshipped the golden calf. Why was Moses’ sin so bad? I do not think that the amount of guilt involved is the reason why God did not allow him into the promised land. Again, the level of Moses’ guilt is not the point at all. God is saying something bigger than that to us. God is saying that Moses is incomplete. Moses will not take us into the promised land. Moses does not do all things for our salvation. Moses is not sufficient for us. He is not everything we need to be right with God, to enter the promised land, to enter heaven. If Moses had taken the people into the promised land, then Moses would have been their Savior. Therefore, God did not allow him to do so, that His purpose for Israel might point us to Christ. You see, we need someone who can take us into the promised land. We need Joshua. Joshua took the Israelites into the promised land. Joshua’s name translated into Greek is Jesus. And Jesus takes us into the promised land of heaven, and sits us there at his right hand in glory. If you believe in Him, and have faith in Him. You see, we are always jealous of God’s grace given to other people. We think we are the only people who deserve it. But in this story, Moses needed God’s grace the most. God could have utterly rejected him as leader, but He didn’t. So it is we who most need God’s grace, because we are needy sinners, who don’t even know our own sin.
If you are not a Christian, and are here this morning, I invite you to consider your suffering in a new light. God is calling you to Himself. The Word of God is inviting you to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Only union with him can get you to heaven. There is no other way. But your suffering, is it not God knocking on your door, getting your attention? Submit to him. Surrender your life to Jesus.
If you are a Christian, your suffering can seem like God has abandoned you. Know from our passage this morning that God is there, and that He has a higher purpose for your suffering, whatever that suffering may be. Christ in the Gospel is still what you need to get through these periods of suffering. Do not ever tire of the manna of the Gospel. It is life! A pastor in New York that I know had an unusual kind of cancer. Treatment was very long, tiring, and scary. Many shots, radiations, everything you normally associate with cancer, only more so. He wondered what purpose there was in it all. He wondered if God had just abandoned him. Years later in the ministry, a girl in his church was diagnosed with the very same cancer that he had had. She went through the long gruesome treatment with all the shots and radiations. The pastor went to visit her in the hospital. She said that no one understands what it’s like, that no one cared, and especially that God did not care. The pastor said, “I know, and I understand. There is healing in the Gospel, and purpose for your suffering. God will not let anything happen that is meaningless.” She then made a profession of faith. Look forward to your redemption from suffering. It will come. But there are goals that God sets for your suffering to accomplish. Believe that. Believe that God cares for you, and believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior.