Moses is likely God’s most well-known prophet of the Old Testament. He is the baby who was placed into a basket and was rescued and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He is the same man who saw the burning bush on the mountain and spoke to the Lord. He is the man that performed 10 miraculous feats in Egypt that convinced Pharaoh to release the Israelites who had been his slaves for generations. Moses led his people through the dry depths of the Red Sea; he spoke to God on Mount Sinai and received the 10 commandments, with his face glowing just from being in the presence of God himself. In all, he served the Lord faithfully for most of his life until his death at 120 years old.
This morning I sat down to read my Bible, and turned to the last chapter of Deuteronomy. It tells the story of the death of Moses, and why God said he could not cross the river and see the promised land of Canaan. Upon reading this, I chose to do some digging and discover more of Moses’ error that caused God to deny him entry in Canaan. I have read this story many times, but still felt this nagging question of ‘Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land’ when all he had done was hit a rock in anger? Wanting to gain a better understanding of God and His ways, I entered a time of searching his heart and read multiple passages pertaining to this.
“..the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.”
(Trust me – if you continue reading, you will be blessed to know that the Lord revealed something to me which brought on a flood of tears! My hope is that by the time you’re done reading, you too will have a far deeper picture of who God is.)
There were two different times that as Moses was leading the Israelites in the wilderness, they became extremely thirsty, resulting in Moses interacting with a rock to provide water for them all. The first time:
“…take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Then there was a second time:
“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.”
Here was my dilemma – when God told Moses he couldn’t enter Canaan, He said it was because Moses hadn’t treated him as holy or upheld him as holy. How does his striking the rock 2x affect God’s holiness? Sure, He told Moses to hit the rock the 1st round, but the 2nd time He said to ‘tell’ it to provide water. So was Moses’ error in getting angry and acting in anger by hitting the rock twice, or was it because he disobeyed God’s direct instruction and hit the rock instead? Why would either, or even both of those, cause God to deny Moses such a wonderful opportunity after so many years of faithfulness to him, and why does that disregard God’s holiness?
I dug further. I recalled a song that Moses wrote and taught the Israelites just before his death, where he spoke of God being the Rock of their salvation:
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he...“,
“..then he (Jeshurun) forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation…”, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth..”, “For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves.”
Ohh, maybe in Moses striking the rock, it was symbolic of him hitting God as God is also the Rock? Eh, it must go deeper, as that idea is fuzzy, but slowly taking shape. God’s holiness…a rock….
Now I am noticing how the Lord is leading me in this quest of understanding: He desires us to recognize his Son in Scripture!
Jesus is called The Rock. Paul, i.e. Saul, a wise and passionate Jewish Pharisee who Jesus met with on the road to Damascus and changed his life forever, writes of this comparison:
“..and all (Israelites) ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
1 Corinthians 10:3-4
Here is what Jesus said about what He had to offer:
“Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
So what does Jesus as our Rock of salvation and the One who gives us living water have to do with the rock(s) that Moses hit in the wilderness, and where does God’s holiness come in to play here?
“So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”
I say this again: God desires us to recognize his Son in Scripture. He had a picture to paint for all generations to follow. You see, I believe that God’s holiness – the absolute moral purity of God – was revealed to us in Jesus Christ becoming one of us. When Moses hit the first rock with his staff, he was symbolically striking Jesus (the Rock of our salvation), who would be struck down by man as our once-for-all sacrificial Lamb. Man was desperately thirsty then! When God told Moses to merely tell the second rock to yield its water, it was because there was no longer a need to use the staff, because the Rock was already waiting to provide the living water for both the people and the animals. Jesus, as the sinless Lamb of God, the Rock of salvation, now had living water ready and waiting to be freely given to those in need, both Jew and Gentile alike. This was not to happen but by the spoken Word only. Man is desperately thirsty, especially today.
Do you see how God has incorporated the Old Testament truths into the New Testament? Jesus is written throughout Scripture. He is the Word of God, the Rock of salvation, the Cornerstone and Foundation of what we believe. He offers us eternal, living ‘water’ that wells up within us, and satisfies as the Holy Spirit dwells in us. He provides for us along life’s journey in this earthly desert, while He alone shows us the way into the Promised Land – heaven. He offers this to all who will trust in His name, His life, His death, and His resurrection; Jew and non-Jew alike.
In remembering Moses, this is what was written about him:
“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
Food for thought: Does God’s holiness scare you? Do you feel He was justified in denying Moses entry into the earthly Promised Land? Remember that God is always perfectly just, righteous, good, and holy.
Fun facts: In a long term battle between rock and water, water will win every time. Water, whether through surface weathering and erosion or within the groundwater, is very effective at breaking down rocks. Water dissolves minerals and carries ions away to be used elsewhere. It also carries sediment to points where it can collect, accumulate and be buried under pressure and changed back into rock.
Photo by: Kari Wiseman – Water Pours from Rock
***Further verses about the Lord God being the Rock:
“But his bow remained firm,
And his arms were agile,
From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
(From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),”
“The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock;
And exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,”
2 Samuel 22:47
“The God of Israel said,
The Rock of Israel spoke to me,
‘He who rules over men righteously,
Who rules in the fear of God,”
2 Samuel 23:3
“Trust in the Lord forever,
For in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock”
‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid;
Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it?
And you are My witnesses.
Is there any God besides Me,
Or is there any other Rock?
I know of none.’”