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Rebels All

Numbers 20:10b-12
“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.”

Moses doesn’t write his response into the biblical text, but I imagine it went like this: “But LORD, this isn’t fair!” That’s my initial response at least. How do these complaining pilgrims walk away from this scene without any heavenly rebuke, while Moses and Aaron take the fall? Mark this scene down as one of the great head-scratchers of the Pentateuch. God didn’t cast off Moses for initially refusing to go to Egypt, nor for failing to circumcise his son, nor for shattering testimonial stones in the gorge, but now Moses strikes a rock rather than speaking to it calmly and that’s what forfeits his commission? The same is true of Aaron. Doesn’t Aaron’s idolatrous crafting of that golden calf seem a far more reprehensible desecration of God’s holiness before the people than quietly standing by as Moses beats a boulder?!

As I ponder this mystery, I’m struck by the word Moses uses against these people: rebels. This might be the key here. Although Moses is a faithful man, and although he’ll die in the arms of God just as he lived, he’s a rebel too. We all are! That’s the bad news of the gospel, right? That all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Adam ate forbidden fruit, Cain murdered his brother, Abraham adulterated with Hagar, Sarah laughed at the angels, Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, Judah sold Joseph into slavery, Aaron built a golden calf, and Moses, hero though he is, falls short of his divine commission as well. Which is why he, too, is incapable of delivering the people of God to the Promised Land. He needs someone to deliver him.

Oh how the gospel of our Lord gushes forth through these lines like living water from the Rock of Ages! And we’re drowning in that flood today.