Out of the many sad events in the Old Testament, one that stands out to me is Moses being denied entry into the Promised Land. Moses served the Lord most of his life, and when he was close to making it into the Promised Land, he sinned and was called to his people, only being able to see it from Mount Nebo before he died. Should we be surprised at Moses’ actions at the waters of Meribah, or was this an event that was foreshadowed by other events in his life?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, ““In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV). When Moses sinned against the Lord at the waters of Meribah, it was an effect of his anger. While we might be surprised at Moses’ actions, we shouldn’t be that surprised because Moses is like us. When he got angry, he could say and do things he wouldn’t have when he wasn’t angry. It’s just this time he went too far.

Although we are first introduced to Moses as a child, the first interaction we have with him is when he kills the Egyptian who was beating another Hebrew (cf. Exodus 2:11-12). When Moses killed the Egyptian, I imagine he was angry. His people were in bondage and, here was someone beating one of them, so he killed him. Because of his actions with the Egyptian, Moses has to flee Egypt (cf. Exodus 2:15). 

Much later during the exodus, we see Moses’ anger rise again to destructive proportions.

When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Exodus 32:19 (NIV)

Because Moses broke these two tablets God had provided, he had to carve new ones when God gave him the commandments again (cf. Exodus 34:1). 

When the people craved other food and were grumbling and wailing about having to only eat manna, Moses, in exasperation, questioned the Lord.

 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

Numbers 11:11-15 (NIV)

It only makes sense that Moses would be stressed out by the burden of leading the people. We cannot fault him for showing his frustration to God. We are to go to God as we are instead of trying to hide our feelings. God wants us to be honest with him. 

By the time we reach the incident at Meribah, Moses had been dealing with the peoples grumbling for almost 40 years. From the first time they grumbled about water at Rephidim, nothing much seems to have changed with their attitude.

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Exodus 17:3 (NIV)

Compare this to what they say to Moses almost 40 years later at Meribah.

They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

Numbers 20:3-5 (NIV)

The Lord has continued to provide everything they needed over so many years. Yet they are still looking back at Egypt with fondness. I thought they were supposed to learn something while wandering for 40 years in the wilderness! I have a hard time being in the same car for a few hours with people fighting and complaining. I can’t imagine the patience of Moses. 

So when we reach Meribah, Moses has had enough of the people. When he turns to God, this is what God tells him to do.

The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

Numbers 20:7-8 (NIV)

The staff the Lord told Moses to take was probably the same staff that Moses used in Egypt before Pharaoh. Therefore, it was a symbol and reminder of the miracles the Lord did in Egypt. When Moses spoke to the rock, the people would see the staff and know it was the Lord who brought forth the water. However, instead of doing what God said, Moses did something else.

10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

Numbers 20:10-11 (NIV)

Instead of giving credit to the Lord, Moses states that it is he and Aaron are providing this water. We can only presume that this display of pride came out of anger and frustration. The same frustration we saw forty years earlier when Moses said, “I cannot carry all of these people myself; the burden is too heavy for me (Numbers 11:14 NIV). Moses and Aaron were the instruments God used to bring the people out of Egypt. Moses accepted his role and did what we often do. He believed his actions directed God’s will instead of God’s will directing his actions. 

Nothing can happen without God’s permission. Otherwise, He couldn’t be God. Therefore, every decision and action we take is no surprise to God. They fall within His divine plan. Sometimes, we might do something wrong and see no immediate negative consequence. I see this as God’s grace. Forty years earlier, when the people were complaining about food and Moses felt the burden of leading them, the Lord helped him by sharing the burden with 70 other men. Although God said nothing to Moses and extended grace to him about assuming the burden of “carrying the people”, I see the impact of that burden forty years later here at Meribah. In his anger, Moses showed how he felt and struck the rock instead of speaking to it and calling forth water like the Lord had instructed him to do. 

It wasn’t as might we think, a single outburst of anger from Moses that led to him being denied entry into the Promised Land. It was a culmination of anger over a lifetime as well as carrying a burden that wasn’t his to carry. I don’t see Moses as being a prideful man. Moses was a person like you and me. He wanted to serve the Lord and did the best he could within the limitations of being human.

It’s easy when we serve the Lord to forget that it’s God who does the things we appear to do. He does them through us. He makes a way where there is no way. However, we must be careful to remember that, like the hammer that hits the nail, it’s not the hammer that does the work. It’s the hand directing the hammer. And if we really think about it. God made the hammer, the hand that holds the hammer, the nail, and put it all together with physics to work as we see it work. In all we do, we must give God the glory. 

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away. 

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.