Some years ago, our son who is now 23 years of age, was just a
little tot while we were in the Boston area. We were coming down from
Gloucester and Cape Anne and got into a terrible traffic jam on 128the highway
was torn up, and we were moving about a space at a time. You'd pull up and
stop, pull up and stop. It was a warm day95 or 98 degreesand this little guy
in the back seat began to lean forward, "I wanna gink, I wanna gink."
He couldn't say drink. We thought it was cute. But not for an hour and a half.
I tell you, after an hour and a half, I myself was bone dry.
I think of that every time I read of Moses in this situation.
Everyone, two million people, "I wanna gink." So what did they do? They assembled
themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
We need to let God be God in our needs.
What is our text trying to say? It's trying to talk about a God
who can supply very, very basic needs. Who is aware, yes, even in our
They'd been here before. Israel had been out of water in Exodus
chapter 17. They had seen the great miracle of God, perhaps they'll believe
this time. They had seen so many miracles: when God had opened up the sea and
closed the water. He had sent manna from heaven. What could God not do for this
people? They thought it was send water.
"We wanna gink." And there was their great need. The experience of
men and women.
I'm afraid for all of us, it's cyclical. We do tend to go in a
circle even though God's history is a stream. And it does not go round and
round. God's history starts at the headwaters and ends up at a conclusion. It
goes to the mouth of the whole river. It is like a mighty torrent. But
meanwhile, we tend to get into the eddies of our day and go in whirlpools, and
go round and round sometimes because we fail to learn that we haven't learned
anything from history. We need to let
God be God in our needs. Needs as basic as the need this people had. Certainly
the Lord knew about it, but he was bringing them here to this crucial moment so
that he might teach.
We need to let God be God in his own deeds.
But look what they did in verses 35: "And the people
fought. They contended with Moses. And they said, 'Wish we would have died with
our brethren when they died before the Lord.' " You have to say that in a
very pious tone. And you have to make it clear that you feel like nobody loves
us, everybody hates us, guess we'll go eat worms. They had this great theme
here: a case of . As a matter of fact, they say in verse 4, "Why
have you (Moses) brought this assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that
we should die here? Both we and our cattle." They throw them in for good
measure. "And why have you made us to come up out of Egypt to bring us to
this evil place? It's no place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates. And
besides (you almost see themhands on their hips), there's not even basic
H2O." How about water, Moses? Forget the honey, forget the milk and the
grain and the figs and the vines. How about water? They quarrel with Moses for
doing what they knew God had done.
We tend to sit back and say, "The rascals, how could they
do that? This is horrible. I don't see why God puts up with them at
all." And who is this Moses? Moses
himself was not what you would call the great candidate for the job. He had
resigned several times. As a matter of fact, the Lord had a hard time calling
him. He gave him forty years at Thebes Tech, and he had to leave suddenly,
you'll remember, because he had a gift from God but he misused the gift. He
felt injustice, and it got him right to the quick. One day he saw an Egyptian
pummeling a fellow Hebrew, and he knew he was of the Hebrew race. And so he
went in on the side of the Hebrew and trounced the Egyptian. More than that,
the fellow lost his life.
And did he do it by the spirit of God? Augustine and Calvin had
a debate over it. But I don't think you need to debate too long. Watch Moses.
He looks this way; he looks that. And then he buries him in the sand. I don't
think that's a man operating under the Spirit of God. I think that's a man with
a bad conscience. So he put his evidence into the sand. He came back the next day and saw more
injustice: two Hebrews fighting each other. And he went in once againyou can
almost see him with cape aside. And the fellow says, "Are you going to
kill me like you killed the Egyptian?" "You know about that?" "Yeah." "I'd
better get out of town," which was good thinking. And he left, and he
started backpacking all the way down through Sinai.
We find him much later down at the well, and there's Zipporah,
the girl trying to water her flocks and he's watching. All of a sudden some
other shepherds come and chase the girls off. The Bible says, "And Moses
stood up." There he goesBandy Roostergoing to charge in again. And he
said, "These girls were here first." And he helped them, and he must
have been enough of a brute to do it. And the shepherds stood on the side. The
girls went home. Their father said, "How come you girls are home so
early?" They said, "Pop, you wouldn't believe it. There was an Egyptian out there. He helped us." And he said, "Where's your hospitality, girls? Ask him home." So he came
And there he stayed, went forty years to Midian Ag school.
There's Moses working patiently out in the fields. He married the girl, as a
matter of factZipporah. (Zippor means bird and the ah ending is the feminine
ending in Hebrewso here you have Zipporah. Moses on a ranch in Midian with
Lady Bird.) And the two of them settle down together. God trains him forty more years.
Some parents wonder when their children are going to get
placement and get into life. I wonder what Moses' parents thought. Eighty years
and he still hadn't taken hold yet. What is he doing? He's getting basic
training for the job. Then after eighty
years. God finally calls him, and he took him into this situation. Now he is
120 years old, and the people are saying, "Why did you bring this
congregation of the Lord into this wilderness?" We have no right to have others attribute to us what God did.
It's always been his work. And he needs to receive the glory. And in this
particular instance in verses 4 and 5 when they say, "Why have you"
our text comes with a rebuke that tells us we should not attribute things to
ourselves or even receive them from others when it has been the work of the
We need to let God be God in our crises.
Our text though, takes us to the heart of the matter. Not only
in letting God be God in our needs (verse 2) and letting God be God in his own
deeds (verses 3, 5), but letting God be God in crises, too: Now the whole thing comes to the head in
verses 6 and following. The text says, "Then Moses and Aaron went from the
presence of the assembly to the door of the tent of meeting and fell on their
faces." And we are so glad. We say, "Ah ha, the men are doing it
properly. They are not being received. Their leadership is being threatened for
no reason of their own. But they are taking it to the Lord in prayer. What a
The text also says, "And the glory of the Lord appeared to
them." So here they are in great desperation and the text says, the glory. That's only one of the ways in which God is present. He is present through the angel of the Lord. He is present
through his name. He is present through his face. And he is present through the
cloud, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. God was present with his
men. And so I take it that not only did they come before him in prayerand then
the Lord said, verse 7, to Moses: "Take the rod," and some of us read
ahead in the narrative and say, "Oh no. Don't touch that thing. Leave it
home this week. Don't take it with you. You're going to get in trouble."
But the Lord says, "Take the rod." In other times he would lift up that staff and it would open up the sea.
And he would lift it up again and it would close the sea. But here God is not
going to use it, he only says, "Take this symbol of my authority and my
power and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron, your brother. Assemble them
Now for the payoff clause. Now what shall we do? Two million
people, maybe a million sheep and goats. They're all still saying, "Wanna
gink, wanna gink," and "." What a cacophonous sound.
Gather them all together in that huge outdoor arena. And now what should he do?
"Speak to the rock." "Lord, what?" "Speak to the rock." "Ha ha. Lord, did you know the latest Gallup Poll? One percent of the people approve of me and Aaron and what we are doing. And now
I'm to get up in front of all this people and say, 'Y, Rock.' Lord, I would
look a lot more credible if we could go out and probe for wells." "Speak to the rock," he said.
"Speak to the rock in front of their eyes to yield up its water. So you
shall bring water out of the rock for them. And so you shall give drink to the
congregation and to their cattle."
Moses took that staff from before the Lord, as he commanded, and
Moses and Aaron gathered all the people together before the rock, and he said
to he said to naw. He said to them, and God didn't say to say anything
to them. He said to say to it. He said
it to them. I guess he'd had it120 years old, he decided this was it.
"Hey, you rebels, you make me sick. This job isn't all it's cracked up to
be. My unemployment benefits, my hospitalization, my retirement, it's a very
poor deal." All that's in the margindon't look for it. Some of you are
checking. It's not there, but he does say, "Listen now, you rebels, must
must () must we bring forth
water for you out of this rock?"
There it was, in that little pronounmust we? "What does a fellow have to do around here? You're leeching on my soul, I tell you. This has been tough leading you people through
the wilderness. I didn't want it in the first place. And you keep on asking me
all kinds of questions for which I don't have the answers. And I ask you, what's
a fellow have to do? We have to bring water out of a rock up here before you
believe us? Must we?"
Now I know there's an interpretation which we are very attached
to in our evangelical circles, I call it evangelical oral tradition, or
Midrash. Our Midrash is that what he did was, in verse 11, he struck the
rockand the rock in 1 Corinthians 10 is Christ. And he struck it with his
staff twice, and our Lord was smitten only once. Therefore, he broke the type.
I know we say that. But the biblical text doesn't agree. In Psalm 106, you will find an inspired
commentary, to be trusted more than ours. And this text, Psalm 106:3233 says,
"They (that is Israel) angered Moses at the waters of Meribah. And it went
ill with Moses on their account. For they made his spirit bitter." They
teed him off, you could almost say. They made his spirit bitter, for he spoke
words unadvisedly, words that were brash. The Bible puts the problem with his
speech. It was his words, not what he did. Not what he slugged the thing with.
And what did he say? "Must we?
Must we bring forth water for you out
of this rock?"
Therein was the great problem. Isaiah 42:8 says, "My glory
I will not give to another." In this case, God had brought the people to
this extremity so that they might see that only by speaking the word. Remember
in Matthew 8 when the nobleman came and said, "Only speak the word and my
servant shall be healed." He had not seen such not even in all
Israel. Speak the Word. And our Lord spoke it, and in that same instant the
servant recovered. Speak the word. It was by the word of the Lord that the
world was founded. Psalm 33:6, 9. He spoke the word. Genesis 1the
repeated phrase, which is not just mere introduction, but it is: "And God said. And God said." And so here, too. God wanted to show to
them, and our Lord wanted to show a generation that is so ,
so , that all the time wants to do something.
It says first of all, we must hear something speak his
words. For what the people lacked at
that particular moment was not so much water. That was only an indication of a
greater lack; they needed confidence in God's Word. "So Moses, say my
Word. In front of their eyes, announce my words and watch my spirit move on
their hearts." Do you have confidence when you teach? Do you have
confidence in that Word of God to persuade men and women? Not in a magical way,
but in a solid movement of the Spirit of God that it is the Word of God that
will change our generation, our culture, our young people, our churches, our
nation, and the nations of the world. Oh, if not, then God will have to bring us to Wit's End Corner where we
have a great need, and the only thing that will join us with resources of God
himself will be His word. His Word. Speak the Word. Only say the Word. That's
the theology. That's the high point of this passage.
What happened instead? Moses and Aaron, who began so well in the
crisis by speaking to God in prayer, then turned around in irreverent
blasphemy, exalted themselves and said, "What do we have to do? Do we have to bring water for you out of this rock before you believe us?" Verse 12 calls it unbelief. "And the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not believe in me, because you didn't set me apartI wanted you to lift me up, to exalt meto exalt my whole person. Because you didn't set me apart in the
eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into
Our text comes home, probing the modern conscience, especially
of the pragmatic, American, which is not all bad. I don't think
it's bad that we have 5 and 10 plans. I don't think it's bad that we have
involvement. But if we have them in place of the Word of God, mark it well, we
are headed for trouble. For we don't know the power and the presence of that
wonderful Word of God.
We need to let God be God even when we fail.
And now, what does his leader do? Moses and Aaron stand up and
say, "Must we, must we?" And took the rod and smote the
rock. And the Lord said from heaven,
"Hit it harder, hit it harder. I hope you hit it all afternoon. You're not
going to get any water at all." You know that's not what the text says. You might have thought that that's what it was because, after all, this is the Old Testament. And you might have thought
that the Lord said, "I can't grant it because of the merit of the people,
and I can't grant it now because of the merit of the leaders. Neither one of
you deserve it, so hit it harder." But our text says, no"He struck the
rock with the rod twice, and water came forth graciously,
I remember my Sunday school paper. It had this trickle coming
down there. You could jump across it. It wasn't really much. I never thought
about it, but the first five people probably would have cleaned it up. I was mentioning this passage one time and
one of the men who works for the water department in one of the suburban areas
in the United States said, "How many people did you say were
there?" "Well," I said,
"there were 600,000 fighting men. And to give each one of them a wife and
a child, just that alone, three times six is eighteen1,800,000." I said, "How much water do you think
they consumed for washing and drinking and cooking?" He said, "I don't know, half a
gallon." Then he said, "How
about sheep and goatshow many are there?" "I don't know, maybe one for every two people." So he said, "All right, a million. How
much water do they need?" We give
them a gallon. He calculated that out, and he said, "According to my
figures, water has to come out of that rock at something to the tune of 1,666
gallons per second." I don't know
just what the rate is. I'll ask the Lord when we see him. But I think that it
does tell me a little bit more than my Sunday school paper and that little
But anyway, the whole point is that God is a God of grace. Was
it because of the merit of the people? Was it because of the merit of the
leaders? No. It was a gift. It was grace. It was a surprise. It was God once
again benefiting the men and women and sons and daughters even though they
didn't deserve a thing. Our text also says we must let God be God when he says "No." Verses 12 and 13: "The Lord says, You shall not bring this people into the land." God sanctions. God's judgment. Water came forth abundantly because of the gift, the grace of God. But now, he says, "You cannot go in the
land." Moses prayed in Numbers 27:1214, "Lord, let me go." In
Deuteronomy 1:37 he prayed again, "Lord, what about it?" Three times
he sought the Lord, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 about the thorn in the flesh,
and three times the Lord said, "It is enough. It is enough. You cannot go
into the land." For this intercessor who often pled the case for others,
and who had brought tremendous response in the heart of God, now pays dearly
because of the public nature of what he had engaged in.
Our text, therefore, has a solemn note to it. Not that his
salvation was lost. Not his own place and recognition of all that he had done
as the choice servant of God who wrote the Scriptures. Rather as the one who
could see to the end the completion of his work as they entered into the land.
The Lord said, "It is enough." "For these are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel
fought, where they contended with the Lord. And he showed himself holy among
them" (verse 13).
We are told that in any given audience, 60 percent of the people
are wrestling with an extremely difficult need and problem for which they
themselves can see no answer. If this congregation is typical, it's to you and
to others like you, to all of us at one time or another in our life that I
bring this text. And I say God wants you and me to see this night between where
you are at Wit's End Cornerwhether it be in a marital difficulty, or personal
situation, or whether you are scared about international situations or
economics or where we're going to go or what's going to happen to your children
or grandchildrenthe biblical text says what you need to join where you are
worrying and where the greatness of God ishis Word.
So I need a decision. If God has spoken to you and to me this
night, then the decision we need to make is plain. Am I trusting alone in God's
faithfulness? Am I willing to bring whatever need, however basic it is, even if
it be as mundane as the need for water, am I willing to bring it to the living
God and let his Word speak peace, speak authority, speak direction, speak hope,
speak comfort into my own heart? I know you wish that. May God help you and
help me to depend upon himself and his Word. Speak the Word. Speak the Word.
And I pray that God may speak it into all of our hearts this night.
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Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. is currently president of GConwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and former president of Trinity Evangelical Theology Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has authored several books, including The Old Testament in Contemporary Preaching, and Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching.