God Meets the Need: The Rock and the Rod
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 17. We are discussing the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel. The children of Israel had been brought gloriously out of the land of Egypt, but they were not led directly to the land of promise. They could have been led directly there through the land of the Philistines, and their journey would not have lasted forty years. God, for two reasons, did not so lead them.

One reason was that there was warfare in the land of the Philistines, and God felt that if He led them through this land of warfare they would be discouraged and would give up even before they started. This was an illustration of God's constant concern for our welfare.

Another reason, or several reasons related to one, given in chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, was that God led them through the wilderness in order that He might learn what was in their hearts–whether they would obey Him or not, whether they would follow where He led.

It was not so much that God needed to know what was in their hearts, because He knows our hearts. It was they who needed to know, because, like us, quite often they were ignorant of the real condition of their hearts. Oftentimes we declare, we think in the sincerity of our hearts, that we will do certain things for the Lord; and it is only when the real test comes that we find that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and that no man can really know it (Jeremiah 17:9). That is not a thing to be so discouraged about that you want to give up and quit; rather, something to rejoice in is that the grace of God covers all our human failings. God in His grace and in His mercy, as we are going to see, makes provision for us.

Israelites' Failure to Trust God

There are two very interesting incidents in this chapter. We will read from verse 1 of Exodus, chapter 17:

Exodus 17

1And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.
2Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink, And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?
3And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?
4And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.
5And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.
6Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
7And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?

Thus ends the paragraph which presents the incident that we want to consider. You will notice that the chapter begins with the word “and.” That is important to notice. It is not put there idly; it is there to remind us that once again failure was cropping up in the lives of the Israelites who had been so gloriously delivered from the land of Egypt. I do not believe that we can overemphasize that, because all too often new Christians fail; and when they fail, they want to give up and quit because they feel that it is inconsistent with Christian testimony. We might say to you that Christians fail more often than not. This certainly was illustrated in the life of the Israelites.

You will remember that shortly after they were delivered from the land of Egypt, there was a real need in their lives for water, described in chapter 15 of the book of Exodus. They came to a place called Marah, a name they gave it because the waters they found there were bitter. God instructed Moses to put a tree in the waters, and the waters became sweet. They saw how in a marvelous, miraculous way God provided water for them in a dry and thirsty land where no water was (Psalm 63:1). You would think that when they came to Rephidim and there was no water in the wilderness, they would not be concerned. You would think that they would have said, “Moses, we don't have any water. What plan does God have for providing water for us now?” But they did not! They did not ask what plan God had; they did not quietly wait for God's provision.

Moses Turns to God

Notice, in verse 2, what they did:

Exodus 17

2The people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?

This word “chide” is an interesting word; it is a stronger word than “murmuring.” It doesn't mean that they asked Moses a simple, little question. It means that they waited upon Moses in a group, ready to do him bodily harm; and this meaning of the word is borne out if you will look at what Moses had to say to God in verse 3:

Exodus 17

3And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?
4And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.

They meant to do exactly that! If Moses could not provide water for them, they intended to stone him. Well, this chiding certainly involved the physical harm they intended to bring to Moses. The reason we emphasize this is that we want you to realize that this people who had seen God work so marvelously three different times since they had been delivered from the land of Egypt were still so discouraged that they were ready to do the servant of the Lord violent harm. Moses said to them, “Why do ye chide with me?” The tone of Moses' question was: “What are you arguing with me about? Why are you angry with me?” Why would Moses say a think like that? I think you will find the answer in verse 1 of this chapter:

Exodus 17

1And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, [notice this statement now] according to the commandment of the LORD…

Moses said to them, “What are you fussing at me about? God brought us to Rephidim. I didn't lead you here. God led you here, and God knew there was no water here. Why are you fussing with me?”

It might be a good idea for all of us to stop and ask ourselves why we rail out at the people around us when things don't go the way we think they ought to go. If at the beginning of the day we ask the Lord to direct our footsteps, if at the beginning of the day we ask the Lord to plan our day for us, and the Lord plans a day that is distracting, the Lord plans a day that is irritating, the Lord plans a day that is exceedingly difficult, why do we get mad at the folk around us? Why do we blame them for the situation in which we find ourselves? Perhaps you don't, but I find myself doing that consistently, getting irritated with people. That cannot please the Lord, particularly if you are expecting the Lord to guide your footsteps aright, because what it amounts to is that you are irritated with the Lord. That is why Moses asked this second question, which you find in the last part of the verse, “Wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? Why are you chiding with me? I didn't bring you here. Why are you tempting the Lord?”

Testing the Patience of God

What does it mean to tempt the Lord? What did Moses mean when he asked this question? Glance down at verse 7:

Exodus 17

7And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?

The word “Massah” means “temptation”; the word “Meribah” means “strife.” They tempted the Lord in this fashion: They said, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” That is tantamount to saying, “Did the Lord bring us here? If He did bring us here, we don't think He did a very good job.” Have you been guilty of tempting the Lord? Have you been guilty of testing the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us? Is He really in this? Did He really lead me? Is this really His plan for me? Is this particular trial really what He wants for me? Is it?”

You say, “How can that possibly be testing the Lord?” Well, as you will see as we go farther along in the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel, it was testing the patience of God. It was trying the patience of God. Oh, how patient He is! How carefully He makes provision for us, and He lets us know He is making that provision, and how patiently He waits and acts in grace when we criticize everything that He does!

These people were chiding with Moses; they were tempting the Lord. And what was Moses doing? I have always been grateful for verse 4: “Moses cried unto the Lord.” Notice that he did not try to settle these things peacefully; he did not call a meeting and say, “Let's work something out.” He just went before the Lord; he cried unto the Lord, saying, “What shall I do unto this people? I am at my wit's end; I do not know what to do. What can I do?” It is an interesting commentary to me on the respective spiritual conditions of the people involved when we notice that the people chided with Moses, but Moses cried unto the Lord.

May I ask you, with what do you occupy your time? Do you occupy your time striving, chiding with people and with circumstances that are not well pleasing to you and that irritate you, or do you spend your time talking with the Lord? That suggests a good commentary on the spiritual condition of people. People whose hearts are hard toward the Lord and full of unbelief spend their time chiding. People whose hearts are tender toward the Lord spend their time talking with Him. God never disappoints.

The Rock In Horeb

Notice verse 5:

Exodus 17

5And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.
6Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

The first thing to which I would like to direct our attention in these two verses is God's reference to the rock in Horeb. The sense of that verse in the original text is that it was a specific rock–a rock about which Moses already knew, a rock that was familiar to him. “Moses, you go to the rock in Horeb.” I wonder how Moses knew about that rock. He had been with the children of Israel all the time since they left the land of Egypt. To what particular rock could God be referring with such familiarity? I think the answer is found back in chapter 3 of the book of Exodus. You remember that Moses spent forty years in the desert in preparation for leading the children of Israel these forty years in the wilderness, and part of the time spent in the desert was in this very same territory:

Exodus 3

1Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

The reason God could call the attention of Moses to this particular rock was that this rock had often been a source of tremendous blessing to Moses while he was keeping the sheep on the backside of the desert. It was a rock that had been a great blessing to Moses in a land that was exceedingly dry. The word “Horeb” actually means “dryness.” If you will turn to chapter 32 of the book of Isaiah, verses 1 and 2, there is a promise which describes what the rock could have meant to Moses:

Isaiah 32

1Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.
2And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

How often Moses had stayed in the shadow of that great rock. In that weary land, weary as he was from the care of the sheep day after day, how often had he taken shelter in the shadow of that rock. Going back to Exodus, chapter 17, it is as though we hear God saying, “Moses, that rock that has meant so much to you, that rock that has provided such refreshment in times past, go to that rock and I will meet you there.”

The Provision of Water

God had often met him in the shadow of that rock, and He said, “I will meet you at that rock once more. Now,” He said to Moses, “there are several things I want you to do. I want you to take the elders of Israel with you, because I want this to be a lasting testimony to all the children of Israel.” And it was; at least five songs in the hymn book of Israel were written because of this incident. “I want them to witness what is going to happen. I want you to take the rod with you that you used to strike the river.” What rod was that? What happened when he used it? Let us turn back to chapter 7 of the book of Exodus, verse 17:

Exodus 7

17Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mind hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.
18And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water of the river.
19And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

The rod with which Moses was to strike the rock was the rod of judgment. That is exceedingly important for us to keep in mind for purposes we will mention in just a few minutes. So Moses took the rod; he smote the rock and there came out water–not just a little trickle of water, mind you, but rivers and fountains of water that stayed with the children of Israel for an indefinite period, that all their thirst might be quenched indefinitely.

I mentioned that some of the songs in the hymn book of Israel were based upon this incident, and I would like for you to notice one or two of them with me. In those songs there is information about what exactly happened here that is not recorded in the immediate context. Turn with me to Psalm 78 which was written by Asaph. He was reviewing the marvelous things that God had done for His people:

Psalm 78

15He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
16He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.

Isn't that an amazing thing–not just a simple little trickle of water that lasted for a moment, but water in streams and water that were caused to run down like rivers.

Turn to Psalm 105, please, verse 41:

Psalm 105

41He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river.
42For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant.

Then will you turn to Psalm 114, verse 8:

Psalm 114

8Which turned the rock into a standing water [ a standing pool ], the flint [ rock ] into a fountain of waters.

All these verses in the Psalms were written about this particular event, and they remind us that when God caused the water to rush out of the rock, it was not a meager provision, it was ample provision for everyone. It is a wise illustration of the grace of God. He should have smitten them instead of the rock! They were tempting Him; they deserved it, with all their complaining and all their murmuring; but instead of smiting them, He smote the rock, and therein lies the real lesson that the Holy Spirit would have us to get from this Scripture.

The Rock Pictures Christ

Since the best commentary on any portion of the Word of God is a commentary which the Holy Spirit makes somewhere else, turn with me, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 10 verse 1:

I Corinthians 10

1Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
2And all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
3And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
4And did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

Here is a definite statement that the lesson that we need to learn from Exodus, chapter 17, is that the rock in Horeb which was smitten to provide the water of life for the Israelites is a perfect picture of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Turn, please, to Isaiah, chapter 53. I said that God should have smitten the people; they were the ones who deserved it. They were the ones who were tempting God; they were the ones who were exposing themselves to the wrath of God. Instead of striking them, God struck the rock. You remember the words of Isaiah, chapter 53. The whole chapter is marvelous:

Isaiah 53

3He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

These verses are speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the rock in the wilderness was smitten in the place of the people there, the Lord Jesus Christ was smitten by God in place of you and me. Remember, the rod that Moses used in the wilderness for smiting of the rock was the rod of judgment, and the rod which God used to smite His Son was the rod of the judgment which we deserved. Glance at verse 5 of Isaiah, chapter 53, again:

Isaiah 53

5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

The Source of Living Waters

Turn with me, please, to the Gospel of John, chapter 4, to refresh your minds concerning the interview which the Lord Jesus Christ had with a woman at the well of Samaria. You will remember that the Lord Jesus Christ sat down on the curb of Jacob's well and engaged the woman of Samaria in conversation by asking her for a drink of water. She tried to evade the issue, wanting to know why He, a Jew, would ask water of her, a woman of Samaria; and He answered her in verse 10:

John 4

10…If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

What came out of the rock? Water–living water! Who is the gift of God? The Lord Jesus Christ. Who is the Lord Jesus Christ? The Rock of the wilderness. What could this woman expect from the Lord Jesus Christ? Living water! In verse 12:

John 4

12Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
13Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
14But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

“The water that I shall give him shall be a well of water.” What was it that Asaph said about that rock in the wilderness? He said that when Moses smote the rock in the wilderness, that rock became a pool–a well of water that never ran dry for the children of Israel.

Turn, please, to chapter 7, verse 37, of the Gospel of John. In the last days of the Feast of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus Christ was in the temple:

John 7

37…Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.

There was nothing new about this; it was what He had said to the woman at the well of Samaria. Now He amplifies it, telling us what the water is–the water that will quench our thirst, the water that will be a continuous provision for our needs:

John 7

38He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly (or out of his innermost being), shall flow rivers of living water.

What was it the Psalmist said about that rock? When Moses struck it back yonder in the wilderness, rivers of water gushed out–not just a little trickle, but rivers of water that continuously flowed. Listen to John's explanation of what Jesus said. Jesus did not say what was in verse 39. His statement ended with verse 38. But John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, told us what Jesus had in mind when He said that:

John 7

39But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.

That makes it clear, doesn't it? John said, “What Jesus was talking about is this: When He is smitten as that rock in the wilderness, then He will ascend into Heaven and will sit down at the right hand of the throne of God, and the Holy Spirit will come and take up His dwelling in our lives.” That is what happens the very moment you are born again; the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your life. You may not be conscious of it; you could not tell exactly when and how it happened, but the Word of God says it is so.

Then you become conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, because the Holy Spirit becomes not just a little pool of water, but a river of water flowing from your innermost being out to touch multitudes of lives who come in contact with you. That is why the Spirit of God, in commenting on Exodus, chapter 17, said that the rock in Horeb is really a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Event Repeated

I would like for us to anticipate ourselves by some thirty-eight years and turn to the book of Numbers, chapter 20, because I do not think that our meditation upon Exodus, chapter 17, would be complete without our noticing a repetition of this same event some thirty-eight years later. The repetition is identical in some respects, though different as far as the lesson is concerned:

Numbers 20

1Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
2And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
3And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!
4And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
5And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
6And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
7And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
8Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
9And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
11And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
12And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
13This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.

You can see why I said that there was a repetition of this incident some thirty-eight years later, with the details almost the same. One thing that was the same was that there was no water. Someone says, “Why no water? Did something happen to the rock that supplied the water?” No, the rock was still there. When there was need for water, God did not dig a new well. God did not take them to a new location. He directed their attention to the rock. What was wrong? The rock was there; the need was there. The people were out of fellowship with God. Instead of trusting, they were chiding; instead of believing, they were complaining.

God's Instructions to Moses

You will notice, in verse 3, that they chode with Moses; and they said, “Would to God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!” They were pretty miserable. In verse 4, they asked the question, “Why? Why have you brought up the congregation?” And in verse 5, “Wherefore have ye made us to come up out of the land of Egypt?” Complaining, chiding, fighting with Moses.

In verse 6, Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle had been built by this time; in Exodus, chapter 17, there was no Tabernacle; but now the Tabernacle had been built, and Moses and Aaron went to the door of the Tabernacle and fell on their faces before the Lord, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. In Exodus, chapter 17, they cried unto the Lord, and said, “What are we going to do?” In Numbers, chapter 20, they were so burdened that all they could do was to fall before the Lord and wait until God told them what to do. What did God tell them to do? Notice this carefully, because we are still thinking of the lesson the Holy Spirit would have us learn. “Take the rod.” What rod is that–the rod of judgment with which he smote the rock? No, not the rod of judgment, because the rock must not be smitten again. What rod was it? In verse 9, we are told what rod it was: “Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as he commanded him.”

The Rod of Intercession

I said that by this time the Tabernacle had been built. In the instructions related to the furnishings of the Tabernacle, instructions were given for the construction of an ark–a chest–and in the ark were to be placed three things: a little pot of manna, the tables of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments, and [notice carefully] Aaron's rod that budded. Not Moses' rod, not the rod with which Moses had struck the river, not the rod with which Moses had brought judgment upon Egypt–that was the rod of judgment. It was Aaron's rod–the rod of the great high priest, the rod of intercession and not of discipline.

What was it that Moses was instructed to take when he went before the rock again? Not the rod of judgment, but the rod of intercession, because the rock was not to be smitten any more. What did God say? “Take the rod; take Aaron who is your brother, the high priest, and speak unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give water.” God told Moses to speak to the rock, not smite it.

The word for “rock” is different here from what it was in chapter 17 of the book of Exodus. We will see why in a moment. Let me say that the word for “rock” here is a word that describes a rock high and lifted up–not a rock that is down, but a rock that is high and lifted up.

Moses Reacts In the Flesh

What did Moses do? “Oh,” you say, “he got the answer from the Lord, and he knew exactly what to do.” Do you know something? Moses was intensely human, and he was guilty of doing what you and I are guilty of doing any number of times. How many times have we gone before the Lord and prayed about something and we say, “Now, Lord, what is the right thing to do? What shall we do about this?” The Lord lets us know through the Word what we ought to do, and we arise from our knees and say, “Everything's settled; we know what we will do; we will follow the Lord.” Then when the real issue comes, the old flesh asserts itself; and instead of doing what God told us to do, we act in the flesh. When we do, we bring dishonor and disrepute to our God, just as Moses did. Notice verse 10:

Numbers 20

10And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?

That is the flesh talking. That is a heart that is yielded to the temptations of Satan and not to the wooing of the Spirit of God. “You've put us in a spot. You want to see something, do you?” Notice in verse 11, that he lifted up his hand; and with his rod he smote the rock–not once, but twice! Is this what God said to do? No! God said, “Moses, speak to the rock.” Instead of speaking to the rock, he smote the rock.

Why did he do it? Let us not be too hard on him. Let us turn to Psalm 106 and let the Spirit of God tell us why Moses did it. You know, that is the wonderful thing about the Word of God. You and I may not tell the whole story. In spite of ourselves, we are prejudiced; in spite of ourselves, we are one-sided in our comments; but the Word of God tells the whole story, giving the extenuating circumstances when it is necessary.

Psalm 106

32They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes:
33Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.

Isn't it good of the Holy Spirit not to let us think that Moses was deliberately rebellious? He really did not want to do what he did; he really did not want to say those things; he really did not want to strike the rock. We are told in Psalm 106 that the people angered him. He was one of those saints who never do get rid of their temper, but that did not excuse him. The Scriptures says it went ill with Moses because of the people.

Those are solemn words. Stop and think about them. Instead of criticizing some of the saints of God, I wonder whether we ought not to stop and consider that maybe the way we act makes them act the way they do. I wonder whether we ought not to stop and consider that perhaps we cause God to deal illy with some of his saints because we are responsible for provoking their spirit and causing them to speak unadvisedly with their lips. Have you been guilty of speaking unadvisedly with your lips because your spirit has been provoked? Have you said things you really did not want to say and that you really did not mean, but you were provoked into saying them? Well, Moses did, so he struck the rock instead of speaking unto it. What happened? “Oh,” you say, “he disobeyed God, so nothing happened.” No. “The water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.” If you want another illustration of the grace of God, there it is. There was a need, and even though Moses disobeyed the Lord and smote the rock instead of speaking to it, the water came out and the need was met.

May we digress for a moment, though it may not be a digression, to suggest that we should profit from this verse of Scripture and learn that many, many times God blesses the message of the man although He does not always approve of His methods. Will you remember that? Sometimes we get so involved in wanting everyone to do it exactly the way we do it, we don't believe God can bless unless it is done our way. Sometimes God blesses in spite of the methods.

Results of Disobedience

Now wait just a minute; don't jump to conclusions and say, “Oh, it doesn't matter.” Yes, it does! God blesses the message even though the method is not right, but He will deal with the messenger; you can be sure of that. If the messenger has disobeyed, even though God may bless the message, He will deal with the messenger, as He dealt with Moses. See what happened in verse 12:

Numbers 20

12And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

Do you realize what those words meant? “Moses, I told you to speak to the rock, and you didn't; you smote it.” Someone says, “What difference does it make? They got the water, didn't they?” Well, it made so much difference that God said, “Moses, I will not let you go into the promised land because you have done this.” Is that not a serious thing? People may say it does not matter what you do, that it does not matter whether you stay in fellowship with the Lord or not. As long as He forgives you, what difference does it make?

Turn to Psalm 99, please, for another comment on this incident of the rock and the water:

Psalm 99

8Thou answeredst them, O LORD our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.

You forgave them, but you took vengeance on their inventions. Beloved, that is the difference between grace and government in the economy of God, and you must keep both in mind. God forgives. He forgives the sin, but sometimes we have to reap the harvest that we planted, which does not nullify the forgiveness. God forgave Moses for striking the rock, but he had to reap the reward of disobedience by not going into the land of promise (Hebrews 2:2).

Judgment Mixed With Mercy

Turn with me, please, to Deuteronomy, chapter 32, verse 48:

Deuteronomy 32

48And the LORD spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying,
49Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession:
50And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
51[ Listen ] Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.
52Yet thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel.

Then in chapter 34, verse 1:

Deuteronomy 34

1And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the LORD shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan,
2And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea.

Isn't it wonderful how God mixed mercy with judgment? Was it not good of God to let Moses see the promised land even though he could not get into it? Notice verse 4:

Deuteronomy 34

4And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.
5So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
6And he [who? God] buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.

Even though God is a God of justice and must deal in judgment, He always mingles mercy with it.

Restoration to Fellowship

Now back to Numbers, chapter 20. What was so awful abut Moses' smiting the rock? It seems such a little thing. Remember from I Corinthians, chapter 10, that the rock was a type of Christ. When Moses struck the rock, he spoiled the type. We are reminded in Romans, chapter 6, of a truth that the Devil would like for us to forget. He would like for us to think that every time we get out of fellowship, we have to be saved all over again. He would like for us to think that every time we sin, Christ has to be crucified all over again. But in verse 9 we read:

Romans 6

9Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
10For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.

Notice the statement, “In that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” In Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 11, the same truth is emphasized even more clearly:

Hebrews 10

11And every high priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
12But this man [this man, Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God;
13From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
14For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

He died unto sin once. He was smitten one time, and when Moses smote the rock in Exodus, chapter 17, it was no longer necessary–never again necessary–to smite it again. If the waters get stopped up, you don't have to crucify Christ all over again. All you have to do is to speak to the Rock. How do you speak to the Rock? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). You don't have to be saved all over again. Figuratively speaking, the moment you recognize that the water is stopped, the moment you recognize that the Holy Spirit has been grieved, the moment you recognize that fellowship has been broken, you speak to the Lord about it. Tell Him that you have sinned; He will forgive you, and the waters will start to flow again.


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