We read that God commanded Moses to speak to the rock at Meribah so that water could flow out of it. Instead, Moses struck the rock with his staff:

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.—Numbers 20:10-13 (ESV)

In Exodus 17, we read a similar story (or perhaps another telling of the same incident) and God commanded the rock to be struck with the staff Moses struck the waters of the Nile with. It seems that God did not censor Moses then the way he does in Numbers. Further, the punishment seemed excessive to the crime. So:

  1. Was Moses' mistake in striking the rock rather than speaking to it?

  2. What factor made that mistake worth barring Moses from the Promised Land?

I'm particularly interested in evidence from the text itself to answer the second question.

  • 4
    The unique analysis offered here is the most compelling of any I've ever seen. Part I deals with the classical medieval Jewish commentators but Part II is an extremely thorough and close reading of the text. I may try to summarize the main points in this essay and offer it as an alternative answer.
    – Amichai
    Commented Sep 10, 2012 at 3:29
  • Are we in a position to decide if the punishment was excessive? I would say no.
    – user2067
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 5:14
  • Please note that the waters of Meribah are in the Kadesh area where the congregation of Israel stayed (Numbers 20:1 Kadesh, 20:13 Meribah) and the question has been answered as well, under the following heading “In Numbers 20 was Aaron as guilty as Moses in the incident at Kadesh? Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 19:56
  • Related: youtube.com/watch?v=87RV9M0xAeo
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 9:54
  • What's unsurprising about this? All of Israel's leaders were flawed people and would've doubted at times.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 2:45

13 Answers 13


What Moses did wrong is exactly what the Hebrews did wrong when they sent the spies and they believed the pesimistic report given by the spies. In both cases, G-d told them that they could do something that in any other circumstance would be considered a miracle . . . and they didn't believe Him.

Consider these facts. At Exodus 6:8 G-d promises to the Jewish people who were rising from slavery that "I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD." G-d had already delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptians -- His hand was not only evident but obvious. And yet, the nervous nellies among them wanted Moses to send out spies to scout out the area. Reluctantly he consents, and they came back with reports that indicate that the people living there seemed too formidable for them. The people panic (Numbers 14), wail and rebel. G-d asks Moses, "...how long will they not believe in Me, for all the signs which I have wrought among them?" Their punishment: They cannot enter the Land they had been promised; i.e. since they had no faith that G-d would get them there, He had no obligation to deliver the Land to them.

Turn to Moses at Meribah. G-d tells Moses to speak to a rock and water would come (Num. 20:8). What? Until then, every miracle Moses had done was through actions. He raised his cane; he threw it down; he parted his hands; he threw up dust. Never had Moses done a miracle at the directin of G-d through speech. Afterall, G-d created the world through speech, and not action (Gen. 1:3 "And G-d said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light"). Moses, for whatever reason, is unable to get water from a rock through speech, so he falls back on using his cane as he had done before (Ex. 17:4). G-d is furious with this man with whom he had been speaking "face to face." "Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the Land which I have given them." Numbers 20:12 (referring to the second generation of Hebrews following the Exodus).

What do we learn? G-d means it when He gives you a commandment -- if He told you to do something, that means you have the capacity to be successful at that task. You can keep kosher, you can keep the Sabbath day, you can observe even the year of leaving farmland alone to lie fallow. If your own self-doubts lead you to question your ability to follow-through on G-d's commandments, you not only do not believe in yourself, but you also don't believe in G-d.

  • 1
    The connection between the punishment the people received for listening to 10 of the 12 spies with Moses' punishment is one I hadn't considered before. I don't see in the text that Moses actually tries speaking to the rock. It makes me wonder: did he feel foolish for trying or did he just neglect to do it in his anger and frustration. At any rate, thanks for the answer; it's helpful. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 22:33
  • 1
    Actually, it was God who asked Moses to send the spies (Numbers 13:1,2).
    – rockyroad
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 9:32

Restating the problem

The traditional interpretation is well-known that Moses struck the rock rather than speaking to it. The OP himself is well aware of this tradition but is hesitant to accept, because the offense seems too petty to warrant such a harsh punishment. Why make a big deal of how the water was produced? God asked Moses to perform a miracle in front of the Israelite crowd in order to sanctify His name (this is evident from v. 12), and it seems like this was achieved by Moses’ striking just as much as it would have been through him speaking. So why the harsh punishment.

Furthermore, v. 12 makes it clear that Moses’ offense was his lack of belief/trust in Yahweh. However according to the traditional approach this can hardly be considered a lack of trust. It would be more appropriate to call it an act of disobedience, but why talk about lack of trust in Yahweh when Moses performed the miracle of hitting the rock in front of their eyes trusting in Yahweh that He will bring forth water from a lifeless rock?!

Traditional interpretation vs. others

We may be tempted to just discredit the traditional interpretation and move on to some other more satisfying explanation. But mush to our dismay there are no better explanations. Most of the alternative interpretations are not supported from the text but require some imagination on the readers part, and they rest on speculation and theory rather than on solid hermeneutical grounds. One needs to look no further than Nahmanides’ commentary where the author brings no less than ten different interpretations of the sin of Meribah, only to discount them all. The traditional approach on the other hand is readily apparent to the reader and requires no imagination from the reader and is thus hermeneutically superior to others. That is why I choose to stick with this interpretation. But at the same time there is no denying that there are some serious philosophical problems with this approach, which makes it a bit unappealing to the modern scholar. I myself have been grappling with this problem many years, I read it and reread it many times in the hope that I will find something that I have missed, alas there was nothing to be found. Eventually I resigned and concluded that the answer must lie in the traditional approach as it seemed the most natural reading.

Striking the Rock: Miracle or Natural Phenomenon

To solve this biblical riddle I want to suggest that the author in Num. 20 did not perceive striking the rock as a supernatural act but rather as mundane act of digging. The image of Moses striking a rock with his rod miraculously causing the inanimate rock to bring forth water is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we take it for granted but its not necessarily how the author in Num. 20 viewed it. According to Issar, Bedouins of southern Sinai dig into crystalline rocks to find wells, and it is not far fetched that Moses engaged in similar practice of digging and chipping away at the limestone with his rod to find a well. Once the wall of an aquifer has been penetrated, gravity would compel the water to rush through rocks and cracks to fill up the newly created basin with water giving the appearance of the rocks giving forth its water, hence the expression "stike the rock and water shall spring from it" (Exodus 11:6). According to another source, Bedouins actually dug their wells with pointed sticks. It is quite remarkable that Numbers 21:18 also describes the practice of chieftains digging wells with their staffs and rods,

It's the well that the leaders dug, the one carved out by the nobles of the people with their scepters and staffs. (ISV).

The fact that striking instead of digging is used in v. 11 must not deter us, for a striking motion may have been used to crack open dried up rocks and reveal the water underneath. Thus hitting or striking the rock may have seemed the most natural way to describe Moses’ actions. (I am not saying that the biblical authors understood exactly how this process worked, only that they were aware that it was something natural).

The Solution

If we are right in supposing that this is how it has been originally understood, then I think we may better understand where Moses went wrong here. God specifically told Moses to speak to the rock and not to strike it, because he wanted to teach the Israelites that nothing is beyond His reach. Here the Lord wanted to demonstrate His power by having Moses speak to the rock and command it to give forth water, they in turn would be dumbstruck by this miraculous act and an essential lesson would be learnt, and they would stop doubting Yahweh's competence. Instead Moses went and dug through the rock to find a well. Perhaps Moses was desperate and needed to act fast and thereby lost himself, whatever it was, Moses demonstrated a lack of trust in God’s word; in a moment of haste Moses doubted God’s ability to perform the supernatural thereby failing to sanctify God’s name.

In fact, this is not the first time Moses doubted God’s ability to provide for his people, see for example Num. 11:21-24 where Moses demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord. Here too Moses lost himself and questioned God’s ability to perform miracles, except this time he didn't get away with it and deserved his punishment and was barred entry to the land of Canaan.

It should be noted though that there are some biblical passages in which the act of splitting rocks clearly has miraculous connotations. In some places (Psalm 114:8) it is even likened to the splitting of the Red Sea and the eating of the manna (Deut. 8:15), acts of wonders which are clearly perceived as miraculous phenomena by the biblical authors. I am merely suggesting that the author of Num. 20 may have viewed it differently.

And contrary to some bible scholars who believe that the Rock narrative in Exodus 17 stands in direct opposition to Num. 20 I think that they actually complement each other. Exodus 17 sheds light on Moses’ actions here and why he struck the rock rather than speak to it. Moses may have relied on previous experience where he struck the rock and it yielded water. Moses was using the same method he was taught previously by God himself. Only this time God had told him not to.


Numbers 20:7-13 (DRB)

7 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 8 Take the rod, and assemble the people together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak to the rock before them, and it shall yield waters. And when thou hast brought forth water out of the rock, all the multitude and their cattle shall drink. 9 Moses therefore took the rod, which was before the Lord, as he had commanded him, 10 And having gathered together the multitude before the rock, he said to them: Hear, ye rebellious and incredulous: Can we bring you forth water out of this rock? 11 And when Moses had lifted up his hand, and struck the rock twice with the rod, there came forth water in great abundance, so that the people and their cattle drank, 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: Because you have not believed me, to sanctify me before the children of Israel, you shall not bring these people into the land, which I will give them. 13 This is the Water of contradiction, where the children of Israel strove with words against the Lord, and he was sanctified in them.

We can conclude one sure thing: what was commanded and what was done by Moses differed to a degree that made God view it as faithless.

Therefore, we must analyze what was commanded, and what was done, and how they differ.

What was commanded:

  • Take the rod: no mention of using it for anything other than livestock or gathering.
  • Assemble the people together.
  • Speak to the rock.

What was done:

  • The rod was taken.
  • The people were gathered together.
  • Prefaced their asking God for a miracle with "Can/Shall we?"
  • Struck the rock with the rod: namely twice. May or may not also have spoken to it.

In my view, a few things indicate a spirit of faithlessness:

  • Not believing that speaking to the rock was sufficient, or would look foolish, despite the promise of God, so striking it, as something more 'tangible.' Amounting to a concession of and condescension to poor faith.

  • They introduced a spirit of doubt by the interrogative ה (when prefixed to a word, it turns it into the interrogative form: i.e. "We shall" into "Can we?" or "Shall we?"). Whereas they had been assured of it by God, and so should have assured the people in like manner.

  • Striking the rock instead of speaking denoted provocation—like 'poking.' Or a 'works based' approach to receiving the grace, mercy, gifts, etc. of God. 'Our God is on demand.'

  • Striking the rock twice cements the above point, and makes it worse: God 'needs to be told' twice to 'obey.'

This episode served as an embarrassment to God instead of occasioning his hallowing by the people: thus God punishes them and causes them to know His holiness: יקדש "he hallowed" himself.

  • +1 for God needs to be told twice to obey Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 6:54

Moses did the same thing that Nadab and Abihu did in Leviticus 10, and the same thing that Saul did in 1 Samuel 15--almost what God said but not quite.

  • God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come out. Moses strikes the rock. As a result he is not allowed to go into the Promised Land.

  • God gave specific instructions as to how priests were to offer incense, but Nadab and Abihu used profane (or common) fire instead of the fire from the altar, kindled by God. As a result they were consumed by fire from the Lord.

  • God told Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites, including all their animals. Saul kills everything except for King Agag and the best of the animals. The animals he intended to offer as sacrifices later. As a result Saul is rejected by God as king over Israel.

All of these are examples of disobedience, and illustrate that even what us humans might consider 'small' things matter a great deal to God.

  • 1
    Indeed, hence: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." (1 Samuel 15:22) Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 12:35

What exactly did Moses do wrong at Meribah?

God instructed Moses to do three things, 1/ "Take the rod", 2/ "Assemble the congregation" and 3/ "Speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water."

Recommend reading Numbers 20: 7-13

Numbers 20:7-8 (NASB)

7 "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.”

Moses obeyed the first and second directive, but he disobeyed God on the third directive, instead of speaking to the rock in faith, he spoke with bitterness to the congregation, "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."(Verses 10-11)

By disobeying God's command Moses and Aaron committed a serious sin. God said to them. (Numbers 20:24)"Because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah you will not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. " Moses and Aaron accused the people of being rebels, but by going against God's directive they also became rebels themselves, the judgement was certain : Moses and Aaron will not guide the people of Israel into the promised land.

24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah.

Mistakes made by Moses and Aaron at Meribah.

1/ He failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the people of Israel: (Verse 12)

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

2/ God did not command Moses to speak to the people of Israel, let alone refer to them as rebels. (Verse 10)

3/ Moses spoke as if He and Aaron were to bring water and not God. (Verse 10)

10 "And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”

4/ As leaders of Israel with responsibility , they were more accountable to God:

Luke 12:48 (NASB)

48 " But the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more."

So in line with his previous judgement on the rebels of the previous generation , that God denied entrance into Canaan, God therefore did not permit Moses and Aaron to enter the promised land.


God gave Moses instruction to strike the rock on the first occasion that water was provided in this manner.

Behold, 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. (Exodus 17:6, KJV)

But this was the second time that God provided water from the rock, and God had given a different set of instructions this time.

Take 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. (Numbers 20:8, KJV)

Moses, unfortunately, committed two errors on this occasion which, for a leader in his position were both grave: first, by saying "must we fetch you water out of this rock?", Moses took partial credit to himself for the miracle that God was to provide; secondly, by striking the rock, twice, in place of speaking to it, he had not followed God's instructions.

Both of these errors came from anger, which may well have been righteous indignation, which is not of itself sin, but Moses had failed to control himself and had allowed his emotions to cause him to sin. As the Bible teaches, we should not sin in our (righteous) anger: "Be ye angry, and sin not" (Ephesians 4:26, KJV).

Yet the record says:

And 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? (Numbers 20:10, KJV)

And 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. (Numbers 20:11, KJV)

The word translated as "believed" in the next verse . . .

Then the Lord spoke to 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. (Numbers 20:12, KJV)

... comes from a Hebrew verb in its Hifil form that can also mean "to trust" or "to stand firm." Moses had not stood firm. He had not been faithful, nor had his actions helped the people to maintain their trust in God.

  • Moses hadn't read Ephesians, so that was unfair.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 3:01
  • @steveowen Thank you, Steve, for the edits correcting my mistakes. I'm a bit under the weather this week and my vision is blurred. The mistakes were certainly unintentional. RE: Moses, God spoke with him face to face. He didn't need to read Ephesians to know this. He'd been developing patience for 40 years as a shepherd in training for this mission. :)
    – Polyhat
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 3:15

Moses didn’t want the ‘job’ in the first place. At the end of a long exchange that reflected Moses’s reluctance we read …

EXODUS 4:13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.”

Then having to endure years in the wilderness with this ‘stiff necked people’, and multiple issues, including numerous examples of the people murmuring against Moses….

EXODUS 17:3 And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses

But worse we’re those moments when they wanted to stone Moses.

EXODUS 17:4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!”

Moses wasn’t a ‘super human’. He was listed as being ‘meek’, so maybe had ‘super human tolerance’? But even that would arguably have limits.

Either way, this ‘reverting back into his flesh’ and reacting ‘in the flesh’ was costly! (unfortunately) They were at this time ‘under Law’ - and in this ‘moment’ Moses violated the first commandment - and because they were in the wilderness, Moses had to die - this being the (only possible) penalty. Some would argue that Satan ‘incites the flesh’ - as he did with David, inciting David to number Israel - and that could well be argued to have happened with Moses.

As Paul says in Romans, the Law ‘incites’ the flesh. The Law provokes ‘sin’. That’s what ‘got through’ to Moses. The first time Moses ‘struck’ a Rock (to produce water), they were not yet under the Law. The difference here is ‘the Law’.

The point being, the ‘flesh’ can not keep the Law. True for even the best.


In Exodus 4:13,14, after God has reassured Moses that He will be with him, Moses makes one final attempt to get out of the job God has ordained for him. In verse 14 we read that God's anger burned against Moses, as if God were about to perhaps kill him.

But instead of doing so, God apparently restrains His anger and then, with no apparent residual anger, complies with Moses' cowardice by providing Aaron to be his spokesman. There's no explicit reason given as to why God relented from letting His anger fully break out on Moses. Maybe it was because it was early on and God saw that Moses was still weak in his faith.

But by the time we get to Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it, Moses presumably had much more experience in seeing how God had been with him, and for Moses to then "backslide" like that at this juncture was not something that God could allow without punishment, in this case, Moses not being allowed to cross the Jordan.


What exactly did Moses do wrong at Meribah?

Moses hit the mountain with his staff, instead of speaking to it, as God had told him to do.

Why did he do it?

Moses acted the way he did because he was compelled to do so by God's abstract "big picture" guidance:

Since Moses stood for an external law, Josuah had to bring the Israelites into the promised land, because he forshadowed Jesus; who came to fulfill the law.

Acts 13:39 (NIV) "Through him [Jesus] everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses".

Mat 5:17 (NIV) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them".

Gal 3:24-26 (NIV) "In fact, the Law was our teacher. It was supposed to teach us until we had faith and were acceptable to God. But once a person has learned to have faith, there is no more need to have the Law as a teacher. All of you are God’s children because of your faith in Christ Jesus".

Moses' wrongly commited act at the mountain, is similar to Jesus' wipping of the merchants in the temple. As far as God was concerned, in these two cases the end justified the means.

Phil 2:13 (NIV) "God ... works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose".

Moses needed to step back so Josuah could take over, and Jesus needed to be crucified on that passover.

Another striking similarity between the Meribah incident and the Passion of Christ is that God specifically told Moses to take the staff with him, and in a similar fashion Jesus told his disciples to bring a sword to Getsemane.

Luk 22:36-38 (NIV) “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied”.

John 18:10 (NIV) "Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear".

Luk 22:51 (NIV) "But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him".

Moreover, God hardened Pharao so that he would act in accordance with the big scheme at hand.

Ex 9:12 (NIV) "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron".

Thus, both Pharaoh, Moses, and Peter, were compelled to act according to God's abstract "big picture" guidance. Nevertheless, these people had to bear the consequences of their actions; which in Pharoh's case was pretty grim.

What these three people did wrong is clearly stated in the Bible, why they did what they did is, however, not clearly seen.


Love your request on question 2 for "....from the text". So here are some thoughts from a simple sojourner hopefully from the text....no modern doctrine included:) Apologies have to set the table with some backstory - as would never take just one verse and make wide-sweeping conclusions eh......

1) Moses grows up in Pharaoh's house learning the way of Empire and ruling with the "stick" of violence and power for many years. He is basically a Prince of Egypt eh? Ex 2:12 - Sees some injustice and nakah (strikes to kill) the Egyptian - so has to bail.

2) He heads into the desert where he learns to be a what? A shepherd - where he learns to lead with his "voice" (sheep follow the shepherds voice). Ex 3:1.

3) He becomes the "leader" of Israel and leads them out of the empire of Egypt and into a covenant relationship with Yahweh - consummated at Sinai where Moses even acts like a priest and intercedes for the people because of the whole "golden calf" idolatry/adultery episode, Ex 32:11-14. He does this other times as well. E.g. Intercedes for Aaron & Miriam in Numbers 12.

4) God and the people get to yada "know" or "experience" each other as they wander around the desert. This God continually rescues them in spite of them being "stiff-necked" and sometimes rebellious.

5) One of the early pre-covenant "testing/rescues" prior to the covenant at Sinai is in Ex 17 with the waters at Rephidim / Meribah with key verse being 17:6.

6) Story continues - they agree to the covenant and continue albeit with some struggles on their way to the promised land - get the Tabernacle for Yahweh to go with them, get the laws/sacrifices to live by and be set apart to bring shalom and put Yahweh on display and "bless all nations" as was the initial call/blessing of Abraham in Gen 12 & 15. And they seem to be doing OK the 1st 10 chapters of Numbers. Then they go all "stiff-necked again beginning in Numbers Ch 11.

7) We get complaining, rebellion by Moses' own brother and sister, followed by the lack of faith when spying out the land, followed by Korah and his crew, followed by more complaining about water after Moses' sister dying....etc. We can certainly understand Moses getting pretty fed up.

8) And we end up where again - back at Kadesh (also becomes Meribah). This would be connecting the two passages in the text Numbers (see Tim Mackie and others re "design patterns, or "hyper-links in ancient near eastern literature).

9) So we might want to compare 17:5-7 with Numbers 20:8-11. With extra focus on 17:6 & 20:10-11. Almost exactly the same - so same place, same issue, same end result (Yahweh gives them water) - with one slight difference. Both times Moses does what to the rock "nakah" it, "strikes to kill". So what's the difference - can we see it?

10) So yes, God told Moses to "speak to the rock" to "lead with his voice" as he learned shepherding in the desert, not "the stick" like he had learned back in Egypt under Pharaoh. And he decided to strike - he had done that before right. But perhaps the real key was who was standing paniym - "in front" of the rock? Ex 17 clearly says Yahweh was - Numbers 20 says Moses put "the people" in front of the rock.

11) So instead of Yahweh taking the blow (like in Ex 17), Moses struck and "the people" took the blow. Thus Moses had made Yahweh look just like the Gods of Eqypt Yahweh had just rescued them from. Another God who had to be appeased, who ruled through violence, intimidation and the stick, instead of the shepherd God who ruled with the voice and was willing to take the blow for His people.

12) By now Moses should have known better - he represented a different God, both in power and in mercy. Immediately Yahweh responds with "because you did not represent me as ...etc." So was it about striking instead of speaking, maybe a part to of it, but there had already been other missteps with much much less or no punishment at all....it was likely way more about Moses misrepresenting Yahweh to the people He was preparing to go into the promised land and represent Him to the nations. This God was willing to take the blow even for rebellious and "stiff-necked" people. Hhhmmm....

So some ideas from a sojourner to hagah "meditate" on based on the text, enjoy! Sources include Marty Solomon @bemadiscipleship.com, and Rabbi David Fohrman @alephbeta.org. Shalom!


“and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” ‭‭(I Corinthians‬ ‭10:4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

  • Jesus was struck on the cross at his first coming (John 19:34)
  • His second coming He will tread the wine press with a sharp sword out of His mouth (Revelation 19:15)

I believe Moses striking the “Rock” twice broke the prophetic pattern God was setting for the Messiah.

  • Hi Twhi, welcome! «I believe Moses striking the “Rock” twice broke the prophetic pattern God was setting for the Messiah.», can you provide references for that? Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 6:52

The key verse is Num. 20:12: "You did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the sons of Israel" (v. 12a). This means that Moses and Aaron had not sanctified God; they had not separated God from themselves. Moses' speaking was wrong and his striking was also wrong. His spirit was completely wrong, and he represented God in a wrong way.

As God's authorial representative, Moses should have represent Him properly. But he implicated God in his error.

God's dealing with Moses and Aaron meant that this act was committed by Moses and Aaron only, and that God had no part in it. Perhaps, Israel's murmuring could have been a rebellion in attitude only; their spirit might have been different. This is why God did not judge them. Moses should not have judged them rashly when God had not judged them. He should not have uttered any unrestrained words according to himself.

So when Moses makes a mistake and does not confess it, God has to step forward to vindicate Himself.


Let’s understand that the purpose of the signs is to increase faith, to make a person believe God can save in all situations:

Numbers 14:11The LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?

This is because the Way God makes a person a blessing to the world is when that person picks up a cross, puts himself in danger, like Jesus did everyday in confronting the authorities, and God performs a sign to save us from that danger. The blessing happens when all who see the sign realise that God can save from the dangers that come up when He asks us to live selfless lives.

Notice that God continues to perform signs even when Pharaoh has been neutralised. Even stranger, it is not Pharoah creating dangerous situations, but God doing so, in putting Israel at risk of dying from thirst and hunger. God then saved, by providing food and water.

Notice that this is exactly what God did with Abraham, creating calamities that forced Abraham to seek relief in the palaces of kings. Abraham tries to protect himself from the threat of death, because of the rulers coveting Sarah, by lying that she is not his wife, but it is God who saves from those dangers. Where Abraham differs from Israel is that he learns that God is trying to teach him to trust, because the only way people will listen to God's command to live selfless lives, is if they see God protecting those who obey this command. Abraham realises, also, that this is how the promise to him that he would be a blessing to the world would be fulfilled. So when God asks him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham believes people will be blessed by seeing God save, because he fully expects God to return Isaac back alive to him.

Hebrews 11:19He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Israel, on the other hand lost the opportunity to be used by God, to motivate people to follow God, when she refused to face the Amalekites.

The model is this:

  1. God creates a cross
  2. Believer picks up the cross
  3. God raises up the believer from the threat

People are motivated to live selfless lives, lives of picking up the cross, in order to motivate others to gather, like they gather, to bring back God’s sheep.

John 15:12This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

The important point is that the saving act must be acknowledged to have come from God, the glory given to Him:

John 14:10"Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.

So the sin Moses committed was in not giving God credit for the miracle, because people are saved not by following Moses, but by following God.

Another point I read, in a thread on this forum, is that God used Israel as an oracle bearer, to manifest information that would help believers to recognise the Messiah, and help them obey him. Circumcision was a prophecy that the penalty for non performance of the Sinaitic Covenant would be paid by Messiah, just as the act of Abraham walking between the halves of the animal signified what the penalty was, for not fulfilling the covenant. The penalty was paid by Christ, because Scripture says, “Cursed is the One who is hung on a tree”.

Gaalatians 3:13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE "--

So what was the prophecy manifested in the command to speak to the Rock? If we go back, we read that Moses struck the rock on a previous occasion, and caused water to flow out. This prophecy was fulfilled when israel struck the Rock on the Cross, causing the Holy Spirit to be given. However, since Israel was made a vessel of dishonour, the Holy Spirit was given to non Jews:

Galatians 3: 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Did God’s word fail? No, because God also commanded Moses to speak to the Rock at Meribah, to get water a second time. This was a prophecy that Israel would also receive the Holy Spirit, when she confessed, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord”! Unfortunately Moses failed to deliver the oracle, so that was also counted as a sin by God!

All Scripture from the NASB.

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