It is not easy to provide for the needs of a people. In a desert environment, where even the most basic needs, like water and food, are scarce, it becomes a real challenge. Near the end of their forty years of wandering, the Israelites faced a severe shortage of water (Num. 20:2). Thirsty, they gathered around their leaders, who did not seem to understand their fears and empathize with them. Moses and Aaron did not offer any solution or encouragement. They listened and silently retreated to the Tent of Meeting.
There, God instructed them to “take the staff and gather the assembly … and speak to the rock, before their eyes, and bring water from the rock …” (Num. 20:8). God’s intention was to impress this generation of Israelites, who were about to enter the Promised Land, with a wondrous miracle, conducted right before their eyes. This intention was achieved when the gathered people witnessed Moses hit the rock with his staff and abundant water flowed out from it – an amazing miracle.
But Moses did not follow God’s instructions in full and diminished the magnificent event in several ways:
1. Before conducting the miracle, he spoke bitterly to the assembly “listen now, O rebels! Shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” (Num. 20:10). With these words he not only ignored the legitimate concerns of his people but displayed undignified contempt to them.
2. He did not speak to the rock, as instructed, but hit it with his staff. Did he forget the clear instruction? Did he improvise? Did he lose faith and thought that speaking alone will not produce water?
3. In a show of impatience he hit the rock twice.
For not trusting God’s instructions, for not presenting themselves to their people in a dignified manner and for diminishing the opportunity to sanctify God in the eyes of the Israelites, Moses and Aaron were not allowed to lead the Jewish people into their Promised Land. God holds our national leaders to high standards of faith, compassion, understanding, decorum and conduct.
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