Brothers and Sisters,
I’d like to return this morning to the devotional from two days ago, March 23 (COVID lockdown day seven), and the account of Moses striking the rock in disobedience to God’s command. If you’ve read the portion from Numbers 20 that recounts the event (vs. 1-13), or if you take a moment to read it right now (hint…hint), perhaps you’ve found yourself wondering, “What’s the big deal? Why so harsh a response from the Lord, especially given Moses’ obvious reasons to be angry and frustrated?” We dealt somewhat with that question, albeit implicitly, in the March 23rd entry. But I’d like to add another thought to the discussion. I’d like to add some additional reflection because this morning I read a portion of the song in Deuteronomy 32 that God commanded Moses to write at the end of his life (not long after the events of Numbers 20).
Consider the first four verses of that song: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
Did you catch that? God names himself the “Rock”; the Rock whose “work is perfect,” whose “ways are justice,” who is himself full of “faithfulness.” His work was perfect in bringing Israel into the desert and to a place without water. His ways were just when giving Moses to lead a quarrelsome and complaining people. He was faithful when commanding that Moses should speak to a rock in order to bring forth water. Here’s the point: On that Numbers 20-day, God intended to display himself in Israel as the Rock; the Rock from whom would spring rivers of living water to sustain life. When Moses struck at the rock with his staff, he struck not an impassive object of stone, but rather the symbolic presence ofGod himself. He assaulted Yahweh. This is why God subsequently said to him: “…you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel” (vs. 12), or, later, “…you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes” (Num. 27:14).
If we dig just a little bit further into Scripture, Moses’ action takes on an even more serious hue (if that’s possible). In 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul applies the imagery of Exodus and Numbers in light of Jesus Christ. Here’s what he says: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Cor. 10:1-3). Wow! Paul draws a line from Christ backward to the experience of Israel in the desert, including the experience of Moses and Israel in Numbers 20. It’s not that Jesus was himself, literally, embodied in the stone that Moses struck. But, even as Yahweh worked with Israel, commanding Moses to speak to the rock, Jesus worked (Note: Tangentially, but crucially, do you see how Paul points to the divinity of Christ with this statement?). When Moses struck at the Rock, he struck at Christ; at the Messiah; at the promised snake crusher of Genesis 3:15; at the great and coming prophet that Moses himself foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Moses struck at the very source of God’s salvation.
Now, let’s turn this to ourselves. We’re in a desert of sorts…the “desert” of COVID-19’s “social distancing.” Some of us are feeling the effects of this desert more than others – loneliness, lost jobs, lost income, life on hold. Where does God mean to show himself a rock in the middle of the wilderness? And not just any rock, but the Rock out of which will flow life-giving water? Let’s take warning from Moses. We’re probably tempted to pick up our staff and strike at the rock in unbelief when we should prayerfully speak to it in faith. If we will take warning, if we will speak rather than strike, how will God use what follows to glorify himself (to our joy) in the sight of a watching world? Rocks are not for striking, they’re for standing on. So, let’s stand!
Finally, I commend to you today’s instance of Albert Mohler’s The Briefing podcast. Mohler serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is one of our country’s leading Christian intellectuals. Today’s coronavirus-related discussion is both clarifying and helpful.