“Then 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.” (Numbers 20:1)
After refusing to obey God in crossing into Canaan, Israel returned to the wilderness around Mount Sinai, two years after their escape from Egypt. Kadesh means a place of safety. While they were there, Miriam died. Since she was quite a bit older than Moses and he was eighty two, it is probable she was in her mid to late nineties.
“And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people chided with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? And 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.” (Numbers 20:1-5)
At least two years before, Israel had come to the same place, in Exodus 17:1-3 with the same complaints. “And 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. Wherefore 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? And 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?”
During the intervening years they had seen God’s provision repeatedly, as well as his judgment for their complaining. As David said in Psalm 106:13, “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel:” Remembering is a crucial part of learning. Moses and Aaron remembered what had happened before, how God had given water, and how he had punished the people for complaining, and they began to pray.
“And 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. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 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 20:6-8)
The first time, God had instructed Moses to strike the rock, resulting in a stream of water sufficient for all the people. This time God said just to speak to the rock and they would cause water to come out.
“And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 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? 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 20:9-11)
Take note of Moses’ comment, “must we fetch you water out of this rock?” Obviously, he was frustrated that the people were angry at him again. In his frustration, he struck the rock twice to emphasize his anger. The water poured forth just as before.
“And 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.” (Numbers 20:12)
I have no idea how many times I have read or heard that Moses was punished for striking the rock twice. God was very specific that Moses and Aaron were not going to be allowed to enter the land because they failed to sanctify the Lord before the people, taking the credit for what God would do. II Corinthians 10:17-18 advises, “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.”
God had not chosen to use Moses when he was known as Pharaoh’s son, but when he was an unknown fugitive from justice. He had not chosen him for his education or skill with people, but for his meekness, his willingness to allow others to have their way. I Corinthians 1:27 states, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
By taking the glory, Moses lost part of his rewards. It is a pretty dire warning to us as to what will happen if we begin to glorify ourselves rather than God. If it could happen to a man as clearly called of God as Moses was, we are not immune.
“This is the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.” (Numbers 20:13)