Christian Churches of God
Water from the Rock
(Edition 2.0 20050618-20061125)
The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water so the community and their livestock can drink." This paper has been adapted from Chapters 43-45 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and covers Numbers chapters 20 and 21 in the Bible.
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(Copyright ã 2005, 2006 Christian Churches of God, Ed. Wade Cox)
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Water from the Rock
We continue here from the paper Korah’s Rebellion (No. CB47).
In the First month of the Fortieth year of wandering, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, died right after Israel encamped at Kadesh the second time (Num. 20:1). She was about one hundred and thirty years of age at her death.
When Israel had stayed at Kadesh the first time, there was plenty of water. Conditions had changed in thirty-eight years, however. Some of the springs had dried up. Others couldn’t produce enough water to continue to provide for the vast needs of the Israelites and their livestock.
Israelites complain again!
Shortly after Miriam’s death the water shortage became so serious that a loud, complaining crowd gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.
They quarrelled with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this desert, so that our livestock and we should die here? Why did you bring us out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs or grapevines, and there is no water to drink!" (Num. 20:1-5).
Moses and Aaron were accustomed to this sort of childish behaviour. They hoped that the noisy crowd would tire and break up, but the situation grew worse. So they left the community and went to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and fell face down, and the Glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, "Take this staff (or rod), and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink" (vv. 6-8).
Striking the rock and the water flowing out symbolises Christ as the spiritual rock (1Cor. 10:4), being the means by which we receive the living waters of the Holy Spirit of God (Jn. 7:37-39).
Moses loses his temper
Moses took the rod - the one that had budded out to show that Aaron’s family should retain the priesthood - and set out with Aaron. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his rod. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank (Num. 20:9-11).
Moses and Aaron were greatly relieved to see the life-giving water flowing from the rock. Another crisis had passed. So another rough spot had been smoothed out.
As we saw in Exodus 17:1-7, Moses was told to strike the rock to obtain water on a previous occasion. This time, however, the Lord had told Moses to speak to the rock, commanding it, through the power of the Creator, to give forth water. But in his rage Moses disobeyed the Lord’s instruction and brought the rod down sharply on the rock, twice. Moses was not instructed to use the rod to strike the rock. It was to be carried by Moses and Aaron as a symbol of their Levitical authority in using God’s tremendous power.
God’s just punishment
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I will give them".
These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord and where he showed himself holy among them (vv. 12-13).
By his actions Moses gave the people the impression that it was through his power and not God’s that a miracle would produce water. Aaron spoke and acted in agreement with his brother’s wrong attitude.
This pronouncement from the Lord meant that Moses and Aaron would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land for which they had been striving for so many years. They repented of what they had done and God forgave them. But that did not mean God would remove the penalty for their sin. In this life we still must suffer from some sins even though God has forgiven us. However, when Christ returns the resurrected saints will surely include Moses and Aaron.
It is plain to see that God had no favourites, and that He will punish the disobedient in high offices no less than He would punish the disobedient of the lowest rank. A fact worth remembering is that the more one is educated and trained in God’s service, the more God requires of that person. Moses was prevented from entering the Promised Land because he smote the rock. He and Aaron were to die outside of Israel to remind us that the saints of God are to be of the First Resurrection and will go into Israel with Moses as spirit beings.
Whatever Moses and Aaron thought about their future, their duties still existed. Aaron faithfully continued as High Priest. Moses had to make daily decisions as usual. The greatest decision while the people were in Kadesh was how the Israelites should proceed toward Canaan from that point.
Opposition from Edom
There was more than one route to Canaan from Kadesh. One way had been attempted almost four decades earlier by many of the Israelites when they had been set upon by Amalekites and Canaanites, and when so many Israelites had lost their lives. Another way was to cross eastward over the Mt. Seir range of mountains and then proceed north. Or the traveller could proceed north or south around Edom to the king’s highway. This great highway was a major road leading up east of the Salt (Dead) Sea. Moses recognised it would be to the advantage of the Israelites to travel on the king’s highway through the land of Edom. Once they were through Edom and Moab, they could enter Canaan by turning westward.
Realising that it was necessary to receive permission to pass through the nation, Moses sent messengers to the ruler of Edom. The letter carried by the messengers pointed out that the Israelites, as cousins of these people of the Arabian desert, had struggled through many years of hardships in their efforts to come out of Egypt, and that they would like to be regarded as friendly relatives passing through the territory of the Edomites. The people of Edom were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob (see Gen. 36:1).
"Please let us pass through your country," Moses continued in the letter. "We promise not to tramp through your fields nor through your vineyards. We won’t use even your water. Our desire is simply to reach the king’s highway and proceed northward" (Num. 20:14-17).
But the Edomite king answered, "You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword" (v. 18).
Moses was disappointed. He certainly hadn’t expected such a hostile response. Then the Israelites replied: "We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot – nothing else."
And once more the Edomites answered: "You may not pass through."
Moses was again disappointed. He had hoped that his second appeal to the ruler of Edom would result in success. Before he could express his thoughts, however, the Edomites came out against them with a large and powerful army. Since they refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them (vv. 19-21). Israel was forbidden by the Lord to take even a foothold in Edom (Deut. 2:4-6).
There was sudden action among the Israelites. Strangely, the same scene had been enacted by them or their ancestors almost two generations before when a part of them had tried to get into Canaan against God’s will. Now, however, they were not divided, and they worked faster than before to get ready to leave. Once again more than two million people and their flocks and herds moved on the trail that led into the desert valley called the Arabah.
Whether the Edomites planned to attack or if they intended only to protect their borders is something the Bible does not tell us. In any event, the tribes of Israel managed to leave the border in time to avoid any trouble with the army of the king of Edom.
The first stopping point was at Mt. Hor, a high peak of the Seir range. There God gave a special message to Moses and Aaron. He instructed them to come up to the top of the mountain. Aaron was to dress in his priestly robes and was to bring one of his sons, Eleazar (Num. 20:22-25).
The people quickly sensed that some special event was to take place on the mountain, and many of them watched the three men ascend the mountain.
Aaron dies on Mount Hor
After the three arrived atop Mt. Hor, Aaron gazed silently down on the Israelite camp he knew he would never join again. He would have remembered God’s pronouncement that he and Moses would not go into that Promised Land because of their wrong attitude when they sought to bring water to the people out of a rock. He realised that he had come to the end of his life.
According to God’s instructions, Moses removed the priestly attire from Aaron and put it on Aaron’s son, Eleazar. While Aaron was still alive, his garments were to be placed on his son. As soon as this was done and Eleazar was anointed into Aaron’s office, Aaron drew his last breath and died. There was nothing to be done to prevent him from the peaceful and painless death that came to one of God’s servants at the age of one hundred and twenty-three years (vv. 27-28; Num. 33:37-39).
There was great mourning among the Israelites when they learned of Aaron’s death and burial. The mourning continued for thirty days - the length of time spent in expressing grief in those days - because of the passing of a person of high rank (Num. 20:29). Aaron died on the First day of the Fifth month of the Fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt (Num. 33:38).
Under attack Again
Meanwhile, a Canaanite king whose small domain included an area of south Canaan heard that the Israelites were about to invade his territory to the northwest of the Mt. Hor region. This king felt that it was wiser to attack than to be attacked. Not to be outdone, he sent mounted troops to rush in on the camps of the Israelites.
So swift was the attack that some of the Israelites were whisked away as prisoners before anything could be done. The Israelites were so upset by what had taken place that they made vows to God that they would wipe out the towns from which the attackers had come if only God would help them. God quickly answered their pleas and Israel proceeded safely northward in the Arabah (Num. 21:1-3). This route was called the way of the Red Sea because it led to the Gulf of Aqaba.
Travelling through this huge desert was difficult because of the heat and the arid conditions. The people grew impatient along the way and they spoke against God and Moses, and said once again, "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" They were referring to the manna, which they disliked because of their bad attitude (vv. 4-5).
Then, as punishment, the Lord sent "fiery serpents" among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died (v. 6). The effect of these bites was like a burning sensation.
The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us." So once again Moses prayed for the people.
Moses was convinced that most of those who had complained and had made spiteful remarks against God and against him were truly regretful of what they had done. He went at once to the Tabernacle to entreat God to have mercy on the people and spare them from the poisonous bites of the serpents (v. 7).
The bronze snake
The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." Moses prayed to God and made the so-called serpent of bronze (or copper) for their healing, so that when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake he would live (vv. 8-9).
This object was actually a Seraph, which was a supernatural being with six wings. The supernatural aspect of this activity is lost in the Bible translations.
God caused the poisonous serpents to depart from the area in which the Israelites were camped. The plague was ended because the offenders regretted what they had done and because of Moses’ prayer to God. The removal of the serpent plague was entirely a matter of repentance, prayer, obedience, and faith. The serpent on the pole represented the penalty of sin being taken away. It reminded the Israelites of a coming Saviour who would be beaten and then crucified on a pole (stake) to pay for the sins of the world (Jn. 3:14-15).
However, in later times the people of Judah began to worship that serpent until righteous King Hezekiah destroyed it, reminding the people it was only a piece of bronze or copper with no actual power (2Kgs. 18:4-5).
The journey to Moab
After the serpent plague, the Israelites continued on and camped at Oboth. Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the desert that faces Moab towards the sunrise. From there they moved on again and camped in the Zered Valley. They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the desert extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.
From there they continued on to Beer, the well where the Lord said to Moses, "Gather the people together and I will give them water" (Num. 21:10-13).
The people were so thankful for this needed supply of clear, cool water that they expressed their thanks to God through a great concert of voices and musical instruments (vv. 14-18).
Then the Israelites went from the desert to Mattanah, from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from there to Bamoth and then to the valley of Moab (vv. 19-20).
Moses felt that Israel shouldn’t progress very far into Amorite country without permission. Already the caravan was headed along the edge of the high plain country just east of the Abarim Mountains, and was running the risk of encountering Amorite soldiers.
Moses knew who the Amorite ruler was, and which city was the capital. He sent messengers to the king, whose name was Sihon, to ask for passage through his country. Moses assured him that no wells nor fields nor orchards would be touched by the Israelites, but that if the Amorites wished to sell them food or water, Israel would be pleased to pay whatever price was asked (vv. 21-22; Deut. 2:26-29).
Defeat of Sihon and Og
King Sihon sent the Israelite messengers back with the blunt reply that Israel would not be allowed to pass through the land under any circumstances (Num. 21:23; Deut. 2:30).
Moses realised that the Amorite king probably wouldn’t be satisfied by merely refusing passage to Israel. It was more likely that he would take advantage of this opportunity to attack the Israelites for the purpose of taking their possessions.
"I shall help you win the battles to come in this land," the Lord told Moses. "Furthermore, I shall wipe out the wicked nations occupying this territory, and Israel shall be the sword by which it will be done!" (Deut. 2:24-25, 31-32).
Sihon got his whole army together and marched out into the desert against Israel. At Jahaz he fought with Israel. However, Israel put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was guarded. Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements.
Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land as far as the Arnon. So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.
God renders justice
The Israelites had moved swiftly over the land to take over every city and town, slay the people and seize the animals and any other valuable things that could be taken with them. Within only a few days they became the conquerors and destroyers of this small nation (Num. 21:24-26; Deut. 2:33-36).
Many might wonder why God had asked Israel to wipe out certain nations. The reason is that they were so sinful that they would be better off dead. In Abraham’s time, their iniquity had not reached such a peak (Gen. 15:16). By the time the Israelites arrived, however, God said the Amorites should no longer live. This does not mean they are eternally lost. They, like the people of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the rest of the world, will come up in a judgment period at the Second Resurrection after the 1,000 years of the Millennium, and will have an opportunity for salvation (Mat. 12:41-42; Mk. 6:11; Rev. 20:11-13).
For a while, after conquering the Amorites, the Israelites rested in the conquered land; then they continued to move northward.
In spite of the fact that the Israelites had quickly gained a reputation for tremendous strength in battle, a king of the region northeast of the Salt Sea came out with his army to attack them. His name was Og, and he was a man of gigantic stature - probably nearly twelve feet in height. The Bible mentions that the bed in his palace was about eighteen feet long and eight feet wide (Deut. 3:11).
Og was one of the last of the strain of giants of eastern Canaan. Some of his soldiers were also very large, and they presented a frightening sight as they charged towards Israel.
Victory given by God
After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up along the road towards Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Endrei.
The Lord said to Moses, "Tell your soldiers not to be afraid of these fierce-looking men. Remind them that the soldiers of Israel cannot fail because I am with them to help destroy their enemies" (Num. 21:33-34; Deut. 3:1-2).
So the Israelites struck Og down together with his sons and his whole army, leaving no survivors. And they took possession of Og’s land (Num. 21:35) and all the cities in his kingdom. All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also many unwalled villages. The Israelites completely destroyed every city, and all the men, women and children as they had done with Sihon, king of Hesbon. But all the livestock and plunder from their cities they carried off for themselves.
Sixty cities were taken. These centres of habitation weren’t mere villages surrounded by low, narrow walls. They were fairly large centres of population whose well-built stone buildings and streets were large and wide. Their solid stone walls were as much as eighteen inches thick, and were constructed of rock of that region almost as hard as iron (Num. 21:35; Deut. 3:3-11).
Unless God had willed that Israel should have His aid in the task of taking over these lands and their spoils, the Israelites would have been utterly wiped out by the military-minded occupants. God protected Israel and brought them into their inheritance. The removal of the tribes that threatened Israel was part of God’s plan.
With God as their champion, it required only a few days for the Israelites to sweep over the land east of the Jordan. The soldiers of Israel were even more surprised at what they had done than were those who were their victims. Armed forces of the past had never dealt such swift and deadly destruction against such strong armies and so many well-fortified cities. It was a miracle that impressed at least a part of Israel more than certain miracles God had brought about at other times.
At this point a question will probably come up in the minds of some readers when they read of the Israelite soldiers slaying the women and children of enemy nations. It would be natural to conclude that all this mass slaughtering of human beings was nothing less than a disregard for the Sixth Commandment, which plainly states that we should not kill or, more accurately, that we should not murder anyone.
God is neither cruel nor wicked. He has referred to Himself as the potter and human beings as the clay. The potter decides how to use the clay and what part of it is to be discarded.
God chose to get rid of the wicked, idol-worshipping nations east of the Jordan because they were so sinful that they could not possibly live normal, happy lives. Besides, the land was not theirs anyway. He could have wiped them out with plagues or earthquakes. But since Israelites too had sinned, God chose to let them experience the consequence of sin. So He chose to do it through Israel as His instruments. Who should question why God in His infinite wisdom chooses to do something?
God has told us that we shouldn’t murder. Many centuries after Israel entered Canaan, Christ explained that law in more detail by stating that even the desire to murder meant breaking the intent of the Sixth Commandment.
In the case of the destruction of Israel’s enemies, God told Israel to slay them. It was a matter of obedience, just as it was when the Levites slew worshippers of the golden calf. As Author of all spiritual and physical laws, God is the only One who has wisdom to decide when a person or nation is sinful enough for death to actually be a blessing.
After conquering the Amorites, Israel’s tribes gathered together and encamped for several weeks of peace in an area a few miles northwest of Heshbon, the former Amorite capital.
(The New International Study Bible was used as a source of reference in various places in this paper.)