Numbers 20:12-13

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 4 July 2020


Treat the Holy One as Holy

12 But ADONAI said to Moshe and Aharon, "Because you did not trust me to treat Me as holy in the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you will not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." 13 Those were the waters of Merivah, because the sons of Israel contended with ADONAI, and He showed Himself holy among them." (Num 20:12-13 BR) 

For additional information on this chapter see my notes here.


To understand God's rebuke of Mosheh we need to consider the context of this chapter. This was now the fortieth year since Israel gained freedom from Egypt. They had journeyed into the wilderness of Zin, a barren wasteland not far from the border of Canaan, and the people camped at Kadesh. The narrative opens with a simple obituary "Miriam died there and was buried there."

The narrative goes on to say that there was no water in that place. Many of the people held a public protest against Mosheh and their emotional complaint is recorded in verses three to five. They pointed out the land was not even fit to grow crops. As usual Moshe and Aharon sought guidance from the LORD who instructed them to take the rod of Moshe that had been used so many times before to perform miracles and speak to a small hill of solid rock to produce its water. All the previous miracles performed by Mosheh had involved physical action, often using the rod, but speaking to an inanimate object? That made no sense.

The very specific divine instruction may well have been given as a test, and from God's point of view the rock would sooner hear and obey His commands than the complainers. Yeshua perhaps had this incident in mind when some Pharisees told him to rebuke his disciples for crying out "Barukh habba b'shem ADONAI" when he entered Jerusalem. And Yeshua, answered, "I say to you, if these will be silent, the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:40).

Sha'ul wrote in First Corinthians 10 that the rock in the wilderness represented the presence of Yeshua supplying the Israelites with water when they needed it [1Cor 10:4]. ADONAI is often called the Rock of Salvation in the Tanakh. So the instruction "speak to the Rock" could have a particular spiritual meaning of "believing prayer." Yeshua would later state this as a principle: "whatever you ask for in prayer, trust that you are receiving it, and it will be yours" [Mark 11:24 CJB].

Mosheh did not take the time to work out what the LORD meant. He was angry with the people, calling them hamorim ("the rebellious ones"), and then taunted them, "must we bring water out of this rock for you," meaning "you don't really deserve water." So Mosheh struck the rock twice with the rod. And, water came forth in abundance, enough for all the people and their animals.

But the LORD responded with what may seem as a shocking declaration and rebuke. He pronounced a judgment on both Moshe and Aharon for not speaking to the rock as instructed (Num 20:8). Neither of these leaders would live to lead the nation into the promised land. The severity of the punishment was due to the fact that Mosheh did not treat the Holy One as holy in the presence of the people.

In other words, the congregation had heard the instruction Moshe had been given and Mosheh didn't show respect to the one who was in authority over him. Just imagine if your boss at work told you to do something in the presence of your fellow workers and you did the opposite. How would your boss feel about such open defiance, and being "dissed" in the presence of all the workers?

From a human point of view we can understand the emotional reaction of Mosheh, perhaps grieving over the loss of Miriam and certainly frustrated with repeated anarchy by people he had led out of Egyptian bondage. In fact, this was the fourteenth time that people acted against Mosheh and tested the LORD. Mosheh was fed up with rebellion in the ranks and so he used his rod in anger. But, God has a simple standard. If you deliberately disobey Him, He will punish you.

Hear what the Spirit says to the people of God, the followers of Yeshua. We are citizens of the republic of the United States and today we celebrate its founding and our constitutional freedoms and show our appreciation for those who have served our country and sacrificed to keep America free. Patriotic Americans also show respect for our country's history, laws and traditions.

But, more importantly we are citizens of Messiah's kingdom. We have a sacred history of redemption and we have traditions and laws that Yeshua and his emissaries passed on for us to follow. We have an obligation to our King to treat Him and His expectations of us as holy. Sha'ul exhorted the congregation at Colossae "to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work" [Col 1:10 TLV]. We must not be complacent or reckless about our obedience. If God would punish His servant Mosheh for disobedience, He will surely punish us for not treating Him as holy. Let us be wholly, that's W-H-O-L-L-Y, wholly His.

Barukh Hashem.

Copyright 2020 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.