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Sunday, February 14, 2016

How Many Rocks Have You Hit This Sunday?

I know that sounds silly; there are some Sundays when things don’t go exactly as planned that we can get frustrated enough to throw some rocks, but hitting rocks?  I’m sure you’ve already guessed where I am going with this: Moses’ striking the rock when the Israelites needed water. At first glance one might think that it is a simple matter of controlling one’s anger, however, I believe that it is worth our unpacking to see what else might be there.  Let’s look at the passage in Numbers 20:1-13.

1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. 2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, 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.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” 13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

Let’s have some background: Forty years have passed and most of the early generation had died. Miriam’s death is the only record of a woman of the original group. She had been one of the leaders, but also instrumental in saving Moses’ life as a baby.  Not only was Moses’ grieving the death of his beloved sister, the people had no water and had begun to complain once again. Notice that as before, the people were blaming Moses for their situation.  Being without water is a serious issue for we can live only a few hours without it.  But already they had forgotten the past 40 years of God’s gracious provision as if it had never happened. When life’s circumstances get desperate, we can develop short term memory loss of all that God has done in our lives to that point; such was the case of the children of Israel: they were thirsty, their children were crying, their containers of water were empty and all they saw around them was sand and rock.  This was not the first time that they had blamed Moses for their circumstances, but let’s focus on this instance for right now.

Notice how Moses and Aaron respond: They both fall face down in front of the Tent of Meeting in reverence and fear, for they well remember the last time the people complained. The cloud of God’s presence appears, where in the past this had been a sign of direction and protection, now [as before when the sons of Korah had rebelled], it was a sign of judgment.  As they had done in the past, Moses and Aaron go before the presence of God and fall on their faces pleading for help.   Notice God’s response:  [1] Take the staff, [2] gather the people, [3] speak to the rock and the water will come. This is different than the earlier account years before in Ex. 17:2-6, when God told Moses specifically strike the rock.

One might ask, “Why take the rod if he wasn’t going to use it?  Good question. Perhaps because it was the symbol of God’s authority. But this time God only commands that Moses speak. God doesn’t always act the same way in similar circumstances. Sometimes we pray and God miraculously moves, heals, touches; then sometimes in seemingly the exact same set of circumstances, the heavens seem sealed shut and God seems distant. Let me assure you that He is not distant; He is closer than your next breath. His plan for our lives is developing, stretching us to trust Him more, not totally unlike the children’s of Israel’s 40-year trek in the wilderness, which was not just punishment, but a time of training to trust in God to lead and supply. God now tells Moses to “Speak to the rock.” God wants Moses to learn that obedience is important, even when it doesn’t make sense. God had spoken the universe into formation out of nothing; He had spoken His commandments and His covenant. In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Speaking is important.

One thing that is so disappointing is that Moses began well: falling on his face in reverence. But he takes a decisive turn:  First, rather than speaking to the rock, he chastises the people, then, he begins to assume authority and power to do the miracle: “Must we bring you water from this rock!” and finally, he strikes the rock not once, but twice, allowing his frustration and anger to take control.

Does God provide water for the people even though Moses had disobeyed? Yes, God’s grace and mercy are constant. However, Moses and Aaron have disobeyed and disqualified themselves from being able to enter the Promised Land.  Let’s review what God gives as the reason for their punishment? “You did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites.”   The question is, “How did they not show trust and honor? There may me many more reasons, but let’s review a few:

       [1] Perhaps they allowed the frustrations of the circumstance to change their focus from God’s power to their own frustration with the situation– they had had enough.
       [2] Moses begins complaining, and so acts just like the people to whom he is addressing.
       [3] He fails to obey, striking the rock, rather than speaking to it. Even though he had to strike it before, God doesn’t always do things the same way twice. By claiming to “bring water from this rock”
       [4] Moses was claiming power that was not his, but God’s only. God does not share His glory with another. Moses did not honor God by giving Him the credit for providing the water and it cost him the privilege of being able to enter the land.

To be sure: God demands trust and obedience from those with whom He has a covenant relationship and God does not share His honor.  God has no needs; He is God. So what could we possibly give to God? The only thing that we can give to God is our trust, obedience and gratitude for all that He has done and all that He is.

How does this apply to worship leadership? God does not share His glory with another. One of the great dangers of ministries that are very public and visible is allowing the focus to center on the human leadership and failure to be the facilitator that guides the focus on the only One who is worthy of worship. Unfortunately, there are well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ shift their focus each Sunday to those who stand before a congregation to “perform.”  Like Moses claiming a power that wasn’t his in the first place, some would manipulate those listening to produce their desire result. My prayer is that this is the rare exception. There are many sincere men and women who lead in worship and do so in way that facilitates congregational worship. May God teach us how we can lead in such a way that we do not get in the way, but guide the worship to God alone.

1. Life is full of sadness and frustrations; however it is in those times that we need to focus even more on God’s love and character and follow His will and direction closely.
2. We must continually remind ourselves of all that God has done to help us when the frustrations and problems come.
3. God’s mercy and grace are constant, even when we are not.
4. God doesn’t always do things the same way twice; we must not assume His will, but seek it.
5. God does not share His glory with another. We must recognize His love, provision, protection, nature, and character.
6. The only thing that we can give to God is our trust, obedience and gratitude for all that He has done and all that He is.