When one reads the account of Moses striking the rock in Numbers 20:1-13 there are often mixed emotions. The people had once again been complaining because of the lack of water. Moses went to the Lord and was told that he was to take his rod, gather the assembly together, and speak to a rock to bring forth water for the people. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck it with his rod (as he had been commanded on an earlier occasion in Exodus 17:1-7). The water still flowed forth, but Moses was rebuked by God and told he would not be allowed to lead the people into the promised land.
People will often look at this event and become a bit perturbed, for it was just a rock. It was not like Moses had killed someone, committed adultery, or unjustly carried out judgment against someone; so what was the big deal? It is after this same type of attitude that the arguments flow on many other topics: it was just a dress, it was just a movie, it was just a drink, it was just a missed service, it was just a little white lie, and on it goes as the question is asked, “What’s the big deal?” It doesn’t seem to be all that bad, so why did Moses’ actions cause such a reaction from God, and what lessons should we learn?
It was a big deal because it was disobedience. Unfortunately, we often lump actions of disobedience into big infractions and small ones. By human standards this was a small infraction: Moses took the right rod, the right stone, and was in the right place, he just approached it in the wrong way. Nevertheless, God had told Moses what to do and how to do it. He had given explicit instructions that did not leave room for interpretation or revision by Moses. When Moses chose to do it his way, he rebelled in just as disobedient a manner as those whining Israelites who were wrongly accusing God of not taking care of them.
When God has commanded us to act a certain way, do a certain thing, or present ourselves with a certain attitude and appearance, the failure to implement those commands is disobedience. Whether we consider them to be that important or not is irrelevant, because God has shown in this context how he feels about such actions and that all such decisions will bear consequences. Those consequences may be physical by means of problems that arise, influence that is lost, or rebukes that are given; but they will definitely be spiritual by requiring repentance to repair our relationship with God.
It was a big deal because Moses put the focus on himself instead of God. In verse 10 of the chapter, Moses approaches the people and says, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” Moses’ statement was doubtless made out of anger and exasperation with these people whom he had led for almost 40 years and yet they were still complaining. The psalmist wrote, “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips” (Psa. 106:32-33).
Moses did not give God the glory for what was occurring, but instead took it for himself. He caused the people to focus on his actions over the command that God had given. Moses sinned in his actions, it is equally possible for an individual to do something that is good, yet do it with an approach that brings the attention and glory to self instead of God. When we are working in the service of God, we must never present ourselves in such a way that by appearance, deed, or attitude we divert one’s focus from the purpose of what is done and the One who commanded it.
You see, it was far more than just a rock. It was the disobedient actions of a man who had allowed his anger and frustration with the people he led to mar his judgment and disobey God’s commands. It was a living lesson to every generation of the importance of every command of God, no matter how small it may appear to us. It should give us pause the next time we think of responding to the teaching of one of God’s commands by rationalizing, “it was just….”