Moses’ Error At Kadesh
Tough times continued as Israel learned to trust in God’s provision even as they lost a leader of confidence. Chapter 20 picks up again with the actual journey of the Israelites towards the Promised Land.
What we are about to read takes place about 40 years after the Israelites fled Egypt, and so their time of wandering is drawing near a close.
Israel arrives at the southernmost border of the region of Canaan, as they close in on their destination. The place is called Kadesh and is usually considered to be one and the same as Kadesh-Barnea. And this was a desert region, and are told that this location was considered to be in the wilderness of Zin. Where the wilderness of Paran leaves off, the wilderness of Zin begins. So, Israel was more or less at the boundary between two areas.
With virtually no comment and zero emotion, we’re told that Miriam (sister of Moses and Aaron) died and was buried there.
Hebrew literature particularly the Bible is so very different in many respects to other literature of its day and well into the future. When we read Egyptian, or Hittite, or Arabian, or later Greek and Roman historical accounts, they dwell on the circumstances surrounding deaths and battles.
Just like our modern day Hollywood films that tend to focus on conflict and carnage, because people find it more interesting than character development and the establishment of principles, so it has been since time immemorial.
Here we have an excellent example of how the Bible deals with these matters: perhaps the central female figure of the Old Testament, Miriam (if we discount Eve as a special category), dies and is listed as a little more than a minor accounting record.
We might say in a knee-jerk reaction that it was because she was a woman, in a male dominated society, and therefore had little value. But we don’t get significantly more verbiage when we come to the deaths of Moses, Aaron, or many others of the original male Biblical figures, so gender is not the issue.
It is truly fascinating, or ironic, or perhaps both, that the focal female personage of both the Old and New Testaments are each named Miriam. For the mother of Jesus, who Christianity tends to call Mary, was a Jew; but Mary was not a Jewish name. Her real and actual given Hebrew name was Miriam.
And, as we have often seen in the journey of the Israelites, once again they are in need of water. And, once again they go to Moses and want to know what he is going to do about it. And, once again they openly express their distress at being led out into a barren place, when what they longed for lay behind them in Egypt.
Back in Egypt, they say, they had plenty of food, figs, grapes, pomegranates and more pertinent to this story, plenty of water. Living along the Nile meant they NEVER thirsted for enough water.
Not knowing what else to do, Aaron and Moses go to the Wilderness Tabernacle and there fall on their faces in worship seeking the council of the Lord. And, Yehoveh (God) appears to them and speaks to them.
And, the gist of the conversation is that Aaron is to take his rod, his staff, (the one that budded) and walk over to some conspicuous rock that was nearby. They were to assemble the community of Israel as witnesses to what was about to happen; then Moses was to speak or better, order the rock to give up water.
Moses did as told. He took the rod, went to the rock, and then proceeded to speak very harshly to the people. He says, ‘you always come griping to me and expect me to handle everything for you. Somehow or another, even in a place where there is no water, I’m supposed to manufacture water for you and fix these problems as though I made them in the first instance.’
Then he turns and whacks the rock with Aaron’s staff, twice, and out flowed apparently enormous volumes of water. Because for 3 million people and all those animals to survive, the US Army Quartermaster estimates that it would take something on the order of 11 million gallons of water, every day!
Well, the people were happy enough; but it turns out the Lord doesn’t feel the same way about it. He informs Moses and Aaron that because they did not affirm God’s sanctity in front of the Israelite community, that neither of them will enter the Promised Land. We have no record of a response or reaction from Moses or Aaron, but one can only imagine their shock and depression from this edict of God.
And, anyone studying this might want to ask himself: why? Why such a harsh decree from the Lord to the very two men who He has used, and to some degree used up, to achieve His purposes.
What is it that Moses and Aaron did that would bring this sort of wrath from God upon them? The obvious is that Moses disobeyed God; he hit the rock. Moses was only supposed to order the rock to produce water verbally. But this seems so small a thing in comparison to the consequences.
In truth, there have been many theories produced to explain this devastating retribution upon Moses and Aaron. Among those theories are these: that in striking the rock he hit it twice instead of once.
Also that his character flaws were displayed: a blazing temper caused Moses to care little for a very real need of the people (water), and thus saw the matter as mostly a bother to him personally.
Another is that he doubted God, and thus God told him exactly that (“because you did not trust in Me”). And of course, the best liked is that he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as ordered by God.
I think that the matter primarily comes down to an attitude Moses displayed in front of Israel in which he unintentionally validated a pagan belief held by most people of that era; and in doing so failed to show God as the One who brings forth the water, not a man.
We must remember that Israel was but a few months removed from Egypt. They behaved and thought more as Egyptians than Hebrews. Deep-seated in their belief system was the acceptance of magic and sorcerers, men who possessed extraordinary power that was loaned to them by the gods.
Thus sorcerers invariably made quite a show of it using incantations accompanied by all sorts of gestures when they did their magic. And naturally, these magicians were greatly feared and revered for the power they claimed to possess.
Moses and Aaron took credit for the water coming forth from the rock; in fact, in the way, they behaved they implied it was by THEIR power that this amazing thing happened.
Verse 10 says: “Listen here you rebels are WE (Moses and Aaron) supposed to bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses struck the rock and water gushed forth.
Some of the great Hebrew sages say that the great sin resulted from Moses saying, notsi’ meaning, “shall WE draw forth” when what he should have said is yotsi’, meaning, “shall HE draw forth.”
By saying notsi’ Moses was giving credit to himself and Aaron as though they had the power of sorcerers to call forth water from a rock, instead of directing all honor and glory to YHWH who is the one with the power.
The result of this rash public indiscretion is that it reflected poorly on God. Thus the Lord says in verse 12: “But Adonai said to Moshe and Aharon, ‘because you did not trust in me, so as to cause me to be regarded as holy by the people of Israel…”
The water miraculously being provided for the people from an inert rock should have been yet another opportunity for God to display His mercy and love and unlimited ability to care for His own, as well as His immutable uniqueness apart from men or other gods.
The sanctity that should have been accorded to Yehoveh (God) became muddled in the minds of all those who could have benefited greatly from the lesson that among the Hebrews there will be no sorcery or sorcerers.
The Hebrew word used in verse 12 as “holy” or (depending on your bible version) “sanctified” is Kadash. In other words, God says that He was NOT Kadash as He should have been in the provision of the water. And from the root of the word kadash comes Kadosh, Kodesh, and other forms that all center on the complicated concept of holiness.
As told in an earlier lesson, in reality, the root of Kadash is generic in its meaning and only applies to the divine if used in that context. Kadash means to set apart or to separate or to make a distinction.
God wanted to show that He stood alone, distinct, apart from any other being but instead, Moses and Aaron attempted to show THEMSELVES as being different and apart from Israel. They showed THEMSELVES as inherently possessing many of the powers of Yehoveh.
Since God was denied His due in the miracle of the water from the rock, Moses and Aaron would be denied their due from being the leaders of Israel. For when verse 12 is completed, it says: ” You will NOT bring this community into the land I have given to them.”
What a huge warning this is especially to those who hold themselves up as God’s representatives and leaders of His congregation of Believers on earth. How many pastors, teachers, and prophets claim to have power and ability of their own to be used at their discretion when in fact they have no inherent power at all. Or they claim personal credit for acts of God.
Not even a week ago a TV pastor who was trolling for funds for his ministry said that if people would send him $1000 that he would covenant with them and vow a three-fold return on their investment in his ministry. He was proudly saying that he had the spiritual power to cause God to miraculously give you back $3000 if you sent $1000 to support this particular ministry.
Well, let me be very clear on this: Moses penalty for displaying such a haughty attitude and also misleading people into thinking something that is simply not the truth is that he was never allowed to enter into the Promised Land.
As was usually the case in that era, the place where this all happened was named according to what happened there, so it came to be known as the Waters of Meribah (Meribah meaning, “quarreling”).
And, it is fascinating that despite Moses and Aaron’s high-handed sin against the Lord and in spite of the quarreling of the people aimed AT the Lord, in the end; He still used it to affirm His Kadash, His sanctity.
It would seem that the object of the Israelite peoples’ anger and frustration was Moses. But, as we are constantly reminded, whatever issues we might have with God’s Mediator is no different that having that issue with God. How we respond to God’s Mediator is the same as responding to Yehoveh Himself.