The Memory of Light (Moses)

This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Numbers 20:8-12:

“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.

I don’t know a lot of people who claim to understand why God kept Moses back from the promise land, even if they can explain the reasons He gives. Moses is one of my favorite bible characters and I’ve always grappled with this seemingly insignificant scene that seems to matter so much to God.

What went wrong here? I’ve read so many answers and none of them seem to satisfy.

So, let’s play this thing out. Do me a favor here: Go outside and find a rock and a stick, preferably big ones. And then hit the rock with the stick a couple of times. Really. Go ahead, I’ll wait.Francois Perrier, Moses draws water from the rock

You’re not going to do it because you know water is not going to burst forth from that rock no matter how many times you whack it with that stick. That’s not the way it works.I think Moses and the people of Israel probably had a similar understanding of things. I don’t think that hitting rocks with staffs usually had the effect of being able to hydrate a nation of people in the dessert, or they would have been doing it all the time. So maybe it’s the lack of dependence that upsets God . . . but the idea that by hitting the rock Moses was relying on himself and not God seems a little suspect to me. It was a miracle either way.

I’ve read that it was Moses taking the short-cut God didn’t like. Moses was pretty robust for an old guy, but sorry, even if he’d been an Olympian rock-hitter, it’s easier just to talk to the thing. So maybe it’s the lack of effort that put God in a mood . . . but I think, more often than not, we make the things we do for God harder, more complicated, than what He’s actually asked of us.One commentary suggested that it was the violence of the act that God was opposed to. Moses hits the rock. Twice. So God is some kind of a stone-rights activist, right? And maybe it was Moses’s anger that God was judging . . . but time and again God is the one angry at the people and Moses was the one talking Him down. Hitting the rock is exactly what he’d instructed Moses to do the time before this. Exodus 17:6:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Ah, there. That’s it.

How often to we live on the word we received from God weeks, months, even years back, instead of being in current relationship with Him? We rely on old light to illuminate a new path.

I wish, I very much wish, that when Moses had hit the rock the water had not flowed. He makes quite an impressive show of it with his little speech and his staff-robatics. And maybe it’s the glory-seeking that gets God’s ire . . .

What gets me is that no one knew the difference. The blessing wasn’t withheld because of Moses’s disobedience. The earth didn’t open up and swallow anyone. The people never needed to know that God had said “speak.” For all external purposes, everything looked good. It had “worked.” Hadn’t it?

And that’s too commonly the way we live our lives. But if you evaluate your relationship with God based on whether or not there is water coming from the rock, you’re missing the whole point.

Moses had betrayed the very thing he had going for him. He was the one who spoke with God face-to-face. He was His friend. God trusted him and he trusted God. Didn’t he?

“You did not believe in me,” God says. Under pressure, Moses believed in what he’d done before, what he knew worked, the established model.

And it did work. They usually do. But it betrayed the very life of their relationship.

To believe  in God is to believe that He lives. To believe that He’s real, and He speaks into the present moment.

You can’t see your way by the memory of light. You must carry it with you.

2 thoughts on “The Memory of Light (Moses)

  1. Awesome as always. I do have to say though that the image of God as a stone’s rights activist did make me giggle.

    Ps: I got the book! Thank you and yippee!! You haven’t finished reading it have you? :) do you want to shoot for a chapter a week and share insights??

    Pps: so grateful for you humidifier on AC nights like these!!



  2. As you can see, I’m still working my way through your series, weeks after you wrote and posted them. And they’re still touching my heart and challenging my easy assumptions and opening my eyes and pushing me to change. Thanks so much for this, Emily.

    I so often live on the memory of light. And so often, it seems to work. Thanks so much for reminding me again that God values the process as much as the results, the relationship more than the actions. Moses is one of my favourites too, and I’ve always thought it unfair that he was denied the Promised Land on the basis of this incident. But this is pretty convicting.

    And it’s true that so often I forget that he is a living God, speaking into my present, not a historical personality to be studied at my leisure. Sometimes I wish we sang Easter songs throughout the year. I need the reminder of these lines: I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today…He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me…You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

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