Numbers 20:2
Now there was no water for the congregation, so they gathered against Moses and Aaron.
God's Use of Insufficient MeansGeorge Breay, B. A.Numbers 20:2-13
How it Went Ill with MosesF. B. Meyer, B. A.Numbers 20:2-13
Moses At the RockBritish Weekly PulpitNumbers 20:2-13
Moses Striking the RockT. R. Stevenson.Numbers 20:2-13
No WaterPreacher's AnalystNumbers 20:2-13
Sin in the Child of GodDavid Lloyd.Numbers 20:2-13
The Gift of Water At MeribahD. Young Numbers 20:2-13
The Muddy BottomQuiet Thoughts for Quiet HoursNumbers 20:2-13
The Privations of Man and the Resources of GodW. Jones.Numbers 20:2-13
The Scene At MeribahR. D. B. Rawnsley, M. A.Numbers 20:2-13
The Sin of MosesT. Boston, D. D.Numbers 20:2-13
The Sins of Holy Men, and Their PunishmentW. Jones.Numbers 20:2-13
The Smitten RockE. S. Atwood.Numbers 20:2-13


1. It was occasioned by a pressing and reasonable want. "There was no water for the congregation." The people were often discontented without cause, but here was a real strait. Experience shows that many so-called necessities, instead of being necessities, are even injurious. Life might be made more simple and frugal with no loss, but rather increase, of the highest joys of life. But if we are to live here at all there are some things necessary. The bread and the water must be sure.

2. There was no apparent supply for the want. We may presume that for the most part Israel had found water, even in the wilderness, without much difficulty. Unobserved and unappreciated, God may have opened up many fountains before the Israelites approached. Hence when they came to Kadesh and found the rocks dry, they hastily judged there was no water. We are very dependent on customary outward signs.

3. Past experience of similar circumstances should have led to calm faith and expectation. God had made sweet for them the bitter waters of Marah, and directly after brought them to Elim with its ample supply (Exodus 15:23-27). And when they came to Rephidim, and found no water, Moses by command of God smote the rock in Horeb (Exodus 17). But then the rising generation had not been sufficiently instructed in these things, and impressed with the goodness of God. How should unbelieving and forgetting fathers make believing and mindful children? If we would only base our expectations on what God has done in the past, we should look in vain for occasion of fear and doubt. After Jesus had fed one multitude, the disciples had yet to ask with respect to another, "Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?" (Matthew 15:33). Consider also Matthew 16:5-10. We continually, and in the most perverse way, confine our views of what is possible within the limitations of our own natural powers. To God the wilderness is as the fruitful field, and the fruitful field as the wilderness. He can make the earth whatever pleases him (Psalm 107:33-39).

4. The complainers of the people were not confined to the urgent need. They do not approach Moses with a simple, humble plea for water. They had not considered why they had been brought to Kadesh, and that in the plans of God they were bound to come again into that district, whether water was there or not. First of all they utter an impious, hasty wish, though if it had been taken seriously they would have complained bitterly. Men are apt to say they wish they were dead when really their circumstances are more endurable than those of many who have learned, like the apostle, in whatsoever state they are, therewith to be content. A discontented heart makes a reckless tongue. The expression was used thoughtlessly enough, just as many take God's name in vain, hardly conscious of what they are saying. Next they advance to an unjust reproach. Forty years of Divine chastisements, sharp and severe, had taught them nothing. They could see nothing more than that Moses and Aaron were leading the people about at their own will. How easy it is through our ignorance of the unseen God to attribute to the men whom we do see a power immensely beyond their resources. The people came back to Kadesh as they left it, blind, ungrateful, inconsiderate as ever. Moses and Aaron, sorrowing for their dead sister, have once again to listen to accusations which long ago had been answered by God himself. The reproach is mingled with vain regrets, still surviving all these years of chastisement. There could not now be many survivors of the generation that had come out of Egypt, yet, doubtless, all the while Egypt had been so often mentioned as to have deeply infected the minds of the younger generation. Garrulous old people, who might so easily have inspired their children by telling them of God's dealings with Pharaoh in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and of all his goodness in the wilderness, were rather poisoning and prejudicing their hearts with recollections of carnal comforts and delicacies which seemed hopelessly lost. Instead of pointing out that the wilderness with all its hardships was a place of Divine manifestations, they could only see that it was no place of seeds, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates. The mention of water, coming in at the last, seems almost an after-thought, as much as to say, "Even if we had water, there would none the less be ground for great complaints."


1. The people speak against Moses and Aaron, who thereupon make their usual resort to God. Beforetime when his glory appeared in response to their appeal it was the herald of destruction (Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19, 42); but now there is no threatening of destruction. Even in the midst of their murmuring and ingratitude God recognizes their real need. Thus as we consider the work of God in Christ Jesus we find a similar recognition. Men came to Jesus with all sorts of selfish complaints; but while they found in him a pitying listener, there was no disposition to deal with them according to their complaints. God did not give to Israel at Kadesh, figs, vines, and pomegranates, but he gave water speedily and abundantly. It is made a charge against the Divine providence and government, and sometimes a ground for denying the reality of such things, that men are so unequally supplied with temporal possessions. But all this falls to the ground if only we notice how prompt, how effectual, God is in meeting real necessities. It is he who is to judge of these. There is no absolute necessity even for the bread that perisheth, but there is need, whether here or elsewhere, to be free from sin, to have that spiritual food, that bread and water of eternal life, which Jesus himself has spoken of so largely and attractively in the Gospel of John. Thus while the Jews went on wickedly complaining against Christ, showing more and more their ignorance and selfishness, he, on the other hand, went on in the midst of all, revealing, expounding, setting forth in the clear light of his matchless teaching the supreme want of men and his own adequate supply for it. We must cease clamouring for the figs, vines, and pomegranates, and be more athirst for that water of which if one drink he shall never thirst again. God will not supply everything we think to be wants. But let a man come to himself and discern his real needs, and God, like the father to the prodigal son. will run to meet him with an ample supply.

2. God makes the supply from an unlikely source. Moses was to speak to the rock before their eyes, the one nearest them at the time. There was no searching about among the hills if haply some natural reservoir might be found which a touch could open in all its fullness to the panting crowd. There was water in the rock before them, requiring nothing more than the word of God through his servant Moses. We must consider what happened as if Moses had completely carried out his instructions. Thus in many things connected with our salvation we are directed to unlikely places and unlikely methods. Who expects the King of the Jews to be born in Bethlehem? Why not in Jerusalem? Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Shall one look for the food of a multitude among five loaves and two small fishes? Shall one look for an apostle of the Gentiles in Paul, the fierce and persecuting Jew? God makes a messenger out of the child Samuel, and a champion out of the stripling David. God delights in finding everything he needs where we can find little or nothing. We may be nearest help when to our natural judgment we may seem farthest from it.

3. There is thus a warning against all hasty judgments. We who are so utterly weak, so constantly in need of help, should be very slow to say, "Neither is there any water to drink." Let us bear in mind how ignorant we are of the Scriptures and the power of God. God will not leave his own true children unsupplied with any needful thing. He will choose the right time, and way, and form. It is the besetting sin of far too many minds to form conclusions not only when there is lack of sufficient information, but when there is no need of present conclusion at all. "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart." Do not say in haste and ignorance that there is no strength to be got anywhere. - Y.

Neither is there any water to drink.
I. THERE ARE PRIVATIONS IN THE PILGRIMAGE OF HUMAN LIFE. One man thinks that without health his life would be worthless; yet he has to submit to its loss for a time. To another man prosperity seems essential; to another, friendship, or some one friend or relative; yet of these they are sometimes deprived. Life, in our view, has many privations. This characteristic of our pilgrimage is for wise and gracious ends. Privation should remind us that we are pilgrims — incite us to confide in God — and discipline our spirits into patience and power.


1. Unreasonable.

2. Cruel.

3. Ungrateful.

4. Degraded.

5. Audaciously wicked.


1. Consciousness of need.

2. Faith in the sufficiency of the Divine help.

3. Faith in the efficacy of prayer to obtain the Divine help.

4. Faith in the efficacy of unspoken prayer.


(W. Jones.)

Preacher's Analyst.
I. THE PLACE HERE SPOKEN OF. The wilderness. The people were led thither —

1. For discipline.

2. For solitude.

3. For proving. How sadly they failed.

II. THE WANT. Water —

1. A necessity for sustenance.

2. A necessity for purity.

3. A want which they were unable to provide for themselves.

III. THE PEOPLE'S ACTION. "They murmured." An act natural to the human heart; but very sinful and foolish —

1. Because it distrusted God.

2. Because it did no good.

3. Because it made themselves more wretched and miserable still.


1. Unexpected in its source.

2. Unexpected in the manner of its attainment.

3. Unexpected in quantity.

V. THE INSTRUCTION AFFORDED. That rock was a type of Christ. He was appointed of God, stricken of man, means of salvation to those appointed to die, &c.

(Preacher's Analyst.)

Quiet Thoughts for Quiet Hours.
The heart of man is like a peeler standing water. Look at it on a summer's day, when not a breeze ruffles the surface, not a bird flies over to cast its light shadow on its face. It is so clear, so bright, you may see your own image reflected there. Now cast a stone to the bottom, and watch the effect. The dark mud is rising all around, rank weeds are floating up which you never saw before; the whole pool is in a state of motion, and hardly a drop of water has escaped the foul pollution. Look at your heart when all outward things go well. No vexing, crossing care mars its tranquil calm, and you think you see the image of Jesus reflected there. It is so long since sin has molested you that you think it has left you quite, and that all is sure within. Now let a sudden offence come, an unkind, undeserved rebuke; let pride be touched, or self-will roused, and presently all is lost. Like the waves of an angry sea, the poor mind is tossed from thought to thought, and finds no rest. The mud is raised from the bottom, and not one comer of that wretched heart is free from its polluting influence. All gentle, soothing thoughts are gone, and one by one the dark weeds are floating on the surface.

(Quiet Thoughts for Quiet Hours.)

Speak ye unto the rock.
He told Moses to speak to the rock, and it should give forth water. On a former occasion he was to smite the rock; now he was only to speak to it. If there were any unbelievers in the camp they might mock at this command, and say, How is it possible to get water out of a rock? let us rather dig wells, if haply we may find water. And truly to the eye and ear of sense these observations might appear plausible. Now God's way of bringing sinners to glory is just the same. The life of the Christian is a life of faith throughout. The appointed means have no inherent efficacy. God tries the faith of His people; disappoint it He never will. He has provided strength equal to their day, yet will He send it in such a way as to make them feel their utter helplessness. They see most of God's love and gracious designs, and have most peace and comfort in their afflictions, who live most by faith.

(George Breay, B. A.)

I. THE SINFUL ATTITUDE OF THE PEOPLE. They were discontented, enraged, and faithless. And so men grow discontented and cry out against God, as if trouble were the only experience they knew anything about — the most unhappy and morbid state of mind into which any Christian believer can come. It is strange also how, when one thing goes wrong with us, everything seems to be awry. The children of Israel were thirsty, and therefore they complained that the desert of Zin was not the garden of the Lord, full of all manner of fruits. Put a red lamp into a mass of shrubbery, and leaf and blossom are forthwith dyed an angry crimson. Thwart some cherished purpose of a man, and immediately everything takes on the colour of his disappointment. Society is disintegrating, the Church is going to destruction, life is a vale of tears. Nothing but immovable faith in God can save us from this wretched partialism.

II. THE MERCIFUL ATTITUDE OF GOD. What might He be expected to do under the circumstances? What wonder if He should say, "It is of no use to be patient any longer. This people will not have Me for their Ruler. Let them perish." But that is not God's way. He recognises the weakness of men, pities their sufferings, relieves their wants, and so gives the people another chance to understand Him. And how often that ancient wonder is wrought anew in human experience! Some critical event occurs in our history, which for a time at least shatters our faith in the Divine goodness and justice, well established as that faith ought to be when we remember the general tenor of our life, and God, instead of flaming out against our inconstancy and leaving us to our own devices, makes that very event the occasion of a new and gracious revelation of His love. With time and pains we arrange some well-compacted plan, on whose success it seems to us all our good fortune depends, and it thrives for a while; but suddenly all things are against us, and our hopes are wrecked, and we grow bitter and rebellious, and then God uses that very disaster to teach us juster views of life and to create in us a nobler frame of mind, and develop a broader manhood, and we have a nobler ambition and are better equipped than ever before. And then from the barren rock of bereavement God brings streams of refreshing. The remaining members of the household are more closely welded together, a more tender sympathy with each other springs up, the unseen life becomes a grander reality, and, as in the flush of the sunset that follows the storm, we forget the fury of the blast in the glory of the transfigured heavens, so men and women, in the chastened spirit that results from trials, and in the light of new and larger hopes which have been kindled, bear glad testimony: "It is good for us that we have been afflicted."

III. THE UNWARRANTABLE ATTITUDE OF MOSES AND AARON. They were angry with the people and called them hard names, addressing them as "rebels." They spoke as if they were the chief agents of the miracle which God wrought. "Hear now, ye rebels," they said to the people, "must we fetch you water out of this rock?" So far as their words went, they were taking upon themselves the glory which belonged to God alone. Then, too, they were not satisfied with the Divine directions. For these assumptions Moses and Aaron were rebuked on the spot, and a sentence of punishment pronounced upon them. There is important practical instruction here for those who teach or preach God's Word to sinful men. It is not to be done in a self-satisfied way, with the assumption of superior sanctity. Neither are we to take credit to ourselves for good results which may follow our administration of Divine truth. It is not our wisdom or eloquence, but the Word of God which is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword." Humility and self-distrust are eminently becoming in those who undertake to do God's work of influencing men for good.

(E. S. Atwood.)

British Weekly Pulpit.
1. Did you ever hear people cry out, "I wish I were dead"? That is what the Israelites said — "Would God we had died!" These wishes were hasty, and as insincere as hasty. No doubt those people would flee from death with terror at the first sign of his approach. It has been well said that "a discontented heart makes a reckless tongue."

2. Now we come to Moses' sin. He did not attend carefully to God's Word, nor obey it, because he was angry. Notice his bitter words. Let us beware of the sin of anger. Look at the fifth of Galatians, and it tells you that "wrath" is one of the "lusts of the flesh." In Proverbs we are told that "he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." Why is a person who conquers himself better than a great general who takes a city? There are three reasons.

(1)He is a greater hero; he does a more difficult thing.

(2)Because it leaves a happier feeling behind.

(3)It pleases God, The more you conquer your sins, the more you will be growing like Christ.Do you know heaven is full of conquerors? And Revelation 12:11 tells us how they conquered: "They overcame by the blood of the Lamb."

(British Weekly Pulpit.)

This is a memorable incident in the Jews' history, rich in warning to us at this day. Moses had failed in his duty towards God in three particulars.

1. He had failed in strict obedience.

2. He had shown temper, used hard language.

3. He had taken to himself the credit of supplying the Israelites with water.


II. THE IMMENSE IMPORTANCE ATTACHED TO TEMPERATE SPEECH, the necessity of keeping a check on temper and not letting ourselves be moved to hot and angry words.

III. This scene is further useful as CARRYING OUR THOUGHTS UPWARDS to Him who is the source of all our hopes, the nourishment of our soul, the very life of our religion, the Lord Jesus Christ.

(R. D. B. Rawnsley, M. A.)

The Biblical writers are charmingly candid. Do they speak of other men's faults? They take care also to record their own. Reputation is sacrificed on the altar of truth; the unselfish lawgiver informs us of his own transgression and its terrible penalty. What may we learn from his sin?

I. WE MUST NOT SEEK RIGHT ENDS BY WRONG MEANS. Here Moses erred. How often has his sin been repeated! Look at Caiaphas. He says in reference to the Saviour, "It is expedient that one man die, and not that the whole nation should perish." The latter part of the sentence is admirable, the former is atrocious .... Error should be opposed; we ought to stop its progress as quickly as possible — but by persuasion, not persecution.

II. WE MUST BEWARE OF DOING MORE THAN GOD COMMANDS. There are two opposite ways of sinning — by defect, and by excess. A child who, in adding up a sum, makes it "come to too much," blunders as completely as if he made it "come to too little." And such a form of wrong-doing is possible spiritually. We as much violate our duty as "followers of God," if we get ahead of our Guide, as though we lagged so far behind that we could no longer see Him or tread in His steps. Are we not all, for instance, harder in our judgments, more exacting, more stringent and rigorous in our demands, than He is whom we profess to follow; and is not this to go before God, and to go before Him not to prepare His way, but to scare men from His presence?

III. PRECEDENT IS A PERILOUS GUIDE. Moses had struck the rock before by God's command, and probably he argued that what was right then could not be wrong now. But let us remember, that "circumstances alter cases." A thing which is wise for one time may be folly for another.

(T. R. Stevenson.)


1. Disobedience to the Divine command.

2. Immoderate heat and passion.

3. Unbelief.

4. It was all publicly done, and so the more dishonouring to God.


1. What a holy and jealous God He is with whom we have to do.

2. The Lord's children need not think it strange if they get abundance to exercise that grace in which they most excel.

3. Let us not be surprised to see or hear the saints failing even in the exercise of that grace wherein they most excel.

4. Never think yourselves secure from failing till ye be at the end of your race.

5. What need we have to guard constantly our unruly passions, and put a bridle on our lips.

6. Though God pardons the iniquity of His servants, yet He will take vengeance on their inventions (Psalm 99:8).

7. If God punishes His children thus for falling into the snare, how shall they escape who lay the snare for them?

8. Observe the ingenuousness of the penmen of the Holy Scripture — Moses records his own fault.

(T. Boston, D. D.)





1. Make God's people more watchful.

2. Lead others to ponder their ways ; for if God visits His own children for sin, a fortiori, He will not let the wicked escape.

3. Let none forget that God can forgive sin — all sin — through Jesus Christ.

(David Lloyd.)

The sin of Moses and Aaron seems to have included —

1. Want of faith.

2. Irritation of spirit.

3. Departure from Divine directions.

4. Assumption of power.

5. The publicity of the whole.





V. THE MEANS WHICH GOD USES TO DETER MEN FROM SIN. Divine judgments, expostulations with the sinner, encouragements and aids to obedience, are all so employed. By the voice of history, by the law from Sinai, by the gospel of His Son, by the Cross of Jesus Christ, by the influences of His Spirit, God is ever crying to the sinner, "Oh! do not this abominable thing that I hate." Let Christians guard against temptation; let them cultivate a watchful and prayerful spirit.

(W. Jones.)

It was but one act, one little act, but it blighted the fair flower of a noble life, and shut the one soul, whose faith had sustained the responsibilities of the Exodus with unflinching fortitude, from the reward which seemed so nearly within its grasp.

I. HOW IT BEFELL. The demand of the people on the water supply at Kadesh was so great that the streams were drained, whereupon there broke out again that spirit of murmuring and complaint which had cursed the former generation, and was now reproduced in their children. They professed to wish that they had died in the plague that Aaron's censer had stayed. They accused the brothers of malicious designs to effect the destruction of the whole assembly by thirst. It could hardly have been otherwise than that he should feel strongly provoked. However, he resumed his old position, prostrating himself at the door of the tent of meeting until the growing light that welled forth from the Secret Place indicated that the Divine answer was near. Moses was bidden, though betook the rod, not to use it, but to speak to the rock with a certainty that the accents of his voice, smiting on its flinty face, would have as much effect as ever the rod had had previously, and would be followed by s rush of crystal water. Yes, when God is with you, words are equivalent to rods. Rods are well enough to use at the commencement of faith's nurture, and when its strength is small, but they may be laid aside without hesitance in the later stages of the education of the soul. For as faith grows, the mere machinery and apparatus it employs becomes ever less, and its miracles are wrought with the slightest possible introduction of the material. Moses might have entered into these thoughts of God in quieter moments, but just now he was irritated, indignant, and hot with disappointment and anger. The people did not suffer through their leader's sin. The waters gushed from out the rock as plentifully as they would have done if the Divine injunctions had been precisely complied with. Man's unbelief does not make the faith of God of none effect; though we believe not, yet He remaineth faithful, He cannot deny Himself, or desert the people of His choice.


1. There was distinct disobedience. No doubt was possible about the Divine command, and it had been distinctly infringed. This could not be tolerated in one who was set to lead and teach the people. God is sanctified whenever we put an inviolable fence around Himself and His words; treating them as unquestionable and decisive; obeying them with instant and utter loyalty. It is a solemn question for us all whether we are sufficiently accurate in our obedience.

2. There was unbelief. It was as if he had felt that a word was not enough. As if there must be something more of human might and instrumentality. He did not realise how small an act on his part was sufficient to open the sluice-gates of Omnipotence. It reminds us of the shattering of the Hell-Gate Rock at the entrance of New York Harbour. The touching of a tiny button by a little child set in action the train of gunpowder by which that vast obstruction was blasted to atoms, and heaved for all time out of the path of the ships. A touch is enough to set Omnipotence in action. It is very wonderful to hear God say to Moses, "Ye believed not in Me." Was not this the man by whose faith the plagues of Egypt had fallen on that unhappy land, and the Red Sea had cleft its waters? Had the wanderings impaired that mighty soul, and robbed it of its olden strength, and left it like any other? Surely something of this sort must have happened. One act could only have wrought such havoc by being the symptom of some unsuspected wrong beneath. Oaks do not fall beneath a single storm, unless they have become rotten at their heart. Let us watch and pray, lest there be in any of us an evil heart of unbelief, lest we depart in our most secret thought from simple faith in the living God. Let us especially set a watch at our strongest point. But how much there is of this reliance on the rod in all Christian endeavour! Some special method has been owned of God in times past, in the conversion of the unsaved or in the edification of God's people, and we instantly regard it as a kind of fetish. We try to meet new conditions by bringing out the rod and using it as of yore. It is a profound mistake. God never repeats Himself. He suits novel instrumentalities to new emergencies. Where a rod was needful once He sees that a word is better now. What does it matter if the means He ordains appear to our judgment inferior to those which He commanded once? This is no business of ours.

3. There was the spoiling of the type. That Rock was Christ, from whose heart, smitten in death on Calvary, the river of water of life has flowed to make glad the city of God, and to transform deserts into Edens. But death came to Him and can come to Him but once. "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." It is clear that for the completeness of the likeness between substance and shadow, the rock should have been stricken but once. Instead of that it was smitten at the beginning and at the close of the desert march. But this was a misrepresentation of an eternal fact, and the perpetrator of the heedless act of iconoclasm must suffer the extreme penalty, even as Uzzah died for trying to steady the swaying ark.

III. THE IRREVOCABLENESS OF THE DIVINE DECISIONS. Moses drank very deeply of the bitter cup of disappointment. And no patriot ever yearned for fatherland as Moses to tread that blessed soil. With all the earnestness that he had used to plead for the people, he now pleaded for himself. But it was not to be. The Lord said unto him, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto Me of this matter. The sin was forgiven, but its consequences were allowed to work out to their sorrowful issue. There are experiences with us all in which God forgives our sin, but takes vengeance on our inventions. We reap as we have sown. We suffer where we have sinned. At such times our prayer is not literally answered. By the voice of His Spirit, by a spiritual instinct, we become conscious that it is useless to pray further. But, oh! that God would undertake the keeping of our souls, else, when we least expect it, we may be overtaken by some sudden temptation, which befalling us in the middle, or towards the close of our career, may blight our hopes, tarnish our fair name, bring dishonour to Him, and rob our life of the worthy capstone of its edifice.

(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

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