We are all familiar with the story of how God allowed Egypt to be afflicted with ten plagues, and how Pharaoh eventually consented to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt as a consequence of them. Likewise, we all remember how God led them out into the wilderness under Moses’ leadership, and how they bickered, griped and complained the whole way. They were looking at the man in front of them instead of the God above them. Then they came at last to a place we call Meribah.
How many times have we read these scriptures without grasping the import of what they were telling us? What happened at Meribah? Whatever happened there it kept Moses and Aaron out of the Promised Land!
Our understanding of this event is not helped by the fact that there are a number of references to what happened there (one of which was probably written by Moses himself), and that all of these accounts are somewhat obscured by the language of the King James Version of The Bible. Hence, it is imperative that we bring the different accounts together and employ more modern language in examining these scriptures. Toward that end, we will be using The New Living Translation in the quotations that follow.
In the book of Exodus, we read: “At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. So once more the people complained against Moses. ‘Give us water to drink!’ they demanded. ‘Quiet!’ Moses replied. ‘Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?’ But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses…Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff…Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.’ So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out as the elders looked on. Moses named the place Massah (which means ‘test’) and Meribah (which means ‘arguing’) because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord here with us or not?’” (Exodus 17:1-7) From this scripture, it is clear that the Israelites were looking to Moses, not to God; but what did Moses do wrong?
Whatever it was, it had to be pretty bad because we read in Deuteronomy: “That same day the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Moab, to the mountains east of the river, and climb Mount Nebo, which is across from Jericho. Look out across the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the people of Israel as their own special possession. Then you will die there on the mountain. You will join your ancestors, just as Aaron, your brother, died on Mount Hor and joined his ancestors. For both of you betrayed me with the Israelites at the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. You failed to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel there. So you will see the land from a distance, but you may not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.’” (Deuteronomy 32:48-52) It is clear from these scriptures that God felt betrayed by whatever Moses and Aaron had done, and that they had failed to demonstrate His holiness to the Israelites.
We read in the book of Numbers: “In the first month of the year, the whole community of Israel arrived in the wilderness of Zin and camped at Kadesh…There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses…Moses and Aaron turned away from the people and went to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where they fell face down on the ground. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.’ So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. ‘Listen, you rebels!’ he shouted. ‘Must WE bring you water from this rock?’ Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them! This place was known as the waters of Meribah…because there the people of Israel argued with the Lord, and there HE demonstrated his holiness among them.” (Numbers 20:1-13)
Finally, a clear picture emerges about what happened at Meribah. The Israelites were focused on Moses and Aaron as their human leaders, and both men were feeling the pressure. God told them to command the rock to surrender its water in His name, but Moses and Aaron made it look like they had provided the water for the Israelites. In short, they did not give God the credit for this miracle, and this kept both of them out of the Promised Land!
Jesus Christ knew where the credit belongs. He always pointed to the Father. (John 5:31-47 and 12:44-50) When God called the Gentiles into His church, Peter understood who got the credit for what had happened. (Acts 10) Finally, the Apostle Paul proclaimed that everything that he and his associates had done was just a part of God’s work. (I Corinthians 3:1-9)
Brethren, we also have to accept and fully understand this point: God deserves the credit for anything and everything that is good in our lives. Paul said that even people who have never had The Bible should understand this concept. He said that the world around us teaches us that God is THE SOURCE. (Romans 1:18-21) Even our repentance from sin, is God’s gift to us. (Romans 2:4) We cannot do anything to earn our salvation. It is entirely God’s gift to us. The good works that we do in this life are the ones which He designated for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10) We exercise the GIFTS which He has placed within His church. (Romans 12:3-8) If we really want to get into God’s Promised Land and not just see it from a distance, we must understand that the glory, credit and praise goes to God alone!