GRACE AND UNGRACE
Loving Father, teach me from your Word so that I can apply its truths to my walk with you today.
Read NUMBERS 20
Water From the Rock
20 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.
2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.
Edom Denies Israel Passage
14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:
“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.
“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
18 But Edom answered:
“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”
19 The Israelites replied:
“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”
20 Again they answered:
“You may not pass through.”
Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.
The Death of Aaron
22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”
27 Moses did as the Lord commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days.
- Numbers 20:13 Meribah means quarreling.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d, / it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven’.1 Gratefully recall ways in which you have experienced God’s gentle mercy and grace.
In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey coins the term ‘ungrace’. Today’s narrative illustrates both grace and ungrace. While still mourning his sister’s death (v 1), Moses gets more grief from the disgruntled Israelites (vs 2–5). Their anxiety over the water crisis is legitimate; their childish, petulant griping is not. Moses extends grace – not turning on them in anger but turning, instead, to God (v 6).
Moses emerges from the tent of meeting armed with God’s script for an enacted parable of grace – but then he fumbles his lines! All God had required was that he ‘Speak to that rock before their eyes’ (v 8) so that the people would witness the outpouring of God’s grace like a waterfall! Moses speaks to the people rather than the rock; instead of obediently reflecting God’s grace, he demonstrates ‘ungrace’, addressing them as ‘rebels’ and administering a high-handed rebuke (v 10). The quality of mercy is badly strained in this messenger of God.
Moses’ upraised arm (v 11) contradicts his former submissive ‘face down’ (v 6) attitude before God. Shakespeare’s Portia declared, ‘His sceptre shows the force of temporal power … But mercy is above this sceptred sway.’2 Moses’ staff was intended to gather the people together (v 8), but it became a prop in a show of temporal power (v 11). James counsels, ‘Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.’3 Although water gushed forth from the rock, Moses failed in his role as God’s grace-dispenser.
Allow Yancey’s words to challenge you: ‘How is it that Christians, called to dispense the aroma of amazing grace, instead pollute the world with the noxious fumes of ungrace?’4
Lord God, your ways are perfect. Forgive me when I follow my own path and not yours.
1 William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Scene 1 2 Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Scene 1 3 James 1:19,20 4 Philip Yancey, Christianity Today, Feb 1997
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