Graduation Day: Releasing the Rod
I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. So, whenever I come across scripture that appears to show an inconsistency or contradiction, my antennas immediately go up. Well, that's exactly what happened when I read Exodus 17:1-6. In this scripture, the children of Israel have crossed the Red Sea and are on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin. They began to complain to Moses about a lack of water. As I'm reading, I think to myself, "oh, I remember this one... This is the one where God tells Moses to speak to the rock and Moses disobeys by striking the rock instead." Well, much to my surprise, in this passage, God instructs Moses to strike the rock and doesn't mention anything about speaking to it:
Exodus 17-5-6 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of
Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you
there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.”
And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
I had to look up the passage I remembered to make sure I wasn't going crazy. Either I had never noticed this before or I was experiencing a serious Mandela effect. Well, I found the other passage where God told him to speak to the rock and then questions arose. Are these two different incidents or the same incident recorded in two different scriptures? And if it is the same incident why is God shown asking Moses to do two different things to the rock?
Well, much to my relief, it turns out that these are two separate events, but the question still remained: Why did God tell Moses to strike the rock the first time, but told him to speak to the rock the second time?
The Training Wheels
In order for us to answer this question, we need to think about where Moses and the Israelites were during each part of their journey. During Exodus 17, the Israelites had recently come out of Egypt. Moses was accustomed to doing things with the rod. In fact, at the LORD's earliest encounter with Moses, He trained Moses' obedience by using the rod. God told him to throw the rod down on the ground and it turned from a rod to a snake and back to a rod again (Exodus 4:1-5). All throughout the confrontations with Pharaoh, God had Moses and Aaron to use the rod to command various plagues and Moses even used the rod to part the Red Sea.
It's clear that at this point in Moses' walk, he was used to the rod. Using the rod required some faith, but it was a physical object that yielded physical results. He physically used the rod to do things like calling down hail, sending a plague of locusts, and parting the Red sea. So at this stage of Moses' walk, God knew that He had to meet Moses where he was and relate to Moses exactly how He met him... with the rod.
Fast forward to Numbers 20:1-12. At this point, the Israelites had entered into the second year of being delivered from Egypt:
Numbers 1:1 (NASB) Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the
first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt.
During this incident, the exact same circumstances present themselves. The same disgruntled people are making the same complaints at Moses and Aaron about thirst. However, this time, God tells Moses to speak to the rock. Instead of obeying God, Moses strikes the rock twice in front of the people and water comes out. As a result of Moses' disobedience, God punished Moses by not allowing them to enter into the Promised Land. This second event sparks many questions. Why did Moses hit the rock twice instead of speaking to it as instructed? Why was the penalty for Moses' disobedience so harsh? And finally, what does this mean for us?
From Faith to Faith
The reason why God told Moses to speak to the rock is because He was trying to graduate Moses (and the Israelites) to a greater level of faith. In the Bible, Egypt represents bondage and is an example of the world (i.e. the world system). In the world, our mindsets are usually centered around what happens in the natural. So, God met Moses where he was and related to him with a physical rod. God knew that He would have to build Moses' faith over time. God even went on to give them a physical law on tablets of stone because their minds weren't fully trained for faith. Deliverance from Egypt represents salvation, and since Moses had now been saved for a bit longer in Numbers 20, God was trying to produce a shift in the mindset of Moses and the Israelites to live by faith alone.
The reason Moses had to hit the rock twice is because he really wasn't supposed to hit it at all. I'm not sure if God was giving him a second chance or if He was just trying to show it didn't work, but Moses forced the situation. God asked Moses to speak to the rock to represent the ideal way He wants to relate to us which is through faith and prayer. This is why the punishment was so severe. God wanted to show that the physical approaches like human effort and the law of Moses are not what yields results in His Kingdom. Moses had seen all of the great signs and wonders that came with the rod and was comfortable in that, but he wasn't willing to graduate his faith enough to speak to the rock.
What does this mean for us? (Conclusion)
What this means for us is that God desires to bring each of us to a greater level of faith. The scripture says that we move from faith to faith. It also says that it is impossible to please God without faith (Heb. 11:6). Real faith is not always about signs and wonders, but rather trusting and obeying God. Jesus himself said that it's a wicked and adulterous generation that searches for a sign and the only sign we'll be given is the sign of Jonah (Matt 16:4 [referring to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection]).
This is also teaches us that nothing in the natural (physical works, human effort, law of Moses) can earn our way into heaven. Sure, Moses eventually drew water from the rock, but he wasn't able to enter into the Promised Land. There are a lot of good works that yield good results, but the real prize is Heaven. That reward will only come by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-10). Our rock is Christ and speaking to him through prayer is what we are called to do.
When God meets us, He meets us where we are and each of us has a rod aka our own way of doing things. God understand this and may even relate to us according to our rod in the early stages of our walk. But eventually, there comes a point in our walks where God will take us out of our comfort zone and graduate our faith. The bible calls this a "new and living way." That means a new walk, a new talk, a new mindset, and a new attitude. When it's time for your graduation, will you be able to release your rod?
Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every
one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from
faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.