The Waters of Meribah Today


When a thought pops into my head, I wonder why, and then I do some research around it. A few days ago I suddenly thought “The waters of Meribah” so of course that set me off. I read the bible text, [Numbers 20:2-13] then a few online commentaries.

But what is the significance of this passage for us today?

This is to me as the Waters of Meribah, says the Lord

Rebellion of the People

The problem in the wilderness journey of Israel out of Egypt was one of disobedience and grumbling against both Moses and (worse) against God. Indeed, the word Meribah in Numbers 20:13 means ‘quarrelling‘.

There are two places called Meribah, and both are named for “contention” or “a place of strife”.

By the time we read of the situation in Numbers 20, the people had already been given the chance to enter the Promised Land, but because they refused, they were doomed to wander around until that generation died out, and so another chance would ultimately be provided.

As you may know, the people had already shown their unbelief, ingratitude, and even idolatry the first time around, worshipping the golden calf when they thought Moses was unlikely to return from the mountain, and constantly picking holes in the way they were treated, and their lack of water or food.

In response, God always provided – sometimes miraculously, as in the quails, or the ‘manna’ to eat.

Exodus 16:12-13 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’ ”

Nevertheless, second time around the people were just as rebellious and ungrateful. It seems like some people never learn.

Water From The Rock

God had also previously provided water out of the rock, creating the first place called Meribah:

Exodus 17:1-7
At Rephidim …the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” …the Lord said to Moses, (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. (7) And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Strike the Rock

Notice that the Lord (who is our Rock) stood before Moses and the people, and commanded Moses to STRIKE the rock. That rock – as scripture tells us [1 Corinthians 10:1-5] – was a symbol of Christ, who was struck ONCE FOR ALL, so that from his side flowed the water and the blood, giving us cleansing and redemption.

However, on the second occasion, at Kadesh, God’s command was different. Moses and Aaron were commanded to SPEAK to the rock.

In Numbers 20:2-13 we see that Moses and Aaron met with the Lord, and he said (8) “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.”

We are dealing with two things here:

  1. The arrogance of Moses
  2. The rebellion of the people

1. What did Moses do Wrong?

Later in this passage we find that Moses and Aaron were punished for disobeying God, such that they were to die before the people could enter the Promised Land. [Num 20:12]

Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”

Many have stumbled at this verse, but reading the passage shows us what went wrong.

Unlike the occasion at Rephidim, when God told Moses to STRIKE the rock, this time he and Aaron were to SPEAK to the rock. (verse 7). Instead of that, perhaps frustrated, angry at the people’s complaints, taking it personally (?) Moses STRUCK the rock twice and proclaimed themselves the saviours, instead of giving the glory to God:

Verses 10-11 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must WE bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod…

2. Grumblers and Rebels

Secondly, as well as the disobedience of Moses, we see the lack of patience and the incredibly self-centred demands of the people.

Now today we are seeing again both the sin of Moses AND the selfishness of the people. We are back at the Waters of Meribah!

In these days of trouble and want, people are goaded by the devil to blame God, to complain against God.

They say “You brought us out of the world, you promised us blessings, but now all we get is mockery and disagreement, our prayers never seem to be answered, and still you haven’t returned, as you promised to do. We lack many things that we believed you would provide, and we face hardships day by day, yet you do nothing to help us. When will we enter into that Promised Land?”

This is happening on a personal level, but now also on a corporate, national level. Rebellion is the driving force of the Church, as in the wilderness.

Many are saying, “we believe God can do anything, and Jesus promised us health, prosperity, miraculous power; we are the divine rulers of this planet in God’s eyes, God’s people, the New Israel, therefore we are heirs of all the promises! We should expect favour from the people and advancement of the gospel, until all bow the knee to Him.

“We must resist those who disadvantage us! Overthrow our Oppressors! We must compel all Governments to bring in God’s holy laws, and accept nothing less! This is our right under God and we are God’s chosen. And if in anything people and Government oppose us, we must rebel, raise our voices, take action and insist on our priorities. We should stop at nothing, even a violent insurrection to install Godly leadership as our right!”

This was the situation of the people of Israel, who wanted instant blessing and favour, at all times, and could not trust God for provision along the way. Grumbling against God is always a bad idea!

However, despite this, God does graciously provide for his people, even miraculously sometimes. We pray “give us this day our daily bread” and he does – and much more besides.

The problem is, we are expected to TRUST and OBEY, humbling ourselves before God, not demanding his grace as a right, but knowing that we do not really ‘deserve’ anything except God’s kindness and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Let God be God!

Have we forgotten to trust in God’s will, in God’s ways, in His overall plan for us and mankind? Do we think God has lost the plot, is standing idly by while the world sinks into sin and depravity, and it’s up to US to jump in and save the day? What faith is this?

Maybe, if we read the bible carefully, God foreknew and planned ahead for evil rulers, increasing disobedience, the “great falling-away” and so forth, which amongst other things exposes the rebellious attitude of worldly-minded people, and prepares the path for them to pledge themselves to the coming Antichrist – the one who, posing as a god-like saviour – will promise them all that they yearn for!

Division Must Come

This also accomplishes another of His plans – to make a clear division between those who truly trust in HIM and those who will eventually commit to their own methods (and their own leaders) to accomplish what they believe must come about to “cleanse the earth”.

Jesus said “In this world you WILL have tribulation… but trust me!” and “Many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Stealing God’s Glory; the Sin of Moses

Patient endurance and faith is not enough for some, and I’m referring especially to the many ministers and speakers on the Christian circuit today who are making capital out of preaching a false dominion theology.

They want all the glory and power of heaven right now, today.

They demand the authority of kings, the miraculous power of God, the eternal blessings of health and wealth here and now, abundantly – as their RIGHT! They have been shown the Promised Land (heaven) and they want it right now.

No toiling through the wilderness for these people, no hardship or having to trust God for their daily provision. No, they want instant teleportation to the riches of Paradise!

So if they are deprived for a season, or undergo trials and temporary losses, they are completely overturned because surely they are the anointed of God, who should be blessed in every way, and without privation of any kind?

This opens their minds to the lies of the devil, who incites them to grumble against God.

Just like Israel in the wilderness, they rebel, and complain, and create a situation like the Waters of Meribah. But there’s more.

The Leaders Take it Personally

Just as Moses and Aaron were instructed to point to the Saviour, the Rock – who is our only provision – and to pray (speak) to God asking for help, so Christians today (and their leaders) should have the same humble attitude of dependence upon God, which includes God’s timing as well as his provision and relief.

The role of any elder or leader in the Church is always to point to God, never themselves, as Saviour. In this way they cause the people to see who is really in charge, not men, but God.

However, as with Moses and Aaron, personal pride, the fear of failure, the rebuke of the people and other human emotions get in the way and they end up taking the credit for what God achieves amongst them.

Taking God’s Place

That is bad enough, but today it goes further – not just taking the credit for what God does for his people, but actually promising to do the miracles themselves. Yes, God is elbowed out of the way so that men and women can strut onto the stage, in a cloud of artificial glory and strident chords from the worship group, to strike the Rock in a shameless attempt to exhibit themselves as God’s Anointed and to receive due adulation (and donations) from the crowd.

At this point, should we heed the result, as far as Moses and Aaron were concerned? They robbed God of the glory, so they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land themselves.

Death of Aaron
Numbers 20: 22 Now the children of Israel, the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying: 24 “Aaron shall [a]be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor; 26 and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there.”

Death of Moses
Deuteronomy 34: 3 And the Lord showed [Moses] all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. 6 And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day.

Robbing Jesus of His Crown

Now some have gone the final step, not only in claiming God’s power, glory and miracles for themselves, but in replacing the Coming of the King and his Kingdom with themselves as rulers and kings on earth.

Not the power and might of Jesus restoring the earth and bringing judgment to mankind, but the authority of apostles and prophets to set up and “bring in” the kingdom by themselves, right here and now, overturning evil and replacing sin with obedience worldwide.

What an arrogant and deluded fantasy! Surely that is the ultimate end of striking the Rock?

The Waters of Rebellion

Whenever we rob the Lord of his glory, and claim something for ourselves, we put ourselves on the wrong side of the argument and risk a rebuke from God, as happened to Moses and Aaron. But if this becomes a lifestyle, a ministry, without any shame or repentance, there is a worse fate:

Matthew 7:22-23
Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Luke 12: 41-46
Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

Why Was Moses Disciplined For Striking The Rock Twice?

3 thoughts on “The Waters of Meribah Today

  1. The Hebrew translation clearly states that Aaron is supposed to speak WITH Moses to the rock. He did not and therefore I believe this is the rebellion spoken of in Numbers 20:24. I don’t see anywhere that Aaron had part in striking the rock, which is what most scholars believe caused the Lord to take him.

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  2. Dear Tricia, there’s a lot we can learn from this episode. Moses was the meekest man on earth, but there is a limit to one’s own meekness, and the rebelliousness of the people at Meribah pushed him beyond his limits, so that he also sinned by being disobedient to God, effectively rebelling himself, and this prevented him from entering the promised land. I am reminded of Galatians 6:1 of the need to be “spiritual” in order to restore someone who has been overtaken in any trespass, or else one can easily be tempted oneself and serve one’s flesh and sow to the flesh instead of the Holy Spirit. Only Joshua and Caleb who kept the spirit of faith and were obedient to the end of the “wilderness wanderings” were allowed to enter the promised land, and that applies to us as well. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he had “kept the faith”, remained victorious to the end, and would receive “the crown of righteousness”. May that be true for us as well, that we remain humble and obedient, and do not give in to our flesh however much we are tempted. 1 Cor. 10:1-14.
    However, Deuteronomy 3:23-27, Jude 9 and Matthew 17:1-4 & Mark 9:2-5 indicate that Moses was reconciled to God and the firstfruits of the heroes of faith in the Old Testament who “should not be made perfect apart from us.” Heb. 11:39-40. The children of Israel entered the promised land, but did not drive out all the enemies in the land and possess the whole territory. The promised land symbolises the fullness of divine nature, and it was Jesus who obtained this in the course of 30 years, destroying all the works of Satan in the flesh He received from His earthly ancestors through Mary, and this is what Paul pursued, “the righteousness which is through faith in Christ” – “to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to [arrive at] the resurrection from the dead.” Phil. 3:9-11. As long as we live, let us also pursue after obtaining as much of our promised land as we can, so every enemy we know about is destroyed. God will lead us to our enemies and give us the strength we need.

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