26 August 2022

Moses hits the rock: Are we hearing God?

Bible study by Lieut-Colonel Goff Payne

Lieut-Colonel Goff Payne reminds us of the importance of hearing God correctly.

Key text

A few years ago, when our eldest grandchild was visiting us, we offered her a glass of water. As soon as she tasted it, she told us in no uncertain terms that it was ‘horrible’. We had simply turned on the kitchen tap and given her the same water that we were drinking. The difference was the rock from which the water came.

She lives in Sheffield, where water flows over the Peak District and through the peat and rocks before reaching the water treatment works. We lived on the North Downs and our water probably came from artesian wells in the chalk. It is therefore quite understandable that the water, although potable, tasted different to her.

Pause and reflect

  • How do you adapt to change?

Our reaction to change probably depends on what kind of change it is. If we are honest, some changes that are relatively minor can seem to be far more important than matters that might have much greater significance.

The account in our study passage of Moses and the water from the rock is as fascinating as it is disturbing; it’s partly about change.

When the people of Israel began their wilderness journey, and they were thirsty, Moses cried out to the Lord for water. The ‘staff’ that God had provided for Moses was used to demonstrate God’s power not only to Pharaoh but also the Israelites.

God told Moses: ‘Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea’ (Exodus 14:16). Later, he instructed Moses: ‘Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink’ (Exodus 17:6).

What miracles! Moses and the people were learning to trust God to provide for their needs. It was all part of their journey and adventure of faith.

Forty years later, as they are nearing the end of their time in the wilderness, the Israelite community arrives in a place they have been previously: Kadesh (see Numbers 13:26). In other words, they have been going round in a circle.

Moses’ sister, Miriam, has recently died, and the people begin to quarrel with him as they complain about their conditions. Moses brings the matter before God but, whereas he had previously listened carefully to God’s answer, this time Moses seems to only half listen to God’s instruction.

We could be charitable and say that Moses has been emotionally affected by Miriam’s death, that he is certainly irked by the grumbling of the people – he calls them rebels – and that he has been in a similar situation previously.

Sorrow, frustration, anger and possibly complacency cause him to react to the situation rather than act in accordance with what God wants of him. So, instead of speaking to the rock as God instructs him, he hits it.

Pause and reflect

  • To what extent might we think we know how to ‘do’ Christianity and fail to follow what God requires of us?
  • How might we become complacent?

It is possible to get so used to doing what we do as Christians that, even though God is our focus, we can lose the sense of wonder and amazement of everything he has done for us in Jesus.

Someone sitting on a rock looking at a view of a lake

Numbers 20:7–11

The Lord said to Moses, ‘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... Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.

Read the passage

Sometimes external matters cause us to ‘lose our hearing’ and we are no longer attentive to what God is saying.

Pause and reflect

  • How might we improve our ‘hearing’?

The Lord did not withhold his grace from the Israelites – water still flowed and their thirst was quenched.

However, there were consequences for Moses and Aaron; neither would see the land to which God had promised to lead them. Why? They did not trust in God enough to honour him as ‘holy in the sight of the Israelites’ (v12).

Had they allowed external situations and a trusty staff to prevent them from hearing God? How do we react to that? Do we think it unfair? If God is a God of grace, surely he would be tolerant of failure, especially as Moses still obeyed him to some extent.

Consider how Jesus reacted to the death of his cousin, John, the demands of the people, and the slowness of his disciples (see Matthew 14:23).

Upsetting situations, people who annoy us, people who demand of us, or the statement ‘we’ve always done it this way’ might prevent us from hearing God.

Pause and reflect

  • How do we ensure we maintain a holy relationship with the Almighty?
  • What influences do we need to be aware of that might cause deafness towards God?

Bible study by

Goff Payne

Lieut-Colonel Goff Payne

Retired, Sheffield

Let's pray

Lord, your word reveals so many great things that you did for your people.

Thank you because the same is true today. Help me to trust you more.


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