History Repeats Itself! (Numbers 20)

Lest we forget, the Pentateuch is made up of repeating narratives within different settings and sometimes different people or groups. This is not a book of individual accounts – it is a literary masterpiece! Hyperlinks are strategically placed throughout pointing to the past (Gen. 1-3), and future Messiah. Repeated accounts are ways an author will underline, bold or highlight a theme.

Numbers 20 begins with whiny Israelites!. They are losing their minds (again) over the water situation. Despite the fact Yahweh has provided every step of the way, they continue to question Moses’ leadership and even God. As before, Moses goes before the LORD to ask for water. As usual, Yahweh provides. But something happens.

Numbers 20:10-11, Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that a great amount of water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

You get the idea Moses is having a bad day. In his defense, he has lasted much longer than I would. Which is why this next statement is so surprising:

Numbers 20:12-13, But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me (לא אמן ב אני) to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah (lit. quarreling), where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD, and He showed His holiness to them. (emphasis mine)

Don’t get side tracked trying to figure out which command Moses disobeyed. Was it striking the rock instead of speaking to it (v. 8)? Was it strucking it twice? The author provides the only answer we need to know – because you did not trust me to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites. That’s it. Plain and simple. Moses revealed a doubt that God’s will would quench the thirst of such rebellious people. Faith/trust in Yahweh is a major them of the Pentateuch.

John Sailhamer picks up the repeating pattern from Numbers 14. It is the narrative of the spies reporting on the Promised Land. We find the people complaining (14:1-4) and the LORD responding (listen carefully):

Numbers 14:11, The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people despise Me? How long will they not trust in Me (לא אמן ב אני) despite all the signs I have performed among them? (emphasis mine)

Do you see it? And because the people had not trusted God they were not allowed to go into the Promised Land (14:23). Soon after Israel was defeated in battle against the Amalekites (14:39-45).

Back to Numbers 20. What happened after the people complained and Moses failed to trust God?  Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. And get this, the people are turned back by the Edomites (20:20). Now do you see the repeated narrative?

  • Complaint of the people (14:1-4; 20:2-5)
  • Israel and Moses’ lack of faith (14:11; 20:12)
  • Not allowed into the Promised Land (14:23; 20:12)
  • Defeated by their enemies (14:39-45; 20:14-20)

What is the point? Trust God! Faith is where God’s blessings prevail. We are justified by faith and not by works (Gen. 15:6). Paul places hyperlinks throughout his letter to the Romans to prove this point (Rom. 4:1-5, 13-25). We are not saved of our own goodness and perfection. We are saved by the life and sacrifice of Jesus (Rom. 5:6-11). He is the new Adam who overcame temptation, testing and sin (Rom. 5:12-21). By faith, one passes through the waters to become a new humanity and with a new way of living (Rom. 6:1-14). We are a people who have been liberated from the slavery of sin (Rom. 6:15-23).

Romans 10:8-11, This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame

Our faith is not that Yahweh will conquer a land with giants or even that He will bring water from a rock. Our trust is in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save us. It is when we lack faith we are defeated by the ultimate enemy – Satan. Let me conclude with the words of the song Faith is the Victory by Yakes and Sankey:

To him that overcomes the foe White raiment shall be giv’n

Before the angels he shall know His name confessed in heav’n;

Then onward from the hills of light, Our hearts with love aflame;

We’ll vanquish all the host of night, In Jesus’ conquering name.

Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!

Oh, glorious victory That overcomes the world.

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and David.

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