Derek Leman is a Messianic Jewish rabbi, and I subscribe to his free Daily D’Var, in which he comments on passages in the Torah and the Gospels from a religious and a scholarly perspective. I would like to share here his comments today on Numbers 20:7-13, in which Moses gets in trouble with God after striking a rock.
Numbers 20:7-13 (KJV):
7 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
8 Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
12 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
13 This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
Derek Leman’s Comments: In a lengthy exploration, Milgrom considers eleven theories about the sin of Moses and Aaron, bringing to bear ancient issues in magic and polytheism as well as rabbinic theories. In the end, he concludes that the sin of Moses was in saying “shall we bring forth water?” instead of “shall he?” That is, Moses included himself and Aaron with God among those who would bring forth the water miraculously. This theory is also that of the medieval commentator, the Bekhor Shor. The Torah’s aim to overthrow pagan magical thinking has colored all miracles in Torah. They have all been performed in ways designed to show they were clearly divine and the human actors merely vessels. Milgrom also discusses the theory of Bekhor Shor that three stories in Numbers are repeats of stories already told in Exodus (water from the rock, the manna complaint, and the quail complaint) and not new incidents. If this water-from-the-rock incident is the same as that in Exodus 17, we are seeing new details about what has already been reported. This would mean Moses from very early on knew he would not enter the land. It might also explain why Moses would do something immature, believing that he is more than just a vessel. He seems to assume he is the necessary vessel, as if God’s work can only come through him. If so, he learns better and comes to understand God’s power more deeply. Even matters of divine salvation can cause quarreling and our human urges for recognition and self-importance get in the way of something far more beautiful found only in the pure goodness that is God’s alone.