|Dr. Couch, how do we reconcile the fact that there seems to be a conflict in narration between Moses simply striking the rock in the desert (Exod. 17:6) and in anger striking the rock twice in Numbers 20:8-13. Is there a conflict?|
ANSWER: No, because by careful observation, and context, we see that there are actually two different occasions, or two different stories. This is agreed upon by the best of commentators, such as Ellicott and by the orthodox Jewish Rabbis. You have to look carefully to spot the distinction.
In Exodus 17 we find the people with Moses at Rephidim (v. 1). There they "quarreled with Moses" (v. 2) and "grumbled" (v. 3). In the other story in Numbers 20:7-13, they are called "rebels" (v. 10); this was not mentioned in the Exodus 17 story. The place in Exodus where Moses struck the rock is called "Massah" ("to test") and also "Meribah" or the "place of quarreling" (v. 7).
In the Numbers 20 story the place is identified as the waters of "Meribah" ("quarreling") and Kadesh. Or there, it is identified as "Meribah-Kadesh." This is not what it is called in Exodus.
In Numbers 20:10 "rebels" is the Hebrew word "marim". It carries the idea of being "fools" or even in some places "teachers." The Rabbis note that to render the word as "teachers" carries the idea: "You have presumed to teach your teachers," or "You imagine yourselves to be wiser than your leaders." The Rabbis point out:
"In that moment of irritation and gloom, Moses gives expression to doubt in front of the masses of the people as to the fulfillment of God's promise."
In Exodus 17 we note that the people were moving about the wilderness "by stages" and they had camped at Rephidim (v. 1). Moses was to strike the rock as he had struck the Nile in Egypt (17:5; 7:20). Moses did what God commanded and struck the rock "in the sight of the elders of Israel" (v. 6).
In the Numbers 20 story the entire congregation was gathered to see Moses strike the rock, not just the elders were gathered to see this happen (Num. 20:8-10), as mentioned in Exodus 17:5.
In Exodus 17 God said He would be with Moses before the elders. In Numbers 20 Moses (with Aaron) said "we [shall] bring forth water for you out of this rock" not simply God (v. 10). In Exodus 17:6 God said Moses was to strike the rock just once, which he does. In Numbers 20:11 Moses strikes the rock twice. Thus, the passage said, Moses "did not believe" God nor treat Him "holy in the sight of the sons of Israel" (v. 12a), therefore, he would not bring the assembly "into the land which I have given them" (v. 12b).
In the first story, in Exodus, the people are camped at Rephidim (17:1), but in Numbers 20 they are near Kadesh (v. 14).
The differences in the two stories are striking. And remember too, the people are moving around in the land, almost circling, and traveling by stages. It is certainly credible that they would need water from time to time (when there was none to find), and come to different rocks, or locations, when they were thirsty.
By the way, Kadesh was about 200 miles or more north of Rephidim. This clearly shows we have two different stories going on here.
The rock of course is a type of Christ as Paul mentions (1 Cor. 10:4-6). The people were drinking from a "spiritual rock" which was Christ (v. 4). Nevertheless, "God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness" (v. 5), and those things happened "that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved" (v. 6).
Thanks for asking.
Dr. Mal Couch (6-10)