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Why does God punish Moses for striking the rock twice? What is Moses' sin in strking the rock, and does God later forgive him? There is a deeper prophetic reason for God not allowing Moses and Aaron to enter the promised land.
In the story of the Exodus, God brings the Israelites into the promised land. God uses Moses as his chosen servant to lead the people on this journey. Yet we learn that God doesn't allow Moses to finish his work and enter the land himself. Moses isn't allowed to lead the people into the promised land, because of a certain sin he commits in the wilderness.
What is Moses' sin, and why does God punish him the way that he does? There are different opinions on what is Moses' sin. It's clear that Moses' sin is more than simply hitting a rock with a stick. Scripture tells us that he fails to believe in and sanctify God in the sight of the people (Numbers 20.12).
"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 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? 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" (Numbers 20:8,10-11 KJV bible).
God instructs Moses to speak to the rock, and that water would flow from it. Yet, instead of speaking to the rock, Moses speaks to the people. Moses then tells them that he and Aaron are the ones who can bring forth water from the rock. Lastly, God hadn't told Moses to strike the rock, but Moses strikes it twice before the water comes forth.
To understand why Moses doesn't follow God's commands, we have to examine the situation. The people are scared, thirsty, and at the point of mutiny. They are blaming Moses and Aaron for the lack of water, and gathering against them. It's a dire situation, and Moses and Aaron probably fear for their lives.
Moses changes the plan of God because he wants to restore the people's loyalty and reverence for him as their leader. Instead of humbly speaking to the rock, Moses strikes it, which makes it appear that by his will the water can come forth. When nothing happens after the first strike, Moses stubbornly repeats his transgression by striking the rock again. Finally, the miracle is granted and water flows from the rock.
At this point, Moses was weak and feared the people. His faith was being tested, and he wanted to do something to help his situation. So he adjusted God's instructions to serve himself. Striking the rock made him feel more powerful than speaking to it. So he decided to do what felt good to him in the moment.
Moses had a sharp memory, and certainly knew that he wasn't following God's instructions. However, Moses probably didn't understand the spiritual significance of his sin. By striking the rock instead of speaking to it, Moses was treading on a type for Jesus the Messiah.
We know that the rock in the wilderness was a prophetic type for Jesus, who is the true "Rock" of living water (1st Corinthians 10.4). We also know that once before at Horeb the people were thirsty, and God instructed Moses to strike the rock to bring forth water. This first time Moses faithfully carried out God's commands (Exodus 17.6). Thus the spiritual Rock of Christ had already been struck once before at Horeb.
This is why later on, when the people are thirsty again, God specifically tells Moses to speak to the rock instead of striking it. When Moses strikes the rock this later time, he is unwittingly recrucifying Christ. The result is that Moses (and Aaron as well) aren't allowed to finish their role of leading the people into the promised land.
"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" (Numbers 20:12 KJV bible).
In this light we see that Moses' sin was more severe than he may have realized. But we have to also consider what a loyal servant Moses was. Moses had faithfully carried out God's commands up to that point.
God had a special relationship with Moses. There would not be another prophet in Israel who would have this unique relationship with God (Deuteronomy 34.11). If God had such a special relationship with Moses then why didn't he overlook this particular sin? If God could forgive the great sin of David, then why not the minor sin of Moses?
A lot of times in scripture there are deeper meanings in how God treats his servants. This is true with God's punishment of Moses and Aaron. It's not the magnitude of Moses and Aaron's sin that keeps them from entering the promised land. Rather, it's the context of their sin in God's plan.
Moses was the giver of the law to the people. Through Moses, God gave all the rules, observances and ordinances that Israel was bound to keep. Aaron was the first high priest who began the priesthood. Through these two people God brought forth the Old Testament religious system.
As perfect as the law is, it doesn't bring forgiveness of sin. Instead, the law exposes and increases sin. The perfection of the law brings condemnation to our imperfect state. No flesh can be justified by the deeds of the law, because we are incapable of keeping it.
"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20 KJV bible).
Moses was appointed as the law giver. He received the law and then enforced the law among the people. The law didn't work as a path of mercy. The law didn't bring deliverance in the wilderness, but condemnation. The laws and ordinances didn't deliver the people, because it has no power to do this.
So God would raise up another servant to finish the work of leading the people into the promised land. This new servant's name would be Joshua, from which comes the name Jesus. Joshua would be a prophetical type for Jesus and the new covenant. The deliverance of the people into land would be taken over and finished by him.
So whereas Moses and Aaron are connected with the first covenant, Joshua is connected with new covenant. Moses' ministry didn't complete the journey, but Joshua's ministry did. Rather than entering the land by the law giver, the people would enter the land by a type for grace.
It should be understood that Moses' ministry began as a type of Christ. He was chosen to deliver the nation from bondage, and God did many great works through him. However, as the giver of the law, Moses would not finish the work of deliverance. He was not allowed to finish what he started, because of his spiritual role. It wasn't fit for Moses and Aaron to finish the journey into the promised land.
Moses was a special servant of God. Even though Moses gave the law, it doesn't mean that God didn't love him and forgive him. Moses' role in God's plan didn't condemn or deny him from God's grace. Moses' sin may have denied him an inheritance in the literal promised land, but not the eternal promised land (Colossians 3.24).
Moses is recognized in the gospels as a special servant of God and Christ, and God always honors his servants, "And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus" (Mark 9:3-4 KJV bible).
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