The Waters of Meribah

'Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarrelled with Moses and said, 'Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here?

...The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, 'Listen you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?' Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring the assembly into the land that I have given them.' These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarrelled with the Lord, and by which He showed His holiness' (Numbers 20: 2-13; cf Deut 32: 51-52).

The incident at the waters of Meribah is a decisive event in the life of Moses. Afterwards God bans him from entering the Promised Land. But it is rather a mysterious episode.

Why exactly is Moses forbidden to enter the Promised Land?

And is God being fair to him?


  • Two things: Moses was pretty old by the time they would have gotten to the Promised Land. He likely died before entering. And a writer is looking back, trying to explain why Moses died before the people entered the Promised Land. It is not about God being fair or not, it is just a fact of life.

    2) There is a very strong argument going around Biblical Scholar now as to whether Moses was a real human or not, but rather an amalgamation of leaders that brought the people to the Promised Land.
  • Can you provide a link to this site Gramps49 ? I have been trying to track down the article on Moses.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    edited February 2019
    I can send you to a book: Did Moses Exist: the Myth of the Israelite Law Giver by D. M. Murdock

    Now, I can say there are other counter arguments, but you can readily find them with a Google search.

    Another possibility is that Moses was not an Israelite. That he may have been an Egyptian who took up the cause of the enslaved people, or a Moabite.

    Here is an interesting quote:
    (B)y focusing on Moses as outsider, and especially as remote, inimitable outsider, the Bible ends up by shifting the emphasis away from who Moses is to what he communicates, namely, to the Law and to God as its source. We face, then, the paradox that the towering character of Moses may be stressed in the Bible, at least in part, precisely to efface him, so that his message may emerge more clearly and sharply. In other words, there is no cult of personality here—that is, no cult of human personality—and this comports with a more general strain of ambivalence in the biblical corpus toward human leaders and the limits of human authority (e.g., Judges 8:22–24; 1 Samuel 8–10; Hosea 8:4, 13:9–11). If the ultimate emphasis, therefore, is on Moses’ message, on the laws he mediates from a totally nonhuman source, we must observe, as a final point, that this is a message which, against the person Moses, is not remote or inimitable. For the laws it offers are laws designed for the human community: laws that, however difficult, all can carry out (e.g., Deuteronomy 29:10–14; 30:11–14), and must carry out if they are to complete the process by which “God created humanity in His image” (Genesis 1:27).
  • Moses was told to speak to the rock and it would give up its water. Instead he lost his temper and hit the rock, with the same result. It seems a little thing, a minor screw-up--but when you look at the symbolism God built into the whole thing, it becomes something more.

    Moses stands for the law of God--the unyielding standard of justice that all of us fall short when measured by. The rock--well, that stands for Christ (see various bits in Hebrews, as well as the constant rock = Lord thing in the Psalms). The water gives us a darn near literal reference to the waters of life, and thus to salvation, grace, what you may call it.

    Moses is told to speak to the rock--basically, ask it. Instead he assaults it. Symbolically what he's done (in his role as divine law) is the equivalent of crucifying Christ in order to bring about salvation, rather than simply asking nicely.

    And the result? Moses (again, in his role as condemnatory law) is excluded from the Promised Land ( symbolically = heaven). There is no need for the Law in heaven, when everyone there lives it out naturally and never errs. It is out of place. Christ's sacrifice has made us perfect, and Moses/Law is obsolete.

    Of course in this whole symbolic scheme, it's a bit rough on Moses the person to end up playing the role he does--and thus suffering the penalty he does. But them's the breaks when you serve the Lord who may do what he likes with you, and particularly when you've not followed orders.

    (I wonder if Moses' entrance into the Promised Land at the Transfiguration was a bit of a consolation prize? God's not totally indifferent to our feelings...)
  • Lamb Chopped wrote
    (I wonder if Moses' entrance into the Promised Land at the Transfiguration was a bit of a consolation prize? God's not totally indifferent to our feelings...)

    Interesting take. I had always been taught that Moses and Elijah both appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law (Moses being the chief lawgiver) and the Prophets (Elijah being the chief prophet).
  • I share Lamb Chopped's approach, and I would add that Moses was
    presuming too much by saying "shall we bring water for you." The Law only guides us, it isn't the source of salvation. The source of salvation is Christ.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited February 2019
    Lamb Chopped, your allegory is worthy of St Augustine. Most beautifully put.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
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