Parashat Chukat (Statute of)

Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1–22:1

Often times in our walk with the Lord, we find ourselves dealing with the same struggles, which serve to increase and strengthen our faith, as well as to remind us of God’s absolute sovereignty, power, and holiness.

In this week’s reading, we read that the Children of Israel had to face the same test over and over during their time of wandering in the desert; they often didn’t have enough water, so they had to trust that God would continually provide it for them. But they had a short memory of His many miracles from their past, and quickly moved into “panic” mode every time they lacked water:

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lᴏʀᴅ?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lᴏʀᴅ, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” Then the Lᴏʀᴅ said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lᴏʀᴅ, saying, “Is the Lᴏʀᴅ among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:1–7)

There are two notable points here. The first is that the sons of Israel tested God’s faithfulness and power, which He had already displayed for them numerous times; the second is that God specifically instructs Moses to strike the large rock (צור – tzur) in order for the water to come out. The sons of Israel experienced the same exact test (lacking water), and they always responded with the same groaning!

And there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lᴏʀᴅ! Why then have you brought the Lᴏʀᴅ’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? And why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.” (Numbers 20:1–5)

In this passage, they weren’t only complaining about the lack of water but also the lack of food (fruit). They grew weary waiting for God to fulfill His promise to bring them into the land of plenty – the Promised Land – where milk and honey flowed abundantly. And Moses and Aaron were not immune to this weariness either. What happens next forever changes the course of history for the Children of Israel:

Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the Lᴏʀᴅ appeared to them; and the Lᴏʀᴅ spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” So Moses took the rod from before the Lᴏʀᴅ, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the Lᴏʀᴅ said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the Lᴏʀᴅ, and He proved Himself holy among them. (Numbers 20:6–13)

Before I address the glaringly obvious tragedy here, I want to point out two interesting things. First, in this instance, God commands Moses and Aaron to perform this miracle before the entire congregation whereas previously, it was only to be before the elders of the congregation. Essentially, the miracle was for the entire assembly. Secondly, this time, rather than striking a big rock (צור), God commanded Moses to speak to a סלע (sela), which is a much smaller rock.

The Almighty purposed to display His amazing power and holiness in an unmistakable, supernatural way. This is why He commanded Moses to speak to the rock. But tragically, Moses did not do as the Lord told him. Is it possible that it was too incredulous even for Moses to believe that water would come forth just by speaking? While we may never know the reason – and there are many different rabbinical commentaries on this – the point is that Moses’ disobedience came with a heavy price. Not only would he not lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, but also he himself would never be allowed to enter it.

Our disobedience has devastating consequences, not just for us, but also for those around us, and quite possibly for generations to come. Is the Lord instructing you to do something? Is He asking you to move out of your “comfort zone” and take action? More importantly, are you willing to obey regardless of how “crazy” others may think you are?

Have courage to trust that He will accomplish whatever it is He’s asking of you in ways you can’t even imagine! This is the amazing God that we serve.

Shabbat shalom,


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