Many brethren and sisters, not to mention those outside the church, have a wrong understanding of what the sin of Moses was and its implication(s). Often when asked or giving comments on the matter, they say that his sin was in smiting the rock twice instead of once. They think that, since at first God told Moses to take the rod and smite the rock, and the next time He also told him to take the rod, therefore, he was also instructed to strike once. Such an understanding erodes the whole essence that God had designed in the type that would later be seen in the antitype. As it will soon be clear, striking the rock even once [that second time] would have been sin on the part of Moses. In view of this, therefore, it is important for us to possess the true facts on this matter.
To begin with, we need to know that there were two instances where the children of Israel on their journey to Canaan drank water from the rock. The first was at a place known as Rephidim which would later be called Massah (temptation) and Meribah (strife). The second was at Kadesh. The water here was also called water of Meribah. “This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and He was sanctified in them.” Numbers 20:13
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.” Exodus 17:5–6
But we know that the Rock from which they drank water is Christ. “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:4. Psalms 78: 15–16 says “He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and game them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.” Jesus Himself testifies to this by saying, “He that believeth on Me,” as the scriptures say, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” John 7:38
The first instance therefore quoted above (Exodus 17: 5–6), symbolized that Christ Jesus was to be smitten or die once. “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Hebrews 9:28
“The smitten rock was a figure of Christ, and through this symbol the most precious spiritual truths are taught. As the life-giving waters flowed from the smitten rock, so from Christ, ‘smitten of God,’ ‘wounded for our transgressions,’ ‘bruised for our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:4–5), the stream of salvation flows for a lost race. As the rock had been once smitten, so Christ was to be ‘once offered to bear the sins of many.’ Hebrews 9:28.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 411
Then came the second instance now at a place known as Kadesh. The Children of Israel again murmured for water, against the Lord and His servants, Moses and Aaron. It was this time that the servant(s) of God sinned, having been very faithful in the time past.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 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. And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 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 20:7–12 (emphasis mine).
Moses was told to speak to the rock, not to strike once, as many suppose.
“By his rash act Moses took away the force of the lesson that God purposed to teach. The rock, being a symbol of Christ, had been once smitten, as Christ was to be once offered. The second time it was needful only to speak to the rock, as we have only to ask for blessings in the name of Jesus. By the second smiting of the rock the significance of this beautiful figure of Christ was destroyed.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 418
“Our Saviour was not to be sacrificed a second time; and it is only necessary for those who seek the blessings of His grace to ask in the name of Jesus, pouring forth the heart’s desire in penitential prayer.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 411. See also Luke 11:9–10
Of course further to that sin was the sin of anger, i.e. “Hear now, ye rebels” and taking the glory and/or power of God, i.e. “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” as if they had the power themselves.
“Had Moses and Aaron been cherishing self-esteem or indulging a passionate spirit in the face of divine warning and reproof, their guilt would have been far greater. But they were not chargeable with willful or deliberate sin; they had been overcome by a sudden temptation, and their contrition was immediate and heartfelt. The Lord accepted their repentance, though because of the harm their sin might do among the people, He could not remit its punishment.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 419
Moses was so beloved by God, but when he sinned He still punished His servant’s sin. “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Yet it is because he repented, and confessed his sin, that God forgave him. Not long after his death he was resurrected and taken up into heaven (Jude 9)
May the Lord help us not only to understand this truth about Moses’ sin alone, but also possess the true facts of the Bible in every aspect, which comes as a result of prayerful study of His Word, remains my wish and prayer. AMEN.