Why Moses Struck the Rock and Why God Punished Him (Numbers 20:11)

Why Moses Struck the Rock

In this detailed commentary, we will explore the three reasons why Moses struck the rock and why God punished him for doing it.

Let’s begin…

Moses is a notable person in the patriarchy from the old testament, God used him to bring out the people of Israel from the land of slavery, the land of Egypt. There are so many miracles that God has performed through Moses most especially using his staff.

God had promised Moses and the people that they will make it to the promised land. Something happened which stopped Moses from getting into the promised land.  The people of Israel became tired and thirsty, they asked for water. Moses went to God for water and God ordered him to strike the rock – he did and water came out.

Exodus 17:6
“I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink. So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.”

Years later the same thing happened, the people became thirsty and requested water. Moses did the usual by going to God but this time, God told him a different thing to do.

Numbers 20:8-11
“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

Moses did not ‘speak’ to the rock but struck it instead – this is the reason why he didn’t make it to the promised land.

Many people must have been wondering and asking questions like, “Why did Moses choose to strike the rock the second time instead of speaking to it”, “Why can’t God pardon him for that action because he was a notable servant.” It is right to ask all these questions. There had been different answers provided by different people – most answers don’t even go with the scriptures that one could easily reject. When answering a question like this, it has to be based on the scripture.

Moses Shown Promised Land

3 Likely Reasons Why Moses Struck the Rock

Before going into giving answers to the question of why God had to punish him, we must look into the reason why he struck the rock. Before anyone can make a move or do something, he or she must have decided in the heart or thought of it in the heart.  We will take everything from why he struck the rock and why God punished him from a completely different view using the scriptures.

#1 Anger.

One thing peculiar to Moses is his anger. Many times in the Bible has his anger featured.

Exodus 32:19
“When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.”

Moses Ten Commandments

There are lots of things the Bible says about anger and it is always advising to keep it in check. Anger can destroy things that we have built.

The difference between pride and anger is that when you show a sign of arrogance, God hates you for it and if it continues, gradually you do things that will destroy you but when you get angry, it affects your thought, your sense of reasoning, and it leaves you with a quick judgmental decision – it does not always end well because it affects you, your works, and the people around too. Moses was not able to control his anger.

One can say Moses anger can be justified – it was due to the complaints and the disobedience of the people he was leading. God expects everyone to learn how to control their anger not because it’s completely a sin but because of what it will cause. Anger is one of the reasons why Moses struck the rock twice.

Psalm 37:8 says “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

#2 Complaints.

This is exactly one reason why Moses gets angry all the time. Not only did the people of Israel like to complain but they also disobey God and have a rebellious heart. This part of the people’s behavior can create frustration and then anger. The people of Israel are always complaining even after seeing an evident miracle. They still refused to believe that God could help them get through whatever stage they find themselves in.

At first, it was at the bank of the red sea, they complained and told Moses that dying in Egypt would have been better. You must be wondering why they are making such a suggestion but it’s their way. God has said things about them and when Jesus came, he still mentioned it to them about seeing miracles and yet not believing.

Matthew 11:17
“ We played the pipe for you,  and you did not dance;  we sang a dirge,  and you did not mourn.”

Elijah got frustrated because of this too in his time – Elijah was a very powerful servant of God but had to run when they seek after his life.

1 Kings 19:10
“He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Being frustrated at this, Elijah had the option of running away – Moses could not, he still sees them as God’s people and his responsibility. All went down to his anger and he acted.

#3 Disobedience.

We can’t take the fact out that Moses struck the rock because of disobedience. Well, the disobedience might have come from the anger or frustration but he disobeyed. Disobedience is a spirit, and spirit that is totally in opposition to the spirit of God – which equally means that God detests disobedience.

Disobedience did not start in the time of Moses, it has been in existence long before the creation – Satan, became proud and he went against God – the reason why he became the devil. One reason why a haughty spirit is listed to be part of what God hates is that it breeds disobedience.

To show how much God hates disobedience, we will go through the scriptures and bring out cases of disobedience and the punishments for each.

The disobedience of Jonah.

While people consider it a great privilege to work for God, Jonah got a simple order from God.

Jonah 1:2
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Despite this information Jonah got from God – what did he do instead? He fled to Tarshish. His punishment was quick, he was thrown into the sea and then swallowed by the fish. The assignment God gave to Jonah involves the salvation of people. When it comes to God trying to save people, anyone who He tries to use must not disobey because there will be an immediate punishment for it.

Eli and his sons.

One can say that Eli shouldn’t face the punishment that was to come in his sons but he was the father. His son had done terrible things in the sight of God. Eli rebuked his sons for doing the wrong thing but that didn’t make them stop doing things that God hated. Since there is no one to take over from Eli when he became old, the priesthood couldn’t continue with his family.

1 Samuel 2:31-32
“The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age, and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, no one in your family line will ever reach old age.”

King Saul.

The first king of Israel, he started well and obedient until he got to a point where he was ordered to fight a battle and destroy everything in that land. King Saul did not do as God says but instead, he kept their King and the best of their livestock.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel when Saul had disobeyed God, God told Samuel that he regrets making Saul the king and then God rejected him. Samuel went on to meet Saul. Saul claimed the livestock was for sacrifice to God. Samuel replied to him in scripture…

1 Samuel 15:22
“But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

Obeying God has a spiritual impact on the body and not just the body but also the heart. It is what builds our faith in God. It pleases God to see that we have faith in him by obediently following all he says.

Adam and Eve.

This is the first case of disobedience in the Bible and the reason why all human beings are born into sin.

Romans 5:12
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned.”

The kind of interpretation people give as to what it means to eat the fruit God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat is not what it is. We have seen different photos, drawings, and some illustrations where two people are together holding an apple, sometimes a pear – all these are to show that at least a fruit was eaten but not that an apple or pear was eaten.

Adam and Eve Forbidden Fruit

Adam and Eve eating from that tree are deeper than what it looks like in the Bible. The true meaning of will ushers us into the real meaning of what Moses did, what God asked him to do, why it resulted in punishment. Adam and Eve disobeyed – the point is not about the fruit they ate – the point is that they disobeyed God. Not that the fruit possesses some kind of magical power that can make someone brilliant or look radiant but disobedience was involved.

In his book, THE GOD WHO IS THERE, D.A. Carson wrote…

“Doubtless here is where we need to think a little more about this tree. What was the fruit? There is no biblical text that says it was an apple as if God hates apples but is rather partial to pineapples and pears. It is not necessary to suppose that the fruit is magical, such that by ingesting it—whatever it is—a switch suddenly goes on in the brain, the chemistry changes, and now you suddenly start pronouncing good and evil. That is not quite the point. Regardless of what this fruit is, it is an inevitable test.”

Adam and Eve failed the test. They were punished not only because they ate the fruit but because they disobeyed God. In the same manner, Moses striking the rock has spiritual meaning.

Why God Punished Moses

At first, in Exodus 17:6, God told Moses to strike the rock. At each point, God always tells Moses to gather the elders and people to see – this is not coincidental, God is trying to use this to pass a message to the people. The bible described who the rock is in scripture.

1 Corinthians 10:3-4
“They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”  The rock was Jesus. People needed to be saved from thirst, what came out of that rock is more than water, it was spiritual water.

Striking the rock at the first stage has to do with the first stage of salvation, it starts with the death of Jesus Christ for all mankind, going on to shed his blood for the atonement of sin. The blood that flows through him is the blood that cleanses from all unrighteousness.

So God was trying to make it clear to Moses and the elders what the rock symbolizes. The water coming from the rock symbolizes two things which are; his blood and the living water.

John 7:37-38
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

The picture was not clear to Moses at the first time. As we are growing in Christianity, spiritual maturity is needed. There are some levels we should have attained that should be greater than the way we started.

This second time, God told him to speak to the rock. It has become part of Moses to use his staff to perform miracles. When he confronted Pharaoh, he used his staff. When parting the sea, he used his staff. God wants to show him a new method, he wants him to increase the level of his faith. He asked him just to talk and that’s all.

The first Jesus died once and for all, there is no point nailing him again. All we are to do now is to speak to him. That is faith. That is what God requires and Moses did not give that.

Numbers 20:12
“But the LORD reprimanded Moses and Aaron. He said, “Because you did not have enough faith to acknowledge my holy power before the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land that I promised to give them.”

Moses did not show an act of a leader who believes in God. We can say his trust in God is limited. There are things that God will ask him to do and yet will question him. He chooses to follow his way instead of following God – showing a sign of unbelief can be punished especially when you are working for God.

Angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, he told him he would have a child. Zacharias did not believe and he was punished for that.

Luke 1:20
“But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

Moses was punished for this also, his lack of faith prevented him from going into the promised land.


Author Bio
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.