Give us water
The account of Moses miraculously producing water in the desert by striking his rod on the rock of Horeb appears in Exodus 17 and again in Numbers 20. The accounts aren’t exactly the same, but both accounts seem to speak of the same event. Rather than treat each text differently, we will examine them as a single event, meshing the two accounts. The text in blue comes from Numbers 20:1-12. The text in red comes from Exodus 17:1-7.
Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month (from the wilderness of Sin): and the people abode in Kadesh; (and pitched in Rephidim) and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?
3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?
5 And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.
7 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
8 Take the rod, wherewith thou smotest the river and gather thee of the elders of Israel; and Aaron thy brother, and go.
6 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 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.
9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10 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?
11 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.
12 ¶ 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.
7 And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?
We notice that these two accounts differ as to the location of the event and some of the details. How could that be if Moses wrote both Exodus and Numbers? Well, we should realize that the first five books of Moses were written by scribes years after the events. (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by A Berlin & MZ Brettler [New York, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014], 133, 307) This is a perfect example of two different scribes taking Moses’ records and including different details. This pattern, suggesting different scribal accounts, is repeated several times in Exodus and Numbers. If you wonder what it would be like to read Moses’ original writings, read Moses 1. Written in the first person, it is the only chapter in scripture which captures Moses’ firsthand account of his own experiences.
From this abbreviated account, we learn that Moses displeased God and was told he should not bring the children of Israel into the Promised Land. While this instance of the Lord punishing his prophet is not unique in scripture (see Jonah and 1 Ne. 16), it is heartbreaking to see after all Moses had suffered.
Exodus 17:1 the children of Israel… pitched in Rephidim
Rephidim is “the last station before Sinai (Ex. 19:2; Num. 33:14-15) and, to judge from v. 6, near Sinai/Horeb.” (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by A Berlin & MZ Brettler [New York, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014], 133) Exodus 17 suggests this event happened within the first 2 years of their journeys, while the Numbers account suggests it occurred at a different time, near the end of the 40 years when Miriam dies, and at a different location called Kadesh.
Numbers 20:1 the people abode in Kadesh
“Kadesh, meaning ‘holy,’ is one site in the Israelites’ wilderness sojourn whose location is largely uncontested by scholars. The area was the most permanent residence for the children of Israel and was probably their home for some thirty-eight of the fort years that they lived in the wilderness. Blessed by a natural supply of water from a series of spring-fed lakes, Kadesh includes a spring that generates as much as forty cubic meters of water per hour. Surrounded by the wilderness of Zin, the oasis of Kadesh could produce plenteous vegetation, including olive trees. It is located about 150 miles from Egypt, 140 miles from Sinai, and 40 miles from Beersheba.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 104)
Numbers 20:1 and Miriam died there, and was buried there
“Jewish tradition relates that Miriam, Moses, and Aaron all died sinless (Ginzberg, Legends, 3:444). Similarly, centuries later the prophet Micah remembered Miriam and her brothers as national heroes (Micah 6:3-4). Miriam’s story is a gift. We can share in her victories as well as her shortcomings. Through the power of the Lord, she led her people in a song of praise and acknowledgment for His deliverance. Likewise, through the power of the Lord, she received correction, rebirth, and forgiveness when she stumbled over God’s command to sustain and honor those called to lead her. In both circumstances she reminds us that we owe all that we are and can be to the Lord.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 104)
Numbers 20:10 ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this rock?
As the children of Israel travelled, “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud to lead them” (Ex 13:21). In this instance, the Lord God tells Moses He will personally stand before them at the rock of Horeb! Invisible to the elders of Israel and the congregation, God was standing right there! It was the Rock of our Salvation that brought living water out of that desert rock—not Moses—not Aaron.
Spencer W. Kimball
Moses failed to realize that the recorder was turned on when he said to the continually complaining children of Israel, crying for the fleshpots of Egypt: "Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?" He was reprimanded: "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." (Num. 20:10, 12.)
Moses had integrity in great measure, but in that unguarded moment he had presumptuously taken credit for the Lord's miracle and was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. (Faith Precedes the Miracle, 243)
Neal A. Maxwell
The pronoun-problem "we" reflected a momentary confusion about causality. It also reflected Moses' understandable fatigue, weariness, and exasperation. (Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 114)
Neal A. Maxwell
Moses was described as the most meek man upon the face of the earth. (See Num. 12:3.) Yet Moses had a brief moment when he rashly declared, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10; italics added.) Even so, the Lord readied remarkable Moses for later service, including that atop the Mount of Transfiguration. (See Matt. 17:1–4.) (“Out of Obscurity,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 9–10)
Neal A. Maxwell
Even while we move along the prescribed path, success itself is dangerous unless it is managed by meekness. For instance, when with divine help we participate in giving crucial aid, perhaps causing the small equivalent of a little gushing of living water from the barren rocks, we, like Moses, need to be careful about causality by avoiding what might be called the pronoun problem (see Numbers 20:10). (Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 6)
Numbers 20:12 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly
When Moses had received this command from God, he came to the people, who waited for him, and looked upon him, for they saw already that he was coming apace from his eminence. As soon as he was come, he told them that God would deliver them from their present distress, and had granted them an unexpected favor; and informed them, that a river should run for their sakes out of the rock. But they were amazed at that hearing, supposing they were of necessity to cut the rock in pieces, now they were distressed by their thirst and by their journey; while Moses only smiting the rock with his rod, opened a passage, and out of it burst water, and that in great abundance, and very clear. But they were astonished at this wonderful effect; and, as it were, quenched their thirst by the very sight of it. So they drank this pleasant, this sweet water; and such it seemed to be, as might well be expected where God was the donor. They were also in admiration how Moses was honored by God; and they made grateful returns of sacrifices to God for his providence towards them. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 2:7)
What is the significance of this episode in the wilderness? Nephi explained to us the significance of the raising of the serpent of the wilderness (1 Ne. 17:41). What about this story?
The resurrected Lord spoke to the Nephites, “Behold, I am he of whom Moses spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you… Verily I say unto you, yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken have testified of me.” (3 Ne. 20: 23-24) Nephi declared, “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.” (2. Ne 11:4)
The running water from the rock of Horeb is a type for the living water which comes from the Rock of Christ. Of both in his mortal ministry, and his Second Coming, this incident is but a type, a foreshadowing, a schoolmaster. The first example is Jesus at Jacob’s well with the Samaritan woman:
Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink…
Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. (What Jesus could have said: “If you only knew that I am the one who commanded Moses to bring forth water from the rock while thy fathers were in the wilderness, you would know that I can provide water in the desert. If you only knew that I am the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament!”)
The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?
Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? (What Jesus could have said: “Yea, I am greater than our father Jacob. I am greater than his father Isaac and his father Abraham. I am greater than Moses that first delivered the children of Israel. I am that prophet of whom he testified should come to save Israel again.”)
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. (John 4:5-15)
Many of the Mosaic types of Christ actually deal more with his Second Coming than his mortal ministry. In this case, there is a type in the living water which proceeds from the Jesus’ house, the temple of Jerusalem, from the threshold on the east:
Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar… behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.
Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. (Ezek. 47:1, 7-8)
Christ is the Rock that heals us. He provides the living waters to all people if they will but bend the knee to take a drink. His children are still called the sons and daughters of Abraham, the children of Israel. We still wander, each of us, in our own wilderness, suffering from thirst in the arid heat of mortality. If we exercise the faith needed, we may partake of His living waters which forever quench our thirst until they become in us “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Like Jeremiah, we cry:
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed… because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise. (Jer. 17:13-14)
Exodus 17:7 is the Lord among us or not?
“Is the Lord among us? In our days we admit our hardness of heart and lack of faith and we do ask this question. We read this episode and wonder why such miracles seldom if ever happen today.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 958-959)
Boyd K. Packer
Who would dare to say that the day of miracles has ceased? Those things have not changed in 150 years (or 6050 years), not changed at all.
For the power and inspiration of the Almighty rests upon this people today as surely as it did in those days of beginning: “It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief.” (Moroni 7:37.)
The prophet Moroni taught that angelic messengers would accomplish their work, “by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts.” (Moroni 7:31-32.)
There has come, these last several years, a succession of announcements that show our day to be a day of intense revelation, equaled, perhaps, only in those days of beginning, 150 years ago.
But then, as now, the world did not believe. They say that ordinary men are not inspired; that there are no prophets, no Apostles; that angels do not minister unto men-not to ordinary men…
I feel compelled, on this one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Church, to certify to you that I know that the day of miracles has not ceased. I know that angels minister unto men." (That All May Be Edified, pp. 149-151)
Dallin H. Oaks
The purely intellectual approach to religion rejects modern miracles and suspects any religious verity that cannot be proven by the methods of science. At the opposite extreme are the superstitious, those who reject the possibility of knowing God by any means, scientific or religious. Science considers itself the master of signs. Superstition shows itself the servant of signs.
True religion is neither intellectual nor superstitious. The true role of signs illustrates the middle ground of truth. Signs are not to prove religious truth, as some people believe the methods of science can do. Neither are signs a substitute for knowledge, as superstition would have it. The truth about God and his commandments for his children comes by faith and revelation from the Holy Ghost, a method unacceptable to superstition and unprovable by science. Then, when faith is gained and exercised, signs follow those who believe. (The Lord's Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 100)