Meribah in the Bible - What Happened with Moses Striking the Rock (2023)

Sometimes the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime, and at first glance, Moses striking a rock in a desert, out of frustration with the Israelites, doesn't seem like a just cause for him to prevent himself from seeing the Promised Land. After all, he'd witnessed the 10 plagues, led Israel out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, brought the 10 Commandments down from Mount Sinai, and saw victories in many of Israel's battles. So why would God let one rock strike in Meribah prevent Moses from seeing the land God had promised Israel?

Let's take a look at the location of Meribah, what happened there, and why Moses' actions at Meribah prevented him from making it all the way to Jericho.

Where Is Meribah in the Bible?

Meribah (or Massah) shows up in two places in Scripture. In fact, there are two places named Meribah the Israelites travel through (Meribah and Meribah Kadash) but a similar thing happens at both location: the miracle of water.

Massah means temptation. We'll see in a minute why they named the place as such, as the Israelites tempted the Lord. Meribah means strife or contention, which definitely seems to fit the bill based on how the Israelites acted before the miracle of water occurred. Scripture places one of the Meribah locations in the desert of Sin (the literal name of the desert, although the English connotations certainly aren't lost on the readers). We don't have an exact location pinpointed, but we do know it was in the wilderness before the Israelites reached the Promised Land.

It's important to remember that for later. Because the Israelites had gotten so lost in their wilderness, they lost sight of the important journey ahead. As did Moses with his frustration with them, which led to his ultimate deterrent from the Promised Land.


Meribah also shows up in the End Times. According to GotQuestions, "Another place Meribah is directly mentioned in the Bible is in the book of Ezekiel. In the future allotment of the land of Israel in the millennial kingdom, Meribah Kadesh will serve as a border for the section allotted to the tribe of Gad (Ezekiel 47:19; 48:28). As Meribah served to remind the Israelites following Moses of their lack of trust in the Lord, so also will it in the millennial reign of Christ."

What Happened in Meribah the First TIme?

These passages will feel like deja vu but it's important to notice the subtle differences between the two, and how the second one had far greater consequences.

The first occurrence happens in Exodus 17. The Israelites complain to Moses about their lack of water. They also put the Lord to the test (hence the "tempted" above) by saying that if he's really with them, he should provide.

God asks Moses what to do, and he answers the following:

"The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 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" (Exodus 17:5-6).

Water flows from the rocks and the Israelites have something to drink.

(Video) Water from the rock | Animated Bible Stories | My First Bible | 30

In essence, the Israelites approached Moses with a problem. Moses went to God. God gave Moses explicit instructions. Moses followed, and water flowed. Let's take a look at what happens when Moses gets fed up and disobeys God at the second Meribah.

What Happened in Meribah the Second Time?

We pick up the second miracle in Numbers 20. The Israelites arrive in the Desert of Zin near Kadesh. Once again, the Israelites complain to Moses about their lack of water. They go as far as to say that Moses should have never taken them from Egypt. After all, in Egypt, they had pomegranates and figs. Notice how they forgot about their woes of 400 years of slavery when they experienced a little thirst. Moses and Aaron go to God for the next steps. God makes his instructions very clear.

Numbers 20:7-8: "The Lord said to Moses, “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.”

Moses, instead, strikes the rock. Although God still does give the Israelites water, he's angered by Moses' disobedience. Moses' rebellious actions (ironically enough he called Israelites "rebels" right before he struck the rock rebelliously) guarantee him a death in the wilderness, instead of the Promised Land.

Why Did Moses Disobey God?

The passage doesn't directly say something like, "Moses had gotten pretty ticked off with how much the Israelites complained—and they complained a lot—so he decided to strike the rock instead of speak to it." But in essence, that was the case.

Moses had grown frustrated with God's people. At every turn, they questioned him, questioned God, and questioned Moses' leadership. Moses had to quell rebellions and literally overturn idols when he left for a few weeks to get the 10 Commandments.

(Video) Bible story "Water From a Rock?" | Primary Year B Quarter 2 Episode 8 | Gracelink

He'd gotten fed up. And in a moment of agitation, he disobeyed God.

Does the Punishment Fit the Bill?

At first glance, it seems like God is going really hard on Moses. After all, Moses had followed God's commands up to this point. Couldn't God just let this one slide? Did he overreact?

First, we have to know that the first striking of the rock serves as a foreshadowing of Christ, as described in 1 Corinthians 10. So God only intended for this symbolism to happen once. Moses striking the rock againruins this original intention of God.

Secondly, anytime we question God's punishments in the Bible, or in our own lives, we forget about the gravity of sin. Sin essentially tells God that we don't think he deserves to be on the throne of our lives. Instead, we supplant him and rule a kingdom of one, until our corruption decays us from the inside out and reduces us to a grumble, as cleverly illustrated in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce.Sin paralyzes, eats us from the inside out, corrupts, ruins, destroys, ravishes.

Any sin can bar us from the Promised Land.

Not only does Moses directly disobey God's orders, but if we look closer at the passage, he takes credit for God's actions as well:

(Video) Why Did God Tell Moses To Hit The Rock For Water (Biblical Stories Explained)

Numbers 20:10: "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?”

Notice the "we". Moses had, in essence, claimed glory for God's actions. Which we see throughout the Bible, never ends well. Take a look at what happens to Herod when he does that in Acts 12.

Meribah shows us that God still provides, even when we disobey him. He had every right not to provide water from the rock when Moses struck it, but instead, he chose to provide for the needs of the Israelites anyway. But the passage also shows us that sin has far more deadly consequences than we may foresee. When someone rouses our anger, we need to make sure not to sin while angry. Or the consequences could be most severe.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/FCerez

Hope Bolingeris an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author 21+ books. More than 1400 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.comfor clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.


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