It is only now, as I climb my last mountain alone with god that I fully understand. At the time it seemed such a little mistake, just one step too far. While I would not dare to question His judgements, or so I told myself, in my heart I wondered why a little thing should matter so much. Why should my anger be a betrayal of God’s holiness? Wasn’t it part of my zeal for him?
I admit that I will be glad to be done with their bickering and squabbling, the perpetual grumbling that became like grains of desert sand blown constantly into my face: at first just a silly irritation, but over time irritation (such a little thing) grows to a great weariness of pain carried for too long, and the effort of bearing it turns to anger, and (I understand now) a kind of contempt. One cannot be compassionate and contemptuous at the same time. But it goes even deeper than that, and it has taken me a long time to understand. My own bitterness, rooted in pride because I was God’s instrument in their deliverance, had blinded me to the deeper truth. I had proclaimed God’s law, but I had veered away from His heart. In the end my own self-righteousness was still as foolish, my anger still as destructive and futile, as that time, so very long ago, when I struck and killed the Egyptian. Striking the rock instead of speaking to it was not just a momentary lapse, a tiny step too far past what God had decreed, it was an act of blasphemy against the One I had been called to represent.
Meribah we called that place, because the name means quarrelling. The people were protesting their lack of water, a valid concern (I acknowledge now), but the tone of it irked me. I had had enough of them. I had forgotten that the Lord takes pity on His people. So I sought the Lord, but I was not seeking His heart, only a set of instructions. He commanded me to speak to the rock and water would come forth. But I was angry. I was contemptuous. I disobeyed the command. I took that step too far, and it was the step over the edge of the precipice. I did not speak to the rock, I spoke to the people, words of condemnation and pride. I claimed for myself the power to produce the water that they needed, and then, in my arrogant rage, I struck the rock.
God was merciful. He gave them abundant water, in spite of my sin. But I was chastened. I no longer had the right to lead them into the Promised Land. I had offended against the holiness of the Lord. I had taken for my own the power to bring them life amidst the deadliness of the desert. I had failed to see that the heart of God’s holiness is a compassion so enormous that it will one day turn the whole world upside down. He does not despise us for our needs, He comes down to meet us where we are, and calls us into deeper trust. Most of all, though, I could not lead them into the Promised Land because I, myself, had failed to enter His rest. I had made it my own burden to carry them, and I was weary with it. It is the Lord who redeems, the Lord who provides, and it is the Lord who will carry His broken, sinful people and bring them into His victory.