“Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, when an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank” Numbers 20:11


The episode where Moses strikes the rock in place of speaking to it is one of the harshest in the whole Torah. It is also one of the most paradoxical.  Clearly, Moses should have followed God’s instruction to the letter.  

Given that he did not and was eventually punished so severely being denied entry to the Promised Land, we may ask how come the miracle was successful and water flowed from the rock?

Despite His anger, God didn’t embarrass Moses and didn’t let him down. He didn’t hold Moses up to ridicule, nor let him become a public laughing-stock. God didn’t suspend the miracle until Moses put his rod down and apologised. Moses’ s own contrition is not even mentioned at this point.

Moses is a lesson that prestige, prominence and track record do not mean that one has risen above normal religious obligations. Leadership is an onerous responsibility. For our leaders in public life, whether our leaders are seen as enjoying the limelight or public servants who make sacrifices, they remain accountable.

From the fact that God made the miracle happen despite Moses’ disobedience, there is a second significant lesson.

People in every arena make mistakes. Sometimes passions get the better of them. However, not every mistake by a leader is one which must result in immediate uproar, scandal or humiliation.  

Moses’s impropriety here was between him and God, which God would resolve Himself and in His own time. Disciplining Moses was not a job for every grumbling Israelite. It was important to God that the good and vital work that Moses was doing, alongside the recognition of all the good that he had already done, was not sacrificed in the face of a single lapse.

We are quick to criticise and judge. It’s not wrong. We should not acquiesce in the face of wrongdoing or injustice.  Nonetheless, we should offer commentary which is appropriate and constructive. We should appreciate the good even when criticising the bad.  

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