to strike or speak?

Reading Numbers 20:1-13 this morning.

This passage has always bothered me. God seems to be at his most fickle, unstable, and unjust in this moment. Just at the end. Maybe that's just me. 

The desperate crises of Israel about the lack of water, the imagination of thirsty people paining “pictures of Egypt/leaving out what it lacks” and the accusation that Moses and Aaron…

…who didn’t want to do this in the first place, remember…

…were somehow trying to kill them all via liberation and movement through the wilderness, all of these influences come crashing down and Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before God.

I think we underestimate the power of frustration. The flint-like quality that our spirits take on under the influence of frustration causes anything – ANYTHING – that strikes us at the right angle to burst into flames.

We act without thinking.

We speak without processing.

We do what feels best at the moment, out of frustration, to settle the issue once and for all.

God speaks in the narrative, telling Moses to take his staff and go speak to the rock and water will come out.

Take the staff. Speak. I’ll do the rest.

The stage is set for something interesting. I imagine Moses holding the staff, staring at the rock, then at Aaron, and listening to the cries and jeers of the liberated yet wandering nation crying for a return to oppression – the slavery we know is better than the freedom we don’t. At least we won’t die of hunger and thirst under the oppressive reign of Pharaoh.

Moses speaks, for sure, but doesn’t let it go at the word. He invokes the staff. He brings force, anger, brutality and ultimately his frustration down on the rock.


That’s important. Once didn’t satisfy, twice did the trick.

The result – Moses and Aaron (with Aaron saying, “What did I do? He hit the rock!”) are given a picture of their future. You won’t finish the journey. You won’t lead them to the promise.

He had a choice between the staff and the word. He chose the staff. And we often do the same.

In this season that we’re in as a country, or perhaps the frustration that you’re in relationally or spiritually, frustration is important. Don’t toss it aside.

Instead, be honest about the difference between the staff and the word.

The staff is our own ability to do violence out of our frustration. We’re frustrated because our world is changing in so many ways - politically, culturally, and sexually. I admit, change is hard. It's painful. All change is death of a kind - something that "was" is passing away. And yet, isn't the Christian story about "new life?" 

Why are we so in love with resurrection but so opposed to crucifixion? In everything? Is resurrection still possible when we aren't okay with dying?  

In our frustration over change - and this has nothing to do with our agreement or disagreement with the change either -  we take the staff to people who are already marginalized and already feel like God has abandoned them because, well, it makes us feel better. 

I'm not talking about politics. I'm not talking about public protests or Facebook rants. I'm simply saying that when we use the staff it's typically because we don't KNOW who we're using it on.

The word is trusting. It can be antithetical to whatever our culture and even our faith tribe may find to be acceptable. It has to come from a deeper place though. It has to come from our time on our face in the presence of God. Seeking. Laying down our presumptions and prejudices. Listening to the gentle whisper. 

The moment where we’re ready to lay down our own desires to solve, to salve, to avenge is the moment a word is whispered that changes everything. Because honestly...

The staff reminded people who Moses was.

The word would show them who God was and is.

The staff is violence out of fear.

The word is life that comes trust.

The staff is self-satisfying and self-justifying

The word points beyond us to something greater, something a world divided needs.

What are we living by today – the staff or the word? Are we living out of frustration and self-justification or have we figured out this essential truth:

It’s impossible to find our way home without a greater word that draws us.