"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
May 28, 2014
The Meribah Question
by Kathryn Grant

What was Moses’ and Aaron’s sin at the waters of Meribah? You may remember the account: After yet more complaints from the children of Israel, Moses and Aaron go to the tabernacle and “[fall] on their faces” (Numbers 20:6). There the Lord instructs Moses to take the rod, gather the people, and speak to the rock to bring forth the needed water.

So Moses and Aaron take the rod and Moses strikes the rock. Water miraculously comes forth — but something has gone wrong. Shortly afterward, the Lord delivers this rebuke to 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.” (Numbers 20:12; cf Deuteronomy 32:48–52.)

But what exactly did they do wrong? What was so bad that they lost the privilege of leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land and even entering it themselves? It doesn’t seem at all obvious from the Biblical account.

Was it because Moses and Aaron didn’t defend the Lord in response to the Israelites’ complaints? Or perhaps Moses erred in striking the rock instead of speaking to it. Maybe the problem was that he didn’t give God the glory when he challenged the assembly, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10).

A few have even speculated that Moses wasn’t really being punished at all, but relieved of leadership in his old age — a problematic supposition, given the Lord’s clear rebuke in the scriptures.

The fact remains that the scriptures are silent on the particular act that caused the problem.

And that may be just as well, since the scriptures are not a formula to follow, but an invitation to apply truth to our own lives. The more I pondered on this experience, the more I felt that it was important to focus on what the Lord did say: “Ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel.”

Rather than asking what Moses and Aaron did or didn’t do, what might it mean in my own life to “sanctify the Lord”? Were there areas where I could improve?

First, this sense of the word sanctify must be different than the usual sense of “making clean,” since the Lord is already pure and holy. It was enlightening to read some alternate translations for the phrase “sanctify me” in Numbers 20:12:

  • “honor me as holy” (NIV)

  • “hallow me” (Wycliffe and Darby— an interesting echo of the Lord’s Prayer)

  • “show my holiness” (CEB)

  • “uphold me as holy” (ESV)

So how do we honor or uphold God as holy, especially if others around us are doubting or even contending? Several examples come to mind.

I think of Abinadi, who suffered a martyr’s death by fire rather than deny his testimony of Jesus Christ. I think also of a dear friend who followed a prompting to express her faith in God’s enabling power obtained through prayer, when another woman asked how she carried the heavy burdens in her life.

One of my favorite fictional examples, rooted in author Janette Oke’s strong Christian faith, is found in the movie “Love Comes Softly.” After a fire destroys their barn and part of their livelihood, Clark Davis expresses optimism and faith to his wife, Marty: He is sure that things will work out and that God will continue to answer his prayers.

“Really!” Marty exclaims. “Did you pray for this?” Recently widowed and grieving herself, she reminds him of the loss of his first wife, and its impact on his daughter. She concludes, “I just can’t understand why the God you pray to would let such unthinkable things happen to decent people.”

Clark isn’t angry or defensive. Instead, with the quiet confidence of a man who has found God’s grace sufficient in his darkest times, he takes Marty’s hand and leads her to his “church,” a simple bench overlooking a scenic valley. There he shares his gentle, solid testimony.

“In all the moments of my life, God has been right there beside me. The truth of God's love is not that He allows bad things to happen. It's His promise that He'll be there with us when they do.” With simple assurance and conviction, Clark sanctified the Lord. As a result, faith was awakened in his wife.

Few of us will pay the price of a martyr to sanctify the Lord. But in the words of the apostle Peter, we can “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us].” (1 Peter 3:15).

We can “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9); we can “confess ... his hand in all things” (D&C 59:21); we can be valiant in our testimony of Jesus.

The waters of Meribah can be our reminder to sanctify the Lord always.

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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