We're standing with Moses at Meribah, where the people of Israel are (again) grumbling against their God. They are thirsty, and it's been a long time since they have seen any water worth drinking. They're ready (again) to go back to Egypt, to a land of slavery, since it's clear to them that God brought them out in this wilderness to dehydrate them to death. (We humans are so dramatic, aren't we?)
So God tells Moses to gather the people around a rock, in order that He might demonstrate His power, and provision, among them. He tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff so that water will come flowing out of it, which Moses does. But Moses, who has himself been the subject of much of Israel's grumbling to this point, has a very human moment and doesn't execute this action exactly as God has instructed him. Instead of striking the rock once, he strikes it twice; instead of declaring God's provision and goodness, he betrays his own grumbling spirit and projects it on God, right there in front of the people.
It is the sin that will ultimately cost Moses his chance to live in the Promised Land.
But let's not miss this:
Water still flows from the rock.
Moses may not do exactly what he's supposed to do in the way that God wants him to do it, but God keeps up His end of the deal. Moses strikes the rock in front of the people, and God brings forth living water to satisfy their thirst.
This is important, particularly for those of us who are prone to take on a heavy responsibility for God's work in our world. It's easy for us to think that if we mess up, we're going to ruin everything that God is doing. If we sin, the whole world is going to miss out on His goodness. Or if God is angry with us, we take away His goodness for everyone.
We're afraid that if we don't get it exactly right, God isn't going to be God any more. God isn't going to love other persons because we were too flawed to let Him love them through us. God isn't going to do good in the world because we were too broken to do good the right way. And on and on it goes until the fear of 'messing everything up' becomes paralyzing and many of us don't even try to do anything for God, or His people, at all any more. We go back to Moses in Egypt - oh, please, Lord, not me. Don't send me. I'm not qualified. This can only end badly, Lord.
Or we get wrapped up in asking a thousand questions about what God wants us to do and how He wants us to do it and what exactly it's supposed to look like and how best to.... Just picture Moses trying to figure out exactly how to strike the rock. Where should the people stand? Where should I stand? Should I strike the rock sideways, or with the end of my staff? Should I make a wide swing of it and really make it a dramatic production, or is it enough to simply touch the staff to the rock? Which end of the staff should I be holding? In my right hand or left hand?
It sounds silly, but we do it all the time. Don't we? We want to make sure we're getting everything right, doing everything in just exactly the way that God wants us to do it.
Yet, still, there's a chance that our human nature gets in the way, and it doesn't go off like we planned. Or like He planned.
But what this story tells us is that...that's okay. Yes, Moses still had to deal with his own flesh and his own shortcomings, but Israel didn't suffer because Moses didn't get it right. God still brought water out of the rock to satisfy their thirst. God still brought water out of the rock, even for Moses.
Perhaps, then, we should take comfort in knowing that God is still God, even when we are human. Even when we fail or when we don't get things quite right or when our flesh gets in the way or whatever, God is still God. God still delivers on His promises. God is still good to His people. God still loves His people. God still loves even us.
If God says He's bringing water out of the rock, then He's bringing water out of the rock. And not even we can mess that up.