God had been so faithful to his people. He did many miracles, signs, and wonders. He delivered them from their enemies. He gave them a cloud and a fire. He gave them an oasis. He perpetually gave them daily bread to eat. He gave them rest. They fought and failed to trust him the whole way but God just keeps on blessing them anyway.
When they come to a place in the wilderness where there is no water once again, you would think they would be inclined to consider all of that goodness. Matthew Henry reminds that, “Eaten bread must not be forgotten.” But they do forget. They were not inclined in the least to consider all the blessings they had been given and were continuing to receive on behalf of God himself. Once again, the selfish desires and distrust of God and his prophet leads them into severe and serious sin.
When their need becomes great, their quarrels become evident once again. They indict the prophet (Moses) God had given for their good. They not only demand that he meet their needs, they malign and accuse him of ill-motives, they actually say, again – this is twice now that this crazy story is spewed from their mouths – that when he delivered them by the mighty hand of God that he did so with the singular intention of murdering them. How absolutely absurd!
The truth is that that was precisely what they were doing to him. Because he did not produce and provide what only God could for them, they falsely accused Moses as a result of their ill-motives. They sought a trial and they wanted to kill him. Essentially, they accused Moses (twice now) of doing the very (evil) things that they themselves were actually doing to him.
Isn’t it funny how that works? The guilty turn the tables to make the innocent appear to be what they actually are.
“Many that have not only designed well, but done well, for their generation, have had their best services thus misconstrued, and their patience thereby tried, by unthinking unthankful people…Ungoverned passions, provoked by the crossing of unbridled appetites, sometimes make men guilty of the greatest absurdities, and act like madmen, that cast firebrands, arrows, and death, among their best friends.” Matthew Henry
These people question and accuse God’s prophet and that, in itself, proves that they are actually questioning and accusing God himself. This was the man he’d given to them for blessing and intercession and deliverance and provision. In questioning him, they question God, God’s providence, God’s provision, God’s presence, and God’s promises all at the same time.
The most amazing part of this story is not only what God does, but what the falsely accused prophet does. Moses, who, by the way was a former murderer himself, does not argue with his accusers about their outrageous claims and charges. Moses goes directly to God. He cried to the Lord in his desperation and grief. Moses seeks their good. He does exactly what God commands and God shows up. God puts himself on trial. Instead of making the guilty murmurers stand before him, he stands before Moses! He tells Moses to strike the rock. In doing so, he is essentially taking the blow for their gross disobedience. Not only does God put himself in the place of the guilty, he gives a blessing as he is struck.
He is the rock. The rock is Christ. Christ is the rock upon whom God builds his church. God builds his church on Christ and those who are willing to forgive when falsely accused, seek God on behalf of the guilty, absorb pain that they do not deserve, and bring a blessing afterward to the very people who sin against God and they.
That is what God did here. That is what Jesus did on the cross. That is what we are called to do in his church.