“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”Maybe Mark Twain (But Probably Not)
This quote is widely attributed to Mark Twain. The only problem is that it doesn’t appear to have originated until several decades after his death. Nevertheless, it’s a good line and one that rings true in today’s passages. Numbers 20 wasn’t the first time the Israelites found themselves at Kadesh. Last time, in Numbers 13-14, it was the people of Israel balking at God’s promises in the face of their fears, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt!” Back then, it was Moses who interceded for the people, pleading with God to forgive them according to his steadfast love, which he did.
As Numbers 20 opens, we learn that the people have returned to Kadesh, where their grumbling sounds remarkably familiar, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!” Moses and Aaron consulted with the Lord and then returned to the people with instructions to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.” But instead of speaking as the Lord commanded, Moses struck the rock with his staff.
It had been the fear of the Israelites that kept them from entering the promised land for a generation. Now, Moses’ frustration would do the same for him. Moses failed to uphold the Lord as holy before the eyes of the people. What might seem to us a minor disobedience in Numbers 20 God calls a rebellion against his word in Numbers 27, appointing Joshua as the one who would finally lead his people into the land they’d been promised. Both fear and frustration are natural and at times unavoidable reactions in a fallen world. Like Moses and the Israelites, the question before us isn’t if we will ever be afraid or frustrated. The question is what we will do in those moments. The Israelites and Moses aren’t the only part of these episodes that rhyme. The Lord was steadfast in his love and faithful to his word, and he still is, even when we are frustrated or afraid.