Bible Question:

Is the water from the rock story the same incident in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 or are they two separate incidents?

Bible Answer:

The two events of Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13 occurred in two different regions and two different times. Here are the passages.

Exodus 17:1-3, 5-6
Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” . . .But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. (NASB)
Numbers 20:1-8
. . . the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation;and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! “Why then have you brought the LORD’S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? “And why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.”Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” (NASB)

Different Times

The book of Exodus records the events leading to the exodus and then one year after the exodus.  For example, in Exodus 12:2 God told Moses that the Hebrew calendar would start with the celebration of the Passover Lamb.

This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Exodus 12:2  (NASB)

In the last chapter of the book of Exodus, we discover that one year has elapsed since the calendar was started. We read in Exodus 40:17 that one year has elapsed since we are told that the time is the first month of the second year. That is, the calendar started with the first month of the first year and now it is the first month of the second year..

Now it came about in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was erected. Exodus 40:17 (NASB)

During that one year the Israelites crossed the Red Sea as they fled from the Egyptian army (Exodus 14). Exodus 15 recorded Moses’ song. Exodus 16 reveals that God feeds the Israelites manna in the wilderness. Then after they moved to the Wilderness of Sin, God performed a miracle through Moses and provided them with water from a rock. Many events occurred after that, including Moses receiving the law. Directions were received for building the tabernacle and completing the tabernacle. All of this took one entire year after the Israelites left the land of Egypt. That is the message of Exodus 40:17.

But the events recorded in Numbers start one month later.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt. Numbers 1:1 (NASB)

The book of Deuteronomy picks up the history in the fortieth year after the exodus.

And it came about in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel.  Deuteronomy 1:3 (NASB)

So Exodus records the first year after the exodus. Numbers records the years of wanderings and Deuteronomy records the last year. The book of Leviticus gives us the sacrificial laws.

Different Locations

The events in Exodus 17:1-7 occurred in the Wilderness of Sin which was located in the Sinai Peninsula. The events in Numbers 20:1-13 occurred in the Wilderness of Zin. The Wilderness of Zin is located near the southern part of the Dead Sea. Kadesh is located in the Wilderness of Zin.

Map of the Sinai Peninsula

Different Events

The details of the two events are also different. In the first one, God told Moses to strike the rock. In the second one, God told him to speak to the rock. The rock was a symbol of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Figuratively speaking, Jesus had already been struck. The next time God did not want Him struck figuratively again, but to be spoken to. Another interesting fact is that Miriam was alive at the time of the exodus; but just before the second event, Miraim died (Num. 20:1). The first event occurred in the wilderness of Sin and the second occurred in the wilderness of Zin.

Tragedy Occurred

The second event was also tragic as Moses sinned and lost the right to enter the Promised Land. He sinned by becoming angry at the people, but the sin that cost him the right to enter the promised land was his lack of faithfulness. Notice God’s curious statement in Numbers 20:

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Numbers 20:12 (NASB)

God’s comment that Moses “did not believe Me” is explained in Deuteronomy.

. . . because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin . . . Deuteronomy 32:51 (NASB)

The Hebrew word for “broke faith” has the idea of “unfaithful, not loyal, and deceitful.” He was not faithful. In a sense, God was depending on him and he “let God down.” Moses’ sin occurred in his heart before he hit the rock. He was unfaithful.


There are times in our lives when we have been unfaithful. So why did God punish Moses so severely? Because his relationship with God was like no other man’s. He is described as a humble man and a great prophet. God granted him a special relationship and in return expected Moses to be faithful. What a lesson for us! God calls us to be faithful in all that we do. Let’s ask God to make us faithful men and women. A special relationship with God calls for faithfulness. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us be faithful.

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