How many of you know people who do nothing but complain? That would also describe the Israelites when they were in the wilderness. They constantly complained about things such the lack of food and water, and we see an example of that complaining in the passage we heard from Exodus.
The Israelites always challenged Moses’ leadership, and it was no different when they got to Rephidim. There wasn’t any water, and the people were thirsty. It didn’t help when Moses asked the people why they put God to the test. The people forgot that if God could part the Red Sea, He could provide water to drink. The Lord’s assurance of His presence with Moses- “I will stand before you”-recalls the first time Moses heard these words-at the burning bush.
The Israelites had not come to Rephidim without divine guidance-the cloud and the column of fire. When the Israelites were in the midst of their emotional response, they could not see that right before their eyes was evidence of God’s leading. They learned how God provided food and water. They also learned through warfare that God would bring about defeat of hostile neighbours.
In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul writes about this event: “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” The stone that was struck in this chapter in Exodus pictures Christ who, when He was on the cross, became the fountainhead of blessing, the Redeemer of the world.
We often put God to the test. We want Him to prove Himself repeatedly. We should heed the words Billy Graham said once and accept God by faith. Instead, we keep asking Him to move down into the smallest, minute details of our lives.
The experience the Israelites had at Rephidim teaches us what it means to be an instrument of God. He used Moses’ staff to strike the rock and bring forth water for the Israelites. The rod is a powerful symbol. Every one of us has some capacity to serve God. He constantly asks us, “What is in your hand?” Our usefulness to God is not measured by the character or capacity of our gifts, but our willingness to use these gifts.
This passage is a good example of how God’s strength is sent to us in times of need. He gives us courage to do the impossible. He gives us courage to change. He gives us joy in the face of our struggles, and He gives us strength by sending us the help we need in our greatest moments of weakness.
Is God still with us when we find ourselves in dry places in our lives? How do we deal with these dry places? Complain? Blame? Does God plan lives? If so, we need to be ready. We need to think about that now instead of just reacting in the moment. We need to remove distractions that make it hard for us to hear and see how God is working in our lives. God is always present.
We can be born-again Christians and still live lives of defeat. If we do, it isn’t God’s fault. He has given us everything we need to live godly lives through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness, as stated in 2 Peter 1:3. It’s up to us to walk in the truth of who He is and who we are in Him.
When we are broken, we might need help to recover. When we are hurt, we might need healing hands to relieve pain. God will send us the helpers we need at the right time. God cares for us and helps us move from places of fear and doubt to places of trust. God provides for us and reveals Himself to us, and then He asks us to trust when the good provision doesn’t come as fast or in the form we want. If we look back, we will remember how God has provided for us in the past, and that He will provide for us in the future.
The Hebrew people had not been trained for war in their years of servitude in Egypt, but Moses had been given a royal course in leadership and warfare when he lived in Pharaoh’s palace. This was an unprovoked attack from a brother nation-the Amalekites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob.
Joshua would be Moses’ personal minister for the next 40 years. He was also put in charge of the military, beginning with the conflict with the Amalekites. By holding the rod of God, Moses physically demonstrated total dependence on God’s authority and power.
The conflict with the Amalekites sets forth the resources of the man under law, rather than those of the believer under grace. When Moses lowered his arms, the Israelites had to use the resources of the man under law. When Moses raised his arms, the Israelites fought as believers under grace. Under grace, the Holy Spirit gains the victory, but only if the believer walks in the Spirit.
If Moses held up his hand in a gesture of dependence on God, the battle went Israel’s way. If he got tired and lowered his hand, the battle went the way of the Amalekites. Neither Moses nor the rod was empowering Joshua’s army: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was ensuring the victory. After the battle, Moses built an altar and named it as a memorial to the Lord in the manner of the patriarchs.
Because the Amalekites attacked the Hebrew people as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land, God announced through Moses a most solemn oath: God would have war with the Amalekites from generation to generation. Later, Moses told the generation of Hebrew people entering the Promised Land to blot out the enemy nation. A final encounter between the Israelites and the Amalekites served as a victory for Israel and a failure for King Saul, the details of which can be found in 1 Samuel 15.
The idea that God can do everything He wants to do without our help is false. There are some things He can’t do until He finds a person who prays. He can’t do some things unless people think and work. We are connected to one another. The picture of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ hands is a picture of the Lord’s people being interconnected. We are interconnected by holding up other people in our prayers, by being with them, by joining them sympathetically when they are struggling in the storms of life. We pray, we pray and we keep on praying. We are the Lord’s intercessors, and we’re interconnected with His people.
If we want to be God’s instrument, we must have a sense of our own uniqueness. Every one of us is special, and God has something for every one of us to do no matter who we are. To be God’s instrument, most of us will have to break the patterns of our lives. Others will simply have to add to or deliberately act out in their daily lives what God is calling them to do.
We can be God’s instruments if we sense our uniqueness and our usefulness. When we do, God can use us as His servants and His witnesses where we are. Moses was faithful. When God told him what to do, he did it. Moses used the rod of God. He struck the rock in the presence of the elders, and the water gushed out to satisfy the Israelites. The supply of water was the demonstration that God was with His people. God never abandons His people, but provides them with life-giving water.
Moses’ staff was not a magic wand. It initiated God’s miracles. It was the symbol of God’s personal and powerful involvement, with Moses’ outstretched hands signifying an appeal to God. The ebb and flow of battle in correlation with Moses’ uplifted or drooping arms provided more than psychological encouragement as the soldiers looked to Moses. It showed and acknowledged their having to depend on God for victory and not on their own strength.
It might be easy for us to dismiss the cries of those in need as the whining of people who lack faith. As we reflect on the human condition, we must ask how we can demonstrate God’s compassionate presence and provision to those who cry out from under life’s hardships.
When we bring together images of God’s gracious provision of food and water with God’s presence in the fire and the cloud, we profess our belief in a God who will be our travel partner in our life’s journey-a confession that is particularly meaningful when we are in the wilderness.
We wander through landscapes blasted by pain, addiction, abuse and neglect. The many sounds and noises of our multimedia age ring hollow in the emptiness of our lives. Through grief, loss and failure, we come to know the desolation of our hearts. We know the wilderness, because that is where we live. We thirst for water, hope, and healing. Moses reminds us that what we seek is God. Is God here or not? The wilderness is a terrible place to lose our way, but it’s also a wonderful place to find it.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 97)
- Bible History: Old and New Testaments. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 192-206)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stephen King, “Bible Study: 3 Lent (A).” retrieved from www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for the First Sunday in Lent, Year A.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Sharon Janes, “God is Your Victory.” Retrieved from www.girlfriendsingod.com
- David G. Garber, Jr., “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Juliana Classens, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Nancy deClasse-Walford, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- The Rev. Alex Joyner, “Is God Here or Not?” Retrieved from www.day1.org