Complain, complain, complain.
Have you ever known people who do nothing but complain? Does it bother you after a while? If so, perhaps you can sympathize with Moses. He had to put up with the Israelites’ constant complaining during the 40 years they spent in the desert. We see a good example of this in the passage we heard from the Book of Exodus.
Wandering through the desert is hard, especially when you don’t have water and you don’t know where to find it. A human body can survive for one hundred hours at average temperatures without access to water. The Sinai Peninsula averages 82 degrees Fahrenheit in May and 91 degrees Fahrenheit in June. For those same months, average high temperatures are 95 degrees and 104 degrees respectively. In such extreme heat, and with exposure to the sun, the timeline for survival is cut in half to about fifty hours. Exertion-such as walking long distances in the daytime, carrying a load, and leading livestock-shortens the timeline even further to about seven hours. One long day’s march was all it would take to finish God’s people. They were worn out, dehydrated and stuck in a place that doesn’t promise to change their situation.
The Israelites kept forgetting about God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God freed them, but at the first sign of uncertainty they wanted to return to Egypt. They preferred certainty and slavery to the uncertainty of an adventure of living with God. They wanted security. They doubted that God would provide for them. God’s providence does not ensure that the path will lead to a particular outcome, and that frightened them. Despite their doubts, God provided. Regardless of what we do, God is faithful and will provide a way when there is no way. Providence will outlast our doubts and provide a way when we see no pathway ahead.
Something about thirst creates desperation. Something about desperation focuses prayer. Something about prayers of desperation creates a context for divine breakthroughs. Something about divine breakthroughs transforms nominal religion into blazing faith. Something about blazing faith changes entire communities and travels up and down generational lines.
The passage from Exodus could easily apply to our personal and church lives today. We see scarcity all around us, especially when the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic led to shortages of toilet paper, of all things! We assume that shortages and death are all around us when in reality we are surrounded with all of the resources we need to survive and thrive.
The road to freedom and real change can be long, difficult, and discouraging. The Israelites found that out. It was hard for them to sustain their initial faith and hope that got them to follow Moses’ invitation. Like them, we are on the difficult journey called life. We are going somewhere and we try to follow the right path, but sometimes life has its wilderness aspects. At those times we are often tempted to turn and look back to the old ways and the old slavery (like the Israelites did).
Where do we find ourselves today? Where are we thirsting and tempted to settle for less than God? Do we look around and see no possible way God can help us? Are the only things we see thirst, wilderness, and rocks? We have to remember that God is full of surprises.
Maybe the Israelites’ position between deliverance from slavery at the Red Sea and entrance into the Promised Land approximates the position of the Church between our deliverance at the cross and resurrection of Jesus and our awaiting the promised land of our heavenly home. In both cases God’s perceived absence is a common occurrence, but the passage from Exodus shows us that God was with the Israelites, and He is with us today. God uses the times of perceived absence to show us how truly present He actually is.
The Israelites constantly challenged both Moses’ leadership and God. It was no different when they got to Rephidim, which is the location for the events in the passage from Exodus. There was no water, and the people were thirsty. They complained to Moses. They forgot that if God could part the Red Sea, He could provide water to drink. To make matters worse, Moses asked them why they put God to the test. Moses could not get them to think about God. Moses was with them, so he was the focus of their anger.
We do the same thing today. We test God. We want Him to constantly prove Himself. We want Him to be involved in the smallest things in our lives, and not just the big events. We need to remember His wondrous movements in our lives when we ask these two questions:
- Where has God made a way when there was no way?
- Where have divine resources emerged to ensure our well-being?
When we remember how God has worked in our lives, we become aware of possibilities and go from scarcity to abundance. You want food? Ask God. You need water? Whether it’s from a rock, the sky, or the sea, God provides it. Do you need laws to organize your lives? Come to Mount Sinai and God will write them down for you. Do you want to worship? God will tell you how. Do you need land to call your own? Ask God, and He will show you the spot He has saved for you.
God assured Moses that He would provide a rock. This was the rock where revelation would take place. God already selected the place and the miracle. How can we receive refreshment during a dry place? The answer is found in the solution and command God gave to Moses, “You shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it that the people may drink.” This water is the giving of the Holy Spirit. It is the granting of eternal life and the glory yet revealed to us.
In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul wrote these words on this event: “They drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” The smitten stone in the passage from Exodus pictures Christ who when He was smitten upon the cross, became the fountainhead of blessing, the Redeemer of the world.
God told Moses to use something he had-the rod-and strike the rock. Some people claim that water can pour out of certain desert rock by striking the surface. Moses and God would laugh at this claim. The supplying of water was proof that God was with His people. He never abandons us. He gives us the life-giving water.
God chose to bring water-and the life it represents-out of something that appeared to be lifeless. This represents God’s plans to bring the people life, not death. God will make life flow in unexpected ways, but it will require a certain amount of trust from the people, a willingness to put faith in a God who seems not to do things in the typical way.
Sometimes we wonder if God is with us. As Christians, we go through difficulties at times when we face obstacles on the path of our calling or we feel like we’re hitting a brick wall and our breakthrough is a far-away dream. When this happens, what do we do? What do we ask ourselves? What do we tell others? Do we complain that God has abandoned us like the Israelites did, or do we ask Him to show us His glory, power, and miracles? Do we learn about His character and His attitude towards us through these difficult times and grow in trust with every single victory He grants, or do we still doubt His love for us when things get tough? If we have placed our faith in Him, He has promised to be with us.
God delivers us from bondage, refreshes our spirits, quenches our thirst, forgives our sins, and enables us to face suffering. The deepest, most profound, and unquenchable thirst of everyone is a thirst for the Holy Spirit. God cares deeply 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. God asks us to trust Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers right away or in the form we would like.
God knows that each and every one of us has something He and His ministry can use. If we are to be God’s instrument, we need three things:
- A sense of our iniquities.
- A sense of our usefulness.
- A change in our daily patterns.
One of the greatest revelations that can come to any Christian is the realization that in every act of Christian ministry there are two agents-God and man. God does not need to be asked to help us, but He wants us to help Him. Our part is the very unimportant and subsidiary one of smiting the rock. His part is to make the water flow.
In every congregation and religious gathering the Holy Spirit is present, eager to glorify Christ, and to pour out rivers of living water for thirsty people. Our duty is to see that we are in a right condition spiritually so He can ally us with Him. We must continue to have faith that He will do His share, and when He does we must not take the glory.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 97)
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
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- Mark Throntveit, “Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org.
- “Wilderness: The Gift of Thirst.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Anathea Porter-Young, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3432
- Amy Erickson, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1067
- Nancy deClaisse-Walford, “Commentary on Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=160
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost-September 27, 2020.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2020/09/the-adventurous-lectionary-the-seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost-september-27,2020
- Zach Koons, “Camping People.” Retrieved from http://livingchurch.org
- Levi Jones, “Exodus 17:1-7.” Retrieved from www.aplainaccount.org/exodus-171-2-2/
- William A. Flippin Jr., “A Rock and a Hard Place.” Retrieved form https://day1.org