Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
I love the book of Exodus. One reason is the way it captures the reality that, just like Israel, the Christian life is lived in the wilderness, where we wander this world as “aliens and strangers” waiting for our true home. So if Israel’s story is our story, we learn at least two things from their time in the wilderness. First, Israel’s time in the wilderness was hard, and second, because the wilderness was so hard, Israel’s greatest struggle was believing that God’s presence was with them every step of the way.
If we are honest, this is one of our greatest struggles as well. When things don’t go our way, we question God’s presence. When families are torn apart by divorce, when tragedy strikes, or illness hits, don’t we cry out, “God where are you? Do you even care what I’m going through?” We conclude that either God isn’t willing to help or He lacks the power to help. Either way, when life in the wilderness gets hard, we thirst to know whether God is really with us or not. We are no different than Israel. In Exodus 17 God lead Israel to a region where there was no water. And the people didn’t just complain (like they had been doing), they actually put God on trial and tested Him by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7). Without water, Israel concluded that God had broken His promise to deliver them and left them in the wilderness to die. But they took it farther—they actually convicted God and found Him guilty of covenant unfaithfulness, and as a result were ready to stone Moses. Knowing that his life was in danger, Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are about to stone me” (v. 4).
What happened next was one of the most dramatic scenes in Exodus. Moses cried out to the Lord and the scene drastically changed as God said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go” (v. 5). Israel was judging God and Moses by putting them on trial, but then Moses acted as judge and made it look as if Israel was on trial! The staff that God told Moses to take was none other than the staff that Moses used to strike Egypt with God’s judgment, and the elders with him were to serve as witnesses and the prosecution. Someone was going to be judged, but whom? Then God said, “‘Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.’ And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel” (v. 6).
Two amazing things happened. First, God condescended to give the people what they wanted! The phrase, “I will stand before you” is used in the Old Testament only in places where an inferior stands before a superior in the posture of a servant. Instead of punishing Israel, God assumed the posture of a servant and served them by giving them an outpouring and overflow of His grace to satisfy their thirst. The second amazing thing about verse 6 was what Moses’ staff of judgment struck. Where did God stand in the posture of a servant before Moses and all the people? On the rock! And what did Moses’ staff strike? The rock! When the rock was struck, God was saying to Moses, “Bring the absolute judgment on Me. I will receive the blow of justice that My people deserve, so that My people can be refreshed and drink deeply from the waters of My grace.”
Do you see what this means for us? The outpouring and overflow of God’s grace while we are in the wilderness flows out of the Rock that was struck with judgment. That Rock, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10 was Christ! The one who in Mark 10:45 humbly stands before you in the posture of a servant and says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life away as a ransom for many.” Jesus serves us by paying the ransom for what our sins deserve. This is why, when Jesus hung on the cross paying that ransom, He cried out, “I thirst.” Jesus died of thirst in His wilderness experience so that we would have an outpouring and overflow of grace to drink from in ours. The waters of God’s grace flow from the cross—the place where John tells us that a Roman soldier’s spear struck Jesus’ side and immediately blood and water poured out.
Do you see how God quenches our thirst and proves that His presence is with us? Jesus was struck with God’s judgment for you. On the cross, God abandoned Jesus so that those who trust in His Son would never be abandoned. This is a God who is worthy of our trust and worship as we wait for our true home.