All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord 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. 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. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
I love the book of Exodus because we get to see how Israel’s experience in the wilderness is similar to our daily walk as Christians, where, just like Israel wandered, Christians wander this world as “aliens and strangers,” waiting in anticipation for our true home. So, if Israel’s story is our story, we learn at least two things from Israel’s time in the wilderness. First, Israel’s time spent wandering in the wilderness is hard. Second, Israel’s greatest struggle is continuing to believe that God’s presence is constant through great hardship.
When things don’t go our way, don’t we question God’s presence? If we are honest this is one of our greatest struggles as well. When families are torn apart because of 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 17:1-7, God leads Israel to a region of the wilderness where there is no water. And the people don’t just complain (like they had been doing), they actually put God on trial and test the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”(v.7). Without water, Israel concludes that God has broken His promise to deliver them and left them in the wilderness to die. But they take it one step further–they actually convict God and find Him guilty of covenant unfaithfulness and as a result are ready to stone Moses. Knowing that his life is in danger, Moses cries out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are about to stone me”(v.4).
What happens next is one of the most dramatic scenes in Exodus. Moses cries out to the Lord and the scene drastically changes as God says, “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 is judging God and Moses by putting them on trial, but there is a shift in Exodus 17:5. Moses is acting as judge, and now it looks like Israel is on trial! The staff that God tells Moses to take is none other than the staff that Moses used to strike Egypt with God’s judgment, and the elders with him will serve as witnesses. Someone is going to be judged, but who?
In Exodus 17:6, God says, “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.”
Two amazing things happen here. First, God condescends to give the people what they want! The phrase “I will stand before you” is used only in the Old Testament in places where an inferior stands before a superior in the posture of a servant. Instead of punishing Israel, God assumes the posture of a servant and serves them by giving them an outpouring and overflow of His grace to satisfy their thirst.
The second amazing thing about Exodus 17:6 is what Moses’ judgment staff strikes. Where did God stand in the posture of a servant before Moses and all the people? ON THE ROCK! And what did Moses’ judgment staff strike? The ROCK! When the rock is struck God is saying to Moses, “Bring the 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 Corintinans 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 the ransom for our sin, 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 ultimate hard place–the cross–the place where John tells us that a Roman soldier’s spear struck Jesus’ side and immediately “blood and water poured out!”
Can you see how God quenches our thirst and proves that His presence is with us? God abandoned His own Son, and struck Him in His wilderness experience, so that He would never abandon, nor strike us in ours. So when you struggle believing God is with you–get down on your hands and knees and drink from the outpouring and overflow of the waters of God’s grace in Christ. And when you’ve had your fill, give the overflow of that grace to others. Only the Rock that God provides can quench your thirst and assure you that God’s presence is with you every step of the way until He finally takes you home.