Exodus 17:1-7 ~ 20110501 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
05/01 Exodus 17:1-7 Water from the Rock
God has come to the rescue of his people. They groaned and cried out because of their slavery in Egypt. God promised to bring them out from under their burdens, to deliver them from slavery, to redeem them with mighty acts of judgment, and to take them to be his own people. God ruined Egypt and laid the pride of the Egyptians low, but he preserved and cared for his people. The presence of the invisible God was demonstrated to them in the visible form of a column of fire and cloud. He caused the army to pursue, and when there was no possible escape, he made a path for his people in the middle of the sea. He emboldened their enemies to follow, and he crushed them under the waters. Three days into the wilderness, and there was no water to drink. God tested his people, and when they came to Marah, the water was bitter. The people grumbled, and God made bitter waters sweet by the application of a tree. One month into the wilderness, and they were running out of food. The whole congregation grumbled, wishing to be back enjoying the good life of Egypt, rather than starving to death in the wilderness. God responded to their grumbling with abundant provision; quail for meat and bread for each day covering the ground. He gave them a day of rest each week, where their souls could be refreshed in God. God is testing his people to see if they would be obedient or not.
Here in chapter 17, we see God again testing and training his people, teaching them about himself, and they respond by putting God to the test.
My Perceived Needs
The people are following the cloud-fire manifestation of God as he leads them in the wilderness. Each day they are gathering and eating bread from heaven that God supernaturally provides. God again guides them to a place where there was no water. They have seen God turn water to blood, part the sea and cause dry land to appear; God has turned bitter water sweet, and he has created bread for them out of nothing in the desert. Now they are thirsty. They can't see any water. So they protest against their leaders. Again they grumble. They are controlled by their own perceived needs. They are entirely self-centered. The world should revolve around me, even God should revolve around me. God should hurry to respond to my every demand. Doesn't he love me? Everything else takes second place to what I feel that I need right now. Good is defined by what I think I need, when I think I need it.
God has already stated that he is testing his people. He is proving them. He has shown decisively that he is for them, on their side, fully capable of defeating their enemies and providing for their every need. God has good in mind for his people, but the good God has in mind is sometimes different than the good we think we need. 'I'm thirsty and I want a drink.' God says 'I can use your thirst to create character in you, character that is much more valuable than what you think you need right now. You have a physical need that is real and it is urgent. But you have a spiritual need that is just as real and even more urgent that I want to address. Do you trust me?'
Instead of trusting God, the people make their demand. “Give us water to drink. Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to kill us with thirst?” They are not walking by faith in a God who has over and over and over proven himself faithful. They are not trusting God to provide for them. They are not willing to allow God to refine them and develop character in them. They are not willing to allow God to be God and determine what is best for them. They are not loving God more than their own needs. They lack faith and patience and joy. They are not humbly making their request to God. They refuse to depend on God and instead make demands of God.
Putting the LORD to the Test
Moses asks the people “why do you test the LORD” and verse 7 concludes by Moses naming the place 'quarreling and testing' because they tested the LORD by saying “Is the LORD among us or not?” The people need to be tested by the LORD because testing demonstrates the areas in which they need to grow and change and be transformed. Testing reveals the character flaws that desperately need attention. But God is perfect. He has no character flaws. He cannot improve. God does not need to be tested. By their complaining and grumbling, the people are implying that God is failing to take good enough care of them. He must not be loving, or he would provide for their thirst. Maybe he is not powerful enough to give them water to drink. He is not faithful to meet their needs today like he did yesterday. He is not wise enough to lead them to the right places. By their grumbling they are putting God on trial, forcing him to prove himself to them. God's character is being questioned, and they sit as judge to see if God will live up to their expectations or not. They are attempting to manipulate God to get him to perform for them, to blackmail him into doing whatever they ask.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses is giving God's commands to his people. Love God with all heart and soul and might. Do not forget the LORD who has delivered you. Fear the LORD your God and serve him only. Do not go after other gods. Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah (v.16). Jesus quotes this passage from Deuteronomy when tempted by the devil to force his Father's hand and make him prove himself (Mt.4; Lk.4). We are not to put the LORD to the test, because he does not need to be tested. He needs to be trusted. We need to be tested. We can put our confidence in his proven character and promises that when he tests us it is for our good.
Moses doesn't do much better than the people he is supposed to be leading.
Moses is demonstrating that he is also looking out for his own interests. He is afraid for his life. He is not trusting the LORD. God tells him to stop following the people and start leading them.
Moses Strikes the Rock
Moses is instructed to take the staff of God with which he had struck the Nile river and caused it to flow with blood, and he is to strike the rock, and water will come out of it. Moses follows the instructions. Numbers 20 records a very similar event, but toward the end of the wilderness wanderings. In that event, Moses is told to speak to the rock and it will bring forth water. Moses arrogantly disobeys and strikes the rock twice, and disqualifies himself from entering the promised land. What is the big deal? God said that Moses and Aaron rebelled against his command, that they did not believe in him or uphold him as holy in the eyes of the people. The big deal is that the rock was only to be struck once. Paul gives us a hint on the bigger picture in 1 Corinthians 10.
The Rock was Christ
They drank from the spiritual Rock, and that Rock was Christ. Moses is an actor pointing to a bigger reality, and when he strays from the script and makes up his own lines, he does violence to the message that the drama is meant to communicate. The Rock was Christ. The Rock was to be struck once, but only once. The word here translated 'strike' in the majority of its uses in the bible means to kill. It shows up a couple times in Isaiah, clearly talking about Jesus:
The Rock was Christ, smitten by God, once for all.
Moses is to take the same staff that brought judgment on Egypt, the same staff that made the river Nile flow with blood. In Exodus 4:20 and again in verse 9 of this chapter, it is called 'the staff of God.' God says 'I will present myself on the rock and you shall strike the rock.' The staff of God's judgment coming down on God the Son, the sin-bearer. This was to be done in the presence of the elders of Israel. In Matthew's account of Jesus on the cross, he records:
The elders of Israel were witnesses of the Rock being struck to give life to the people.
When Jesus spoke to a sinful Samaritan woman beside a well, he said
Is the LORD among us or not?
God knows our true need. He hears our self-centered grumbling and diagnoses our heart condition and provides himself as the cure. Jesus addresses our true need, our need for our sins to be forgiven.
In the face of irrefutable evidence, God's people put God to the test. Supernatural rescue from Egypt, the visible pillar of fire to guide, bread from heaven that was at that very moment meeting their needs, and the people question “is the LORD among us or not?”
John sent his disciples from prison with a similar question for Jesus:
Is the LORD among us or not? Is there evidence? Is Jesus Emmanuel, God with us?
The Rock was Christ, smitten by God, once for all. Believe and have life in his name.