Remember Series: Exodus 17:1-7 – Water in the Wilderness

Pastor Joshua Hall; Faith Presbyterian Church of Quincy, IL; March 31, 2020

Good Morning, Brothers and Sister!

Have you experienced the goodness of God in your life this week? Take a moment to consider how God has been faithful to you!

Today, we continue our “Remember” series, in which we remember what God has done for us in the past that we may have strength for the present and hope for the future. Let us turn to Exodus chapter 17 where God was faithful to provide water to His people in the desert.

As you may recall, after God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptian Army, leading them through the Red Sea on dry ground, he led them to the promised land, the land of Canaan. But after hearing from 10 out of 12 spies that the land was greatly fortified and that the Canaanites were mighty warriors, the Israelites did not have the faith to take the land which God had promised them. So in God’s wrath, he sent them back into the desert for 40 years of wandering. Nevertheless, God was still faithful to His people. Listen to Exodus 17:1-7 where we hear of just one such incidence of God’s faithfulness to an undeserving people.

Exodus 17:1-7

“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?”

Now those two words, Massah, and Mariah mean testing and quarreling. God’s people tested and quarreled with Moses and with God. 

God’s people had ample reason to trust him. They had seen God deliver them from Egypt with 10 plagues. They had witnessed God’s parting of the Red Sea. They had already grumbled against God because they were hungry in the wilderness, in the previous chapter, Exodus 16, and God provided bread from heaven called manna for them to eat. Yet here they are with no water, and no faith. This trial is not unlike any other trial we may face. It is a test of faith. 

First notice that God led the Israelites into this predicament. The text tells us that they moved to this location at the command of God! In the same way, God often leads us into the path of temptation, just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and be tempted by the devil. In the Lord’s prayer we ask God not to lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from evil. Nevertheless, sometimes God does lead us into places where our faith may be tested. 

And beloved, seasons of testing are not evidence that we have failed to obey the Lord, on the contrary, they often arise because we ARE obeying the Lord! Consider Job. Were not his trials a result of his obedience? After all, had he not been the most faithful man on the earth, God would have picked someone else to show off to Satan, and someone else would have experience his many trials! Yet the reward is reserved for those who face the trials and pass the test!

But the Israelites did not pass this test of faith. They did what all humankind is prone to do. The moment they saw their need, they turned on their leaders. They argued with Moses, complaining to him about the lack of water. They accused him of leading them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. They looked to Moses and expected him to do what only God could do, to deliver them. They had no faith in God. Rather than thanking God for freeing them from slavery in Egypt, and for the water they were sure he would provide, they grumbled against his servant.

Moses rightly discerned that their complaints were testing the Lord. Oh how fickle we are! For when we face a simple test of faith, rather than respond with trust in the Lord, we often respond in the same way, by putting God to the test! In effect, we say, ‘God, I refuse to believe that you are good based upon your past faithfulness. Get me out of this predicament, and then I will thank you!’ But like Pharaoh, our promises are often empty. For Pharaoh often promised that if Moses would remove the plague from his land, that he would then give God the glory by letting His people go, but as soon as the plague was removed, Pharaoh would harden his heart. Let us not deceive ourselves, if we cannot be grateful for God’s past faithfulness when we are experiencing a present test of faith, we will be unable to thank God for deliverance from our present predicament when God has delivered us, for there is no faith and gratitude in our hearts. The testing of our faith reveals what is truly in our hearts.

The children of Israel were as faithless and fickle as was Pharaoh! May God have mercy on us when we face trials, that we may not put God to the test like they did, but may walk in faith knowing that God is our loving heavenly Father who will always provide for our needs and who will always work all tings together for our good!

Moses felt the stress of the people, so he took his request to God. He asked God for help saying, what shall I do since the people are about ready to stone me?

May we never treat our godly leaders as Israel treated Moses! May we never treat God as Israel treated Him! For the world turns on her leaders when they are hungry, alternating accusations and demands in their desperation. Just look at the way the media presents the leaders of our nation during this coronavirus crisis! Do they not look to our government for prosperity, peace, and healing from their diseases? Yet no governing official can grant these things! Should we not rather turn to God, the only one who can truly stop the disease? The only one in control of our economy? The God from whom all blessings flow?

Consider Genesis 30:1, where Rachel says to Jacob, ‘give me children or I die!’ And Jacob replies, who do you think I am? God?

The world turns to their government the way the Israelites turned to Moses. Yet God alone can provide for us and protect us! Just as Jacob was helpless to provide children for his wife, so we are helpless to stop the effects of the coronavirus. Yet God has not ceased being faithful, and in his mercy and grace, God will grant us healing in his time.

When Moses prayed for help, God answered. It was not the prayers of the people which reached the ears of God, for they were not praying to God, but to Moses. But when God’s anointed, Moses, interceded for the people, God heard his cry!

So God gave Moses specific directions. God said that when he struck the rock, the people would drink and be satisfied. The text records that Moses was faithful, but nowhere says that water proceeded from out of the rock. Why? Because it would be ridiculous to write that God was faithful, we already know that God is faithful! The only question was whether Moses would be faithful to obey the Lord. He was, and the people were saved.

The legacy of that place, however, was the unfaithfulness of Israel. For the place was named after their quarreling that it might serve as a warning to us. In seasons of uncertainty, we may be tempted to quarrel with our leaders, to ask of them what only God can grant, to place our trust in them, which will certainly lead to disappointment. Instead, we must walk by faith in the faithfulness of God! 

But when we fail to walk in faith, let us remember this, that God is still gracious and faithful. He did not require the faith of his people to provide water for them in the desert. He only required the pleas of his anointed one on behalf of the people. And beloved, when we fail to trust in the Lord, God has sent us a faithful mediator who prays for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Even the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. So beloved, be comforted. God is our provider and our protector! Be at peace, He’s got this! Let us trust in Him!

Let’s pray…


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