Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Thanks for the Manna, But Our Throats Are Dry -- Exodus 17:1-7

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may 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 they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your 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 will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.  He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”
Having finally understood how God intended to provide for their nourishment daily, and for their physical renewal on each Sabbath, the Israelites continue their journey across the desert “by stages”.  Several Bible versions use this phrase.  The King James Version (KJV) talks about the fact that they “journeyed . . . after their journeys”.  Some translate it as “from place to place”.  Whatever the pace, the people were moving away from the wilderness of Sin where God first gave them the Manna.
And the text says all the moving about of the Israelites was “according to the command (or literally the ‘mouth’) of the Lord”.  There comes a point in time when a people as a whole realize they must live according to the command or instructions of the Lord.  Usually, but not always, that happens, if it is to happen at all, when two things have occurred.  First, the group or the individual have tried their own ways repeatedly and failed.  Second, they have seen God provide in their lives and realize that He can be depended on.  You would think that having undergone both these experiences, the people of Israel would have settled this matter once and for all.  But with them, as with us, it was not to be the case.  We will return to this later.
And again, at the “command of the Lord” the people camped at Rephidim.  This literally means "rests" or "stays" or "resting places" and this is its first mention in Scripture.  So they leave or go from the wilderness of Sin, and they go to Rephidim, all according to the command of the Lord.  You would think, as a result, things would go really well for them there.  But the next phrase says otherwise.  Whereas our NASB text connects the next phrase to the previous one with an “and”, the NKJV, NLT, NIV, and ESV versions connect them with a “but”.  Even though the people did all according to what God wanted them to do, they were taken to a place where there was “no water for (them) to drink”.
Have you ever been there?  Have you ever been at a place in your life where you believe you are doing all that God wants of you at that point in time?  And you allow Him to lead you to where He wants you to be as part of His will for you – to your Rephidim – “but” there He provides “no water” for you.  There your troubles double.  While your stomach is full of His Manna, your throat is dying of thirst.  Just when all was falling into place nicely in your life, tragedy strikes.  I have been there.  It is not the most inspiring place for a Christian to be.  Yet, if God calls us out of a place, and He calls us into another place, we must realize that He does it for a purpose.  It is there we must wait on Him and discover that very purpose.
In the case of the Israelites, it seemed to be a continuous need for them to trust in the Lord and to recognize His Almighty power.  They had been hungry and He provided them with Manna.  Now they had no water.  Do you remember when you wanted something of God and He gave it to you?  Was it a spouse?  Was it children?  Was it a job?  Whatever it was, God may have given it to you.  But now, you want something else.  Do you rely on Him as knowing what is best for you or can the old adage, “What have you done for me lately (God)?” apply to your attitude as it did to the attitude of the children of Israel?
So what did the people do?  The text says they ‘grumbled’ against Moses.  I looked up some synonyms for that word to give us a better picture of what form grumbling may take.  I came up with complained, moaned, groused, protested, griped, objected, muttered, and I love this last one, bellyached.  Do any of those verbs describe our actions when we are unhappy with our lot in life; when we want something more from God?
And notice, one does not have to direct his or her frustration to the Source or Giver of all things, but instead we can take it out on one or more of those in our lives that He has put there – our pastor, our boss, our spouse, or parents, friends, and even our children.  At times like this, we can forget about God in our lives, but God does not forget about us.  While we focus on others as the cause of our problems, God sees this as our testing of His provision for us.
For the children of Israel in the wilderness, it was all Moses’ fault.  To them, they knew what was causing their troubles; they felt so confident so they could have easily won the game of “Clue” had they be playing it: “It was Moses, in the Wilderness, with Thirst!”  They were convinced that he was intent on killing them off along with their cattle and this was entirely his plan.  They demanded water now.
Now what do you do when you are the leader and you are misunderstood, falsely accused, and have been given a demand you cannot meet on our own?  May I suggest that you do what Moses did.  You cry out to the Lord.  You ask for His guidance and His protection, admitting your fear as a human being.  And you do it not just for yourself, but for those you are leading, that is, you do it selflessly.  Here is what I have discovered albeit later in life than I should have: Total and utter unselfish dependence on God is the ‘living password’ for Him to come to your rescue.
And God did just that.  He now acts through Moses.  He gives him precise instructions on what he must do, how to do it, where to do it, and in front of whom to do it.  One could not ask for anything more.  And Moses knew that.  He knew that if he totally and utterly depended on God unselfishly, God would provide the solution to his need.  And God used the equipment that He had earlier provided and taught Moses how to use – his staff – as part of that solution.  Never forget what God has given or taught you in the past, He will use it again for His glory.
Moses was to strike a particular rock; the one at Horeb, and it would give forth water for the people to drink.  Do you remember Horeb?  That is the place that Moses had led his father-in-law’s flocks to in the wilderness after he had killed an Egyptian and had fled from Egypt proper.  Its direct translation is “dessert”.  It is referred to as the “mountain of God” and is also known as Mount Sinai.  God often takes us back to His mountain when He wants us to accomplish something for Him.  And sometimes that means, we have to go through or to a “dessert” to get there.   
And Moses did just what God had told him to do and the rock did just what God said it would do.  But let us not miss a very important phrase in this whole account.  God had said the following, just prior to giving Moses his instructions: “Behold, I will stand before you there” on the rock at Horeb.  That is critical to our success.  God must be in it.  God must be there.  And the ‘there’ is where He wants us to be, not anywhere we go or want to go.
So the water comes and Moses names the spot in that mountain of Horeb, Massah and Meribah.  Massah is translated “temptation” and Meribah is translated “strife” or “contention”.  He names it such, with two names, because there the people quarreled with him and tested God, their Lord.  As we end our study of this short passage, we may finding ourselves asking the same question the Israelites asked here, “Is the Lord with me, or not?”  But unlike them, we must answer it with confidence, knowing as Believers that He indeed is, and we can rely on Him fully to provide not only for our hunger, but for our thirst.

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