Due to a problem with recording there is no audio of yesterday morning’s sermon but here is a transcript of the message from Exodus 17.
Some of the most powerful commercials I have seen on TV recently are ads against texting while driving. One features a young man who is in physical therapy mumbles out the warning not to text and drive as he struggles to get back abilities he lost in an accident he had while texting. Sometimes it is just a family member holding a picture of one who died while texting. These commercials teach by negative example. And this is how God teaches us through the Israelites. He shows us what not to do. But in the midst of their bad example, we are also confronted time and time again by God’s amazing grace. And it is that same grace which will celebrate at the Lord’s table at the end of the service this morning.
I. The NEGATIVE Example of the Israelites (17:1-4).
Exodus 17:1 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.
As we move to a new sermon we must not forget where we have been. One of the great benefits to preaching straight through books of the Bible is that we know where the story has been. If I had to tell one thing to a preacher just starting out, I would say this: preach straight through books of the Bible. You will strengthen your own soul, you will be forced to not just preach on your same hobby horse topics and you will help people see how the Bible is connected throughout. And you will also see that every part of the Bible is relevant for us today. Well, enough of my commercial for verse-by-verse preaching through books.
I said a minute ago that we’ve got to remember where we’ve been. Remember chapter 16. We’ve just seen God provide manna and quail for the people when they were hungry. We’ve just seen God manifest Himself to the people in the pillar of cloud and fire. We’ve seen God’s grace not only in providing food for the people but also in providing a day of rest and worship, a Sabbath, for a people who had formerly worked day after day as slaves in Egypt. So God has provided for the people time and time again. He has provided salvation from Egypt for them through the miracles of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and now He has been miraculously sustaining them in the wilderness, providing them water and food in their time of need. But here again, they face a test. There is no water. They have been led to a place called Rephidim. They have been led by the command of the Lord. God Himself goes with them. The place Rephidim means, “place of rest.” But it all looks like a mirage. God has led them again into a dry land, a place with no water. Once again He is bringing them to a place of testing. Will they trust Him this time? Sadly, we see the answer in verse 2 —
2 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?”
The people quarreled with Moses. The people tested the Lord. They demanded water. They complained and rambled on and on about their lack, but they didn’t go to the One who could meet their need. They didn’t go to God. Moses seems to highlight this when he says, “Why do you quarrel with me?” It’s not only that Moses is exasperated with the Israelites (though he is). Moses’ real concern is that the Israelites have failed to go to God to ask Him to provide.
But isn’t this just like us? I am absolutely convinced that the overwhelming majority of our stress and anxiety and the largest portion of our complaining comes from not submitting our hearts and our needs to God in prayer but instead trying to find solutions on our own or seeking to blame someone else for our problems. This all plays out especially clearly in an election season. We look to these leaders as our saviors, if only this one or that one gets elected everything will be ok. Meanwhile, we don’t realize how so many of our problems come not from a failure or policy or the wrong politics, but from our own godless choices and our godless responses to the trials we face. I’m not saying politics has no place or that politicians can have no impact. But we vastly overestimate them when we look to them as deliverers and fail to go to God for our nation, our world and our own life challenges. We need revival from the Lord in our land today as much or more than the Israelites needed water in the wilderness. And we’ll still need that revival on November 7th, no matter who gets elected. So are you praying or are you trusting in the strength of man? Are you laboring in prayer for our nation? Are you praying for the gospel to run like wildfire in the Muslim world? Are you asking God to save and sustain the people of Africa? Are you asking Him for the nations of Latin America to turn away from empty religion to the living God? Is your heart burdened today for the people of North Korea and Syria? We want the world to be a better place but we fail to call earnestly on the Name of the One who promises to make it not only a better place, but to bring the new heavens and the new earth. So we can’t bring accusations against Israel, either over the little details of our lives or over the big issues of the world.
Verses 3 and 4 show us what happens when we lose sight of God . . .
3 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?” 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
See, the thirst was real, just like our problems are real. But their response is not an example to follow, but one to reject. They grumbled against Moses. They accused him of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them all with thirst. And according to Moses’ words in verse 4, they threatened Moses with death. He told God they were ready to stone him.
Now God is the one leading them, not Moses. And God is the One who had provided for them every step of the way. But it was not enough. They lost all perspective because they forgot all the past grace of God. How easy it is for our very real problems today to overshadow all the very real care of God yesterday and His presence with us in the here and now.
The Israelites have done here exactly what so many in our culture have done. They have put God to the test. God gave them no water to test their faith and they in response tested God, they put Him on trial. C.S. Lewis explains this well when he writes, “The modern man approaches God as the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the God who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.” I think Lewis is right. Our culture is all about putting God to the test. We ask questions, some of them real questions, but so often they come from skeptical hearts, hearts ready to leap with unbelief at the first perceived problem. And we call this humility and openness and tolerance. And we are wrong. We are not the judge. He is. And He will judge rightly every single time. So we’ve got to get the order right. He’s the Lord. He calls the shots. He brings the circumstances into my life that He chooses and I don’t get to form a review board to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to His will. “Yes, Lord, I’ll take cancer. Make it small and manageable.” “But I simply can’t bear my child getting sick.” We just don’t get to make those calls. He is God, we are not.
God would be justified for judging us for our arrogance but so often He does for us exactly what He does for the Israelites here. He displays His amazing grace . . .
II. The AMAZING Grace of God (17:5-7).
5 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.
God tells Moses to pass before the people along with the elders and the rod which he used to strike the Nile. I think God is showing His grace here first of all by supporting Moses. He is having him pass before all the people with the elders and the rod to show that He was called by God as leader for the people of Israel. This is His symbolic endorsement of Moses. God will strengthen and support and uphold His men and women who call on Him and live before Him faithfully. You need not cower or go into hiding if you call on God and live before Him in truth.
6 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.
God’s very presence would be on the rock at Horeb and when Moses struck the rock, water would come out for the people to drink. God’s amazing grace. The people are faithless but God is faithful. This is not an encouragement for us to be faithless, it is an acknowledgement that we often are and that even in those times God often meets us with one grace after another. He is a good God. He is faithful. His constant supply and His boundless grace are intended to teach us that He can be trusted. But verse 7 tells us we get a far different lesson from the Israelites . . .
7 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?”
The Israelites failed to trust God. They are a negative example for us. They didn’t trust in God’s promise to be with them. They didn’t trust in God’s track record of faithfulness. They grumbled, they quarreled, they questioned. They presumed that God must work according to their plan. They sought to demand that God do what they want. In other words, as we preached several months ago, theirs was a life unto self rather than a life unto God. Yet look at the grace of God.
As I think about God’s grace and my failure to trust in Him, I am reminded of an old Keith Green song, Make My Life a Prayer to You. Instead of being like this Israelites, this sums up where we should be.
Make my life a prayer to You
I wanna do what You want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise
I wanna shine the light You gave
Through Your Son You sent to save us
From ourselves and our despair
It comforts me to know You’re really there
Well I wanna thank You now for being patient with me
Oh it’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me
I guess I’ll have the trust and just believe what You say
Oh You’re coming again, You’re coming to take me away
I wanna die and let You give Your life to me, so I might live
And share the hope You gave to me, the love that set me free
I wanna tell the world out there, You’re not some fable or fairy tale
That I’ve made up inside my head, You’re God the Son
You’ve risen from the dead.
Finally, we see this morning that this story in Exodus 17, has a New Testament connection. So I want to take the final couple of minutes this morning leading into the Lord’s Supper —
III. Connecting This Story to CHRIST (1 Corinthians 10).
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, 1 I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Now 1 Corinthians 10 is an awesome chapter and we don’t have time to get into all the details there but I just want to show you here that Paul connects the water from the rock to Christ. He is the spiritual Rock from which they drank. Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 10 is to say that the church in Corinth should not worship idols, because Christ is in their midst, just as He was in the midst of Israel in the wilderness. He says many Israelites fell into idolatry and he warns the Corinthians against the same failure. But what does he mean when he says that Jesus was the Rock?
I think Jesus was the Rock in two ways. First, the actions of Moses with the rock were a picture of the death of Christ. The rod in the Bible was a symbol of judgment. As it was in the plagues and as it was even at the parting of the Red Sea, which not only delivered Israel but also drowned the Egyptians. As this rod strikes the rock, it is a symbol of the judgment of God borne by Jesus for the sake of all who trust in Him.
As it is written in Isaiah 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
But the rock is not only a picture of the death of Christ, it is a picture of the life that is found in Christ. The water was struck and water flowed. Jesus’ side was struck while he was dead on the cross and blood and water flowed. And even more significantly, on at least two occasions, Jesus related refreshing, life giving water to His mission in the world.
John 4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
And again, note John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”
A couple of weeks ago we saw that, like the manna, Jesus was the bread of God from heaven. This week we see that Jesus is that living water that can quench the thirst we have had all our lives.
As I was working on this message, a verse from Revelation came to mind. When I looked it up, I found it was the very last invitation or summons given in the book. We find it in Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
So that’s my invitation to you today. If you have never partaken of the water of life, trust in Jesus today. He will satisfy your soul from now through eternity. If you’ve trusted Him but have let your heart be swayed by other things, come back to Him today. He will welcome you. Come to Him today. Whatever God is working in your heart, move in response to His call as we sing. And then we’ll conclude the service by celebrating the Lord’s Supper together. Let’s pray.