(1) From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. (2) The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"
(3) But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" (4) So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." (5) The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. (6) I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. (7) He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Israel has been traveling for some time now. They are tired, hungry, and thirsty. They left a place where, though they were slaves and oppressed, it was all most of them ever knew. At least they had some access to food and water, the necessities. Now they find themselves wandering the wilderness, to them not much different than being in Egypt, a sophisticated nation and ordered society. They still felt oppressed but instead of man it was nature, the wilderness they traveled through was unforgiving, hot, arid, and dusty. It is easy to read this and say we would feel different, the thousands of years removed quarterbacks! I spent a short time in Saudi Arabia while in the Air Force and I can tell you that is extremely hot, in September and October. It is sand and rocks, lizards, spiders, and scorpions. I had regular access to all the modern amenities of food, water, and shelter with air conditioning. It is still hard for me to imagine such a large group of people, an entire nation, traveling as they were, with everything they owned. How many times would we have reached our ‘last straw’? The outcome seems natural, tempers grew hot, distrust became the norm, and they wanted answers.
Moses is becoming the scapegoat. They vilified Moses. I imagine Moses was intensely afraid. Again, he is being questioned as to the purpose of this journey. Why are we here? Where are you taking us? They accuse him of having no plan, no idea to why they were in such an inhospitable land and position. Death is all that awaits us! They have no peace, no security, no hope. Have you ever wondered how much of God they even knew or understood? Obviously, there was something, but after years of slavery in a pagan nation there is no doubt that many did not know much about their God, Yahweh. They cried out from Egypt and were heard; Moses appears on the scene and great wonders and works were seen and heard of. Then finally they were free, and though they had God to follow, when something went wrong, it was Moses who they came to.
That was the error. They were relying on a man, a human being who existed in a broken human nature. A man who was still learning about their savior. Moses lost his composure with the people and in anger struck out against God. A defining moment in his relationship with Israel as a leader. A defining moment in his relationship with God. It is times like these a leader can lose leadership. Can you hear Moses in leaders that today begin to try and make sense of what is going on? They say things without thinking, they make themselves sound guilty and the more they talk the worse it gets. Moses, and Israel, are lost in the moment and there is not much that will ease the situation. Can you hear them chanting against Moses? I am not sure how many they were, but it was in the high six figure range. Scary! Moses is truly frightened! He begins to try and appeal to their fear of Yahweh, it does not work.
This is an important lesson we believer’s need to listen to. The mob mentality that seeks for someone to blame, at all costs. The threatening attitudes united in anger and hatred. Placing our trust and hope in another human being can lead to trouble, extreme trouble. Such situations lead us away from our Lord and into the state of the broken human nature (called the “flesh” by the apostle Paul) which readily takes over. Reason flies out the window and dangerous emotions take over. All of this can happen in varying degrees, whether the outcome is emotion or psychological pain, or physical harm and damaged property and communities, even death. On all levels, it is violence and chaotic, it is the opposite of the Spirit of God. We need to really on or savior and the Spirit given us for guidance and direction; this will always lead to peace and contentment, and any changes that need to take place will happen with trust.
They do not know God
After all the fledgling nation has seen of God, the miracles and wonders, the defeat of Egypt’s army, they still do not know who their real leader is. They still believe their leader is a man and not Yahweh. Moses was a great man, chosen by God to represent and lead them to their eventual home. Moses is similar the future judges, someone who calls out to the LORD for intervention and the people wellbeing. They lash out at Moses, and though they ask him where the LORD is, why isn’t the LORD here with us and taking care of us, Moses is the one in immediate view and the one who is about to take the brunt of Israel’s anger. If they knew their God, they would have approached Moses in a different way, with faithfulness and trust that God would provide. Instead it was in anger, and anger that transferred to Moses in his response.
God responds, notwithstanding the anger and mistrust of His people, and provides them with water. The rock God used was a massive chunk of stone, it was no small boulder. Some believe today that a rock in the Sinai Peninsula, the rock at Horeb, found in the same wilderness that Israel was traveling through, is the rock that God made water to flow from. This might be possible, but I would not say for certain. The rock in question stands at 12 feet tall, 15 feet long, and 10 feet think. Moses struck it as instructed, and it split, pouring out water in quantities enough to water every person and animal.
This situation should serve as a picture of Jesus and the future cross he was to bear. God told Moses that He would be standing before the rock. Just as God stood with His son on the cross. From that cross flowed streams of living water, just as would happen from the throne described in the book of Revelation. Jesus called to the festival goers in John 7.37, “all who are thirsty, come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink…”. At this point Israel had little belief, yet God showed grace and gave them living water.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10.1-4, that God feed them, guided them, and watered them. Paul says the rock followed them as they went and that the rock was Jesus. This was the second view of the cross in providing water, the first being at Marah, the bitter lake which Moses threw in a dead tree, and the water became sweet. This is how our Lord works, from the beginning of creation, with grace, mercy, and love. The book of John gives a few references of Jesus as the living water that humanity longs for and need. It is Jesus that we need. To the woman at the well Jesus said the water he gives
“will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." Water that we need not search for, it is always there, gushing in us.
We need to search for Jesus throughout the entire bible. This is what Jesus told the two walking on the road in Luke 24, all the scriptures spoke of him. Jesus started with Moses and I have no doubt that this story was in their conversation.
God is with Us
God is with us, always. Jesus is with us, always. When do we quarrel with them? When we decide to join the mob (a mob of one, or a mob of many, the mentality is the same) and leave the water of life in the background. The way of the cross is the better way, always. This is what Israel never understood, even when the living-water stood in their midst, in physical form, as a man. They felt alone and abandoned, full of anger and resentment that was aimed at Moses. But God responded with grace, not anger. This was a missed sign; Moses would strike another rock, twice, in anger, for the same reason, in Israel’s near future. How could you do that Moses? The question should be how can we do that? Live in remembrance, drink from the gushing spring of Jesus, let him pour out of you to strengthen and draw others. Let us be who we are meant to be