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” (Exodus 17:1-7 ESV)?
Often, when we hear about the Israelites and their complaints in the Wilderness wanderings we shake our heads in a bemused or frustrated manner. Why can’t these Israelites get it together? Time after time Yahweh has proven His care and provision to them. First, He brings down plague after plague on their Egyptian slave-drivers. Then, He gets those very same slave-drivers and people of Egypt to just hand gold and costly jewelry over to the Israelites as they leave. When Pharaoh changes his mind and chases them, Yahweh parts the Red Sea, gets the people across, and then crushes Pharaoh’s army with the very same waters. He leads them, showing forth His presence to them, in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When they complain about food, He provides manna and quail from heaven.
Still, here we are again, with all of the Israelites grumbling and complaining. Those crazy fools! By questioning Moses and quarreling with him, by not trusting Moses, they show that the one they really do not trust and the one with whom they quarrel is Yahweh Himself. Moses is only Yahweh’s representative. To question the chosen representative is to question Yahweh. They don’t really believe that Yahweh is present with them, despite all the evidence to the contrary. So they give out the biggest insult of all: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” The subtext: We’d have rather stayed in our captivity, thank you very much, because at least we knew how to get water there. Forget the very fact that their being brought out of Egypt should remind them of God’s gracious presence with and for them, they actually resent it! They turn on the Lord’s servant, making Moses fear for His life. You can insert your head shake here. Oh those foolish, silly Hebrews.
But…maybe you should stop shaking your head and look a bit more closely at yourself. Haven’t you also doubted God’s representatives here on earth? Haven’t you also looked on what you have and said, “I’d be better off back there or over there, or with those guys up there”? Haven’t you asked and deeply wondered during times of extreme difficulty, illness or loss “Why have you brought me out of the captivity to sin, death and the devil only to land me here, Lord, with no water? Maybe I would have been better off without Your so-called gifts”? Or maybe you’ve had your moments when you are so caught up in the anxiety of not being able to make ends meet, provide for your family or face a difficult situation that you’ve just plain forgotten to ASK. You’ve just plain forgotten about His presence for you. You’ve just plain forgotten about the last time He sent down manna from heaven. I know I have.
Yahweh, though, has not forgotten you. Yahweh did not forget His people in the Wilderness. He did not leave them there to die of thirst. Yahweh reveals His presence among them yet again. He directs Moses to a specific rock on which He will stand and instructs Him to strike the rock. Moses strikes the rock on which Yahweh stands…in a sense, strikes Yahweh Himself…and out flows, gushes, streams, water to quench the thirst of those foolish, silly Hebrews. It’s not the only time that Yahweh will do something similar. He does it again and again for His people in their wanderings.
In this constant care, in this rushing water, in this stricken rock, we see Jesus. St. Paul says that the rock which Moses struck WAS Jesus, and that it gave them not just regular water, but one spiritual drink (1 Corinthians 10:4). It demonstrated for them that Yahweh was present with them, to care for not only their physical need of thirst, but also their spiritual need for the waters of life. Jesus, our Rock, was struck for us and blood and water flowed. In Him, Yahweh confirms His presence with us. In Him, Yahweh gifts us not only with “all that we need for this body and life,” but also with all that we need for eternal life. In Him and through Him, Yahweh’s presence dwells richly with us through our water-filled Baptisms, through the spiritual food and drink of His Holy Supper, and through His representatives here on earth — our pastors — who speak words of peace, words of life, words of promise into our forgetfulness, our testing, our doubt. And we are forgiven. And we remember. And we see. Our Rock is with us.
Life imparting heav’nly manna,
Stricken rock with streaming side,
Heav’n and earth with loud hosanna
Worship You, the Lamb who died,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Ris’n, ascended, glorified!
Ris’n, ascended, glorified! (LSB 594)
Lord Jesus Christ, our Rock Who gives us the water of life, grant that we may ever remember that You are present with us to help in time of need and to sustain us through Your Word and Sacraments so that we may proclaim Your presence to others and show them where You may be found; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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