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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

August 16, 2017

Exodus  17:1-7

  1. Verses 1-4. The Israelites went from place to place, as the Lord directed them. It is significant to note that God was in no hurry to bring the Israelites into the land of Canaan. While Israel's later “wilderness wanderings” were the result of their sin at Kadesh-barnea (cf. Numbers 13-14), the wanderings here are designed to serve as Israel's teaching moments. The events of chapter 17 occur while Israel is camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the Israelites or their cattle. It is important to note that it was God who led Israel to Rephidim where there was no water. While the cloud is not specifically referred to in our text, we have previously been told that God always led Israel by means of the pillar of cloud (in daytime) and of light (at night, cf. 13:21-22). While the Israelites are without water, it is apparent that it is God's will for this to be their dilemma. Instead of just complaining, this time the people are arguing with Moses and Aaron. The complaints are more of an attack now. The Israelites should have learned to trust God to supply their needs, based upon His previous provision of water at Marah (15:22-26) and quail and manna in the wilderness of Sin (chapter 16). Before this, the Israelites had grumbled against Moses and Aaron (15:24; 16:2, 7-8), but now they are quarreling with Moses and about to stone him (17:4). Before, the Israelites asked Moses what they were to drink (15:24), but now they are demanding that Moses give them water to drink. Since it appeared that Moses had been able to miraculously sweeten the waters at Marah and to produce quail and manna, the people appear to be demanding that he perform another miracle for them. Do you see the problem? God was doing the miracles, but the people were trying to make Moses responsible. We tend to put our hope and disappointments in our ministers. They are really accusing Moses of not being able to anticipate the problem and taking care of it ahead of time. Moses is in the same faith class that the rest of the Israelites are enrolled in, so he is experiencing the same test that they are experiencing. It is bad enough that the Israelites argued with Moses and demanded that Moses provide them with water, but the text informs us that they were also challenging God here as well. Moses accused the people of “putting God to the test” in their quarreling with him (17:2). This is the verse that Jesus quotes when Satan told him to jump off the cliff and command the angels to save him (Matthew 4). Satan challenged our Lord to prove that He was the Son of God by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, but our Lord rebuked him with a reference to the evil committed by the Israelites in putting God to the test at Massah and Meribah (Matt. 4:5-7). Satan had no right to challenge the Son of God to act in a such a way, for this would suggest that God is so unreliable He must be proven. The Jewish religious leaders persistently challenged Jesus to prove Himself by giving them a sign (cf. Matt. 12:38), a challenge which He refused to take up (cf. Matt. 12:39ff.).

  2. The Israelites demanded God give them water to drink and if he didn't the assumption was that he didn’t love or care for them. We should never demand anything from God. He is sovereign. The people wanted God to PROVE his love. Putting God to the test is telling the loving and caring God to prove that he loves and cares. God has already proven his love and care, so we need to trust that he will always provide. The people are fighting with Moses and testing God. Since Moses’ authority is due to his divine appointment (chapters 3 and 4), to quarrel with Moses is ultimately to dispute with God. The issue, however, is not only whether Moses had the right to continue to lead this people, but whether God was among His people. The challenge of the Israelites was, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Imagine this question being asked as the pillar of cloud, in which God was present and by which He revealed His glory and led them to this place, hovered in their sight. Moses’ rebuke (that the people were putting God to the test) fell on deaf ears. They began to rehearse their memories of the “good old days” in Egypt, contrasted with their miseries and near-certain death in the desert (17:3). Unable to convince the people to stop complaining, Moses could only cry out to the Lord for help declaring that the people were about to stone him. What I have found out is that the “stoning council” is normally led by folk who want to lead, but are mad you are the leader.

  3. Verses 5-7. God's answer was that Moses should walk on ahead of the people with a few of the leaders. This was to remind the congregation of Israelites that Moses was their leader. Some of the elders were taken along by Moses to witness, it would seem, this new miracle. As commanded, Moses took along his staff--the same one with which he had struck the Nile (17:5). The Lord promised Moses that He would be standing before Him at the rock at Horeb. Moses was to strike the rock, causing water to flow from it. When Moses did this, water came forth in abundance, providing for the needs of the Israelites. He named the place Massah (test) and Meribah (quarrel), an epitaph which the Israelites would gladly have stricken from their history. The people fought with their righteous leaders and tested their sovereign God.

  4. The incident at Massah and Meribah is important in two very different ways. The events of this chapter are developed into two major themes in the Scriptures. First, Massah and Meribah becomes an epitaph of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts (and not just that first generation) as well as for the Gentiles. Second, Massah and Meribah is an evidence of the grace of God and of His presence and provision for His people.

  5. Unfortunately, this incident is typical of Israel’s stubbornness. Moses informed them that it was typical of their stubbornness and rebellion against God.

  6. The grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness was therefore a persistent problem, not a rare and infrequent one. Furthermore, the sin of this first generation of Israelites was almost identically reproduced by the second generation of Israelites, some years later (cf. Num. 20:1-13). The problem of grumbling is one that is common to every generation, in every age. Thus, we find the events of Massah and Meribah frequently referred to in the Old Testament. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what l did” (Ps. 95:7b-9). The New Testament picks up “Massah and Meribah,” making this incident a lesson for contemporary Christians as well (cf. Heb. 3 and 4; 1 Cor. 10:1-13). We must therefore conclude that the problems which underlies Massah and Meribah are universal. Let us seek then to explore the nature of the Israelites’ sin here as well as the solution which God has for this sin.

    1. (1) Israel’s actions at Massah and Meribah constituted testing God (Exod. 17:2, 7; Deut. 6:16; Ps. 106:14). Israel’s lack of water was by divine design, for God was testing the Israelites by their response to adversity: “I tested you at the waters of Meribah” (Ps. 81:7; cf. Deut. 8:2, 16). It was good for God to test the Israelites, for it revealed the sinful condition of their hearts. It surfaced their willfulness and waywardness and revealed that God was always blessing them on the basis of His grace, not their works. God has every right to test His creatures, and His tests are always for our good (Deut. 8:16). On the other hand, no creature has the right to “put God to the test.” To do so is to demand that God prove Himself in a way that we dictate. God had proven Himself more than sufficiently in the miracles of the exodus. Israel did not lack evidence; they only lacked faith. If God were among them, then let Him prove it by giving them water, then and there. How arrogant! How inappropriate! How sinful! The creature demands that the Creator jump through his hoops.

    2. (2) Israel’s demand that God prove His presence among them betrayed their lack of faith in Him. The Scriptures indicate that Israel’s actions at Massah and Meribah betray hearts which are hardened and unbelieving: “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what l did” (Ps. 95:8-9). They did not believe His promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord (Ps. 106:24b-25; cf. Heb. 3:12, 19). “Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, and unreliable as a faulty bow” (Ps. 78:57).

    3. Spiritual picture 1. Corinthians 10:4. The rock is Christ! As a type of Christ, the striking of the rock pictured Christ being struck and crucified when He came to earth 2000 years ago. Moses, the lawgiver, was the one to strike the rock (Christ) as it was God's justice that demanded that sin be atoned for through the death of an innocent sacrifice. And what occurred after the rock was struck? Jesus Himself said what would happen in John 7:37-39. He clearly said that the water of the Holy Spirit would be given, but not until He was glorified (His death and resurrection--see John 12:23-24).

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