*Anecdote about seeing new Pac-Man games in Walmart* *Recount questions asked while 2-years old: “why is Pac-Man yellow? Why this, why that.” We tend to ask why a lot no matter how big we are. Instead of why the sky is blue, we start to ask, why should I live this way, or why did this happen? Why didn’t God fix this?
Asking why is a good way of getting information and understanding things, but the problem with asking why is that there isn’t always a reason for things, let alone a good one. And then many times the answer doesn’t really satisfy the question, which many times is asked to demand explanation rather than to request information. So the question becomes, why ask why?
The children of Israel asked why a lot, but they like us tend to ask questions that shouldn’t be asked. That’s where we pick up in Exodus 17:1-7.
1 And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim [rest]: and there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? 3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? 4 And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. 5 And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah [testing], and Meribah [strife], because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?
The Subtle Mistake of Asking Why (Ex 17:1-4)
The children of Israel were given to grumbling. If you look up grumbling in the dictionary, you’ll find Israelites. They were always fussing, grumbling, and complaining about something! Granted, wandering around in a barren desert was no fun. Things started out so cool! Their God had supernaturally and very obviously made mockery of the power of Egypt’s gods. The blood of lambs marked the doorways of those who were to be saved from the destroying hand of God Himself that massacred all the Egyptian first-born, from Pharaoh’s own family down to the livestock. They’d left Egypt as an army bearing tribute while being led away by God in a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. They had witnessed the miracle at the Red Sea, and they sang and danced following the destruction of Pharaoh’s infamous charioteers under the collapsing water.
But, now, wilderness living had set in. Sure, Moses had purified the bitter waters of Marah in chapter 15 when they needed water. When they whined in chapter 16 about starvation, God sent manna (the original Wonder Bread) from heaven for breakfast and quail for dinner. But this wasn’t lifestyles of the rich and famous. They were walking around all the time. They had no place to call home. They were nowhere near town. There was no running water in the camp. There were no big meals. They didn’t even have cell phone coverage. So they started complaining to Moses, their hero, leader, and advocate. “Okay, tough guy, where’s the water?” Moses replies, “well, there isn’t any.” “Why’d you bring us all out here to die of thirst?” And they were pretty mad about it, too, because Moses was expecting them to stone him over it!
Consider the need for water. Water is a necessity for life. We are nearly 70% made of water. In the survivalist rule of threes, you can go 3 seconds without hope, 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Sure, they had manna and quail, but now there were no wells or streams, and they were parched with thirst.
It was a serious problem, all right, but they were really blaming God! He was the cloud and pillar of fire they were following there in the first place. He had provided a water purification system two chapters ago and their food the previous chapter, so why did they freak out? The same reason we do: hard times reveal hard attitudes. They had an attitude of rebellion; that’s why in verse 2 Moses noted that they were really questioning God’s plan. In verse 7 it says that they pushed God’s patience by saying, “is the Lord here or not?” when they were plainly led there by Him. As Moses cried to the Lord in verse 4, they were saying that if God wasn’t going to show up, they’d show Him by killing His man! (Remember that the next time you gripe about your preacher…)
The Lord cares for His people, but He doesn’t care for our stinking attitudes any more than parents care for the stinking attitudes of their own children. He was all too willing to hear their concerns and cares and had proven Himself time and time again, but instead of depending on Him they were passing judgment on God! It’s supposed to be the other way around! That’s the mistake of asking why. Those who ask why may do so in misery and depression, but don’t forget that asking someone why is to demand an explanation, and God is not going to snap to attention and explain Himself to you.
The Sweet Mercy of Answering Why (Ex 17:5-7)
So, did God smite them over it? He could have, had He wanted to: He certainly would have been within His right to. But our God is a longsuffering and patient Father who is willing to put up with those He loves. Romans 2:4 – “…the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” As usual, the Lord works in mysterious ways; His wonders to perform: He whipped up another industrial-strength miracle to not only rescue them from death by dehydration but also to refresh their sagging spirits and restore their flagging faith. He told Moses to take his ever-dependable staff along with the elders of the nation to Horeb [dry-place]. The Lord said He’d be standing on a rock there, and to smack the staff against the rock so that potable water would gush out of it. Imagine: a rock containing water for around 2 million people and all their herds…that’s unbelievable! But they survived, and God never gave them any explanations. I’d love to ask about this awesome rock He created with the ability to flood drinkable water from it, but all we need to know is that what God requires, He supplies.
Now, the scripture seems to point toward the staff more than its wielder. This staff was Moses’ walking stick from the first time he encountered God at the burning bush (Ex. 4:1-17) and had been transformed into a snake (v. 3). Moses used it to smite the river Nile and turn it into blood (Ex. 7:17, 19) and had it when the hail fell on Egypt (Ex. 9:23) It was referred to as the staff of God in Ex. 4:20 and 17:9.
However, when God told him who and what to take to Horeb, He said to take the staff he had struck the river with. While this staff symbolizes Moses’ personal dependence on the Lord, it also represented God’s judgment power. When it struck the water, it removed its life-saving power. When it struck the lifeless rock, it brought forth life-saving water. The Nile was struck in judgment, leading to Israel’s salvation in the Exodus. The rock was struck in judgment, leading to Israel’s salvation from thirst. While one strike was for condemnation, this strike was in mercy.
If the rod represents the power of God in judgment, what did the rock represent? Remember God said, “I’m going to stand before you on the rock in Horeb.” God was the source of the water. The rock represents the Lord Himself!
The Sublime Marvel of Acknowledging Who (1 Cor. 10:1-4)
Psalmists wrote about what happened at Meribah, but the apostle Paul was led to write about it over a thousand years later. In his first letter to the troubled church in Corinth, he reviewed the history of the wandering nation of Israel under Moses and found parallels with their own experience. We see this, as well, in our own lives, and Paul explained in 1 Cor. 10:6, “now these things were our examples…” and in verse 11, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” Don’t ever forget that the Old Testament is not just historical fact; it’s devotional literature!
1 Corinthians 10:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
We have a spiritual kinship with Moses and the Israelites as our ancestors in faith. We see in their case how ALL were under the cloud (God’s special protection and guidance), ALL passed through the sea (God’s sovereign deliverance), ALL were baptized into Moses (God’s spiritual leadership), and ALL ate the same spiritual food and drink (God’s saving provision).
In turn, ALL Christians have God’s special protection and guidance (Rom 8:14 – “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God”). ALL Christians have God’s sovereign deliverance (1 John 5:13 – “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God”). ALL Christians have God’s spiritual leadership (Romans 6:3-4 – “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”). ALL Christians have God’s saving provision (1 Peter 2:1-3 – “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious”).
Now, we see that the Israelites still had evil desires. Remember those hard times revealed hard attitudes: they had that despite the goodness of God toward them. That’s why they wandered 40 years in the wilderness to start with; they were “overthrown in the wilderness” in v. 5. Paul challenged the Corinthians to heed the warning of the Israelites in scripture as an example.
But “the Rock was Christ“. Jesus was struck in obedience to the will of God (Luke 22:42 – “…Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Isaiah 53:5 – “But he was wounded [pierced] for our transgressions, he was bruised [crushed] for our iniquities: the chastisement [punishment] of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes [death-blow] we are healed.” Isaiah 53:10 – “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise [crush] him…”).
The smiting of the rock brought forth salvation from literal death by thirst, and the gift of continued life. The smiting of the Savior brought forth salvation from the second death, and the gift of a brand new life. Paul mentioned “that spiritual Rock that followed them,” but notice he didn’t say “that literal rock” in verse 4. The Rock of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ, was with the Hebrew people everywhere they went. And this struck Rock is with us everywhere we go, providing life-giving water for us daily (John 7:38 – “He that believeth on me…out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”).
Looking back at Exodus 17 in light of 1 Corinthians 10 helps us look ahead in our own Christian lives. We don’t have to fail like the Israelites did…despite their many blessings they still let selfish desires put themselves in a position of judging God. We win when we stop asking the why question and start acknowledging the Who answer, as the story of Moses striking the rock in Exodus points us to Christ crucified. And we must share this water of life that quenches our selfishness with the spiritually thirsty around us. Jesus said in John 4:14, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Have you been to Jesus? No better invitation can I give than the final invitation in all the Bible from Revelation 22:17 – “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”