For the last few weeks, we've been looking at four stories of the Israelites traveling through the wilderness.
And what we've seen is that these stories have been passed down from generation to generation not just because they recount some historical tale, but because they speak to larger truths about living in the wilderness of a broken world - the wilderness we all experience.
Loneliness, pain, confusion, hopelessness, injustice... Like the Israelites, life out here is hard, and it is all too easy to believe that God has abandoned us in the midst of it. But has he?
So far the Israelites complained about bitter water; God made the water sweet. The Israelites complained about having no food; God gave them manna and quail.
And now, the Israelites won't just have bitter water, they'll have NO water. So let's see if their attitudes are any better this time around...
At the Lord's command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. So once more the people complained against Moses. ""Give us water to drink!"" they demanded.
""Quiet!"" Moses replied. ""Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?"" But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. ""Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?"" Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ""What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!""
Ok, so the people haven't exactly turned an emotional corner. Look at some of the details in this story.
Verse 2. ""Give us water to drink!"" This isn't a request. It's a demand. A few verses later they're ready to throw stones at Moses. They're furious!
As Tim talked about last week, they seem to have completely forgotten the incredible acts of deliverance God has done for them again and again and again. All they can see is their present circumstances.
And this rage is starting to warp their theology. Look at the end of verse 3. ""Why did you bring us out of Egypt?""
This is a direct callback to last week's story. In Chapter 16, when Moses is explaining to the people about the miraculous heaven bread they're about to receive, he says
Exodus 16:6, 8
""By evening you will realize it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt... your complaints are against the Lord, not against us.""
And yet here they are again, blaming Moses for everything and essentially kicking Yahweh to the curb.
How often do we do the exact same thing in our wilderness? How often do we face some kind of obstacle and our first reaction is to forget the bigger picture?
We lose sight of the fact that God has come through for us so many times in the past. We lose sight of the fact that there is a Promised Land ahead.
Our worldview gets warped.
And suddenly we find ourselves longing for the ""good ol' days."" You know, the good ol' days when we were slaves in Egypt working under brutal conditions and having our firstborn sons murdered...
Our perspective gets twisted.
This is why I'm grateful our spiritual ancestors passed down stories like these. To teach us how to survive in the wilderness. Because we are just like them.
What's about to happen next - for them and for us - is all about reorienting our worldview back to the truth: that God has not abandoned us in the wilderness.
WATER FROM THE ROCK
The Lord said to Moses, ""Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile, and call some of the elders of Israel to join you. I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink."" So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out as the elders looked on.
Moses named the place Massah (which means ""test"") and Meribah (which means ""arguing"") because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, ""Is the Lord here with us or not?""
I find it so interesting that Moses names the place ""test and arguing"" (Massah and Maribah), rather than ""miracle rock water"" or ""thirst-quench boulder."" Nope. From that point on, this spot was called ""test and arguing.""
I think that fits in with the bigger point of this story: the consequences of a warped worldview.
Even though God has consistently proven himself to be the provider, the healer, the deliverer... the people lose faith the moment they don't see any solution ahead of them.
""There are nothing but rocks here! We're going to die of thirst.""
It's interesting how God chooses to reorient their perspective. Take a look at verse 5. ""Take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile...""
We'll talk about this a lot more next week, but the staff of Moses acts in these stories as a symbol of faith in God's power. Just like with the tree in week 1, the staff is an object lesson.
Having Moses use it to bring water out of the rock is a brilliant callback to the crossing of the Red Sea.
With this staff in Moses' hands, God made water into dry land. With that same staff, God makes dry land into flowing water.
In both cases, God does the impossible and provides a path forward where there used to be none. He reorients their worldview to remind them that he never left them alone.
God even says in verse 6, ""I will stand before you on the rock."" So was that the pillar of cloud or fire they'd been following? Was it the mysterious ""angel of the Lord"" that shows up a few times in the story? We don't know.
All we know is that God stood with them as he brought water out of the dry ground.
Have you ever needed your worldview reoriented? I have.
When I was in my mid 20's, I hit rock bottom. I dropped out of Bible school, lived depressed and addicted to video games in my parents' basement. My passion for ministry was dead, and I had no idea how to move forward.
But then God parted the sea for me. Out of nowhere I ended up on this wild journey living in Kenya for a year which totally changed my life.
God delivered me from a terrible situation and gave me a new hope and purpose. I went back to school and graduated, I did a year-long internship with the Outreach ministry here at Grace, and it seemed like I was finally on track to find my purpose.
Until every door slammed in my face. I could not find a job. I applied to churches, to non-profits... nobody would hire me. Put simply, I ran out of water.
And of course, my worldview got warped. I remember getting so frustrated with God. ""Why would you take me through all of that, re-ignite my passion for ministry, and then just drop me on my face like this?"" ""Why did you bring me out of Egypt? Just to die of thirst?""
Guess what God said to me in response?
Nothing. I didn't hear a thing. I just went on applying for jobs and getting rejected. It really felt like God had abandoned me.
But then, right in the middle of my despair, my parents had an Indian social reformer named Sunil over to their house for dinner. He ran a ministry in India called Truthseekers.
At one point in the evening Sunil pointed at me across the room and said, ""Barry, you need to come to India for three months! Don't worry about food or shelter. We'll take care of you. Just come.""
I thought for a moment and realized, ""Well, I don't have anything else going on."" I scraped together enough money for a plane ticket and made my way to New Delhi.
I spent the next three months hanging out with Truthseekers, visiting communities of outcast gypsy children, praying with eunuchs, participating in anti-discrimination rallies, taking 22-hour train rides by myself, eating all kinds of very... let's say, interesting food...
It was there the vision for my non-profit, World Next Door, was born. God led me to become a photojournalist for his kingdom, and I spent the next 6 and a half years traveling all over the world telling stories of what he was doing.
It was that experience which led to me preach my first sermon here at Grace. And now, 11 years after the seeming dead end of my ministry career, I'm about to become Grace's next senior pastor.
When I was in that season of life, getting rejection letter after rejection letter, I thought God had abandoned me. My worldview was warped.
What I realize now is that he was standing on the rock in front of me all along. There was no water, so he broke open the dry ground to give me a drink. My path forward wasn't just some job, it was a ministry that didn't even exist yet.
And this is what I want you to hear today from Exodus 17.
Sometimes God makes bitter water sweet. Sometimes he brings bread out of thin air. And sometimes he makes water where there is none. In all these cases,
God can transform our wilderness.
It rarely happens on our timeline. And it almost never looks the way we expect. But if our worldview is aligned correctly we can trust God to see us through the wilderness we are facing.
And ultimately, we know God will transform all the wilderness. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God brought water out of the rock. He brought life out of death.
And he is sprouting up New Creation in the wasteland of our broken world. In the wasteland of your broken life.
The prophet Isaiah saw it coming.
Isaiah 35:1-2, 5-7
Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
and singing and joy!...
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf.
The lame will leap like a deer,
and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!
Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
and streams will water the wasteland.
The parched ground will become a pool,
and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
The Holy Spirit is breathing life into our world. And he wants to breathe life into yours.
I wish I could say he will snap his fingers and bring your wilderness to an end. He may not. As long as this world remains broken, your wilderness may endure.
But I do know this. Whether it is a sip of cool water from a bitter pond or a gushing spring from a rock, God will sustain you in this wilderness. Align your worldview to the truth: He is with you.
Trust him. Trust in his love.
God is faithful to see us through our wilderness and he will one day transform it all.