“Strike the Rock!”

Exodus 17:1-7


            When we don’t get enough water, we confuse our thirst for hunger. What happens when we do that? We eat. We eat when we don’t need to eat. And what does that mean for us? We gain weight.

            When we don’t get enough water, we also become tired, dizzy, anxious, and our joints and muscles begin to ache. And what does that mean for us? A bad or miserable life.

            The point to this … we all need water. Lots and lots of water.

            This morning as we look at Exodus 17 and the Israelites demand for water, we are going to do so using some basic questions. Who, what, where, why, how and when.

            Who? The Israelites. The Israelites lived in Egypt, near the Nile River, for 430 years. Each generation probably said something like, “Eating leaks and onions by the Nile. Oh, that was the life, that was dining out in style!” Even when the Israelites left Egypt, they didn’t have a problem with water. Need it to form walls and create a dry path? Done! Need it to come crashing down on Pharaoh’s horses and chariots? Not a problem.

            Who? The Israelites and Moses! If anyone deserves the title, “The Wonderful Wizard of Water Works,” it’s Moses. Moses’ name literally means to draw out of water. As a child, he is placed into the water for safety and is drawn out of water for salvation. As a young man, Zipporah, who would soon be his wife, she describes Moses in Exodus 2:17 with these loosely translated words, “when it comes to drawing water from a well … Moses is a lean, mean, green, aqua machine!” In Exodus 15:25, when confronted with bitter water, Moses throws a piece of wood into the putrid pool and presto, instant purified water. That’s the who … the Israelites and the marvelous Moses.

            What? Exodus 17:1, “There was no water for the people to drink.” The Israelites left Egypt in Exodus 14 when they crossed through the Red Sea. They have been in the desert for a month. All they’ve seen is nothing but rocks, sand, and dirt. No water.

            When there is no water … one gets thirsty. We all know what it feels like to have no water, to be thirsty. There’s emotional thirst. “It hurts so bad that I feel like I’m eating glass.” There’s spiritual thirst. “God, if You’re so good, why do I hurt so bad? God, why do You seem so far away? God, do You even exist?” And we thirst relationally. “When it comes to love, I’ve just struck out the millionth time.”

            “Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!’” (Exodus 17:4). What do we do when we’re overcome with thirst? Just like the Israelites, we want to stone people. We resort to rocks!

            Do you remember the scene in the movie Forest Gump? That scene when Jennie begins throwing rocks at her childhood home? When Jennie runs out of rocks, she falls down on the ground and cries. What does Forest Gump say? “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks!” Sorry, but Forest Gump is wrong. We thirst so much for love, that, when we don’t get it, we begin throwing rocks. Verbal missals, nuclear words, silent stares, angry texts. There are always enough rocks! And this breaks God’s heart.

            Where?They camped at Rephadim” (Exodus 17:1). Where is Rephadim? No one really knows. Scholars don’t know. Archaeologists don’t know. No one knows where Rephadim is. All people can say is that Rephadim is close to Mt. Sinai.

            But … you and I know the exact location of Rephadim. How? Because Rephadim is that place in our lives where we are burned out with fear too deep to manage. It’s that place where loneliness is too heavy to bear and doubts are too many to number. Rephadim is that place where relationships are dehydrated, dry, and almost dead. Rephadim is where mothers are ready to throw in the towel, children don’t have any friends, and husbands are working 70 hours a week. Others have spotted Rephadim on the job. It’s the place where it’s always the same ol’, same ol’.

            At Rephadim, we cry out with Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God!” (42:1-2). At Rephadim, we echo the anguish of Psalm 63. “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirst for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (63:1).

            Why? Why do we become so thirsty? Four words … it might have been. That’s what the Israelites are saying in Exodus 17:3. “You brought us up out of Egypt.” Translated, “If we had stayed in Egypt, it might have been so much better.” “It might have been.”

            These four words were made famous in 1856 when John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem he called Maud Muller. It’s a poem of a young woman named Maud Muller who one day meets a young man. After their encounter, each of them ponders what it would be like to marry the other. But the moment passes them by and both Maud and this man end up in sad marriages. And both anguish over what was lost on that day so long ago. At the end of the poem it says, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’

            Who? What? Where? Why? How? How can we get water? How can we get water? Well, I guess we could take a staff. Wait! That’s it! We can get a staff! But you know, it can’t be any ordinary run-of-the-mill Wal-Mart or Dollar General kind of staff. No, it has to be the staff! Remember? Moses’ staff. The staff that goes back and forth from a stick to a snake. The staff that struck the Nile and turned the water into blood. The staff that stretched over the Red Sea to divide its waters so Israel could walk through on dry land. The staff that stretched over the Red Sea to bring the waters together to drown Pharaoh’s army. That is the staff we need!

            “Take in your hand the staff and strike the rock and water will come out of it for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:5-6; 1 Corinthians 10:4). And Moses did. And water flowed. And they lived! Paul will reflect on this in 1 Corinthians 10 and connect the Rock which Moses struck to be Christ.

            Matthew 27 says, “They put a staff in {Jesus’} right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again” (27:29). For Jesus, any ordinary run-of-the-mill staff will do. Any stick that remotely looks like a king’s scepter is fine. Any piece of wood that won’t break if it’s slapped repeatedly on someone’s head would work.

            And make sure that the piece of wood is carved to make a sharp, pointed end. Why? Because finally the Rock has to be split and opened up. “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34). Blood and … water!

            Water flowing from the side of the One whose lips are crackled and swollen. Water flowing from the One whose body burned under the hot sun. Gushing waters from the side of the One who with a parched mouth cried out “I thirst!” “Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:6b). And they did, and it flowed, and we live!

            Isaiah describes God’s soul-quenching love saying, “the burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs” (35:7). The prophet Ezekiel sees it as a river teaming with life. “Wherever the river flows everything will live” (47:9). Joel writes, “A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house” (3:18).

            Who? Israel and Moses. What? There’s no water! Where? Rephadim? Why? It might have been. How? Jesus, the Rock of Ages. What are we missing?

            When? We’re missing when. When does this water flow? When does it come to you and me? When does it quench my longing, aching heart? It’s because Jesus loves you so very much that His living, life-giving, soul-renewing water flows from the cross for you. When?

            Right now! Amen.

            The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.


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