Exodus 17:1-7. 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. 2 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?” 3 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?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 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. 6 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. 7 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 offers us a natural story that points to a supernatural reality. It’s a shadow. A picture of something bigger. Exodus is a paradigm of God’s salvation. But Jesus is the ultimate salvation of God.
This truth is nowhere seen more clearly than here in Exodus 17. This short story offers us one of the greatest views into the nature of our salvation in Christ Jesus that we have in all of scripture. If you read these seven verses too quickly you’ll miss it. And trust me you don’t want to miss it.
The people are moving from the Red Sea south to Mount Sinai through the wilderness desert. They are hungry (chapter 16) and they are thirsty (chapter 17). In other words, they need literal, natural, physical salvation.
Here in Exodus 17 it gets personal though. Even more than before. It says that the people not only quarreled with Moses, they also tested the Lord (v2). The complaining is bad enough, but the word test here means to accuse God of covenant unfaithfulness. It’s a legal term. They want to put God on trial.
And a trial is what they will get. The People v God. Right there in the middle of the desert. If you love courtroom drama buckle up.
And so God tells Moses to gather the elders as the jury. The trial is about to begin. The people want to execute Moses – They are almost ready to stone me. God tells Moses to grab his staff. And then…
God does something no one could have predicted. He stands on the rock before them.
He is taking the place of Moses. he is allowing himself to be judged by the people. “Go ahead put me on trial,” he says.
The judge on trial.
Now what should have happened at this moment in time and space is that God judges these rebellious ingrates into oblivion. Maybe a giant lightning bolt, or the earth opening up, or snakes, or a plague.
But instead God utters these most gracious of words – you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.
This isn’t just a great miracle where God gives the people water. It is far more. It is a picture of our salvation.
Strike the rock.
God is on the rock. The rock represents God himself.
And out will flow life giving water.
Christ is our rock that was stricken (1 Cor. 10:1-5). He allowed himself to put on trial in our place. He allowed himself to be accused, beaten, and even crucified for us. Why? To answer the greatest question of our hearts.
Look at how this story ends – 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?”
Their question, and really their fear was that they were alone. “Is God with us or not?” Is God good? Is he for us or against us?
I’ve had two conversations in the past couple days with two women in my church. Two extremely different people with extremely different situations but both extremely difficult. One of them isn’t even sure if she is a Christian. The other is one of the godliest people you could find. What do they have in common? Both are asking the question “Is God with me?” Or saying “It doesn’t feel like God is with me.”
How does God answer this cry of our hearts? He says look at the rock that was struck for you. Look at the cross. And drink. Drink the living water today. The water that flowed from the very life and body of a God who would allow himself to feel what you are feeling, and to suffer what you are suffering.
Put God on trial. It’s OK. Strike the rock. Water will flow out. Life will be yours. Drink and live. Then let that water flow out of you. The water of the crucified one. A well of eternal life. His crucified life. His life of sorrow. His life of pain. His life of dying. Drink that life and live. Let it free you of all that would destroy your soul. Let it free you to trust in Jesus alone as your satisfaction. Let it free you “to live is Christ.”
John 4:14. whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”