Skip to content
Apr 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 29, 2018 – Exodus Chapter 17

Desert Dangers

At the LORD’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of [Sine] 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?” Exodus 17:1-3

Intro: Why are fastest speed limits in California and Arizona posted on our desert freeways?

Most travelers try to get through desert as fast as possible
– I would remind my children, we made desert journeys with out air-conditioning
• my parents reminded us of horse-drawn covered wagons
◦ not that they ever traveled that way, but to give us perspective
◦ it didn’t work
• we also learned that high temperatures made for short fuses
– I bring this up so that we can feel some sympathy for the Israelites
• their trek thru the wilderness led from one hardship to another
• their worst times, however, resulted when they lost sight of God

In some ways, our spiritual journey parallels their travels
– the Apostle Paul made this point in 1 Corinthians
• and that will be how we approach Exodus chapter 17 today
– there were two common experiences on this desert journey:
1. Going through periods of dryness
2. Coming under attack

Israel is on the move againAt the LORD’s command

“Command” is literally “mouth,” and I like the feel of that
– it makes God’s speech seem more direct and intimate
• it’s nicer to be nudged by a gentle voice, “Time to go”
• than be driven by a gruff command, “Get going!”
– Israel’s movements were constantly “from” place to place
• each camp site was the springboard for their next move

Life with God is never static
– Paul compares the human body to a tent (2 Cor. 5:1)
• a temporary shelter
◦ the book of Hebrews says we have no permanent residence in this world
• it’s like standing on the ocean shore, ankle-deep in water
◦ the sand keeps shifting under your feet, so you have to keep moving
– we are not in heaven yet
• but going from place to place is not so bad if, like Paul says,

we . . . are being transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18)

• God meets us where he finds us in this place at this moment
◦ and he walks us into the next place and the next moment

The first problem they ran into in this new place: no water

Of course they complain – and their complaint is routed to two departments
– it reaches Moses as a dispute, and reaches God as a test

The word test (also translated tempt) frequently occurs in the Bible. To get at its meaning, imagine that you inherited a ring from a dear old aunt. Wanting to know if the diamond in it is real, you take it to a jeweler who can test it for you. The test will not only confirm the genuineness of the diamond, but also reveal its quality and value. Tests in the Scriptures serve a similar purpose.

• God has tested the people of Israel two times
◦ in Exodus 15:25, he tested their faithfulness
◦ in Exodus 16:4, he tested them to see if they would follow is instructions
• God doesn’t learn anything from testing me — he already knows me
◦ but when tested, I learn something about myself
◦ it can be as important to learn how weak we are as how strong
– what Israel does in this instance is turn the tables and put God to the test
• if God had been asking them, “Are you with Me?”
◦ they are now asking, Is the LORD with us or not? (v. 7)
◦ later the law will prohibit anyone in Israel from doing this

You must not test the LORD your God as you did when you complained at Massah (De. 6:16)
Note: this was one of the verses Jesus quoted to Satan to ward off temptation (Mt. 4:7)

• it’s okay to pray, to beg, and even express our frustration
◦ but there’s a line we have to be careful not to cross
◦ lose sight of who God is and everything starts to fall apart

The language in verse 3 is a little odd

Where we read Are you trying to kill usour children, and our livestock with thirst? The Hebrew text says, Are you trying to kill me, my children, and my livestock with thirst?

– in verses 2 and 3, Israel is referred to as “the people”
• this is what they are becoming – a people
◦ it’s what the journey is doing for them
◦ this is a healthy development
• but it also has a risk
◦ having one voice, they can move together toward God
◦ or they can move in unison away from God
– although God had succeeded in bringing them out of Egypt,
• they had not yet gotten Egypt out of themselves

Moses took their dispute to God

Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!”
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 the 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. 
Exodus 17:4-6

They are ready to stone me is probably an exaggeration
(as Israel’s complaints had been exaggerated)
– this is the nature of complaint
• once you get going with your grumbling, it builds momentum
• it doesn’t take long for griping to snowball out of control
– God’s instructions to Moses:
walk out in front of them – that’s what leaders do
Take your staff [in your hand (literal)]
◦ both staff and hand are key words in this chapter
◦ they link this story with the next one
Strike the rock

A few weeks ago, knowing we would be coming to this passage, my cousin’s wife sent me the following newspaper correction:
“In a video on Water-Gen Ltd.’s website, Israelie Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Moses ‘brought water from a rock.’ In some editions Wednesday, a U.S. News article about the Environmental Protection Agency signing a deal to test technology from the Israeli company incorrectly gave the quote as ‘brought water from Iraq.’”

Moses did as God told him and “problem solved”
– Moses then gave two names to this site

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?” Exodus 17:7

• Moses named their complaint because they were not to forget this incident

Is the LORD here with us or not?

– I sometimes feel like saying this when tested or going through a dry spell
• God is here, whether we feel him or not
• his presence with us is not something he wants us to question
◦ again and again in scripture God reminds us, I am with you

The second problem they ran into: the came under attack

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”
So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meahwile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then the stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle Exodus 17:8-13

The book of Deuteronomy sheds some light on this event

Never forget what the Amalekites did to you as you came from Egypt. They attacked you when you were exhausted and weary, and they struck down those who were straggling behind. They had no fear of God (De. 25:17-18)

– again, the staff in Moses’ hand was critical to the outcome
• in verse 5 and speaking to Moses, God referred to the staff as “your staff”
◦ here in verse 9 it is “the staff of God”
• this alternating of statement regarding what belongs to Moses or God,
◦ is characteristic of the Torah–i.e., the first five books of the Bible
◦ for example, the “Law of God” is also the “Law of Moses”
• it points to fact that what Moses gave Israel had come from God
– but it becomes an issue later on,

Upset with Israel, God will tell Moses that he refuses to continue on with them and refers to Israel as your people who you brought out of Egypt. Moses, however, will not accept that responsibility and throws them back to God, referring to Israel as your people who you brought out of Egypt (Ex. 32:7 & 11)

Previously, at the Red Sea, God fought for Israel while they watched
– this battle, however, God did not fight for Israel like before
• he fight with them, as indicated by the staff in Moses’ hand
◦ but he took his people out on the battlefield this time
– during the plagues and at the Red Sea,
• it was established that the staff was an instrument God used to reveal his power
◦ it marked the precise moments when God broke into the world
◦ holding it up on this occasion was like lifting banner (or carrying a flag or ensign into battle)
– while the battle wore on, there is a stark contrast between the staff makes and man who held it
• the contrast of Moses’ weakness and God’s irresistible strength

After the victory, the LORD instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory [“name” literal] of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the LORD is my banner”). Exodus 17:14-15

Moses had named the place where the people complained and tested God
– now he builds an altar and gives it a name
• the purpose of naming something is to give it an identity
◦ and to register it in the nation’s memory
◦ the altar enshrined the memory of what happened there
– one the one hand, we have these enduring names: Massah, Meribah and Yahweh-Nissi
• on the other hand, God will erase the [name] of Amalek
◦ there would be nothing left that carried the name
◦ Amalek would lose its identity and cease to exist
• Israel’s identity would continue to form and never be lost

Conclusion: We can agree that desert travel is no fun

But in the first story, Israel made it worse
– they created unnecessary tension between themselves and God
• not only did they have enough problems already,
• but they strained a relationship that was their one real hope
– looking back, what did Paul see in this story?

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-5)

• we can have access to unlimited spiritual resources and still come apart

Paul’s observations come to us as a challenge
– to pay attention to the presence of Jesus in our lives
• and to think about what that means

On Friday’s, I take my grandson Calum to his karate class. In order to move up to the next level and earn a higher belt, the students have to perform a number of combined moves, referred to as a pinion, that are performed in a specific sequence that has been carefully choreographed. When they run through their pinions you can see in their faces how intensely they are concentrating on making all the right moves. Their expressions reveal that they still have long way to go, because the blocks, punches and kicks are not yet automatic.

This is why I want to return to our spiritual rock,
and from him receive the living water
day after day and many times each day.
Pausing to breathe, to concentrate on his presence,
to find him near, and think about what that means.
I want to do this until it becomes so automatic
that I no longer have to remind myself to pause and breathe,
because I no longer question whether he is with me
and no longer forget that he is

Leave a comment