ESV Exodus 17:1 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?”
It didn’t take long. It didn’t take much. Just days after they left Egypt; just days after seeing the mighty miracles of God, the plagues, the deep darkness, the death of the firstborn, crossing the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army, the Israelites lost their faith and rebelled against God. No more had they begun their journey to the promised land where God would live with them, they forgot where they were going and why. Instead of loving God and longing for him, as a lover longs for his beloved, they forgot God and desired to satisfy the desires of their flesh. They just wanted to use God in order to get what they wanted in life.
They were thirsty. But they had seen the power of God to provide anything they needed. They had seen how God parted the waters of the Red Sea so they could cross it on dry land. They had seen how God had destroyed the Egyptian army in pursuit of them. They had seen how God provided manna from heaven to feed them. But all this they forgot. They lost faith, and instead of wanting to go to the land God had given them, they wanted to return to Egypt merely for their worldly wants. This is sin against the First Commandment that says to fear, love and trust in God above all things. But where was their trust in God when they ran out of water? Where was their love for God when instead of wanting to go to the land where they would be with Him, they preferred to go where they thought was more comfort and food?
For that they deserved God’s wrath. They deserved to be beaten with the staff of Moses. They deserved to be shattered like a potter’s vessel and ground into dust by the iron rod of God’s punishment. But instead of chastising them with the rod, God chastised the rock. Rather than beat his rebellious people, he beat upon a rock with the staff he had given to Moses.
And water flowed from the wounded side of that rock. God’s mercy gushed forth from the rock that day. A river of God’s love flowed out upon them. From a rock he gave them water. And they drank. And their thirst was quenched. God is a merciful God who saves his undeserving people. God is bountiful who fills unworthy people with his good gifts. More than they deserve, more than they even ask for or imagine.
He does it all on account of his Son Jesus Christ. This gift of God in the wilderness is the love of God which he gives his children in Christ. He forgave their rebellion on account of the suffering and death and resurrection of his Son. The river of life poured out from that rock to quench the thirst of a people whose love for God had dried up. The flood of God’s mercy covered an unclean people and washed them from the filth of sin.
They are so much like us. At least they were in one of the most arid deserts in the world so their need for water was severe. So we should perhaps cut them some slack and understand their desperate cry. But we, living lives of affluence and luxury, where our greatest worry is how are we going to pile more and more on top of the mountains of wealth and riches we already have. We too are more interested in enjoyment and pleasure than in being in the presence of God. How strange! A young man in love yearns for his beloved, but we, instead, yearn for lives of comfort, ease, and pleasure more than for God. Does that mean our love for God is little? Many today seek a God who is there for you when you need help, but who stays out of our lives the rest of the time. We want God to give us a little boost now and then, but the rest of the time we are fine. Today people are accustomed to use religion as a step ladder to climb up to a better life, but few genuinely seek the presence of God. We thirst for the good life, but we do not thirst for God.
At least the Israelites cried out for a real, tangible need, the need for water in a desert. We cry out because we just aren’t satisfied with our lives of comfort and luxury and want more and more of it. We’ve lost our love for God, lost our faith, rebelled against God, not loving him with all our heart, mind, or soul, rather we are bent on riches, happiness, pleasure and a life of ease (Luther LC). Like the Israelites, we sin against the First Commandment. Where is our trust in God when we run out of water or money or any other physical necessity? Where is trust in God when our health runs out and we can no longer enjoy a life of luxury and pleasure? Where is our love for God when we would prefer to enjoy the passions of the flesh and the comfort of affluence than to live in communion with him? So we seek a god who promises to bless, help, and comfort, rather than a god that we can serve, sacrifice for, and obey. For this we deserve to be beaten, smitten, smashed to dust by God’s iron rod of chastisement. We deserve to be shattered like a potter’s vessel and ground into dust by God’s staff.
But God’s mercy is greater than our rebellion. God’s love is greater than our selfishness. He should have beaten and crushed us. He should beat and grind us to dust for our sinful rebellion. But instead he beat upon the rock. He sent Moses to take the rod and staff of the Lord and beat on the side of a rock, and out of the wounded side of the rock flowed water. He sent Jesus Christ to be our rock. In I Corinthians chapter 10, God tells us that the Israelites “all passed through the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (I Cor 10:1-4). Instead of beating us, God beat the side of the rock of our Salvation. The rock which the builders rejected that became the chief cornerstone. As he hung on the cross and was pierced by the soldiers, out gushed water and blood from his wounded side. God’s mercy and love poured out from his Son on the cross; the blood that washes away our sin. The water that fills the font of baptism. From his side comes a river of God’s mercy and love for you to drink at the fountain of life. From his side pours a flood to drown the old man in you in baptism and from which a new man born of the Spirit is pulled out. The rivers of mercy; the fountain of life. God provided for the Israelites even in their lack of faith. God provides for you even when you lack faith. His love for you is greater than your sin, more powerful than the death you deserve. God provided water for the Israelites even when they rebelled against him. God provides for you even when you rebel against him. On account of the sacrifice of his Son in the cross, God provides water even for his enemies. On account of the sacrifice of his Son on the cross he provides water and every blessing for you.
The rock is Christ. Our rock of Salvation. The Rock of ages. He is the rock that the wise builder built his house upon so that when the wind and the rain pounded on it, it did not fall. On the merits of Jesus Christ, God has had mercy on you; he died for you. You deserve the beating, but God beat the rock instead, he beat Jesus Christ in your place. Smitten and afflicted for your transgressions, the Son of God is the rock of salvation from whose side flows the water of life.
As the rock in the wilderness gave water to the people to quench their thirst, so Jesus gives you living water. The Israelites drank the water from the rock and soon after drinking they were thirsty again and needed more. But, as he told the Samaritan woman at the well, “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.” (John 4:14). The water the Jesus gives is living water. It is the water that poured out from his wounded side which was smitten on the cross. It is the Holy Spirit who gives faith and life everlasting. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1). God offers you his forgiveness and life in baptism and Communion. Drink the water of life by faith in his promise. “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev 21:6). It is the river of water that John saw in heaven, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Rev 22:1). Amen.