Saturday, March 24, 2012

Exodus 17:1-7 God Provides Water at Horeb

"The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin,
traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded.
They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
So they quarreled with Moses and said,
'Give us water to drink.'

Moses replied, 'Why do you quarrel with me?
Why do you put the LORD to the test?'

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses.
They said, 'Why did you bring us up out of Egypt
 to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?'

Then Moses cried out to the LORD,
'What am I to do with these people?
They are almost ready to stone me.'

The LORD answered Moses,
'Walk on ahead of the people.
Take with you some of the elders of Israel
and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb.
Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.'

So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
And he called the place Massah and Meribah
because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying,
'Is the LORD among us or not?'

Exodus 17:1-7 (NIV)

  In the book of Numbers (chapter 33, verses 12-14), there is a  more complete listing of the places that the Israelite community stayed in their journey back to the Promised Land.  If we just went by the Exodus account, we would think that they went in this order:  Rameses to Succoth to Etham, then turning back to Pi Hahiroth (which is between Migdol and the sea) and camping opposite Baal Zephon.  Then they crossed the Red Sea and went into the Desert of Shur.  When they came to Marah, the LORD told Moses to throw a certain piece of wood into the bitter waters and God caused the waters to become drinkable.  Then they went to Elim, an oasis.  Afterwards they came to the Desert of Sin (which seems to be a point midway between Elim and Sinai).  There the LORD gave them quail and manna.  Then they came to Rephidim, where this chapter's story takes place.

However, Numbers 33:12-14 adds in a few more details about the length of their stays at certain sites, and also calls the Desert of Shur 'the Desert of Etham'.  Perhaps it had several names.  I will check into that.  It also notes that after Elim, the Israelites camped by the Red Sea, then camped in the Desert of Sin, then camped at Dophkah and also at Alush before camping at Rephidim.  This is not some type of error in the Bible.  It just means that the Numbers account is more detailed, while the Exodus account was just noting the more significant stopping points along the journey.

The above listings may seem unnecessary to you, but it was a good reminder to me that the LORD had already shown the Israelites that He could miraculously provide them with water and food in the desert.  Therefore, they don't have much excuse for grumbling against Moses (or God) at this point.  Yet they did grumble, bringing back the familiar complaints that Moses should not have brought them out of Egypt and that God seemed to have abandoned them.  Moses' frustration is evident as well, and he sees that the people are ready to stone him.

God's patience and mercy are remarkable.  He instructs Moses to walk on ahead of the people with some of the nations's elders.  At the rock at Horeb, Moses was to strike the rock with his staff.  Perhaps the use of this staff is a good reminder to the people of how the LORD had previously delivered them at the Red Sea.  Now this same staff was used to strike the rock at Horeb, and water came out for the people to drink.   I think that verse 6 is particularly interesting in that it reminds us that these miracles are taking place because the LORD is indeed right with them.

Moses obeys, and water was provided, just as the LORD had promised.  Moses calls the place Massah ('testing') and Meribah ('quarreling' or, as Hebrews 3:7-8,15 translates it: 'rebellion').  The Hebrews account also notes that the Israelites were guilty of hardening their hearts despite the many evidences of God's provision for them.  Also, mention is made of the sinful, unbelieving hearts of some of them.  In a way, these rebellious ones were not much different from the Egyptian Pharaoh, who had seen many examples of God's power and yet refused to humble his heart.  Of course, that Pharaoh was now deceased.

Sadly, some of these unbelieving ones would also perish before the desert journey was over.  This is a good lesson for us.  God is abundantly merciful, providing evidences of His existence and His provision for us.  He understands our weakness and sinfulness.  However, at some point known only to Him, enough is enough, and judgment falls upon those who deliberately reject Him.  Even His covenant people are not exempt from that.  How much better it would be for them (and us) to instead pursue the light which He gives us from His Word, and to continue to follow Him from strength to strength until we see His face.

That reminds me of the passage in Jeremiah 29:11-14, where it says this:

"For I know the plans I have for you,'' declares the LORD,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you a hope and a future.

Then you will call upon me
and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you.

You will seek me and you will find me
when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you," declares the LORD,..."

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