Read Exodus 17
We find the Children of Israel in the desert of Sin. That seems to be a strange name for a desert but it was not related to what we would call transgressions, but probably named for a moon goddess by the pagan worshipers who lived on the Sinai Peninsula.
The people have a valid concern. They need water. Had they approached Moses asking him to petition God for water, we would likely have seen things unfold differently. But they did not.
Remember that these are people who will ultimately wander in the wilderness for forty years. Instead of asking God to bless them once more, we are told that they complain against Moses. We should consider this in the legal genre. Essentially, these people have filed a complaint against Moses.
Let’s consider the recent history of these people. Following ten plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians, they are released from slavery and begin their exodus with great possessions.
God opened the Red Sea and his chosen people crossed on dry land and then watched their pursuers die trying to follow their footsteps.
The people arrived at Marah in the desert of Shur only to find the water bitter and undrinkable. God instructed Moses to cast a certain tree into the water. Moses obeyed and the water became sweet.
The people were hungry and God sent manna. He sent daily bread and the people were filled. It is here we are introduced to the practice of Sabbath rest. The creation story tells of God’s rest on this last day of the week, but this is the first time we see his people practicing it. It is only on this day before the Sabbath that the people may gather and keep manna overnight.
After all this, these people confront Moses complaining—accusing him of bringing them out of slavery into the desert for the purpose of letting them die of thirst.
We sometimes talk about the patience of Job, but in Moses we see patience beyond what most of us practice. Let’s take a little license and give Moses a chance to vent to his people.
I didn’t ask for this job.
I was living a pretty good life in the Pharaoh’s household. I was set for life. I may not have had the top job in the country, but I wasn’t doomed to a life of making bricks. I could have continued living as one of your masters, but I didn’t. I couldn’t stand the way you were treated and so in my self-righteous anger, I became a murderer.
By God’s grace I was exiled from Egypt instead of put to death, and I was OK with that.
By God’s grace I found shelter, employment, a wife, and happiness in the wilderness. I was just fine living that way.
Then one day God called to me. He gave me a job for which I was not qualified. I argued with him that I was not the best man for the job or the second best or the thirty-second best. He would not listen to my whimpering complaining. Instead he equipped me to do what I could not do on my own.
I can’t say that I was happy about this. I was content living my life just the way it was. I had done my part to stand up for my people and it almost got me killed.
I obeyed God and went back to a land where you were slaves but where I would surely be put to death.
By the grace of God, I am still alive.
By the mighty acts of God, you are alive and freed from slavery.
And you have the audacity to ask if God told me to lead you out into the desert so you could die of thirst. If God wanted to inflict a perverse sort of punishment on you, don’t you think that he could have worked that into the plagues he sent upon Egypt?
If someone wants to haul me into court and exact justice from me, then let them do it for running a kindergarten under false pretenses.
I can’t believe you people.
I didn’t ask for this job!
But we are not privileged to have such a soliloquy recorded. Instead, Moses appeals to God, asking: “What shall I do with this people? They are ready to stone me.”
And once again God provided. With the same staff with which he struck the waters of the Nile and rose to part the Rea Sea, God told Moses to strike a rock at Horeb. God said he would be present there. Moses led the huge procession of the people with some of their elders accompanying him.
The story is not so much about the fact that God once again did a mighty work. He brought forth water from a rock. It is that this place was named Massah and Meribah. As God’s chosen people would relate their history to succeeding generations, part of their historic journey would be marked and marred by the fact that in a time when God was refining his people to be his people; they chose to test, to tempt the very God who delivered them from slavery.
These two names speak of the contentious nature of God’s people. While it appears that the people’s anger is directed against Moses, what they are really asking is much more contentious.
Is God among us or not?
Today we shake our heads at such insolence. Let’s recap: ten plagues, out of Egypt with great possession, parting of the Red Sea, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, bitter water turned sweet, manna from heaven, and now water from a rock.
Is God among us? Really? These people could ask this after all they had witnessed?
It is good to live in the 21st Century and look back at this knuckleheaded thinking and unbelievable contentiousness and say, if I had seen all that; I would never hesitate to go where God sends me and do what he tells me.
We sometimes like to say or pray or petition for God to bless America. We seek relief from a troubled economy. We seek relief from stress. We seek provisions for our lives. We seek security in our nation and our homes. We sometimes ask if God has forsaken our country. We ask if God is among us or not.
It might be that we are as blind and as contentious as the children of Israel.
God has blessed America. Time and time again he has blessed us and continues to bless us.
If you live in America and are on unemployment. You live in the top 15% of the world’s people. If you receive unemployment and food stamps, bump that up to the top 10%.
If you have a job, you are rich.
If you have a car—even an ugly old junker of a car—you are rich.
If you live in a house or apartment, you are rich.
If you occasionally get a few days off of work, then you enjoy privilege.
If you rate a vacation with your job, you enjoy luxury.
If you enjoy a cell phone, internet, video games, or Facebook, you have experienced extravagance.
If you live in a country where there are no armed patrols on the streets, you have security.
If you live in a country where it has been sixty years between Pearl Harbor and 9/11, then you live in peace.
If you do not fear for your life when you go to sleep at night, then you are secure in your home.
If you can worship God where you chose and not where the government directs, then you have been blessed beyond belief.
God has blessed America!
The question for us is what have we done in response?
Have we blessed the rest of the world as we are called to do, or have we behaved more like the children of Israel in the wilderness asking if God has abandon us?
What have you done for me lately?
I think if we would take a time of self-examination, we might find ourselves closer to the latter.
The exodus of God’s people from Egypt often caused them to think about the dichotomy of their two lives. Slavery was a relatively secure existence. Fat, dumb, and happy might be a fair framing of this lifestyle. They had food. They had work to do each day. They had a place to sleep each night. There was no need for anything else. Their masters decided what they needed.
In the wilderness the people were able to once again value the very basics of life. They weren’t quick studies. They were not fast learners. Some never quite got it and perished in the wilderness. But some did get it. Every good gift does come from God. God is with us. God is among us. God will provide.
Some understood how irreverent they had been to tempt God. Even Jesus would later remark upon this episode in the desert during his own temptation as he would reference the first part of Deuteronomy 6:16.
Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.
God didn’t stop with water from a rock when he answered the question: Is God among us or not?
We are told that Amalek came to fight these people on their exodus from Egypt. These were the descendants of Esau. They engaged the children of Israel on the plains of Rephidim.
It is here that we are introduced to Joshua as a faithful assistant to Moses. He is told to gather some men and to fight the Amalekites while Moses would stand on a nearby hill with the rod of God in his hand.
Even though we know little of Joshua at this point, we can infer that Moses placed a special trust in him. He did not tell him how many men to gather. He did not tell him how to equipment them. He did not tell him how to train them in the time he had. He did not burden him with countless situation reports. He said get some men and fight Amalek. He commissioned him to command.
This experience would surely come in handy when God’s chosen people finally took possession of the Promised Land.
Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. When Moses held his hands above his head, his army was winning. When he lowered them, they were losing. Moses was an old man and just holding a rod over your head for half an hour or an hour can tire you out, so Aaron and Hur helped him keep the rod above his head.
There is a Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz move titled Knight and Day. In it, Cruise is explaining to his unwilling partner—Diaz—that her chances with him are much better than they are without him as a variety of people seem determined to kill them both. To illustrate the point Cruise lifts his hand over his head and says, “with me;” then lowers it and says “without me.”
God seems to answer the people’s question of whether he is with them or not in similar kinesthetic fashion as Moses raises and lowers his hands.
Joshua’s army defeats the Amalekites. God instructs Moses to write down this account and read it in the hearing of Joshua. This was so that Joshua would know that God would blot out the very memory of Amalek.
I have to think that this is something of a letdown for Joshua. Not the part about Amalek, but the recounting of the battle from the perspective of Moses. Up to that point, Joshua probably thought that he was a pretty savvy commander, until he heard the part about holding up the rod of God in the arms of Moses. But we know from subsequent reading that Joshua managed to cope with the fact that the battle belonged to the Lord.
Moses built an altar and named it YHWH – Nissi. This has a variety of translations.
- The Lord is my Banner
- The Lord is my Throne
- My hand is upon the Lord’s Throne
- The Lord is with us
- The Lord is among us
In any of these, we surely have our answer to the question,Is the Lord among us or not?
In this time and in this nation and in this church body, will we finally set aside this question and know that God is with us. God has provided for us. God has blessed us.
It is time to stop asking God, what have you done for me lately.
It is time to show God what we will do to bless the peoples of the earth today.
God has blessed America.
My prayer is that we will respond by blessing all the peoples of the world.