Kevin DeYoung / Jun 5, 2016 / Exodus 17:1-7
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s pray. O great God in Heaven, we thank you for the Bible and the church. Thank you that you have led us here. Since we’re here, we might as well listen. Make our hearts good soil for your word. Teach, correct, rebuke, and encourage us. Show us our sin, and show us more of Christ. In his name we pray, amen.
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. 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?” 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?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 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. 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. 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 17:1-7
For the past several weeks, we’ve been following Israel’s journey from the Red Sea (Exodus 14) to the foot of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19). The plan is that when we come to July, we’ll have a break for the summer as I take some study time. Pastor Jason will be preaching. We’ll pick up with Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments at the end of the summer.
As we’ve traced their route from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai, each stop has had a different lesson, theme, and flavor. The Red Sea was the place of salvation. Then they come to Mara, the place of bitterness. Then to Elim, the place of rest. Then the Wilderness of Sin. Even though it’s our English word ‘sin’, it doesn’t have anything to do with our concept of sin, except that they did a lot of sinning there. It was called the Wilderness of Sin because it was in the Sinai peninsula. In that wilderness, we saw God’s provision, as he showered down quail, and then manna from Heaven for 40 more years.
This morning, we find the Israelites encamped at a new place, called Rephidim. Later, at the end of the passage, you see that it’s called Massah and Meribah. If you look at the footnote in your Bible, you can see what those two words mean. It’s as if Moses renamed Rephidim as ‘Testing-ville’ and ‘Quarrels-burg’. That’s what it’s called.
Massah and Meribah would come to be a cautionary tale in Israelite history—a warning against rebellion and unbelief. Later in the Pentateuch (Numbers 20), we have a very similar story. In fact, you may have this story confused in your mind with the one there. Numbers 20 occurs when the Israelites are approaching the Promised Land, many years from this. There, the Lord said, “You shall speak to the rock, and water will come out of it.” Then Moses, in his anger and disobedience, struck the rock twice. Because of that, the Lord says, “You will not enter the Promised Land.” And we read in Numbers 20: “These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD…” So this happens again.
It’s remembered often in Israelite history. When Moses blesses Levi in Deuteronomy 33, he says,
“Give to Levi your Thummim,
and your Urim to your godly one,
whom you tested at Massah,
with whom you quarreled at the waters of Meribah… Deuteronomy 33:8
More famously, Psalm 95:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness… Psalm 95:7b-8
That psalm is quoted three times in Hebrews 3-4. This became a byword—a cautionary tale—a warning against unbelief, rebellion, and grumbling.
The apostle Paul saw this incident in the same way. I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 10. Follow along in your Bible, because it doesn’t ultimately matter what I say unless it is coming from the Bible.
So many of these stories in Exodus proved to be formative, both for the Hebrew people and the church, as they understood their own identity and God’s work in their midst. So 1 Corinthians 10, beginning at verse 1. Here is what the apostle Paul says:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in 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. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
It’s always helpful when you are working on a sermon to have an inspired commentary to help you understand the text. So how are we to understand the point of Exodus 17? Well, Paul gives us at least one of the points here: we are to see this incident with the rock as an example and warning, that we might not desire evil as they did.
This is going to help you with how you read your Bible and the Old Testament, not just this text. There are a couple of extremes. One extreme is to say that when you come to the Old Testament, all you are finding are stories about great heroes of the faith, and the point of every passage is: be like Abraham. Be like David. Don’t be like Ahab. They just become moralistic tales.
When I was in college, this great new Christian video series came out called VeggieTales. We all gathered around—that’s the sort of students we were—and said, “Did you see that?” It was clever. It was funny. It’s really morphed a lot, and the creator of it has even admitted this. Especially in the early years, it could be very gospel-less in those stories. It tended to be very moralistic: here is a story about David, who teaches us about courage; or here is a story about having honesty and integrity. Wasn’t there one about worshiping chocolate bunnies?
But all of these stories tended to just be life lessons. Even people who weren’t interested in Christianity would say, “Oh, this is good. It’s teaching my child to tell the truth or to be courageous.” It wasn’t tying into the whole great story of salvation history. People have been rightly critical of that approach to the Bible—just looking for, “There’s a hero. There’s a villain. There’s an example. Be like that. Don’t do that.” That’s a problem.
But there is another extreme: to react against that sort of error by saying that we don’t ever find models and examples in the Bible. If the preacher stands up and says that part of the point of this passage is that you should follow David’s example, you say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Pastor doesn’t get the gospel. Pastor’s preaching legalism.” No, that’s also Biblical preaching if it is done well.
What does Paul say? “…these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” Look at verse 11: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…” So it is not wrong to find examples in the Bible. It’s not wrong, parents, to say to your kids, “Dare to be a Daniel”, and look at the different examples of the men and women of faith in the Bible. But you don’t want to stop there and treat the Bible as a collection of really nice stories about brave men and women. You want to connect the dots and ask, “What is this doing to point us to Christ? Ultimately, the only hero is Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 10 is so instructive, because we see how Paul can do both. He says, “I’m going to take you back to Exodus. There are some examples there of what you should not do.” But it doesn’t just stop there. He says, “That rock was Christ.” He’s connecting the dots with the great sweep of redemptive history to show how this is not just a lesson for them to be better people, but how it ultimately points them to Christ and to what it means for them to follow him.
I want you to look for a moment at the passage. He begins by saying, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers…” So he is writing to people in the church, giving the presumption of a Christian community. What he’s saying is, “I want you to be on guard. I don’t want you to think that it is impossible for you to fall, or that you are above temptation.”
He says, “Our fathers”. Isn’t that interesting? There would have been both Jews and Gentiles here in the church of Corinth. He’s saying, “Even though you are Gentiles, and it’s not your in physical lineage to come from the Hebrews, these are still your spiritual fathers, patriarchs, and mothers.” Then he says they “all passed through the sea” and that they “were all under the cloud”. What is he saying? That they were a part of the visible community of God’s people. They were, we would say, church people! They showed up on Sunday! They were brothers and sisters in Christ! He is building the case that they were people like you. He’s not talking to outsiders now, but to insiders. They saw the cloud. They walked through the sea. And “with most of them God was not pleased,” because they rebelled.
Now you start asking all of these questions. Can you lose your salvation? No, you cannot. Once you are justified, you cannot become unjustified. But is it possible to be a part of the visible fellowship of God’s people—to be an insider—and prove in the end to have really been an outsider? Yes!
They were baptized into Moses. Isn’t that an interesting phrase? The Greek word is ‘baptizó’. Sometimes it is argued that baptizó has to mean physical immersion, all the time, whenever the word is used. But here we see that it clearly doesn’t mean immersion. They were not immersed in the water. That was the whole point. They didn’t get wet. They were not immersed in the cloud or immersed physically in Moses. It is a word that speaks of incorporation and participation. As one author says, “Baptized into Moses means being initiated into the corporate experience of the visible community of the people of God.”
It’s instructive here (and I just throw this out as a parentheses), that Paul is thinking, “Okay, I want a word that describes how all of the visible community of God’s people are incorporated into the story of salvation. What word should I use to describe how the adults, their children, and their families were all incorporated into the visible community of God’s people? What word? I’ll use the word, ‘baptized’.” It makes sense. They were initiated into the corporate community of God’s people.
They ate the manna. They drank from the rock. And still, in the end, God was displeased with most of them. Their sins encompassed 40 years of rebellion in the wilderness. The incident at Massah and Meribah was just the beginning. They should serve as a warning to us. That’s what Paul is doing in 1 Corinthians 10. “Look, you are like them. You’re a part of the family of God. You’ve been baptized. You belong. You are on the inside. You’ve claimed this history and heritage—and look! There is a warning for you.”
If you come to church, Sunday after Sunday, and think that you never need a warning, then either you aren’t listening well or the preacher is not preaching well, because the Bible has lots of warnings for people like you and me. “You’ve seen the cloud, passed through the water, and received the signs, but will you rebel at Massah and Meribah?” That’s the lesson for us.
Do Not Test the Lord
There are three points this morning: do not test the Lord; do not harden your hearts; and do not reject the Rock of Ages. If you look back at Exodus 17, you’ll see point 1: do not test the Lord. The Israelites should have gathered for prayer and waited for the Lord to provide. They should have known by now that God would take care of them. Okay, they are thirsty. You would think that someone would say, “Hold on, guys. We’ve seen this show before, remember? We’ve been thirsty. We were hungry. Last time we were thirsty, Moses threw a stick in the water and it turned into sweet water. Last time we were hungry, Heaven started raining down donuts. It was amazing! Now we are thirsty.” You would think the people would be saying, “You’re getting thirsty? Yeah. You thirsty? Yeah, I’m thirsty too. Man, this is going to be good. What is God going to do? It’s going to be Diet Coke—sweet tea—whole milk (don’t even mess around with skim!). This is going to be good. What is he going to do to quench our thirst?”
Of course, they don’t do that. They grumble, complain, and quarrel. The word ‘quarreling’ probably has overtones of a physical confrontation. It’s not just, “Hey, give us something to drink.” It’s the same word used in Genesis 26, where it says the herdsmen of Isaac and the herdsmen of Gerar were quarreling over a well. It’s quite possible there was pushing, shoving, and coming to blows here. They might have had a riot situation going on. It makes sense that Moses would say, “The people aree trying to stone me.” It’s not just a scene of people saying, “Moses, we’re really mad at you.” No, it’s people picking up big stones and getting ready to hurl them at their leader. “You brought us here to kill us again. We are thirsty. What are you going to do about it?” There is a major coup about to happen here!
Of course, their real issue is not with Moses, but with God. It says twice that they tested God. In verse 2, Moses asked, “Why do you test the LORD?” Then, in verse 7, “…because they tested the LORD…” The word for testing is a Hebrew word that sounds like the English word ‘rib’. It doesn’t mean rib, but that’s what it sounds like. You can see part of that word in Meribah, which has the same idea of quarreling, testing, grumbling, or arguing.
It’s a type of covenant lawsuit. It’s like they are suing the Lord: “Enough already! We’re issuing you a citation. We’re proceeding to sue this civil statute against YHWH and his helper, Moses, who has led us out into the wilderness to kill us. You’re a murderer!” That’s what they’re doing.
Have you noticed that this is the third complaint? Each time, there has been testing with the complaint, but now the tables are turned. The Israelites think, “We have been tested by God. Let’s see if he can pass our test.” Look back at Exodus 15:
Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them… Exodus 15:22-25
They grumbled. God tested them. Then go to Exodus 16:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from Heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. Exodus 16:4
Incident 1: grumbling. God tests them. Incident 2: grumbling. God tests them. Now we come to incident 3: more grumbling, and the Israelites say, “No more tests! We don’t take tests from God. We give tests to him!”
Think about it. Why do you test someone? Some of you have finals this coming week. Some of you don’t have school this week, and you’ll be outside running around with water balloons and other things. Why do you get tested? You test someone because they need to learn something, and because you want them to prove something to you. They need to grow and learn, and you want to measure it. How do I know what you have learned? Prove to me that you’re an A student, not a C student. Prove to me that you’ve studied. Prove to me that you’ve worked hard. Prove to me that you’re taking this seriously. That’s why you have a test: to gauge progress and to help people learn.
Can you see? Are the wheels turning in your head? It’s such a serious sin when we—little, teeny, imperfect, ignorant, fallen human beings—say, “God, get out of your seat and come to my desk. I want you to take this test, God of the universe, who created, made, and saved me, and who is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Then I want you to come back and I’ll tell you how you did.” We do it all the time. God is not pleased when we present a test to him.
Incidentally, can you think of at least one time in the Bible where there is an exception to this—where God says, “I want you to test me”? It’s in Malachi 3, and it has to do with tithing. God says, “Go ahead. Put me to the test. Tithe. Give 10% and see if I can’t meet and surpass all that you have given away. Watch how I pass that test, because you cannot out-give God.” But as a general rule, unless God’s beckoning you to do it, we do not present to God our tests. You see the question at the end of verse 7? It is a remarkably rebellious question. It’s not a groan. It’s not a lament. It’s not a Psalmist’s “How long, O Lord?” It’s a test. “Is YHWH among us or not? Prove it, God.”
How many times have human beings done this? “Okay, God. Prove yourself. Do it! Miracles, now! Magic, now. Supernatural occurrences, now. Healings, now. Make me better now. Take this away now. Do it! Aren’t you real?” It’s the same sort of attitude. Think about it. His presence was obviously manifested. The pillar of cloud and fire was there daily to lead them, and had led them to encamp at Rephidim. There it was! They could see it! And they said, “Are you here? Do you care? Are you listening?” After all he had done for them—all the miracles and all the plagues—after the water at Marah, the rest at Elim, the quail, and the manna from Heaven—they had the audacity to say, “We don’t know this YHWH. Is he even here?”
Think about if you walked into the kitchen and saw your dear mother. She has mixing bowls out and she is stirring things. Don’t do any of this today. Go home, use paper plates, pop popcorn, and take it easy. But it’s Thanksgiving or something, and she is stirring all of this stuff. You’ve got the oven preheated, and there are pots and pans and things everywhere. She’s shoving them in. You’ve got an apron and the mitts on, and all of this stuff going on. You’re making Jello, and putting that in the fridge. Then your kids come in: “Anybody gonna make dinner?!” Oh, excuse me? Do you have eyes to see? If you do, you may not much longer. Can you not smell? Can you not hear? You can see all that is being done for your sake, and you come in here and say, “Are we going to eat dinner or what?” A little patience. A little remembrance.
That’s what they have done here with the Lord Almighty. “Is the Lord among us or not?” They have put God in the dock. There’s a famous collection of essays from C. S. Lewis with that title. We think of a dock as out on a lake, but a dock in a legal sense is where the prisoner is placed during the trial. The title that Lewis gave is very appropriate, because he argues that this is really the essence of human rebellion. We put God in the dock, and he has to defend himself, instead of us coming to God, seeking forgiveness and mercy: “Woe is me! I’m a man of unclean lips.” We go to him with demands, and sit in the throne of judgment. We say, “Does the prisoner have anything to say for himself? What explanation do you give for your behavior, God? How would you explain disease, tsunamis, wars, refugees, and terrorists? How would you, Lord?” And we place God in the dock. We try to force his hand and make him jump through our hoops. He should be accountable and answerable to us.
In Psalm 81:7, The Lord says, “I tested you at the waters of Meribah.” Let’s get this straight. “I don’t fill out your tests.” It is the measure of our own rebellious human hearts and of our maturity and humility when we come to the place as Christians—and this is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian—where we can say, “God doesn’t have to answer my tests.” Now we cry out to him. We give him our laments and questions. We want him to reply. But we don’t give him our tests. “God, I’m just concerned that I pass your tests; that I belong to Christ; and that you, judge on the throne, would acquit me.” That’s what it means to be a Christian. Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
Do Not Harden your Hearts
Here’s the second lesson: do not harden your hearts. They wanted God to show them something, but they were, themselves, showing God plenty. Calvin says “They ought, at least, to have learned from the manna that as often as necessity pressed upon them, they should have humbly implored in prayer and supplication for God’s help in certain hope of relief. But such was their character that they were hurried by despair into secret murmurings and impetuous cries.” Isn’t that the way that it happens? Despair presses you on and makes you move too quickly when you should have stopped. Think, breathe, and pray. “God, you’ve come through before. You’re doing something. Would you help me?” But despair hurries us on to murmurings, grumblings, and cries.
Listen to what Psalm 106 says:
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
So he saved them from the hand of the foe
and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
And the waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.
But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel. Psalm 106:9-13
That’s what we are seeing. It’s unfolding right before our eyes in Exodus. Maybe it’s unfolding in your life. “He did this and this and this. Then he saved me and conquered my enemies. And then we forgot! And so we didn’t wait.” Phil Ryken, in his commentary, says, “They grumbled in doing three things. They demanded God’s provision. They denied God’s protection. And they doubted God’s presence.” Listen again to Psalm 95, which I read at the beginning.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. Psalm 95:7b-9
That’s the twist of the knife. “They put me to the test. They put me to the proof, though they had seen my works. They walked through the sea.” This is the point Paul is making. They were baptized into Moses. They were with him. They walked through the sea. They saw the cloud. Yet God was displeased with them, because they had forgotten his works. You see the warning for them and us? God is saying, “Look, you Israelites are in the same danger that Pharaoh was.” What did it mean for Pharaoh to harden his heart? It meant that he kept seeing God work, and he kept willfully forgetting and going on his own path. “So, Israel, I saved you from Pharaoh, and now you are looking a lot like him. Again, you see my power. Again, you see my hand. And again, you forget. Do not harden your hearts. You are taking the same path that Pharaoh took. He saw my works and still he disbelieved in my power.”
And this may be the word that some of us need this morning. You hear the urgency in Psalm 95. Today, not tomorrow. “Today, if you hear his voice…” Right now, this sermon, this Sunday, this moment. You didn’t come here looking for any of this, but right now you hear. You don’t hear a preacher. You hear God speaking to you. He is telling you, “Do not harden your hearts. Today, if you hear that, don’t say, ‘I’m going to enjoy this bitterness today and I’ll get it figured out tomorrow.’ Don’t say, ‘I’ll wait until I’m a little bit older. This is what you do when you are young.’” Today, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. Don’t forget what he has done and disbelieve in his power.
Do Not Put the Lord to the Test
Here is the final lesson. Do not put the Lord to the test. There are a number of fascinating and difficult questions surrounding the rock. In Exodus 17:6, the Lord says, “I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb…” What does that mean? Is he talking about how the cloud will be there? The angel of the Lord? Many people think this is a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ. “I will stand before you on the rock—Horeb.” Where have you heard ‘Horeb’ before? Horeb is where God met Moses in the burning bush. You see, Moses is now back at the place where he first met the Lord when he commissioned him to go to Egypt. Now they have wandered back and are at Horeb—another name for Mt. Sinai. Horeb is where God met Moses in the burning bush, where God stood on the rock, and where God will descend and give Moses the law.
“I will stand there.” If it is the pre-incarnate Christ or some manifestation of the Angel of the Lord, it is the Rock on the rock. Then you have this question in 1 Corinthians 10:4. What does it mean that the spiritual Rock followed them? Did you catch that in verse 10? The rock that followed them. You may not be aware of it, but there was a whole thought of Rabbinic tradition that says that the rock at Massah and Meribah miraculously followed the Israelites wherever they went. Is Paul thinking of that?
Others said, “Well, maybe it wasn’t a miracle, where the rock is rolling to follow them, but Moses took this rock from place to place as a kind of portable well.” How are they going to get food? Manna from Heaven. How are they going to get drink? Well, they have the rock with them.
Maybe that makes sense of why you have the same thing happening in Numbers 20. Some have argued that, in Numbers, where it says, “spring up, O well,” that that word is translated every other time as “go up, O well. Move!” Philo, who was a Jewish historian contemporary with Paul, said, “Now Moses led his people out into the wilderness for forty years. He rained down for them bread from Heaven, brought quail to them from the sea, and brought forth a well of water to follow them.”
Other people think that this is a reference to wisdom following them. Christ is the wisdom of God. It’s hard to know exactly what Paul has in mind, but here is the important point: the rock was Christ. Think about that. The rock followed them. However it followed them or whatever that means, whether it was a spiritual or physical following, they brought this rock with them. The rock was Christ. That means that Christ was present in all of their wilderness journeyings. That rock was an example, a type, a model, a picture, a fore-shadowing of Christ. The rock was Christ, just like Jesus would say of the bread: “This is my body. This is my blood. That rock is Christ.”
Not that the rock had the physical properties of a Jewish man, but it was a type, an example, an analogy, a motto. Christ was ultimately their provision and protection. He was the manifestation of the divine presence. All the things that they grumbled about would be met and superseded in Christ! Now did they know that, in some spiritual sense, this rock was akin to their Messiah? Surely not. But they should have understood that if we cannot learn to trust a God who brings water from a rock, then how can we trust God to bring a savior from our midst? By grumbling again and again, they were rejecting the rock that God had given them for our salvation.
In the end, they finally did to Christ—their prophet, priest, and king—what they wanted to do to Moses. See the connection? They wanted to stone Moses. “Who is this Moses? He thinks he’s a savior. He thinks he’s a deliverer. How’s that working out in my life? You know what I want to do with Moses? I want to kill him.” 1400-1500 years later, God would send his Son, the Rock—Christ. And this time, he’d say, “Okay, that’s what you are wanting to do to my Son? That’s actually why I sent my Son to you.” Instead of Moses striking the rock, the Heavenly Father said, “This time, I’ll strike the Rock.” From this Rock, struck with the Father’s hand, will pour forth Living Water that will follow you all the length of your days. They killed him. The Father sent his Son, the Rock of Ages, to be struck with the staff of divine judgment. From the Rock of Ages, cleft for me, would flow streams of living water.
So the words of David should be our words. The Lord liveth! Blessed be my Rock and exalted be my God, the Rock of my salvation!
Let’s pray. Rock of ages, cleft for me, let us find our rest, salvation, hope, and comfort in thee. Guard us, Lord, from ourselves, that we may not test you, we may not be hardened, and we may not turn from this Rock who alone can quench the thirst in our sin-sick, weary souls. In his name we pray, amen.