Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Exodus 17:1-7 -- Water from the Rock

Opening thought:

In September 2008, the bottom fell out. In a matter of months, people began to find themselves in dire financial straits as they were laid off or the recession hit their businesses. I don’t have to tell you that people are hurting all around us. The Boston Globe reported yesterday that 5 million Americans have now been out of work for more than six months, a record number that forecasts a slow, difficult recovery and a long period of high unemployment, according to Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies.

Nationally, the average bout of unemployment has reached 25 weeks, the longest since the end of World War II, and is likely to increase as the jobless rate goes higher. Most economists expect the national unemployment rate, now 9.7 percent, to top 10 percent before peaking next year.

US employers cut another 216,000 jobs in August, the 20th consecutive month of national job losses, the Labor Department reported Friday. About one in three unemployed workers have been jobless for more than six months.

The danger of long-term unemployment is that it feeds on itself, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies. The longer workers are unemployed, the harder it is for them to become reemployed. Skills atrophy and firms begin to see extended joblessness as a sign of “damaged goods,’’ Sum said.

That, in turn, contributes to higher, more persistent unemployment that can embed itself in an economy.

“This is the dilemma we’re in,’’ said Sum. “We have this surge in unemployment, no vacancies, and no job creation. We used to take pride in the short duration of unemployment in this country, but that’s no longer true.’’[1] In North Carolina statewide, the unemployment rate is 11 percent.[2]

Things are tough all the way from Main Street to Sesame Street. In an upcoming primetime special, the Muppets and their human friends and neighbors will talk about how to deal with the impact of the recession. The special broadcast is called "Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times."[3]

But with all the trouble we are in, it’s nothing compared to the trouble the Israelites were in the desert. It had been three days with no water for them, their small children, or their livestock. It was extremely high temperatures and desert conditions that the Israelites endured for three days without water in Exodus 17. You know the drill. With family and livestock panting and dehydrating, the Israelites got scared and started complaining and griping, and the hot sun didn’t help matters.

Pray and Read: Exodus 17:1-7

17:1 וַיִּסְעוּ כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּדְבַּר־סִין לְמַסְעֵיהֶם עַל־פִּי יְהוָה וַיַּחֲנוּ בִּרְפִידִים וְאֵין מַיִם לִשְׁתֹּת הָעָם׃

Then all the assembly of the sons of Israel set out from the Desert of Siyin, breaking camp by the mouth of YHWH. So they camped at Rephiydiym, but there was no water for the people to drink.

17:2 וַיָּרֶב הָעָם עִם־מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמְרוּ תְּנוּ־לָנוּ מַיִם וְנִשְׁתֶּה וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם מֹשֶׁה מַה־תְּרִיבוּן עִמָּדִי מַה־תְּנַסּוּן אֶת־יְהוָה׃

And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water so we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test YHWH?”

17:3 וַיִּצְמָא שָׁם הָעָם לַמַּיִם וַיָּלֶן הָעָם עַל־מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָּה זֶּה הֶעֱלִיתָנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם לְהָמִית אֹתִי וְאֶת־בָּנַי וְאֶת־מִקְנַי בַּצָּמָא׃

But the people thirsted there for water, and the people balked against Moses saying, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to cause us and our children and our livestock to die of thirst?”

17:4 וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהוָה לֵאמֹר מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָעָם הַזֶּה עוֹד מְעַט וּסְקָלֻנִי׃

Then Moses cried out to YHWH saying, “What do I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

17:5 וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה עֲבֹר לִפְנֵי הָעָם וְקַח אִתְּךָ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמַטְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הִכִּיתָ בּוֹ אֶת־הַיְאֹר קַח בְּיָדְךָ וְהָלָכְתָּ׃

And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass ahead the people. Take with you the elders of Israel and your rod, with which you struck the Nile, take it in your hand and go.

17:6 הִנְנִי עֹמֵד לְפָנֶיךָ שָּׁם עַל־הַצּוּר בְּחֹרֵב וְהִכִּיתָ בַצּוּר וְיָצְאוּ מִמֶּנּוּ מַיִם וְשָׁתָה הָעָם וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן מֹשֶׁה לְעֵינֵי זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

Behold Me! standing before you there upon the rock in the dryness. Strike the rock and water will come out and the people will drink. And Moses did so in the eyes of the elders of Israel.

17:7 וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם מַסָּה וּמְרִיבָה עַל־רִיב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל נַסֹּתָם אֶת־יְהוָה לֵאמֹר הֲיֵשׁ יְהוָה בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ אִם־אָיִן׃ פ
And he called that place “Massah” and “M’riybAh” because the sons of Israel quarreled and because they tested YHWH saying, “Is YHWH near to us or not?”

Contextual Notes:

The Israelites have been liberated from slavery in Egypt and are now in the Wilderness. Today we are looking at the third of three times the children of Israel run out of water at Marah. (Exodus 15:25-27; 16:1-36; 17:1-7). This time the griping is so bad that the place got the name “Testing” (Massah) and “Griping” (Meribah).

Now leaving the Desert of Siyn where they had seen the great miracle of the quail and the manna begin, the people head out of the desolate, chalky cliffs of this desert up into the purple hills of the Sinai range. For three days they pass not one single spring of water, and this time of year, May, we know from our troops in Iraq is the time of extreme upswing in temperature in the Middle East and extremely tiring all day in the sun.

Just as they leave the Desert, they pass a large, bare, outstanding rock. In all likelihood, Israel would have stopped to camp there. Ahead of them, the walls of the mountains narrow and head into the gorgeous plain of Rephidim, wide, green, and fertile. Camped round its springs is Amalek, cousins of Israel, descendants of Esau. They have plans to ambush a weary Israel, but today the issue is water. It has been three days. Where can we get water?

Arab tradition says is this large free-standing rock near the end of the Desert of Siyn is the one which Moses would strike in this story today in order to get water.

Israel had already experienced wonderful things. They had seen the ten plagues, the miracle of the Passover, the unbelievable Red Sea crossing, the bitter waters of Marah healed, the twin miracles of meat and bread in the Wilderness, quail and manna -- now the desperate need for water in a harsh desert. Despite the people’s attitudes, the Lord responds with a gracious hand, demonstrating that He is a “very present help in trouble.”

Here, the children of Israel had grown bold enough in rebellion to test YHWH Himself. He did not judge them. Instead, He proved Himself, and He also put the people to the test. With the 70 elders standing by, Moses, at God’s direction, struck the rock with the staff he had used at the Red Sea. From the Rock flowed living water, a picture of Christ.

Key Truth: Moses wrote Exodus 17:1-7 to teach Israel that in spite of themselves, life’s difficulties should point them to Christ and His merciful character.

Key Application: Today I want to show you how God uses difficulties in our lives to teach us Christ’s merciful character, even sometimes in spite of ourselves.

Sermon Points:

  1. Difficulty teaches us Christ’s great character (17:1).
  2. Difficulty teaches us to look to Christ, not others (17:2-3).
  3. Difficulty teaches us that Christ’s mercy is unique (17:4-6).
  4. Difficulty teaches us to leave a legacy in the way we live (17:7).

Exposition: Note well,


a. Difficulties are part of life. This earth provides no lasting satisfaction. Difficulties are part of the fallen sinful nature of our world.

b. Rephidim means rest. The people were expecting to rest when they arrived in the region of Rephidim. It was known as a fertile, green, shady place to rest, rehydrate. If they could just make it there, it would be great. But they didn’t make it there. They had to camp under the shade of a standing rock on the desert side. Their expectations not met. Anger and disappointment set in quickly.

c. Every need of Israel was an opportunity for God to demonstrate His mercy.

d. Isaiah 58:11: 11 The LORD will guide you always; / he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land / and will strengthen your frame. / You will be like a well-watered garden, / like a spring whose waters never fail.

e. Isaiah 43:18-19: 18 "Forget the former things; / do not dwell on the past. / 19 See, I am doing a new thing! / Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? / I am making a way in the desert / and streams in the wasteland.

f. APPLICATION: Unexpected difficulties are part of life. Expecting smooth sailing all the time is unwise. There will always be blips on the screen, unplanned emergencies, unexpected expenses, and unmet goals. Holding onto unrealistic expectations only makes attitudes worse. It is best for everyone involved to keep a positive attitude, decide to work together, and smile through it.


  1. Israelites blamed Moses. Foolish. Wasn’t he thirsty too? Could he make springs appear? Wasn’t he helping them find freedom?
  2. We do the same.

i. Some of us look for a mate to fix our internal problems, and then we blame that mate for them.

ii. We seek a good name, and then blame the responsibilities that come with it.

iii. We jockey for a promotion from our supervisor, and then blame her or him for the added work and responsibilities.

iv. We badger a doctor for a particular drug or procedure, and then complain at the discomfort it caused.

  1. MOSES turns to God in prayer. (17:4-5) Then God gave him the strategy and answer and promised to be with him as He answered the prayer. When the going gets tough, the wise get praying.

  1. APPLICATION: When trials come, go to praying, not blaming. No human being or institution can solve your problems. The longer you stew and stir the pot before you decide to pray, the longer the delay in God’s answer.


a. The rod that struck Nile now strikes the Rock (once on the water, once on the land). This act is both a reminder of God’s work in past and a demonstration of YHWH’s sovereignty that he is Lord of both the waters and the earth. For years after this, we do not read of the Hebrews suffering thirst.

b. The water for Israel came from a rock. Who would have predicted that? Who satisfies the soul? One who was “despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

c. Isaiah 53:10: 10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, / and though the LORD makes [a] his life a guilt offering, / he will see his offspring and prolong his days, / and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

d. Paul saw this event, this need, and this Rock as a picture of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:3-4: 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

e. The rock is struck by the rod of the Lawgiver. At Kadesh, the rock was struck a second time (Numbers 20). That time, Moses displeased God who had commanded him to speak to it and forfeited his entrance into the Promised Land. The Rock, Jesus Christ, was struck once and forever. So the death of Christ will never be repeated. It is once for all.

f. 1 Peter 3:18: For Christ died for sins once for all the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

g. Jesus Himself told the woman at the well, John 4:10, 13-14: 10Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." 13Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

h. If Christ is the Rock, what does the water represent? The water is the Holy Spirit.

i. John 7:37-39: Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

j. The supply of water from the rock is FREE. Not just the ones who did not complain, but to the loudest mouths, too. So the gospel is free to all, even the worst sinner.

k. Revelation 22:17: 17The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

l. The supply was ABUNDANT (Psalm 78:15-16, 20; 114:7-8). Christ’s salvation is overly abundant. My cup runneth over.

m. Psalm 78:15-16: 15 He split the rocks in the desert / and gave them water as abundant as the seas; / 16 he brought streams out of a rocky crag / and made water flow down like rivers.

n. Psalm 78:20: 20 When he struck the rock, water gushed out, / and streams flowed abundantly.

o. Psalm 114:7-8: 7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, / at the presence of the God of Jacob, / 8 who turned the rock into a pool, / the hard rock into springs of water.

p. The supply was PURE (Not bitter, not poisonous. It was sweet, refreshing, cooling.) The salvation of Jesus is sweet, clear, and pure. It cleanses all who drink it.

q. The supply was CONTINUOUS (Psalm 105:41). The Water of the Rock followed Israel. Christ’s mercy never leaves a trusting soul. Eternal security. Will follow through all life’s wanderings.

r. Psalm 105:41: 41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert.

s. A.B. Simpson. “The rock is struck. The Spirit is given. Heaven is opened.”[4]

t. APPLICATION: Christ took the beating for you and me. There is no supply like His. Won’t you allow Him to replenish your parched soul?


a. The way Israel acted was marked by the names Massah and Meribah forever. Their testing and griping is known to this day.

b. The Israelites were at root full of unbelief and ingratitude (Psalm 78:22: for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance.”)

i. They had been delivered from slavery, but they asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

ii. They had crossed the Red Sea, but they asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

iii. They had seen their enemies floating on the water, but they asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

iv. They had tasted the sweetened waters of Marah, but they asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

v. They had been fed every day with quail and manna, but they asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

c. Some people refuse to see God at work in their time of need. Instead of running to Him, they cut Him off, their only source of healing. They get angry at Him as if He is responsible for their loss.

d. The way we live always affects others who come after us.

i. Every righteous act, every sinful act. You are leaving a legacy behind you for your family, your church, and your community.

ii. Every time you pray for your pastor and the church.

iii. Every time you cuss him and your fellow Christians at work.

iv. Every time you wait to let someone in your lane.

v. Every animal you kill over your limit.

vi. Every time you give back the extra change at the register.

vii. Every ugly remark about the church at the convenience store.

viii. Every time you choose to be moral sexually.

ix. Every one night stand.

x. Every time you buy someone’s meal.

xi. Every time you play the lottery.

xii. Every time you vote.

xiii. Every time you cheat on your taxes.

xiv. Every time your children are watching and taking note.

xv. Every time your grandchildren are watching and taking note.

xvi. Every time non-believers are watching and taking note.

xvii. Every time your Lord is watching and taking note.

e. APPLICATION: Live your life before your spouse, your children and grandchildren, your co-workers, your supervisors, your neighbors, and your enemies in such a way that we may draw them to believe and trust in Christ’s deliverance.


What’s your difficulty? Are you going to mire down in it, dehydrate, and expire? Or are you going to cry out to God, gain His wisdom for your dilemma, see His Presence at work before you, and gain the blessing of His provision?

Some of you need the provision of His salvation. Receive it today, won’t you?



Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament, 191-4.

Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Exodus, “Marah.”

Abel Ndjerareou, Africa Bible Commentary, 105-6.

Reese Chronological Bible

A.B. Simpson, Christ in the Bible Commentary, vol. 1, 120-3.

John H. Walton, et. al., eds., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, 91.