Into Trouble and Out

1And the entire Israelite congregation traveled from the Wilderness of Sin by stages as YHWH directed, and they camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people disputed with Moses, and they said, “Give us water so we can drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why are you disputing with me? Why are you testing YHWH?” 3The people became very thirsty and they grumbled against Moses, and they said, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our flocks with thirst?” 4And Moses cried out to YHWH, saying, “What shall I do about these people? A bit more and they’re going to stone me!” 5And YHWH said to Moses, “Go before the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you, and take your staff, the one you used to smite the Nile, in your hand, and go. 6I will be standing before you there at the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it, and the people will drink. And Moses did so in front of the elders of Israel. 7And he named the place Massah and Meribah, because of the dispute brought by the children of Israel, and because there they tested YHWH, saying, “Is YHWH among us or not?” — Exodus 17:1-7

Sometimes I write devotionals that talk about how much God cares for each one of us, and all the things he has done. Other days I talk about how following God can get us into trouble, and how we cannot expect everything to be perfect in the Christian life. We have to be ready to endure hardship and trials if we are going to follow God.

Each of these topics can be dangerous by itself. If we talk about only about safety, support, prosperity, and the things we normally call blessings, we might be very cheerful, but we may also be very shallow. When the trial comes, we may find that the gospel has very shallow roots and the enemy pulls it up. (I say “thing we normally call blessings” because I would argue that all God’s leading is blessing, but sometimes it may not seem so at the time.)

So let’s follow Israel in our story today. There are numerous lessons in this passage, but I’m going to focus on one. They come to camp in Rephidim, and they don’t have water. Now we aren’t told up front what their complaint was, but we get the core of it at the end. Some people were saying, “Here we are without water. If God was really leading us, we’d have water.”

I suspect their complaint to Moses said much the same thing. “Look Moses, you led us out of Egypt with a bunch of miracles. The God who turned the Nile to blood and parted the sea could handle a bit of drinking water. So the problem is obvious—you’ve lost your touch and you aren’t following God’s guidance.”

But the text also makes clear that the camp at Rephidim was by God’s direction—literally at the mouth of God. So for those who tell me that God doesn’t lead anyone into trouble, there’s the text. God led the Israelites to a place where there wasn’t enough water. Pretty clear, no? This could get depressing! Even when I’m following God’s guidance and being obedient, I can come to a really nasty place.

The Israelites were pretty angry and went after Moses. Church people do that to their leaders. “Pastor, you persuaded us to build that new building, and now look at the funds—there’s not enough to pay the bills! If God had led us to build that building, the money would be here.”

So what does Moses do? He goes straight to God. I love the way Moses talks to God—right straight from the heart! “Lord, they’re going to kill me if you don’t fix this!” So God sends Moses out with witnesses, and with the staff. Notice that it specifies the staff that Moses had used to strike the river. God wants to remind people who has control of the water.

And then God supplies the needed water. For all of you who think God is gloomy, dreary, and expects us to spend lives of misery because we serve him, this one is pretty clear too. God fixed the problem. He provided water.

For God it never was a problem. Into trouble, and out of trouble—by God’s leading. That’s how we grow in trust.

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