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Exodus 17

Read Exodus 17

The Angel of the LORD is in the midst of His saving work as promised in 3:12.  He has brought His people out of slavery, and now He is bringing them to the mountain to worship God.  In the meantime He leads them "by stages" (17:1, ESV) through a desert wasteland where all they have to sustain them is the Angel Himself.  He - the LORD Jesus - is the Rock who accompanies them and provides them with both their natural and spiritual sustenance (1 Cor 10:3-4,9).   The Israelites are being taught a lesson summed up well in the experience of one African Bishop:

"I never knew Jesus was all I needed until Jesus was all I had."

That's the lesson for the Israelites in the desert.  There is no natural sustenance for the people of God as they wait their mountain-top experience.  All they have is Jesus.  But they are being taught time and again - all they need is Jesus.  (For more on this theme see The Church in the Wilderness.)

In chapter 16 we saw grace for the grumbling.  The people complain at their spiritual leaders (16:2) and wish themselves back in slavery.  This is bad enough but Christ reveals that this is really grumbling against Himself (16:8) (pause for thought when you're next tempted to roast your Christian leaders!).  Their sin is much worse than they imagine - but His grace is much greater too.  He would feed this mutinous rabble with the food of angels.  And on Calvary He would reveal the full depths of this grace - He would be torn apart as Bread for the world to feed wicked and desperate grumblers like us.

Chapter 17 shows this cycle of grace for the grumbling repeated.

The people "quarrel" with Moses (v2) - but it's clearly a test of the LORD (cf Ps 95:8-9).  We know what should happen to those who quarrel:

1 Samuel 2:10 Those who quarrel with the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His King and exalt the horn of His Anointed.

Christ, who does not quarrel (Matt 12:19), will be the anointed Judge of all those who quarrel.

So when the LORD commands Moses to take up the staff from which the plagues of Egypt have flowed (v5), we know what should happen next.  He should strike down those horrible ingrates in judgement as a little sign of what the true Anointed King would do.

Except that's not how it works out.  Instead the LORD Jesus stands on a Rock in front of all the elders.  Remember that "The Rock" is a favourite name for Him (e.g. Gen 49:24; Deut 32:4ff).  So He’s associating Himself very strongly with this physical rock.  And then He says to Moses, Don’t strike them, strike the rock.

Water comes out and their thirst is slaked.  It’s incredible grace towards the grumbling.  Not simply are they spared, they are positively blessed in response to such wicked quarrelling!  And wonderfully, Numbers 20:13 describes this event as one in which the LORD "showed Himself holy."  The holiness of the LORD is not simply that which zaps sinners, but it shines forth when the Rock is struck and the grumblers are graced.

Centuries later, the One who stood on that rock - the Spiritual Rock who accompanied the people - came to a quarrelsome, grumbling, evil rabble.  But again, it was not the rabble that was struck.  He was struck by the rod of divine judgement and the life-giving waters of the Spirit flowed.  That same grace is extended to we grumblers today.  Our thirst is slaked because when our Rock was struck, Living Waters flowed from within Him (John 7:38; 19:34).

From v8, the Israelites learn that their LORD doesn't only provide our necessities - He fights our battles.  We read of the attack of the Amalekites and we are introduced to Joshua for the first time.  His name simply is Jesus.  Here is the one who would bring them into the promised rest.  Moses can only bring the people so far - the one called Jesus must bring them home.  And here this young man will overcome the enemy while Moses holds his hands out on the mountaintop.

So the LORD provides food and drink and guidance and victory for a people who doubt and question and quarrel with Him at every turn.  They groan when oppressed and then grumble when freed.  They will be brought kicking and screaming to the promised rest only by the steadfast love and kindness of the LORD.  They can count on no-one and nothing else for their identity, security, strength and salvation.  The LORD alone is their banner (v15).

A sermon on Exodus 16-17 (audio of second half)


7 thoughts on “Exodus 17

  1. Heather

    So the LORD provides food and drink and guidance and victory for a people who doubt and question and quarrel with Him at every turn. ...They will be brought kicking and screaming to the promised rest only by the steadfast love and kindness of the LORD.

    I'm confused. The last two verses of Psalm 95 read:

    For forty years I was grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they have not known My ways; to whom I swore in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest.

    It doesn't appear that the grumblers (nor Moses, in the end) got to enter the promised land.
    Is Canaan supposed to represent spiritual rest in this life for the redeemed who learn to trust? Is it talking about people who are saved but living defeated, distracted lives?

    Or, does the promised land represent eternal life for only those who have been tested and have learned to be sufficiently thankful and trusting of Christ while in this physical wilderness existence?

    I ask because I've heard both explanations.

  2. Si Hollett

    Ps 95 talks about both Meribah times - the second is in Numbers 20, where Israel (TNG) grumbled again, and Moses and Aaron went to the LORD and then disobeyed him by striking the rock again (twice!), rather than just speaking to the rock as they were told. Moses and Aaron then got told that they wouldn't bring the people into the land because of their disobedience and lack of trust. The 40 years of wrath come from the unbelief and disobedience of Israel after the spies returned, but that same unbelief and disobedience is clear at Meribah - where the Rock is struck (legitimately the first time), not the people.

    The second generation were as bad as the first at Meribah - while the first generation (minus Joshua and Caleb) wouldn't make it to the land as they didn't trust Jesus (neither of them) to bring them into the land, the second generation, despite their grumbling and unbelief, were brought into the land.

  3. Glen

    Hi Heather and Si.

    Yes to everything Si has said. And I'd add:

    1) Numbers is all about how Israel needs to die and rise again to enter into rest. The LORD doesn't start again with a different nation (Num 14:12) - Israel will enter into the promise, but only through death and new-birth. This is fulfilled Christ - the True Israel who puts to death the old and rises up new.

    2) Israel was baptised into Moses - their fate was united to the law man who falls short. We are baptised into Christ - our fate is united to our Forerunner who *has* entered in.

    3) We know that at least for Moses there is an example of someone who fell short of Canaan and yet actually entered God's true rest.

    4) 1 Cor 10 and Heb 3&4 tell us that there is a danger that we might pass through waters, eat the spiritual food and hear God's voice, yet not actually have come to share in Christ (Heb 3:14). You can share in church and not have shared in Christ. According to these verses some telltale signs of this will be wayward, hard hearts and lack of perseverence.

    5) These are signs that we haven't come to share in Christ - not factors that lose us our salvation.

    Does that help?

  4. Heather

    Thank you, Si and Glen. I think this does help.

    Si's comment and your point #3 address the details that had me scratching my head over this passage and Psalm 95. I suppose, as neither Aaron nor Moses was the true Messiah, I should expect to read they would get some things wrong along the way.

    #'s 4 and 5 are also helpful.

    I'm enjoying your Hebrews series, btw. When I was experiencing severe doubts about whether I have truly put my faith in Christ, He mercifully directed me to Hebrews 12 and the essential nature of being disciplined as a son who is loved. It's amazing how God can allow us to get into a place where even severe chastisement looks really good.

  5. Inilah Kebenaran

    I'm wondering if there is a link between Exod. 17, Num. 20 and Heb. 6:6 - where unbelief is linked to crucifying Christ again. In Exod. 17, the Rock is struck and waters flows freely. There is no need for the Rock to be struck again, only spoken to or drunk from. The striking of the Rock again in Num. 20 is perhaps a picture of unbelief, a picture of crucifying Christ again and not trusting in His finished work.

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