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Posts Tagged "Exodus 17:1-7"

Cleft for Me

February 09, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation today comes from our Old Testament text where we hear YHWH’s command 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.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

You may not have counted on a bit of a history lesson here today, but you’re about to get one. YHWH had brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt, out of bondage. He had heard their groanings as they languished in slavery, and sent Moses to deliver them from the hand of Pharaoh. YHWH spared His people from judgment as He poured out plague after plague upon Egypt. He gave them the Passover meal as a reminder to them of His faithfulness in passing over Israel, shielding them from the death of the firstborn. They came out with their old and their young, with their herds and their flocks, with the plunder of Egypt. They were kept safe, passing through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground, even as Pharaoh’s forces hotly pursued them. Their safety was assured as the waters of the sea swallowed the host of Egypt. No more bondage, no more taskmasters, no more oppression. Instead they had the freedom to be who they were called to be: YHWH’s chosen people. And the first thing they do with their newfound freedom … is complain.

Literally three days after their miraculous rescue from Pharaoh’s armies, the people grumbled against Moses. They see the bitter waters of Marah, water they could not drink in spite of their thirst, and they cried out to Moses, “What shall we drink?” What does God do? He has Moses throw a log into the reservoir, and instantly the water becomes sweet, drinkable, and the people gulp, slurp, and guzzle those sweet waters, slaking their thirst. He provided for their need.

Lesson learned, right? Wrong. In the following chapter, the people would grumble about the lack of food, yearning for the meat pots and bread that they “enjoyed to the full” in Egypt. As their stomachs growl and as the people grumble, God rains down manna from heaven and quails each morning. He provided for their need.

Then, we get to our text in Exodus 17. The Hebrews haven’t come to a place with bitter waters; they’ve come to a place with no waters whatsoever. In their defense, from a human perspective, this is dangerous. Next to oxygen, water is the most necessary element for human survival, and so we can sympathize with someone freaking out over the lack of water. Desperation, however, is no excuse for sin, and we are told that, because of this lack of water, the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” In spite of God’s gracious, continued provision for them over and over and over again, the Hebrews grumble and groan and complain and whine and quarrel.

Speaking personally, if I were in YHWH’s position, I know the temptation to teach these faithless people would be insurmountable. “I’ve taken care of you until now, and you’re not going to trust me to take care of this? Maybe I should let you languish in thirst a bit longer!” That’s what I would do; thanks be to God, I am not God, and thanks be to God that He doesn’t operate this way. Moses cries out to God, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” YHWH simply replies, “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.”

Lo and behold, Moses takes his staff before the people, strikes the rock, and water gushes forth that the people are able to drink. Their thirst is slaked, the danger averted, and the people rest in the provision and care of YHWH their God, who has brought them up out of Egypt. With their need provided for, they are satisfied … for the moment anyway. I hate to be a Debbie-downer, but we know how this will go. The people will be satisfied for a while, and then they will resume their whining and complaining and grumbling and all-around faithless distrust of God’s provision.

We know all about that, don’t we? The more things change, the more they stay the same; things are very different for us than they were for the newly-freed Hebrews, but Lord knows that there are echoes of the Hebrews’ conduct in our own. Sometimes, reading how the Hebrews acted in the wilderness is almost like reading your autobiography, isn’t it? It is for me. We whine and complain and grumble and distrust God’s provision and protection! It’s astounding how doubtful we can be, how distrustful, and how faithless we can act when we feel hopeless or in danger. We wonder if God is really there, if He really cares for us, whether He actually loves us. The depths of our sin, the extent of our complaining and whining is rather astonishing.

But there’s something even more astonishing than our capacity for sinful and reckless thoughts, words, and deeds, which is really saying something. What’s more astonishing is that God continues to provide for His thankless creatures. In his Small Catechism, Luther explains how “God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

He did it for the grumbling Hebrews, and He does it for us whiners. Even when they were thirsting or hungering, He was providing for their ultimate need by keeping His promise to them. Same with us. In our Epistle lesson, Paul reminds the Corinthians of another Rock that was struck for the good of God’s people: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] 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.”

Our heavenly Father does, indeed, provide for us with every need we have, but there does come a time when food no longer does the body good, when water becomes difficult to swallow, when breathing become shallow and sporadic. Because we live in a broken world, death is a given (pending Jesus’s return, of course), but even when we do close our eyes in death, we do so knowing that Christ Jesus, our Rock, was cleft on our behalf on Calvary’s tree, that His death means our forgiveness, and that His resurrection means the promise of eternal life with Him. God has provided for our ultimate need – the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of a right relationship between God and man – in the Rock of our salvation, Jesus, who is called the Christ. Even for us whiners and complainers, God provides, for this life, and the life of the world to come.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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