Water and Rest – Exodus 17

June 11, 2017

Text: Exodus 17 (also 1 Corinthians 10:1-7a)

The congregation moves on from the Wilderness of Sin (an ironic little pun in English), and they come to Rephidim which means “resting places”, but there is no water there so the people contended with Moses saying “Give us water to drink” (v. 2).

The word translated quarrel or contend has legal connotations as if to plead a case or lodge an accusation. So Moses answers them “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test (tempt) the Lord” (v. 2). In other words, “What in the world are you accusing me of? Your complaint is with the Lord who led us here. Are you honestly putting Him on trial?”

But the people kept on grumbling and murmuring against Moses saying, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (v. 3).

So Moses cries unto the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me” (v. 4). God says, the people want a trial? Thy will be done! And He commands Moses to take the rod of God’s judgement, the same rod of judgement that turned water to blood (v. 5), and pass on before the people.

Another passover. Yet another judgement passing the Israelites by.

The Lord says 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…” (v. 5). So Moses is told to pass before the people with some of the elders which means that the people aren’t going to get to witness the event first hand, only some of the elders.

Then verse 6 says something incredible, even unthinkable. Jehovah says, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb (desert), and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”

God puts Himself on the witness stand so to speak. God doesn’t stand before men, men stand before God, yet He willingly takes the place of the accused and stands upon the rock. And then God commands Moses to strike the rock which implies that the rod of God’s judgement would be striking the God upon the rock—the Rock Paul identifies as Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:4.

Throughout the scriptures God is identified as the Rock.

Deuteronomy 32:4
The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.

Deuteronomy 32:15
But Jeshurun…forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.

Deuteronomy 32:18
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.

Deuteronomy 32:31
For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves.

Psalm 18:2
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge…

Psalm 78:35
They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.

Psalm 95:1
[L]et us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Isaiah 26:4
Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8
…rock of offense…

This story in Exodus 17 is clearly pointing us to Christ, who in His time, would again be tested in another wilderness. It is pointing us to the one who John the apostle made a specific point to tell us that when the Rock of Offense was struck, blood and water poured forth (John 19:34).

But remember, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10 that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. That we would not be idolaters as some of them were. So we must ask ourselves, how did these people, who were led by God from Egypt and repeatedly shown His awesome power, come to desire evil? How were they idolaters? How did they put Christ to the test?

We will come back to this in a bit, but before we do, lets go on and look briefly at the other event in Exodus 17, the battle with Amalek.

Israel is on their way from Egypt and Amalek comes up to oppose Israel (v. 8). Amalek means “dweller in the valley” and the fighting is probably taking place in a valley as Moses and two others stand up on the top of a hill that overlooks the battle (v. 9).

The rod of God is again central to this story and so in order for the Israelites to have the victory, Moses must keep his hands outstretched upon the rod—the tree (v. 9, 11).

This is no magic trick, this is not some strange superstition, this is yet another forward look to the cross of Christ. To the Lord of Glory who would be lifted up with arms outstretched upon the tree of God’s judgement in order to win, for His people, the victory.

At the end of the battle, as the Israelites triumph, God promises to utterly blot out even the remembrance of Amalek, this enemy of God’s children, from under heaven. Moses then builds an altar naming it Jehovahnissi—The Lord Is My Banner (Flag or Standard).

God, many years later, keeping His promise, tells King Saul to go up and utterly destroy the Amalekites including men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses. But, acting as if he knew better than God, Saul spares the King and the best of the livestock, only destroying the animals considered “vile and refuse”.

Well Samuel, God’s prophet at the time, comes and says this to Saul,

1 Sam 15:22-23
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption (stubbornness) is as iniquity and idolatry…”

So then, what we see play out over and over again, even from the beginning in the garden, is God’s covenant people constantly falling into a stubborn pride in which we functionally begin to believe that we know better than God.

God leads His people like a shepherd leading His sheep to resting places, and we say, “We need water right this very moment or we will die! Right. This. Very. Moment!” And when our every beck and call—our every demand—isn’t answered before the words are even out of our mouths, we immediately doubt God’s promise to us.

We functionally replace His promise, with our doubt. We reject His wise and fatherly timelines and rhythms and seasons and decrees and paths with our foolish and immature demands and assumptions about how the world is supposed to work and how our story is supposed to be told.

This is idolatry in it’s most basic form. We want to be the director of our own movie that we happen to star in. We want to be the author of our story in which we are, without exception, the perfect protagonist. We want to be our own gods so we reject the one, true God. Idolatry.

Now, it is true, that most of us in this room would probably never want to put it that way. We don’t really want to call it that sin. Seems serious. But again how were they idolaters? How did they put Christ to the test? They complained. They grumbled. They demanded. They blamed. They doubted.

We say things like, “You know lately I have just really been struggling with…(worry, anxiety, guilt, fear, this bad habit, depression, etc.).” And to be sure, there is nothing wrong with struggling, but lets be honest, many times we are not actually struggling with those things, we are coddling them and guarding them and fostering them instead of actually trying to kill them.

John Owen famously said that you must be killing sin or it will be killing you.

All too often, we reverently serve our own evil desires and like good little self-worshippers we will gladly cut down and stone anyone who opposes or offends our little gods. We worship our own options, our worries, our pet sins. But in the end that religion of pathetic gods is a rat race that will leave it’s worshippers thirsty and defeated.

You see these thirsty, unbelieving Israelites made it to Rephidim but they hadn’t made it to their true resting place. Have you?

When our God is God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, our worship—our life—will naturally be a reflection of Him. Light. Joy. Holiness. Peace.

On the other hand, when you are content to keep returning to your pet sins, or are content to worry or be anxious or bitter or grumble and complain and blame others, what do you think that says about the god you are worshipping? Beloved, this is idolatry.

So again I ask. Have you made it to the true resting place?

There is an interesting connection to John 5 with a lame man by a pool named Bethesda which means “flowing water”. However, the pool is still. So the lame man is waiting in a bed, for the resting waters to be stirred up—to flow—and if he is the first one in the pool when that water is stirred up, then he would receive his healing—his rest.

Enter Jesus, the living water, He comes on the day of rest, to the resting waters, to the lame man lying in a bed, and does a work to give that man true rest. And then once that man had found true rest Jesus tells him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”

He says, welcome to rest! Now get out of bed and walk! Go!

There is another interesting connection with rest and water in John 4 with the woman at the well. Jesus asks her for a drink and then tells her that if she knew who He was, she would be asking Him for a drink and that He would have given her living water. She says “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

She wants rest from her labors, from her dead-end striving, and she gets it. And do you know what she does next? She leaves her water pot by the well and goes back into town to tell people to follow her and then proceeds to makes another trip back to the well bringing with her many more empty vessels, even as Jesus is telling His disciples He is accomplishing the Father’s work and calls them to enter into the labor of another. This is true rest.

As Paul says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. for it is God who works in you (Phil. 2:12-13)”.

We can strive by our own strength. We can make who ever or whatever the object of our quarreling and murmuring. We can remain stubbornly insistent that we get what we want when we want it. But in the end that will get us nowhere but at odds with what and who we would truly seek. Rest.

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Bible says that God tested His people at the waters of Maribah (Psalm 81:7) while it also says God was put to the test there (Psalm 95:9; Exodus 17:2, 7). And this is not a contradiction how? Because the good news is true. Because it is from the judgement that God renders and the judgement that He receives in Himself, as the accused, that we receive water—that we receive rest.

Isaiah 53:4-5
Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Romans 3:23-26
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. …[S]o that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The Rock of Salvation is a Rock that was smitten. Christ, the Son of God, became a man, and went to the cross, not to bear our wrath and scorn, though He did, but to become our sin sacrifice in order to bear the wrath and scorn of God Himself. Smitten of God.

In that moment, on the cross, Christ, who became accursed for our sin (Gal. 3:13), was forsaken by the Father. R.C. Sproul puts it this way,

Jesus had no impurity…until that moment that our sin was placed upon him, and the One who was pure was pure no more, and God cursed him. It was as if there was a cry from heaven, as if Jesus heard the words ‘God damn you,’ because that’s what it meant to be cursed…of the Father.

God didn’t need to prove anything to us—to His people. Mere days and weeks prior to water coming from this rock, God had displayed His sovereign power over creation and the human heart in the plagues in Egypt, delivering them from their bondage. He had parted the Red Sea before them such that water stood up like walls on each side of them only to become a deadly deluge to their Egyptian enemies.

Their faithful Redeemer had just made bitter waters sweet and rained bread from heaven. His faithfulness was tried and true and abundantly clear and yet these unbelieving covenant people put God to the test. And in yet another display of His faithfulness, He shows them mercy, even for the sake of the next generation. His judgment passes by them and He is smitten.

How are you going to guard against evil desires and idolatry?

Hebrews 4:14-16
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

See Jesus. See the Rock that was tested and proved faithful, who provides living water where and when true rest seems impossible. See Jehovah the victorious banner that is lifted up to put your enemies down and to raise you up along side Him in glorious victory.

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


Let us prepare to come to the Lord’s Table. In 1 Corinthians 10, as we already read, Paul points out the they all ate and drank of Christ and yet God was not pleased with many of them. In the following chapter, 1 Corinthians 11, Paul exhorts and warns the church regarding communion and tells them that whoever eats or drinks in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord and that they are to examine themselves before they participate in order to rightly discern the body.

This passage is commonly used to keep children away from the table because it is believed that they cannot rightly examine themselves or discern the body. And yet we know that out of the congregation that ate and drank of Christ in the wilderness, it most certainly was not the children who were in danger of failing to have faith and discern the Body.

We of course encourage parents to baptize their children and welcome all who are baptized, no matter how young, to come to this table and to Jesus Christ our Rock. This reminds us what Jesus said even when his disciples tried to keep children away, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Luke 18:16-17).”

So Christians—children—come and welcome to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
[T]he Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Eat the bread and drink the cup. We do this in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.


Your charge is this, each week we profess the Apostles’ Creed. John Piper rightly points out that the devil and his demons can recite it all honestly (and probably better than most of us), save for the two most crucial words of the entire creed, “Our Lord.”

We have a much too brief point in our weekly service where we are invited and exhorted to confess our sins silently before the Lord, however, some of you need to actually, out-loud and face to face, confess your sins to one another.

Some of you need to seek reconciliation for broken relationships, seeking forgiveness or offering it. Some of you need to confess secret sins that you cannot seem to shake free from even though up to this point you have tried harder to keep them hidden than to bring them up to the light. Some of you need to repent of your worrying and anxiety and guilt and to cheerfully worship God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth.

So as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I charge you, if the Rock is your Lord, act like it— hold fast to your profession. Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your hearts, believe your God, enter His rest and get to work.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.


Let us sing our thanks to God.

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