The text for this lesson is Exodus 17:1–7
- God pours out His generous love for me by sustaining my life through abundant blessings now and forever.
- Law: When I suffer, I am tempted to believe that the God who has saved me is actually against me. I should be condemned when I accuse God of abandonment.
- Gospel: God does not condemn me. Instead, God loves and cares for me, forgiving my unbelief and providing me with what I don’t deserve, all for the sake of His Son, Jesus, who died and rose again for me.
- In Exodus 14, God saves His people from Pharaoh’s army by parting the Red Sea. In chapters 15 and 16, He makes bitter water sweet and feeds His people with manna and quail. But no number of miracles prevents the Israelites from falling back into unbelief. After each successive miracle, the people suffer again. With each pang of hunger and each dry tongue, they conclude that the God who has executed judgment against the gods of Egypt and brought them into freedom has abandoned them. At Rephidim, God again provides His people with what they need, even though they are undeserving.
- In 1 Corinthians 10:1–4, we learn that Christ is the Rock that gave water to the Israelites. While this point is not obvious when you read Exodus 17 on its own, it is absolutely impossible to understand this story apart from that detail.
After parting the Red Sea, God continues to provide His people with absolutely everything they need. He makes bitter water sweet and causes the heavens to rain down manna and quail for His people to eat. In this lesson’s Bible account, the people move on to Rephidim, and there is no water. They make the same accusations against God that they’ve been making ever since the Red Sea crossing. They claim God doesn’t really love them and has brought them out of Egypt so that they can die in the wilderness.
God’s people are in constant need of both Law and Gospel. Unbelief is always lurking right around the corner. In terms of miraculous signs, no group of people has had better reasons to believe than these Israelites. They saw the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and God’s provision in the Wilderness of Sin. They should have had no doubts at all.
But when thirst comes, the Israelites reveal their true colors. Like us, they are sinners. As with us, suffering tempts them to forget God’s gracious provision for them and instead to curse Him. At Rephidim, they conclude that God is trying to kill them, even though He’s been with them every step of the way and has shown how much He loves and cares for them by providing for all of their needs.
And once again, God shows His forgiving love and care for them. He commands Moses to provide the Israelites with the water they need by striking a rock with his staff. The water that comes from that rock becomes the literal source of the Israelites’ life. This happens through the Word of Law and Gospel that Moses continues to preach throughout the years of their wilderness wanderings and that Joshua preaches in the Promised Land after Moses’ death.
This text reminds us in a simple and clear way that there is never a point in the Christian life when Jesus becomes unimportant. He is never a footnote. He is the water from the rock that we need every moment of every day. Without the spiritual sustenance that we receive through the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross, we would never survive.
Just as suffering caused the Israelites to doubt God, so also it happens with us. We need the Gospel, and though we do not deserve it, God grants it, just as He gave the Israelites water from the rock.