Strike the Rock
Midweek 4 – 2020 LSB #803
Text – Exodus 17:5-6
And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, & take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, & go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, & you shall strike the rock, & water shall come out of it, & the people will drink.”
STRIKE THE ROCK
When we don’t get enough water, we confuse our thirst for hunger. What happens then? We eat when we don’t need to eat! What’s that mean? Weight gain! When we don’t get enough water, we also become tired, dizzy & anxious; our joints & muscles start to ache. What’s that mean? A bad life! The point? We all need water – lots & lots of water!
We’re in a series on the book of Exodus. This week we consider Exodus 17 using these questions, who, what, where, why, how & when. Who, what, where, why, how, & when. What’s the point of this sermon? We all need water – lots & lots of water!
“Who?” is the question. The Israelites lived in Egypt, near the Nile River, for 430 years. Each generation probably said something like this: “Eating leaks & onions by the Nile. Oh, what breath, but dining out in style!”
Even as the Israelites left Egypt, they had no problems with water. Need it to form into walls? No problem! Need it to crash down on Pharaoh’s horses & chariots? Easy as pie! If anyone deserves the title, “The Wonderful Wizard of Water Works,” it’s Moses.
His name literally means to draw out of water. As a child, he is placed into water for safety & drawn out of water for salvation. In Exodus 15:25 – when confronted with bitter water – Moses throws a piece of wood into the putrid pool & presto, instant purified water!
“What?” is the next question, & the answer: “There was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1 ESV) The Israelites left Egypt in chapter 14 & they’ve been in the desert for a month. They’ve seen nothing but rocks, sand & dirt! Rocks, sand & dirt! You know what it feels like to have no water. There’s emotional thirst: “It hurts so bad, sometimes it feels like I’m eating glass.” There’s spiritual thirst: “God, if you are so good, why do I hurt so much? God, why do you seem so far way? God, do you even exist?”
Moses had some emotional thirst going on: “Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!’” (Exodus 17:4) What do we do when we’re overcome with thirst? Just like the Israelites we want to stone people. We resort to rocks!
Remember in Forrest Gump when Jennie begins throwing rocks at her childhood home? When she runs out & falls to the ground what does Forrest say? “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks!” Forrest is confirming that Jennie’s emotional thirst is not being satisfied.
Yet, on another level Forrest Gump is dead wrong! We thirst so much for love, that, when we don’t get it, we begin throwing rocks. Verbal missals. Nuclear words. Silent stares. Angry texts. Sometimes there are plenty of rocks! And this breaks God’s heart.
It’s time for the where? question. “They camped at Rephadim” (Exodus 17:1). Where’s that? No one knows. Scholars don’t; archaeologists don’t; all people can say is that it’s close to Mt. Sinai. But you know the exact location of Rephadim! So do I!
It’s that place in our lives where we are burned out with fear too deep to manage, loneliness too heavy to bear, doubts too many to number. Rephadim is that place where relationships are dehydrated, dry & almost dead. Rephadim is where mothers are ready to throw in the towel, children don’t have friends, & husbands are working 75 hours a week.
Others have spotted Rephadim on the job – where it’s always the same ol’, same ol’. Boring! And Rephadim is in every church. It’s that place where – try as we might – everything stays dry as dust. At Rephadim we cry out with Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God!” At Rephadim we echo the anguish of Psalm 63, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you in a dry & weary land where there is no water.”
Why? Why do we become so thirsty? Four words, “It might have been.” That’s what the Israelites are saying in Exodus 17:3, “You brought us up out of Egypt.” Translated, “If we had stayed in Egypt, it might have been so much better.” “It might have been.” These words were made famous in 1856 when John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem he called Maud Muller.
It’s a poem about a young woman named Maud Muller who one day meets a young man. After their encounter, each of them ponders what it would be like to marry the other. But the moment passes & both Maud & the man end up in sad marriages. And both anguish over what was lost on that day so long ago.
At the end of the poem Whittier writes, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” Who? What? Where? Why?
We’re down to how? How can we get water? How can we get water? Well, I guess we could get a staff. Wait! That’s it! We can get a staff! But it can’t be any ordinary run-of-the-mill, Wal-Mart kind of staff. It has to be the staff! You remember! The staff of Moses!
The staff that goes back & forth from a stick to a snake. The staff that struck the Nile River & turned its water into blood. The staff that stretched out over the Red Sea to divide its waters so Israel could walk through on dry land. “Take in your hand the staff & strike the rock & water will come out of it for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:5–6; 1 Corinthians 10:4).
Moses did, & water flowed. And the people of Israel lived! Paul reflects on this & connects the rock to Christ. How so? Matthew wrote, “They put a staff in His right hand & knelt in front of Him & mocked Him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spit on Him, & took the staff & struck Him on the head again & again.” (27:29) For Jesus any ordinary run-of-the-mill staff will do. Any stick that remotely looks like a king’s scepter is just fine – any piece of wood that won’t break if it’s slapped repeatedly on someone’s head.
And make sure that the piece of wood is carved to make a sharp, pointed end – because finally the Rock has to be split & opened up. As John wrote, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood & water.” (19:34) Water!
Water flowing from the one whose lips are cracked & swollen. Water flowing from the one whose body burned under the hot Palestinian sun. Gushing water from the parched mouth of the one who cries out, “I thirst!” “Strike the rock, & water will come out of it for the people to drink.” And they did. And it flowed. And we live!
Isaiah describes God’s soul-quenching love with these words: “The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs” (35:7). Ezekiel sees it as a river teaming with life, “Wherever the river flows everything will live” (47:9). Joel writes, “A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house” (3:18).
Who? Israel & Moses. What? There is no water! Where? Rephadim. Why? It might have been. How? Jesus, the Rock of Ages. What are we missing?
When? We’re missing when. When does this water flow? When does it come to me? When does it quench my longing, aching heart? It’s because Jesus loves you so very, very, very much that His living, life-giving, soul-renewing water flows from the cross for you. When, you ask? Right now! Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet