The children of Israel are thirsty again. But instead of trusting in the Lord and asking His provision they “grumbled” at Moses again.
When Israel faced a water shortage before, I was gracious and empathized with their need for water. Water is STILL necessary for life and I understand their need for it. But they didn’t draw on ALL the experiences where God came through for them before. Or did they?
Each time they faced trouble they griped and complained until Moses interceded for them. Then God would move on their behalf. Maybe that is how they thought things would continue to work. They didn’t have to do any of the “trusting” or “faith work” themselves. All they had to do was pester the one with the connections to get their needs met. Bad parenting maybe? Or hard hearted and hard headed people?
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Moses and the children of Israel keep moving on as a group. They don’t cover a lot of distance every day because of their sheer numbers. They have to go in stages like the inch worm. Moving forward a fair distance with the front, then wait while the back catches up. Wherever they go, the pillar of the Lord is always in the lead. They don’t advance until the Lord does and they don’t take any route other than the one the Lord shows them.
There is always noise in the camp and on the trails. The sounds of children playing. The bleating of sheep. Conversations between friends and neighbors. And Moses’ least favorite sound; grumbling. It doesn’t seem like this group can go even ONE DAY without finding something to complain about.
“My feet hurt.” “I’m tired.” “I’m hungry.” “I want something else.” “I’m bored.” “Why did we have to come?” “Are we there yet?” And the loudest one of today; “I’m thirsty.”
Moses tries to be patient and ignore the negative attitudes and encourage the people to turn to the Lord with their concerns. He is after all the One who brought them here. Moses is also very familiar with the people’s over dramatization of the issues. First it was the “not enough graves in Egypt so you brought us here to die” one. Next it was the “you are trying to kill us with starvation” whine. Today it is “you are going to kill us and all our livestock with thirst.”
Moses knew there was a water problem. He was thirsty too but he trusted in the Lord to see to their needs. He was praying the others would start doing the same. He directed them to take their petitions to the Lord when they came to him at first, but they weren’t having any of it. They kept looking to him to solve their problem of the day. And when he didn’t or couldn’t they blamed him for their situation.
“It’s YOUR fault! If YOU would have left us alone in Egypt we would have all the water we needed. We wouldn’t be dying of thirst out here in the middle of nowhere!” “GIVE US WATER TO DRINK!”
The people KEEP coming to Moses and each one is angrier than the previous one. Moses actually believes the people will try and kill him if he didn’t solve their problem. But, unlike the people, Moses knows where to turn. He turns to the Lord.
Moses goes into his tent and shuts the door. He has been praying for the people all day that they will learn to trust the Lord and go to Him with their concerns. Now he changes his prayer. He brings his exasperation with them to the Lord instead.
“’What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me’ (verse 4). I’m trying to teach them to trust in You. I tell them to take their concerns to You but they won’t listen. You already know their need. How do You plan on meeting it because I sure can’t!”
“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” (verses 5-6a).
Moses opens his tent door and emerges once again into the throng of people. He walks through the camp and gathers several of the elders. “Follow me please. The Lord has a work to do that He needs your assistance in.”
The people watch Moses as he makes his way with the elders to Horeb. They know something is up because Moses has his staff. The Lord always seems to move mightily when the staff is used. They are very hopeful it will be a miracle to deal with their current crisis of water.
As Moses makes his way towards Horeb the pillar of smoke moves to stand over it too. The very presence of the Lord awaits Moses. Moses walks up to the rock where the pillar of smoke is resting on and strikes it with his staff. Water begins rushing from the rock as if a damn has broken.
The people start rejoicing and running towards the flow. Moses steps back to keep from being trampled. The elders try and calm the people and call for them to be more orderly in their approach. The people hurry back to their tents for water skins and jars. When they return they form a line as the elders have instructed.
Moses is very comfortable with how things are being organized now and he returns to his tent for some quiet. Miriam comes in later bringing water for the family. Moses is MORE than happy to have waited to have his personal thirst quenched. He is tired from dealing with all the affairs of the day.
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I believe God was setting up a lesson for Moses by having the elders accompany him. In a short time Moses will receive advice regarding delegating authority in the camp. So far he has been doing it all. But God’s installation of the elders in His miracle opened the door for reinstate the “command” structure for the people. It was the first instance of returning to the hierarchy that was in place in Egypt within the children of Israel. They lost that definition when they fled in mass. God was going to restore it a bit at a time.
Father God, why did You wait until the people were desperate before acting? Was it a growth moment where You were trying to get them to turn to You? They kept looking to Moses to solve their problems instead of going to You directly. I keep wanting to say they didn’t have the same kind of personal relationship You have for us now but this story is before the Law and the separation was instituted. Did they come to You with their needs or were they supposed to go through an intermediary? I have Jesus as my “intermediary” and the Holy Spirit living in me. They didn’t have those things but that never stopped Moses or Abraham or Jacob or even Enoch. They had a relationship with You. Could each of the children of Israel have had a personal relationship with You if they had sought it? Could they have brought their needs to You themselves? I honestly don’t know.
But the biggest thing was that they didn’t even try to ask for Your help. They laid all their hope at Moses’ feet, not Yours. Even though You had shown them EVERY TIME that YOU were the one putting the power behind the works being done. Moses “held the staff” but it was NOTHING without YOUR power backing it.
There was power because he was obedient. He had faith in You and Your word so when You said “jump” he “jumped” without even stopping to ask “how high.” Another thing he was, was patient. He didn’t start crying out each time things got a little tough. He held onto his faith in You. He waited until things were desperate before calling out and it was always at the people’s urging. He was content to wait and see what You would do. I wonder what would have happened if the people took this approach. Would there have been less obvious miracles? Or would there simply have been less stress before them?
I want to be like Moses in the patience and faith department. I want to be so confident in Your care for me that I don’t have to cry out on my own behalf. I can cry out for others instead. Help me remember ALL the times You have moved on my behalf throughout my life and help me lean on Your faithfulness in EVERY time of trouble.