17 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
In the days before they left Egypt, they had nothing. They were slaves. But God plagued Egypt and the Egyptians supplied Israel with booty of livestock and provisions for their journey. But the wilderness journey was not peaches and cream. First, Israel complained about lacking food for the journey and God rained quail and manna on them. In this passage of Exodus, as the lack of water threatened the lives of the people and their livestock, Israel fell into complaining and quarreling. God sent Moses to strike a rock and God made water to come out of it.
And Moses called the place Massah and Meribah “because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?””
I don’t know what burdens are threatening you or what you are thirsting after. In this pandemic, it could even be literal hunger and thirst as so many are being thrown out of work for extended periods of time. As a result of global warming, many on the west coast have been burned out of their homes and people along the Gulf and Atlantic coast have had their homes washed away in hurricanes. I know my aches, my losses, my challenges and I know that everyone has them in some form or another. Some of those burdens are financial, spiritual, some relational, some physical, and some spiritual. If you think you know someone without a burden or a care, that just means you don’t know them well enough. We all have burdens to bear.
For too many, their thirst in the desert is so great, that, like the Israelites, they find themselves wondering whether the Lord is even with them. I am encouraged that despite their quarreling, testing God, and wondering whether God was among them, God made life-giving water to flow for them to drink.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul writes, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” The word translated tempted here is a Greek word which also means tested.
We’ve all heard Mary Stevenson’s story about footsteps on the beach.
“One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
Because we are fallen, we are flawed – beautiful but flawed, like one of these Greek statues with an arm broken off. We grow bitter, turn on one another, and even question God as life’s trials push us to the edge. That is where we meet God’s generous grace. We come to the rock and get life giving water.
In the New Testament, the rock is Jesus. The stick that strikes the rock is the cross. The life-giving water is the Holy Spirit of God that lives in the believers/receivers. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul explains how Jesus put our interests above his own. Rather than using his equality with God to his own advantage, Jesus took on the form of a human with the nature of a servant. A servant willing to die for the Master and to die for us. Then in verse 9, Paul says that God has, in heaven, highly exalted Jesus.
In the upside-down kingdom of God, the way up is down. The way up isn’t by taking advantage of our power, but in humbly doing what is in the best interests of others. Remember the parable of the wedding feast in Luke 14? Jesus said to take the seat in the back, furthest from the seats of honor and let the hosts invite you to a place of greater honor. Jesus was exalted because he became human and sacrificed himself for us. He came down and God raised him up.
Paul’s theme in our passage is that we should have that same love, that love that humbly puts the interests of others ahead of self-interest. As the rod, rock, and water of the Old Testament was a preview of the cross, Christ, and his life-giving Spirit, so our lives are to be reflections of that sacrificial love.
I want to digress for a moment, because I think verse 3 can be a bit misleading. Paul says, “in humility value others above yourselves.” This could be construed as saying other people are better than you are or that you should let other people take advantage of you. Jesus served us not because we had a plan for how to be reconciled with God but because God had a plan. The agenda for how we value others above ourselves is not set by others but by God. We find our path by listening to God’s call to serve in some specific way not by being taken advantage of by someone else’s con.
Your baby may cry for candy when what they need is milk. A challenge in serving others is seeing their need not only from their perspective but from God’s perspective. We must serve with both love and discernment.
It is only God’s grace that can enable someone like myself to get out of my own skin, see someone else’s need from God’s perspective, and take action to help them. I fall so far short in this area.
“God, help me today to be aware of someone else’s need and what I can do to help them find water in the desert.”
Thank you for sharing your time with me. Until next time, may the Creator-God bless you.