Summary: We may well find, like Moses, that the answer is already to hand.
A PLACE OF NO WATER
Moses must have been pretty near the end of his tether (Exodus 17:4). After all, the LORD had already heard the cries of His people in their bondage (Exodus 3:7), and sent Moses to them: but it had been all Moses could do to convince them to accept deliverance. Things got worse before they got better, and the people had had a good old moan about that, too (Exodus 5:20-21).
Now the ten plagues, the first Passover, the deliverance out of Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea all lay behind them. The people had complained of the bitter waters at Marah, Moses had cried to the LORD, and the LORD had provided a miracle (Exodus 15:22-24). Then once again the people had given voice to their discontentment, and had grumbled at their leaders (Exodus 16:2), and through them at their God (Exodus 16:8): yet the LORD is merciful, and provided bread in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4).
It was happening again. The people were effectively putting Moses on trial at a place of no water (Exodus 17:1), demanding that he give them something to drink. Moses’ response was that they were also putting the LORD to the test (Exodus 17:2) - the same LORD who had been testing them (cf. Psalm 81:7).
Whilst we can sympathise with their plight, is it not the case with us also that we so easily forget past mercies? Why did you bring us out to die of thirst in the wilderness, they asked (Exodus 17:3)? In our impertinence, we also forget past mercies and present help, and speak out of turn.
Moses had had enough, and turned to the LORD to make his own complaint. What am I to do with this people? They seem set to stone me (Exodus 17:4)!
It is good that leaders, even when the going gets tough - or perhaps ESPECIALLY when the going gets tough - know to turn to the LORD. There is no point getting into fruitless discussions with disillusioned people. Leaders need to recharge their own spiritual batteries at source, and seek the answers from the One with whom they will be found.
They may well find, like Moses, that the answer is already to hand (Exodus 17:5). Take your rod - the one which you once held out and the Red Sea parted, and which you held out again and the Red Sea engulfed the Egyptians - take witnesses, and do as the LORD bids. Use what you have: the tried and proved instruments and methodologies of your ministry.
In the path of obedience, the answer came. The LORD stood upon a Rock, Moses smote the Rock and water gushed out (Exodus 17:6). The Apostle Paul tells us that ‘that Rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and that that same spiritual Rock followed them in all their wilderness journeys. Jesus says, ‘If any man thirsts, let him come to me, and drink…’ (John 7:37-38).
It is in the seeming ‘smitten-ness’ (Isaiah 53:4) of Jesus that we find our salvation. Out of His smitten side ‘came there out (both) blood and water’ (John 19:34). The water that Jesus gives us becomes in us ‘a well of water springing up into eternal life’ (John 4:14).
It only remains in our text for Moses to rename the place where this incident happened. The two names that he chose speak of the people’s quarrelsomeness, and of their tempting the LORD (Exodus 17:7).
‘Today if you will hear His voice,
Harden not your heart,
As in the provocation,
As in the day of temptation in the wilderness…’