Introduction: Last week we saw how close the LORD came to Moses in order to reveal His goodness, mercy and compassion, declaring that He would “cause all His goodness to pass before Moses’ face, proclaiming His name, the LORD”, (Exodus 33:19). This week we resume our journey with Israel in the desert, going back to the place where Israel bitterly complains in Exodus 17 because of lack of water. Amazingly, God gives many proofs of His saving presence in Exodus 17 which will greatly assure us that His arm is not too short to work in our lives, no matter what the circumstances.

Mon/Tues: read Exodus 17: 4-7. The first ‘up close and personal’ encounter with God in Exodus 17 occurs when Moses is about to be stoned by the people in Exodus 17:4. The LORD steps in to save Moses and provide water for His thirsty people, commanding Moses in verses 5-7 to “go on ahead” with the elders and strike the rock with the rod of God so that water flows. We know this rod was used to strike the Nile in Egypt. But what does it mean for “the elders of Israel” to see Moses use it to strike the rock?

Well, in the case of sentence of death by stoning (remember verse 4), it is to be expected that the judges and elders of Israel should be summoned to decide the case. Who is guilty? Who should be stoned? Moses? Israel? The elders? So we see that it is a serious question of judgment which must be decided, and it must be decided in the direct presence of God. That is why in Exodus 17:5-7 the elders gather at the rock in order to meet with the LORD and to await His decision. As Peter puts it in his letter, “Judgment must begin at the house of God”, (1 Peter 4:17)!

Prayer of reflection: LORD, you know the many failings which beset us – both as your people and as your leaders. But though judgment must begin with the leadership of the church, thank you that your judgment is wise, true and even merciful. Thank you that you sent your Son to be the real “elder” and “leader” of your church. Help your people to see that it is your rod and staff which leads them. Help your church to submit to her human elders as she recognizes that you have chosen them as the means of ruling your people, despite their many failings. Amen.

Sing about the love which the people of God are to have for His Church, despite her many failings, using hymn # 353 in our Red Trinity Hymnal:

I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And written on Thy hand.

If e’er to bless Thy sons
My voice or hands deny,
These hands let useful skills forsake,
This voice in silence die.

For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.

Wednesday: read Exodus 17:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. Only a few months after their exodus from Egypt, Israel grumbles against Moses, lodging an accusation against him before God’s tribunal. Of course, their real charge is against God Himself. Though they don’t dare say it, they are testing the LORD, and questioning if He is committed to being their Savior, (Exodus 17:7). They really believe both Moses and the LORD are determined to destroy them. In this way, they quickly turn out of the way of obedience and trust – even as the LORD Himself declares in Exodus 32:8: “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them”. What then shall we say of Israel’s redemption when their sinfulness so often rears its ugly head? Is there any hope?

In answer to their rebellion, God directs Moses to go forward with his rod to strike the rock as the elders gather to discover who is guilty in this trial in the desert. Amazingly, it is God who takes the place of the guilty! Since that ‘Rock’ which Moses struck was Christ according to 1 Corinthians 10:4, He is the Substitute who absorbs the rod of God’s judgment in place of Israel in Exodus 17! What a glorious preview of His bearing the rod for our sins one day on the Cross! As hymn # 248 puts it:

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,

that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?

By foes derided, by thine own rejected,

O most afflicted!

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;

the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,

thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;

thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,

for my salvation.

Thursday: read Exodus 17:5-7 and 19:16-20. God goes before Moses to the rock located in Exodus 17:6 at “Horeb”, called elsewhere “the mountain of God”. It is also called Mt Sinai in Exodus 19:20. All these names refer to the mountain complex where the LORD “came down in a dense cloud” (Exodus 19:9), a cloud called the “Shekinah glory” in the Old Testament. This cloud also guides Israel through the Red Sea and through the wilderness, as well as appearing in the burning bush to Moses. In Matthew 17:5, this cloud of glory rolls down upon the disciples on the Mount of Jesus’ Transfiguration – proving that Jesus was the LORD God who also appeared to Moses and the elders in Ex. 17!

Meditate and Pray: Thank the Father for proving in the Gospels that Jesus was His Divine Son. Men seek salvation and protection from human rulers and feverishly throw off the yoke of their current governments, hoping that the next administration will provide all their needs. But we preach only one as LORD, Ruler, Savior, Protector. Only in bowing the knee to Christ will the nations find any lasting hope. Ask God to preserve the true preaching of His Christ-centered Gospel in your church. May we never become a man-centered church, but always magnify Christ alone – especially giving Him our devotion because He was willing to take the full brunt of the Law of Moses on His back in our place!

Fri/Sat/Sun: read Exodus 17:7 and Psalm 102:1-11. We see the LORD use even the notorious events of thirsty rebellion in Exodus 17 for good as He gives His Son to be struck by Moses’ rod in place of His sinful people. Thus this dark time shines with Gospel forgiveness. But it is sad to see Israel fall into such a deep distrust of their God that they actually question whether He is among them or not in verse 7. What should we learn from such a breakdown of trust on the part of Israel?

The main lesson is that such distrust is possible even for the godly. Even where rebellion against God is not present, depression can cause the committed believer to question whether God is still with him. For example, when times get hard, and trials multiply in Psalm 102:1-9, the Psalmist feels like a bird alone on a housetop in verse 7, unable to sleep. His foes decide in verse 8 that God has cursed him; his name becomes a byword and curse. What then is the verdict as the Psalmist describes his afflictions and pours them out to God? He decides that God in verse 10 has “thrown him aside”. Just as Israel misinterprets their trials in the desert as signs that God abandoned them, so the Psalmist wrongly attributes to his God a severity which is not part of God’s character! As Dr. Sinclair Ferguson says in his book, Deserted by God, commenting on Psalm 102:10:

Consider the Psalmist’s address to the Lord: “You have taken me up and thrown me aside”(v.10). Can that be true? Does God take His people up and play with them, like a giant destructive wave tossing swimmers high in its surging power, only to thrust them cruelly into the depths to destroy them?…

Everything in us should cry out, “No!” The Psalmist could not be more seriously wrong. In his physical, spiritual, and mental frailty he has succumbed to a sinister Satanic temptation… God, who had given so many covenant promises that He would bless His people, had proved to be no more than a cynical potentate, discarding them for his own amusement. This was his bitter conclusion.

Thankfully, God’s Spirit recovers the faith of the Psalmist in Psalm 102:12 by lifting his face to behold God’s enthroned mercy seat. The Psalmist recovers from despair and declares that the very God whom he so seriously doubted in previous verses will “arise and have compassion” in verse 13! Yet his descent into doubting God’s character as Israel did in the desert stands as a needful warning to us not to let bitter thoughts arise in our hearts against our Lord and Savior.

Meditate and Pray: Ask the LORD to check your doubts and murmuring sighs against His plan for your life by giving you a renewed vision of His mercy seat, where Jesus continually rules, prays and controls all things for your good. Use Charles Wesley’s words from hymn # 305:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary; They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One; He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.