Exodus 17:1-7 The wilderness is essential to experiencing God’s profound love

Exodus 17:1-7 The wilderness is essential to experiencing God’s profound love

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” 5 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”

Background

The Lord led the people into the wilderness with harsh conditions through which the people’s true nature is revealed. It is also in the wilderness that God demonstrated His love by providing for their needs. Regrettably, the people have shown themselves as selfish and ungrateful. That said, there is a minority who despite the hardship testified to God’s loving presence among them. These will proceed to enter the promised land. Indeed, the wilderness reveals the true nature of each person’s heart. Today’s devotion also teaches us: The wilderness is essential to experiencing God’s profound love.

Observation

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord.

As the nation left the wilderness of Sin, the Lord directed their journey in stages. It must be emphasised that Moses did not chart an optimum course towards the promised land as one would normally do. For God Himself provided the itinerary in accordance to His providence and purpose.

Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.”

When they came to a place called Rephidim, they found no water to drink. Parched from the journey, they complained against Moses and accused him for conspiring with God to kill them with thirst. This was worse than the incident at Marah. God responded to Moses’s cries with a plan to vindicate Moses and Himself from the accusations of the people.

Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.

The severity of the situation cannot be understated so much so God has to make an appearance to vindicate Himself. Several elders were chosen as witnesses while God would stand there on the rock making Himself visible to them. And Moses was to strike the rock causing water to come out in their presence. This would put to rest the pervasive notion that God had intended to kill them in the wilderness.

Moses named the place Massah and Meribah (a place of strife) as a remembrance of how the people challenged the Lord’s holiness (they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”). For God had proved Himself as holy, being faithful to His promises by bringing forth water.

Meribah was again mentioned in another incident in Numbers 20:13 where the people accused God and challenged His holiness in like manner. This time, it was Moses who did not treat God as holy before the people. For Moses had tried to botch the supply of water by striking the rock instead of speaking to it as per God’s instruction. For Moses had intended to teach the people a lesson by depriving the people of water. In taking matters into his own hands, he risks compromising God’s holiness who is ever faithful to provide. God sidelined Moses as His regent and caused water to come out of the rock anyway. Because Moses refused to function as God’s vessel to manifest His holiness, he was prevented from entering the promised land to rule with God.

Truth

What does it mean to put God to the test?

To test God is to attempt to coerce and manipulate God into fulfilling one’s desires. The Israelites knew full well that God is holy in keeping to His promises. Instead of trusting God to provide, they took advantage of God’s patience and lovingkindness by speaking of Him in an extremely irreverent way. During the time of the Gospels, the people tested Jesus by challenging Him to prove His divinity by bringing bread from heaven so they could eat (see John 6:30).

Another way to put God to the test is to do evil continually or to live recklessly supposing that God will always forgive our sins. In the Gospels, the devil tempted Jesus to test God’s faithfulness by throwing Himself from the peak of the temple. In Acts 5:9, a couple died because they tested God by making false declarations of their offerings. False believers test God by lusting after the world while declaring God’s faithfulness to save them from hell. Many ministers peddle the idea of “once saved always saved” in their churches which attracted many people. Such congregations frequently put God to the test with their wayward desires and false doctrines.

The wilderness reveal the true nature of each person’s heart.

The two kinds of people

There are two kinds of people: Those who are motivated by love and those who are selfish and motivated by self-gain. Those who are motivated by love will give thanks to God for His goodness and continue to trust Him despite difficult circumstances. Whereas those who are intransigently selfish will test Him in bad times and even during times of abundance. God had led the people into the wilderness with inherently harsh conditions to reveal their true colours. It is also in the wilderness that He demonstrated His love by providing for their needs. For He desires for them to turn from their selfishness to be motivated by love for others. Regrettably, the majority remained intransigently selfish and failed to enter the promised land.

Are we motivated by love or self-gain?

Many in today’s churches are motivated by self-gain. They enter the church with the prospect of salvation without repentance on their part. They are told that all their desires (including the fleshly ones) will be met when they put their hope in Christ. These churches motivate their members with the false promises of gain without sacrifice. Because their foundation is based on self-gain, their members stay as long as they do not encounter hardship. Once the storm comes, their houses will be swept away. Jesus taught in Matthew 7:24-27 that one who loves God, who hears His words and obeys them is likened to building a house on a rock. But one who is motivated by selfish gain, who puts his personal interests above all is likened to building a house on sand. For such, their fall will be great and their destruction irreparable.

God is testing His church by putting people through the wilderness. Some will leave the faith because they could not get what they want. Many will go to churches that preach what they want to hear hoping to find an escape from the wilderness. But true believers will stay on the path of truth and enter the promised land in perfect time.

The wilderness is essential to experiencing God’s profound love

Can a good God allow suffering?

Most people cannot accept how God could put His children through the wilderness. They expect God who is all-loving and powerful to make their lives like a walk in the garden. Nevertheless, there are also those who consider the wilderness as a direct consequence of their sins and wrong decisions. What does the bible say concerning the purpose of the wilderness? It is to cause us to experience God’s profound love. The greater the tribulation, the greater the experience of God’s love and grace. The apostle Paul spoke about the empowering love of God that overcomes all challenges,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39

Love is displayed through God’s faithful presence in the wilderness

It is through the wilderness that we experience God’s loving presence. God deliberately allowed the Israelites to experience hunger and thirst so that they might experience His love in a profound way. The ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea unmistakably displayed God’s power, but it fell short of demonstrating God’s profound love for them. God’s love was evident when He provided for them throughout the 40 years despite their murmuring and rebellion.

People who stick together through challenges discover the depth of their love for one another. Thus, they tend to cherish each other more. Likewise, believers who persevered through their wilderness journey testify to a divine love they would not have otherwise experience. Therefore, it is indeed the wilderness that brings us to a deeper experience of God.

In Psalm 23, David sings of his experience of God as His faithful shepherd (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (lack).) in good and bad times, in times of confusion and turmoil, in power and victory…

In good times: He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.

In bad times: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

In times of confusion and turmoil: He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness. I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

In power and victory: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.

David’s conclusion: Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Good times no doubt reveal God’s power to protect and provide. But challenging times bring us closer to God by His loving presence.

Application

Are you experiencing a kind of wilderness? Students face the wilderness in the never ending assignments and examinations. Working people encounter the wilderness when they face the stress of meeting demands as well as the frequent injustices day after day. Parents face the wilderness coping with financial demands and the stress of bringing up children. Nations and communities go through the wilderness when they face political, social and financial upheavals.

In times of turmoil, we tend to forget to connect with God who is the Lord of the wilderness. In connecting with God, He gives us the wisdom to overcome the challenges, one day at a time. Paul said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” – Romans 10:17. When we converse with God, He fills us with His love, wisdom and power to succeed whatever the circumstances. Therefore, set aside time where you can immerse yourself in deep conversations with God. Set aside time to connect with God in the morning, afternoon and evening.

Dear Lord, I thank you for putting me through the wilderness… without which I would not have experienced your loving presence. Fill me with your assurance that breakthrough is near. Open my heart to sense your loving presence. Open my mind to know your wisdom. Strengthen me so that I may overcome the opposition that stand in the way of my success! In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.


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