Note: In this entry I’m repeating parts of an earlier entry (8 May 17) with a slightly different take that comes from a closer look at Exodus 17. Both are about ‘connecting dots’ … I hope it’s not a distraction!
Which life adventure is the best of all options? Would you think of climbing Mount Everest; or flying on a Virgin Galactic space-plane; or being featured on a television reality show where you’re given five million dollars to spend in just five days?
Or, even better, try this. Embrace God as your one and only God for the rest of your life.
I reflected on the adventure we have with God as I explored Exodus 17 for a sermon. The chapter has two parts. First, God directed Israel to camp at Rephidim where they didn’t find any water—and they complained accordingly. And, second, the Amalekites appeared—the first of a series of hostile meetings—as dangerous raiders who attacked Israel.
A pair of features is seen in both episodes: a desperate need; and the staff of Moses. The text tells us it was the same staff “with which you struck the Nile” earlier in the trip.
God met the first obvious need—for water—by sending Moses to strike a rock with the staff. And he gave Moses a personal assurance, “I will stand before you,” in the process. Moses obeyed and the rock spilled out enough water to meet all their needs.
God met the second need by telling Moses to take and hold the same staff above his head while sending out some fighters to face the Amalekites. It was a daylong skirmish and Israel’s men had success for as long as Moses held his hands and the staff in the air—but things went badly whenever he took a break. So he relied on two aids to help hold his arms up and the battle was won. What did hands-up-in-the-air mean? The text tells us it represented dependence: “A hand upon the throne of the LORD!” (v.16).
What is the lesson for the day? In Deuteronomy, Moses told Israel it was God, who “led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Dt. 8:15-16).
God, in other words, had lots of good things in store for Israel: wheat, honey, pomegranates, figs, and more! But first they had some basic training to go through.
The problem God addressed with this desert training was Israel’s set of bad spiritual habits. They had been slaves in Egypt for more than 400 years. They were poorly treated by their Egyptian taskmasters—simply seeking to survive—and were often humiliated in order for the Egyptians to maintain caste distinctions. So Israelites felt unloved, unhappy, and unresponsive. They no longer remembered the lessons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were all humbled by circumstances at times, but were ultimately blessed by God.
So the forefathers knew what it was like to have Yahweh as God—he loved them and watched over them. The offspring, on the other hand, grew up with Egyptian taskmasters who used them and abused them. So they often reacted to God like he was an evil Egyptian boss, ready to hurt them if they didn’t measure up. So their challenging questions to Moses came from their harsh training: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (17:3).
If they had only known Yahweh as a gracious and mighty God they would have seen this as an adventure. Imagine them saying, for instance, “O Lord, yesterday and today you showered us with this magical Manna—the bread of heaven! And now we need some water to go with it! But you already know that, so what do you have in mind?”
We know that’s a proper response because God told Moses to bring out the staff he had already used more than a few times on behalf of Israel. It was the same staff that parted the Red Sea and rescued them from the powerful Egyptian army. So God was saying, in effect, “Get a clue, dear people! Arranging for water is easy.”
Yet even with these stories as reminders God finds hard-hearted skepticism among Christians. We’re too much like our unbelieving neighbors who insist on maintaining independence from God. Jesus taught, by contrast, that we’re meant to be dependent on him—“for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Once we get this we’re able to start seeing every life-challenge as an invitation to another adventure with Christ. We know God loves us so he makes sure to bring about “good in the end.”
God’s plans, then, may not match what we have in mind—like mountain hikes, spaceflights, or money sprees—but why settle for less?