Sunday, March 12, 2023

Exodus 17:1-7; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 12, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”” (Exodus 17:1–7, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ok, it’s time to set the stage. The Children of Israel had only just been saved from slavery in Egypt. The Ten Plagues got them out, especially the last one that took the life of all the first born whose houses didn’t have the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts. Pharoah gave in and sent them away. After they were gone, he changed his mind and went after them with an army. They were trapped between certain death and the Red Sea. But God protected them by placing a pillar of fire between them and their enemies. Then he directed Moses to raise his arms and the sea parted so they could escape. The Israelites passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. Pharoah’s army wasn’t so blessed. They were all drowned when the water came back to place and covered them. It was time to move on to Rephidim. After this they would go to Mt. Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai). God moved them on to Rephidim in stages, maybe family by family. As they arrived it was plain to see that there was no water. I’m sure as their numbers grew each family was told by the previous arrivals the situation. No water meant death by thirst. So, the grumbling began. It's amazing after no less than a dozen miracles they wouldn’t see God at work. That they would grumble, complain, and make threats against Moses.
“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
What had they just witnessed? Did they really think that God didn’t have something else in mind? Where not the many miraculous acts enough to tell them he would take care of them? Their complaints get right at the heart of the matter. According to them Moses/God had delivered them from Egypt to let them die.

Moses was exasperated already. “What shall I do with this people?” He seems to understand their lack of faith in the face of God’s miracles. “They are almost ready to stone me.” He means only a little bit will tip over the cart and they will resort to violence. Moses is afraid of death.

God replies.
“Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”
He will act in full view of them all. Moses will walk in front of them, taking the elders to the rock at Horeb, strike it with his miracle staff, and the people will have water. God will save them through a miracle once again.

There is something you should notice here. I know it’s a lot to ask so early on a Sunday morning, and maybe you don’t know Israel’s geography that well. But they are not yet at Horeb. Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai. It is their next stop. It is a fair distance away. Several days travel at the least. Moses didn’t travel all the way there, to strike the rock. It presents just a little problem in the text. It is a problem that was known even to the scholars of old. How did the rock at Horeb get to Rephidim? Some scholars (old and recent) have mocked this text for being inaccurate. But it should not give us any trouble. There are two answers.

The first, in the tenth century the Masoretes found that the old Biblical language was becoming lost. If you remember, I’ve told you that the original written Hebrew didn’t contain vowels it was written with only consonants. Over time the Biblical language of Hebrew fell into disuse. The Masoretes added vowels using a pointing system, to make it easier to read. Well, the pointing system isn’t inspired. When they added the text, they may have added the wrong vowels changing the word to “Horeb” from “dryness”. So the rock may be the “rock of dryness”.

The second, and this is the long-held church (Old Testament) tradition, is that the Rock of Horeb actually followed the people of Israel throughout their travels in the wilderness. It is just like the pillar of cloud and fire. (Add three more miracles the people ignored). In this case we see that the Masoretes may have purposely pointed the word as Horeb, because of the church tradition that predated them. And this seems to be exactly what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 10 (he is referring to the people here).
… they (the people of Israel at Rephidim) drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4, ESV)
Now of course Paul calls the Rock a “spiritual” rock and Christ. And Christ was certainly present with the people all through their travels in the wilderness.

The hymn we just sang, “Rock of Ages” understands the idea very well, and points us to Jesus presence with them and us. Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Rock at Horeb (or Rock of Dryness) is cleaved open so that water pours out to save the people at Rephidim. The same Rock is cleaved open at the cross where when he was stabbed with the spear blood and water poured out. Jesus saves us through his blood and water, through his cleaved side. It washes us clean from our sin. It is our cleansing baptism in his name, and his cleansing blood that cleans when “the labors of my hands” “All for sin could not atone”. It is a beautiful image the hymn brings to us. “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” When our sins are a great burden to us, “to the thy cross I cling” and Jesus cleft side, his atoning work for us. We hide in the comfort of all that Jesus has done.

So, you may be asking the difference between Israel’s complaints and David’s complaint that we talked about Wednesday night. Paul clears that up for us. He says,
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” (1 Corinthians 10:6, ESV)
They were not clinging to the promises of God. In fact, their complaint is through a lack of faith (even in the presence of all those miracles showing God’s presence!). In their moment of weakness, in their sin, they refuse see what God that God is present, and what he can do and is in fact doing for them. “Is the Lord (YHWH) among us or not!” They were already receiving what David longed to see. David is calling on God to keep his promises in faith despite of how he feels. “God it feels like you are far away, paying no attention to me. God do what you have promised to do! Be present with me! Let me see it in my life!”

Dear Christian friends, cleave to the cleft Rock of Jesus. Take your sin to him and ask him to do exactly what he promises. At the cross he promises forgiveness, life, and salvation. At his resurrection he promises new “Life in Christ.” He promises his presence in your life. Hold him to those promises. Is it surprising that he has already done it before your prayer. Your signs are here, Holy Baptism, his act of cleansing and connecting you directly to Jesus. Water poured out on your head so you can be sure it is all for you. The Holy Supper on this altar today. God’s gracious act of forgiveness through the body and blood of Jesus that goes into your mouth. The Word preached into your ears. Law and Gospel to convict and comfort you.
Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress, Helpless, look to Thee for grace: Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Savior, or I die. (LSB 761v3)

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

No comments: