Digging Deeper into Scripture: Exodus 17:1–7

March 8, 2023 Phil Rigdon

I have seen Star Wars too many times. Wait, is that possible? When I say I’ve seen Star Wars, I mean the original movie from May 1977, which started the whole franchise. I am dating myself a little here. I was five when I first saw it (technically four, I guess.) Here’s a trivia question. Remember that Luke Skywalker’s home world was Tatooine, a desert planet. Luke was raised by his uncle Owen and aunt Beru. What was the family’s occupation? If you guessed moisture farmers or something along those lines, you are correct.

The people of Israel, as we encounter them in this weekend’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus, could have used a moisture farm or two. This pericope recounts God’s people moving from the wilderness of Sin to Rephidim. Unfortunately, there was no water to drink. God didn’t free the people from slavery in Egypt to die of thirst (although the people seemed to think so). No, God divided the Red Sea, drowned the Egyptians, and provided the people with manna to preserve them. Now they needed water. God provided and, along with quenching their thirst, pointed to the coming Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Exodus 17:2

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?”

On one hand, it’s hard to blame the people of Israel. They were, after all, out in the middle of the desert. Although they existed as slaves in Egypt, they were at least familiar with that life; it was home. Recall that the Israelites were slaves for centuries before God brought them out. Now, all of this was new. On the other hand, the people had the benefit of recent history. God had recruited Moses and Aaron to lead the people to freedom, introduced plagues to break the will of hard-hearted Pharaoh, enriched the people of Israel with precious items from the Egyptians, brought them through the Red Sea, and given them manna to eat. With this record of care, it seems surprising that the people were so anxious, distrustful, and belligerent. 

This is the nature of sin. It forgets. Not only do we today have the record of God’s care in Holy Scripture but we also have our own recollections. Even if you cannot recall particular events in your life when the Lord acted for your benefit, keep in mind that God has kept you day by day for the entirety of your life. This is true not only of the physical but also the spiritual. As the meaning of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed notes, God “gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.” Spiritually, God provides the Means of Gracethe Word and Sacramentsto create and sustain saving faith and to forgive sins. Despite all this, we still anxiously distrust and grumble against God. What is perhaps worse, we ignore God and seek provision from the world and our own strength and ingenuity. Regardless, God has always been faithful; He will not fail. 

Exodus 17:5

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.”

God is aware of the thoughts and fears of the people. In this verse, we see God acting to satisfy not only their thirst but also their need for peace of mind. In directing Moses to take along the elders, the Lord endorses them. This serves a twofold purpose. First, this bolsters the authority of the elders in the eyes of the people. Second, it reminds the people that God has provided leadership for them, even beyond Moses and Aaron. The staff leads the people to recall Egypt, and especially God’s deliverance. God turned the staff into a serpent and back again. Moses raised the staff when our Lord divided the sea. This same God would not fail to provide water. All of this is designed to lead the people to trust in God. 

Exodus 17:6

“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.

In verse 6, God directs Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, from which the water will flow for the people to drink. Here God not only provides water but also (for their benefit and ours) points to the coming Savior, Jesus Christ. Recall that, after Jesus had died on the cross, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and both water and blood poured out. Paul writes to the saints in Corinth “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Jesus Christ is the Rock of our salvation. God called Moses to strike the rock to quench the people’s physical thirst. Jesus took the guilt of our sin upon Himself so that by His death and resurrection, through faith, God would quench our need for forgiveness. We receive Christ both as we read of Him as the Rock of our salvation in the Bible and in Holy Baptism as by the water and the Word together the Holy Spirit creates faith, washes away sins, and grants everlasting life. In John chapter 4, Jesus says to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 13–14).

 Scripture: ESV®

Catechism quotation: © 1986, 2017 CPH.

See how God reveals His name, His character, and His plan for salvation to His people throughout Exodus.

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