Biblical Geo-hydrology – Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13

My subject, like a few others recently, could be simply called “Life,” but that is not the title I am going to use. Let’s call this message “Biblical Geohydrology.” I thought at first, I was making up a new and powerful word, but alas, someone already coined it, and it may be found in a few university prospectus packages. There are college courses on this subject – or at least on half of it. I do doubt that “BIBLICAL Geohydrology” can be found at any theological institution. “Hydrology” is the branch of science which studies water, especially in its movements upon land. I’ve added the “geo” prefix, because I want to tie it even more closely to geography.
In addition to our scripture from Exodus, I’d like us to consider a similar event in Numbers 20. Let’s turn to Numbers 20 and read the first 13 verses. Both these histories involved bringing water out of a rock for thirsty people in a very dry and thirsty land. They were similar events but in very different places at least a hundred miles apart – Rephidim and Kadesh. And they took place before the eyes of two similar, but separate, generations of Hebrew people. And that is perhaps where we should begin this evening.
The problems of the CHILDREN of Israel were the same as those of the PARENTS of Israel.
In my study I ran across a question posed by Joseph Parker: “How far have we traveled from Rephidim?” There is no place called “Rephidim” today, but we can make a reasonable guess as to where it was. As to Kadesh, it could be one of two or three places with the same or similar names. It is reasonable to say that Israel moved at least hundred miles as the crow flies from one to the other. But in reality it was much more than that, because they didn’t travel in a straight line – or very quickly. But Mr Parker was not talking about geography – his point was moral, spiritual and perhaps social. “How far have we traveled from Rephidim?” His point is, we are exactly where Israel was in Rephidim – ther we call our community Kadesh or Coeur d’Alene. The problems of the children of Israel and the parents of Israel are exactly the same as ours.
I don’t believe the Lord laid this message on my heart because you needed a lesson on geography – despite the fact that I love geography and I wish you did as well. And it’s not about history either, and you know how much I love history. Professing Christians are dwelling in Rephidim and Kadesh as much today as they have ever been. And we are finding similar problems in all three places. We are finding want, death, faithlessness, and a desperate need of the Lord.
In her exodus, Israel crossed the Red Sea and began to travel south down the western side of the Arabian Peninsula. Three days out of Egypt the people ran out of water – one of the absolute necessities of life. In Exodus 15 when Israel was expecting fresh water, the found some standing pools of poison. But then God graciously purified the pools through Moses, and the people drank and were blessed. The place was called Marah. Did Israel learn to trust God after their miraculous blessing? Of course not. Then later – in the last verse of Exodus 15 – “They came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.” So twice early in their exodus God gave to Israel life-sustaining water.
In the next chapter Israel got hungry, and God miraculously supplied quail. It was also at that point when the manna began.
Exodus 16:11 – “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God. And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.” For the next 40 years Israel had manna to eat, augmenting whatever else they might enjoy. The Lord faithfully fed, watered, sheltered, and protected Israel from her enemies. God was doing for Israel what He has been doing for saints today.
Then immediately on the heels of God’s miraculous gifts of water, Israel came to one of the valley’s running up to Horeb and Mt. Sinai. And you know, one of the same old problems arose once again. “And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.” Water is a necessity of life, and there will never be a day when you don’t need some. But time and time again, we’ll find the canteen running a little short; we’ll need the blessing of God.
Condensing the history considerably – forty years later, after many miracles, and manna every morning, Israel was near the border to the Promised Land. The water which flowed out of the side of Sinai sustained them for many, many miles – and many months. They had been fed with a second huge flock of quail to add a little flavor to their manna. They had seen their Birkenstocks withstand the burning sand for decades. God had revealed himself over and over again. They had the Tabernacle, Moses and the priesthood. They were a blessed people. But could the bulk of the nation see and recognize those blessings? They could not.
Here is the point – we still need water, whether or not we drank and were full of water yesterday. We still need deliverance from the diseases of Egypt and China just as much today as we did a century ago. Two million plus people left Egypt. How many days did it take to reach Sinai? How many died in that short period of time? I would say “few” if “any at all.” And yet, they – and we – still need water; we still need quail; we still need healing; we still need comfort. How far have we traveled from Rephidim, not very far; we’re still right there.
And here is the problem, we get stuck over-considering our lower needs, while we ignore our blessings and fail to realize our more important needs. I have no trouble forgiving Israel at Rephidim – Exodus 17 – because you might say they were new saints. They hadn’t had time to learn much about the Lord and His faithfulness. They hadn’t been forced to look at life with the eyes of faith before. All they could see was a dusty desert, and their dusty, dry bellies were beginning to cry out in pain. But 40 years later, at Kadesh, they had lived a lifetime of blessings, offsetting their on-going trials. By the time of Kadesh, they had the tabernacle and a priesthood, and they had the written Word of God. They should have been mature saints, seasoned in the trials of life and the blessings of God.
But what does Israel do when their throats get parched? It doesn’t matter how physically mature they are. Numbers 20:2 – “And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.”
Notice several things in this paragraph. This generation did precisely what their parents had done in chiding with Moses, but adding Aaron to the equation this time. They foolishly said they would have preferred death to the process of dying. It is easy to say, “Oh, I wish I had died of the Swine Flu back ‘09,’” when that is no longer possible. “Oh, that we had died by being swallowed up in an earthquake with Korah or with those whom the Lord consumed by fire in chapter 11.” They implied that their human governor was pleased to think about their corpses. He would some how be pleased or blessed with their deaths. Come on now. They revealed their true hearts when they added, “it’s not just about water. We miss the grapes, figs and pomegranates as well.” The fact is, it was probably more about pomegranates than about cups of water. They missed the extravagances of life more than they did the necessities.
They said, “And wherefore have YE made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? The vocal majority could not see the Lord in any of this; they only saw Moses and Aaron. But did you notice in Exodus 17:1 that Israel was at Rephidim “according to the command of the Lord?” It was God’s will that the nation run out of water and that it be struck down with the deadly virus of thirst. Also, I wonder if Miriam might have, earlier, had an ameliorating effect on the women of Israel. Often, when the women are content, the rest of the family will be happy. But when the “mothers in Israel” are complaining, the problems accelerate in the minds of the men and children. Did Miriams’s death make this attack upon Moses easier for the unbelievers? I don’t know.
Now, here is the United States of America – the most Christian country in the world (???). What happens when we run out of water? Many of our citizens demand that the president create rain. Our neighbors demand that congress open the spigot to reservoirs they imagine to exist. We blame our neighbors for warming the globe, and melting the ice cap, while at the same time we moan over the expanding the deserts of the world which suck up all the drinking water. What happens when too many people die? We demand more police, more laws and less liberty. Christians are just as quick as the lost to yearn for more social services and socialism as the lost people.
Where are the believers in Israel? Where are those who can see God’s earlier blessings and who can trust Him for the future? Were there none left? I find that hard to believe – however few in number they might have been. Was it as it will be in the days of Elijah – “I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” God says, come on Elijah “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”
It is easy to have our eyes and hearts drawn away from the Lord as we look at our immediate problems. It is easy to look to human causes and for human answers; foreign causes and governmental answers. Even Christians tend to forget about the God who has blessed us so many times in the past. Yes, take grandad to the hospital when his fever hits 104, and he is gasping for oxygen. Of course. Yes, leave him into the hands of the medical people. But don’t leave him there alone. The God of Rephidim is still hovering over Kadesh and Coeur d’Alene.
God supplied the water that two generations of Israelites needed.
“And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may 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 chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?”
It appears to me that at Rephidim Moses didn’t have the support of Aaron, but He did have the Lord. Why is Aaron not mentioned? Is it because he was not yet the priest of Israel? His name is mentioned only 10 times before this chapter. Is it possible that he was among the complaining? A saint standing among the sinners? Oh, let it not be true of us. Anyway Moses took the symbol of his God-given authority, the rod which he used when parting the Red Sea. Then he invited the leaders of the twelve tribes to take a hike with him up the wady toward Sinai. When they came to that special mountain, Moses looked up and with a special revelation he could see the Son of God standing on a special rock high off the valley floor. Arduously, he climbed up to that rock, telling the others to remain behind. When he got to the right spot, he was told to smack that rock with the rod of God, and he complied. The moment the symbol of his authority touched the appropriate stone, it split open and a river of water poured out, filling the wady and roaring down toward the thirsty nation a few miles away. Is the LORD among us, or not?” Of course He is among us. He is always among us.
How old was Moses at the time of this miracle at Rephidim? Wasn’t he 80 or so? Old men can get a little crotchety, a little testy, quick tempered. I’m not making an accusation. I’m just saying. How old was Moses at Kadesh a generation later? Wasn’t he about 120 and near the end of his life? Do I detect a little more grumpiness in Numbers 20?
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”
Moses and Aaron went to the Tabernacle to ask the Lord what He would have them to do. There had been no Tabernacle earlier; there was no priesthood; Aaron didn’t have the position he had now. The two men asked the Lord what He would like them to do, and God spoke. It appears that Moses’ old rod was then being kept in the Tabernacle, and he was told to get it. He was pointed toward another God-created rock, behind which, or in which, the Lord created a reservoir. On this second occasion the entire nation was going to witness the miracle, not just leaders of the tribes. I wonder if Moses was wishing that a few of them might drown when the water poured out. “Beware of what you pray for, you fools.”
As we see, God shall rebuke Moses, so it’s not a mistake for the preacher to point out Moses’ mistakes. By this time in his life, or at least on this occasion the old man was filled with “the old man.” He had forgotten that he was supposed to be nothing more than the mouth and hands of God. “And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must WE fetch you water out of this rock?” Where was the appropriate reference to the Lord’s grace – or even to the Lord’s anger? As can happen to any one of God’s people, it had become all about Moses. It was about Moses’ anger. Israel, suffering the death of her weak and elderly, needed an enemy so they focused on Moses and Aaron.
“And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock…” I have a video of the event in my mind; I hope it hasn’t been photoshopped. Moses was in a rage by this time; he was hoping a few of the rebels would drown in the upcoming flood. He raised the rod, twirled it round a couple times, just for effect, and drove it down on the face of the rock which God had pointed out. There was the sound of very hard wood against stone, but it bounced back with nothing happening. In my mental video there isn’t a crack in the rock; no ominous internal rumbling; no cowering Israelites. Maybe there were a few snickers, and some comments of unbelief. I’m sure that Moses was completely shocked. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that what he did was so surprising that God was caught off guard and stunned, and the Lord forgot was He was about to do. Of course that was not the case.
With that lack of divine response, Moses should have stopped and rethought everything. “The Lord didn’t tell me to smite the rock, but to simply and quietly speak to it. Oops, I blew it. Lord, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Let me rethink this. Let me try again.” No one should ever do more than what the Lord would have us to do. God doesn’t want us to do nothing in His service, and he doesn’t want us to do less than our best. But on many occasions we can do more than what the Lord intends, and this was one of those occasions. But Moses didn’t rethink things; he was so filled with himself, he pushed on in his blindness and anger. He brought the rod down a second time. “And the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”
What’s your answer to this question: “Why did God give Israel water which they clearly did not deserve?” Some might answer: “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.” “He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.” That is a good answer, but perhaps not the best. I think that God blessed Israel because He had made a promise to Abraham, reiterating it to Jacob and to Joseph. This nation of Israel was going to enter the land Jehovah had promised to them. Yes, it was no longer the same group of unworthy individuals, but the nation was still intact. God blessed those wretched sinners because He was being true to Himself.
The United States of America has not been given the same national promises, and therefore this country has no right to expect or demand God’s interruption in the midst of our problems. But in a reversal of situations, God HAS made promises to many individual Americans – His saints. He has made promises to you of eternal life, and in some ways, also to your earthly life as well. But you and I had better not mimic the Israelites in their murmuring and rebellion as we look for water and health. The government may be an idolatrous god to a great many people, but that is not the God of the Christian. Solutions to the genuine problems of life are not to be found in Washington DC, Boise or Olympia. And we had better remember when turning to the true God there is no room for our whining and complaining.
I know I should at this point bring things to a conclusion, applying and reapplying some of the things I’ve already said. I should point out Moses’ lack of obedience and faith in striking the rock rather than speaking to it. I should point out that he was punished by God, and was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Oh, he is in heaven today, but he lost rewards because he didn’t sanctify the Lord as he should have. I should remind you that God always has solutions for every problem – often supplying our needs in unexpected ways. I should say, glorify God and sanctify the Lord before the unbeliever through your obedience and faith.
I should stop right now, but there is another application just begging for exposition.
Can you see the gospel in these things?
The Lord Jesus once referred to Himself as “living water,” and Revelation speaks of Christ possessing “the water of life.” We might look at this miracle – or these miracles – as a presentation of the gospel to the lost. And as an illustration, Israel was spiritually dead and physically dying, but the Lord graciously saved them.
Then from another angle, Christ is also “the rock” – “the Lord’s our rock in Him we hide, a shelter in the time of storm.” It is a wise man who builds his house upon the rock rather than the sand of religion or philosophy. Why was Moses told to smite the rock at Rephidim? Because in order for the blessing of the water to pour out, our Saviour had to be smitten and die. Through His blood sacrifice millions of people have been blessed with salvation and eternal life.
I realize that we could bend and twist these points in different ways, but why was God angry with Moses for beating on the rock on the second occasion? Because “Christ was ONCE offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” There was no need for a second sacrifice of the Saviour. There has never been someone whom the Lord saved, who didn’t sin after his conversion. But there is no need for anyone’s re-saving. Can any enter the second or third time into his mother’s womb and be born? No. And none can go to the cross to be saved a second or third time. The water of life which was first there still cleanses from sin. Just speak, Moses, and the water of life will be there to quench our thirst and to wash our hands, our feet and our hearts.
In this Biblical Geohydrology we can see God supplying needs in the day of crisis. But we also have a picture of eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Do you know the Lord in this way?