Water, a colourless and odourless liquid that covers about 70% of the earth’s surface, is the most widely used solvent by nearly all creatures that inhabit and roam the earth.
No wonder the whole Israelite community, having camped at Rephidim during their wilderness journey, quarrelled with Moses when they found out that there was no water there to drink. Moses, the meekest man on earth at the time, was astounded, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” he implored. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and our livestock die of thirst?” they roared back at him. This was the third time the people were grumbling against Moses. The first time was at Marah where the water was bitter and they couldn’t drink it. Moses was shown a piece of wood which he threw into the water and the water became sweet. The second time was when the community was between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they came out of Egypt. Here the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Moses told them that, in effect, they were grumbling against the Lord and not against him (Moses).
The ever-loving and caring Lord gave them quails to eat in the evening and manna in the morning. The manna, which was bread rained down from heaven, was under the layer of dew around the camp in the morning. When the dew was gone, they beheld thin flakes like frost on the ground scattered all over the desert floor around the camp. They did not know what these things were! Moses told them to gather and eat it for it was bread from heaven. Again dew, a form of water, was vital here in bringing down daily bread to the Israelites in their wilderness journey.
The deliverance from Egypt was intensely disappointing for the people. They were poor slaves expecting to be supplied with the good things of the flesh. God’s point of view was that they had been under the influence of idolatry and needed purging and instruction before entry into the Promised Land. They still had with them the presence of God’s pillar of fire by night and cloud by day – a daily and nightly reminder of His presence and guidance. The discernment of the recent bondage in Egypt seemed to fade in their minds, and looking back seemed to become a sort of paradise to them – much preferable to the future promised land. God made promises to them (Exodus 6:5,6), that He would deliver them and bring them to the land. But every promise of God is two-fold: of God’s faithfulness which He was now showing, but also of the people’s faith. And this was sadly lacking.
What about us? When confronted with possible infirmities of the flesh, due to old age or poverty, do we look back with longing to the days of physical fitness or when we had enough to eat, wear and spend, and fail to count our many blessings, with our Promised Land and returned Saviour near at hand? We, too, must learn to trust God and His word, whatever trials come to us, and depend on His goodness.
At Rephidim the people had plenty of water: that same water that gushed out of the rock which was struck by Moses’ staff. That same staff with which he struck the Nile to turn the water into blood. That same staff which was changed into a snake to try to soften Pharaoh’s heart so that he would let the Israelites leave Egypt. Paul, in his well-known words in 1 Corinthians 10, interpreted these events and reminded them and us, ”and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and the rock was Christ” (v 4). Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our infirmities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Is 53:4,5). But Paul also reminds us of the privilege and responsibilities of the people who “drank from the spiritual rock” – even as we have. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.”
Numbers 2:10 brings us to the sad event nearly forty years later when Moses, in his vexation, struck the rock twice saying, “must we bring you water out of this rock?” This spoiled the type, for in Hebrews we find that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many“, (9:28) and that there is a ghastly penalty for those who “crucify the Son of God all over again” (Heb 6:6). Moses, the meekest man on earth (Num 12:3), became angry, broke God’s commandment and as a punishment was not allowed to lead the nation into the Promised Land.
As we have seen, water itself is essential for life. One can do without food for quite a long time, but death will fall upon one relatively soon if water is withheld. Water is symbolic of the Word of God, which brings the promise of eternal life and without it we would die spiritually now and eternally later.
John 4:10 records the discourses between Jesus and the woman at the well of Samaria regarding the life-giving water, where Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”. And continued, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst … will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”, and then tells her of salvation and of worshipping God in Spirit and in truth.
So this living water is the Word of God, preached by Christ, and it is vital to life. In Jeremiah 2:13 God laments that His people had forsaken Him, “the spring of living water” and that they had dug their own cisterns that held no water. God, in His pleasing words in Isaiah, invites the people, “Come all who are thirsty, come to the waters…listen to me, and your soul will delight, I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David”.
What a privilege for us to have heard and responded to this invitation! What comfort we also have in these words in Isaiah 49:10! “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the heat of the sun scorch them; He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them besides springs of water”.
Being so privileged and with such a glorious hope before us, we must be careful each day not to fall into the habit of murmuring and grumbling at any seeming inconvenience or hardships that may come our way, but with cheerful and appreciative hearts acknowledge the abounding goodness of God to each one of us.
Bro Justin Mwakasege (Ipinda, Tanzania)