Exodus 15:22-25; 17:1-7
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Israel had just been brought out by God from their slavery to the Egyptians. He delivered them through the water of the Red Sea. But now they are out in the wilderness where there is no water to drink. For three days they have nothing to satisfy their thirst. Finally, they come upon a place called Marah where there is some water. But when they get there, they discover that the water is bitter, stagnant, and they can’t drink it. Desperate and frustrated, they complain and lash out against God’s servant Moses.
Now isn’t that in many ways a fitting description of how life is in this world after the Fall? By comparison to the original creation which God made, this sin-cursed world has now become a barren wasteland. People walk through this wilderness world with spirits that hunger and souls that thirst for something that is eternal and real and true. We search for what can satisfy us and make us content. And there are times when we think we finally see the answer not too far in the distance, something in this world that can quench our soul’s thirst. We expend a great deal of energy to get there–working out to get our bodies into shape; working hard to earn the money and achieve the goals and acquire the things we think will finally make us happy. We embrace some new self-help philosophy or a political cause; or we indulge our desires and dreams, thinking that will bring us happiness. But the goal we seek always seems to be just out of reach. The things we’ve pursued and set our hearts on inevitably bring disappointment. All such worldly water sooner or later turns out to be stagnant and undrinkable, or even worse, just a mirage atop the burning sand. It leaves us cynical and embittered, empty and spiritually parched. And then comes the grumbling, blaming God or His representatives, failing to trust in His goodness.
Repent of this. For despite their grumbling, God did not leave Israel to perish. He intervened on their behalf. When Moses cried out to the Lord, the Lord showed him a special tree. When Moses cast this tree into the waters at Marah, the waters became sweet and drinkable. The thirst of the Israelites was satisfied and quenched because of the renewing power of the tree.
Now we don’t know exactly how the tree made the water drinkable–if it was through some chemical process or simply and miraculously by the power of God’s Word attached to it. But we do know this: the tree points us to Christ. For it is written of Jesus, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch.” Jesus is the descendant and Branch of David, who was raised up for us on the tree of the holy cross. Through Christ our Lord, the rancid cesspool of sin has been changed to the sweet spring of the Gospel for you. Jesus cast Himself into this stagnant world, descending from heaven to become true man. And by His bitter death He took away the sin that dehydrates your spirits and saps your strength. From Mt. Calvary there flows now a pure and healing fountain that refreshes and renews you with the forgiveness and the life of Christ Himself. Believing in Him, your spiritual thirst is forever quenched, and your souls are eternally satisfied. Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. . . Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” Just as God showed Moses the tree of Marah, so He directs our attention to the cross of Christ, calling us to rely on Him. For it is through this crucified One alone that our souls are truly revived. He gives us to kneel and drink from the limitless pools of His mercy, filling us with His life-giving Spirit.
In fact the water of Marah is a good picture for us of Baptism, isn’t it. For in baptism God takes ordinary water and puts the tree of His cross into it, that the power of His death for sin might be applied to you to refresh you with His forgiveness for your whole lives. To those embittered by what the curse has brought to their lives, God here gives true peace and consolation and contentment. You have been put right with God. All is well.
God continued to be present with the children of Israel in the wilderness. He gave them victory over the Amalekites in battle. He gave meat to eat and manna day by day. But there were times when they began to doubt the Lord’s goodness and waver in their trust in Him. Very soon they faced a situation similar to that at Marah. They came to a place called Rephidim, where they camped. But again there was no water there for the people to drink. The Israelites grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” By speaking to Moses in this way, they again showed their distrust in God’s care. Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?” Such faithlessness invited God’s judgment upon the people of Israel.
So it is with us. Despite the way in which God provides for us day by day with all that we truly need, despite our having received God’s goodness in Christ and having passed through the Red Sea with Him in our baptism, there are still times when we begin to doubt whether God really cares for us, whether He really will provide for all of our needs of body and soul, whether the faith is really true and worth following. Like Israel, we can tempt the Lord and test His patience by questioning His presence among us.
But the Lord is merciful. When Moses cried out to the Lord, the Lord told him to go before the people bringing with him his wooden staff. God told him to strike the rock there with his staff, so that the people might drink. And when Moses did this, water gushed forth from the rock.
Not only does this teach us that God will provide for all of our temporal needs. Even more, it teaches us that God will provide for all of our eternal needs in His Son. For in the Epistle St. Paul makes a very interesting statement in connection with this story. He says, “(Our forefathers in the wilderness) all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” The Scriptures specifically tell us to see the Lord Jesus in this Old Testament story. We are to perceive the real presence of Christ in and with that rock.
Now how was it that the rock provided water for Israel? Moses struck it with His staff. How can we not think of how Christ also was struck in a similar way on the cross? It is written in the Gospel of John, “When they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” Just as Moses struck the rock with his staff and water flowed, so also Christ, the Rock of Ages was struck with a staff-like spear, and water and blood flowed forth from Him for the salvation of His people, water that fills the font for our cleansing, blood that fills the chalice of His supper for our forgiveness.
On the cross Christ said, “I thirst” for you, so that in your thirst you might drink deeply of Him. Jesus took your thirst into Himself, receiving the withering judgment of sin in His body. In so doing the power of sin has been undone, and now there flows from Christ an everlasting stream of living water to purify and refresh and sustain all of you who believe in Him. It is as the old hymn says, “Let the water and the blood from Thy riven side which flowed be of sin the double cure. Cleanse me from its guilt and power.” And truly the Lord has done that for you. He is indeed your Rock in the midst of the desert of this world. And the river of life will continue to flow to you from Him in the Sacraments until He comes again to bring you into Paradise and the Promised Land.
So let us take heed, then, to the Scriptures. These things were written down as examples for our learning, so that we might not suffer God’s judgment. Let us not grumble as the Israelites did, or complain as the laborers in the Gospel did who thought God was somehow not being fair with them. For the truth is, God is much better than fair with us, He is merciful to us. He gives us what we don’t deserve, the free gift of forgiveness and life in Christ. Let us find our refuge in Him. For it is written in Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” And of our eternal dwelling place in heaven, Revelation 7 says, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. . . For [Christ] the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠