September 27th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13
Moses was not prone to getting angry very easily. The decades that he spent tending his father-in-law’s flocks of sheep in the wilderness had taught him a great deal of patience.
But here in Exodus 17, the Israelites seem to be “getting on his last nerve,” as my mother used to say.
The Israelites had been complaining constantly ever since leaving Egypt. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (Ex. 14:11), they asked when Pharaoh’s army was pursuing them.
“You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:3), they said when they had no food to eat.
When God provided for the Israelites by sending bread from the sky, they wanted meat. And when God sent quails for them to eat, they were thirsty and they wanted water to drink.
Of course, asking for water was not an outlandish request. After all, water is a basic necessity of life. And the Israelites were correct in believing that they wouldn’t be able to live very long without it.
The problem was that Moses really didn’t know what to do or where to go to find water for the people out here in the wilderness. He knew the situation was desperate. He just didn’t know how to solve it.
Playing it All By Ear
You see, whether the people knew it or not, Moses was sort of playing all of this by ear. Moses had no strategy, no game plan, no 5 or 10-year vision or goals for his organization.
He had never really wanted to be the king or ruler of the Israelite nation. He had simply been called by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and lead them to the promised land — and this last part of the task was proving to be much harder (and of course as we know, it will take much longer) than the first part.
Moses certainly had had some formal leadership training, since he had grown up as a prince in Pharaoh’s household. But that was many years ago, and for the past 40 years Moses had been living in the wilderness tending flocks of sheep.
But now, since he was the one who had freed the people from slavery in Egypt, they were looking to him to provide for all of their needs as they journeyed to the promised land.
No doubt Moses felt like he was in over his head. Some religious historians estimate that Moses was responsible for leading upwards of 2 million people out of slavery and into the wildnerness. That’s a lot of people! Twice the size of the population of Delaware.
And Moses was pretty much leading all of these people on his own. He had his brother Aaron and sister Miriam and a few other elders. But they had even less leadership training than he did. Moses had no business coach or mentor. No trusted advisor out here in the wilderness. And without today’s modern technology, he couldn’t look up “best practices for leading 2 million people through the wilderness” on Google. There weren’t even any YouTube instructional videos for him to watch!
Instead, Moses had to rely completely on his gut, and on his God.
A Man of Prayer
Moses was indeed a man of prayer, who depended upon God. It seems that Moses would frequently enter into God’s presence and speak directly with God.
Moses and God had the type of relationship where they went back and forth with one another. When God told Moses to do something, Moses had no problem pushing back. But in the end Moses usually ended up doing what God told him to do.
In this particular situation, Moses seems to be at his wit’s end. And so he cries out to God, “What should I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me” (Ex. 17:4).
Those of you who are parents or teachers can probably resonate with this sentiment. You love your children, but sometimes when they keep asking you for things, as reasonable as their requests may be, you feel overwhelmed. In truth it’s not their fault that they have to ask you for what they need. They have nowhere else to go. But all of us are finite people, and we all get frustrated from time to time when people keep asking us for things.
And so Moses goes to God, he vents, he lets out his anger and frustration. There doesn’t seem to be any question in his mind as to whether or not God will provide. I think Moses just kind of wished that in the future God would provide directly for the people, without involving him so that he wouldn’t have to deal with their complaints.
But once again, even though God could have miraculously provided water for the people without using him, God continues to work through Moses. God tells Moses to go on ahead of the people. God tells him to take the staff that he had used time and time again to perform miracles since leaving Egypt, and to go up to the rock at Mount Horeb, and to strike the rock. God tells Moses that when he strikes the rock, water will come gushing forth from the rock, enough for all of the people to have plenty of water to drink.
And so Moses follows God’s instructions, as crazy as they seem, and he strikes the rock.
I don’t know about you, but I personally feel that these past few months have been sort of a wilderness experience for all of us, where most, if not all of us, feel in over our heads. The phrase “unprecedented times” has become sort of cliche for what we’re living through. A global pandemic, a time of massive social unrest and increasing political polarization. The economic and racial disparities in our society have come bubbling to the surface, and all of it can feel quite overwhelming.
Not only that, but many of us have people depending upon us. Whether we’re leading businesses or corporations, churches or organizations or families, or simply making decisions for ourselves and our loved ones, each of us are facing countless decisions on a daily basis that affect other people, for which we have been given very little training or preparation,
No matter what sort of leadership training or experience you’ve had, very few of us feel prepared to lead through times like these. On top of that, the information that we are being given often seems biased, and it’s often difficult to know who or what to believe.
In some ways, like Moses, all of us are playing it by ear right now.
Our Choices Impact Others
And yet the choices that we are being forced to make during this time have real consequences, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. Our daily decisions impact other people, whether we realize it or not.
Whether we stay at home or go out and participate in social activities, whether we wear a mask when we go out or not, whether or not we vote, and who we vote for in the upcoming elections, what we read or take in, the news and media sources that we listen to, what we post on social media, what we say or don’t say to others — each of these decisions affect those around us.
Like it did for Moses, the pressure of having to make these daily decisions can build up, and lead to frustration. And if you have people who are explicitly depending upon you and looking to you to provide for them or to give you guidance, the pressure is even greater.
Doing Nothing Is Not An Option
Sometimes the decisions we are being forced to make can feel debilitating. We’re tempted to just sit back and do nothing at all. We think that by choosing not to act we can avoid making mistakes.
But the reality is that not taking action can be just as dangerous as taking a wrong action, and can sometimes be even more harmful.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.”
Doing nothing is it’s not always the best or even the safest option.
Strike the Rock
And so we strike the rock. We do the thing that God has told us to do, even when it seems to make no sense. We take action, taking God at God’s word, even when we’re not sure what effect we’re going to have, or what impact we’re going to make. We follow God’s instructions, even though they might sound crazy, trusting that, as Paul says in Philippians 2, “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Like Moses, let us look to God. Let us remember that both we and the people we have responsibility for are all ultimately sheep under God’s care. When we’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by the responsibilities or decisions for which we feel totally unprepared, let us cry out to God.
And let us remember that inaction is not the solution. So let us act in faith, taking God at God’s Word, obeying what God has commanded, entrusting the final outcome to God.
Let’s strike the rock.