That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness. There your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years. So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”Hebrews 3:7-11
Let’s go back to our definitive list from Numbers 33:
- Wilderness of Sin
- Rephidim (aka Massah or Meribah)
These places are all in the region known as the Wilderness of Sin. During this time, water was their main problem. Clearly when they came to Marah where there was an oasis they were in high hopes. But when the water source was found to be bitter and undrinkable the grumbling started. We all encounter set-backs and circumstances which work in contra-expectation. But did you notice the point God was making in the Hebrews passage above? “Even though they saw my miracles for forty years!” The issue was not that they didn’t have water to drink. We all know water is an essential commodity to life on this planet. By taking so many people into the difficult physical circumstances, water was always going to be a problem for Moses. Moses however was trusting God to provide for them, after all it was God who prompted this journey in the first place. So Moses was always going to face this logistical problem. But the point to all of this is that God’s miracles accompanied them.
There have been many times that we have had to step out in faith and trust God for the outcome. In our experience God has always come through for us. He has never let us down over 40 years of following Him in this way. I couldn’t help seeing the ‘forty year’ element in this story and equating it with our journey, when we set out following the LORD’s leading in 1981. The Israelites had a number of miracles to hold on to already. Imagine being led by fire and by cloud as clearly as they had been. We all want God’s guidance. But few of us are led by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. Both elements symbolic of the LORD’s presence. You can’t get guidance clearer than that. Just think about it.
When I was questioning whether I had heard God correctly I needed reassurance. Was I really meant to quit teaching high school and go off on this hare-brained scheme to join Wycliffe Bible Translators? How would I know? He confirmed the way time and time again. At one point when I was asking in earnest I read the following passage.
Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the LORD hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys.Exodus 40:36-38
He told me, “Ian, move when I move; don’t move ahead of Me or behind Me. Just follow the cloud of My Presence.”
That is what the Israelites were to do.
In the second year after Israel’s departure from Egypt—on the twentieth day of the second month—the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle of the Covenant. So the Israelites set out from the wilderness of Sinai and traveled on from place to place until the cloud stopped in the wilderness of Paran.Numbers 10:11-12
It was clear they were to leave Sinai. The Cloud was taking them to Paran. As Numbers 33 shows us, the other places were incidental, many of which they caused themselves by their rebellion or resistance. Let’s think about this problem of water for a moment.
They came to Marah where there was an oasis. “Great, look at this place. This is perfect. We will be able to fill our water skins and rest here a while.” So the water in the oasis was bitter. No problem, God showed Moses exactly what to do. So they drank and had their fill. I imagine they also topped up their water skins. Next they came to Elim. Again, no problem. There were 17 springs there at Elim and 70 palm trees. What do you get from springs? What do you get from palm trees? Dates, nuts, coconuts and acai. Abundant water once again. There was nothing to complain about. Just relax and enjoy this journey with God. Consider it an adventure and look forward with expectation to see Him move again and again. That is what we learned to do in those early years of following Him. If you want to know more just ask for some Ian Stories from that time. I can still recall how refreshing the taste of the milk was from kulau (young coconut) after we had been hiking up and down over the endless ridges across three river valleys in the back blocks of Madang Province in Papua New Guinea for a whole day.
These other non-descript places hint at provision. Not all was lost.
- דָּפְקָה [Dophkah] – knocking, related to cattle driving.
- אלוּשׁ [Alush] – “I will knead [bread]”.
- רְפַידַים [Rephidim] – “place of rest, delight”
God has got you, trust Him. He had provided for them up to this point. The main point of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was centred on the miracles they saw for forty years. They had just seen the major miracle of the parting of the waters. You would think the God who could do that would have a way of providing water. On this stage of their journey, their concerns were all about their daily needs. Food and water. The first need being for water. The God who parted the waters, could provide water. After all they had learned by heart the moment when God proclaimed,
- Let the waters be separated
- Let the waters be gathered together in one place
- Let the waters teem with life . . .
They made up a song related to the parting of the waters to provide from their escape from Egypt.
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!”Exodus 15:1-3
Maybe they just needed to sing the song more often. I remember singing this exact same song with gusto and faith when I first learned it. What a reminder of the God who goes with us. Perhaps they just didn’t sing it enough. Play it again Moses.
Then of course we come to Rephidim. The name means “resting, place of rest, delightful”. That was the potential of Rephidim. However, it’s alternative names took over. Massah, ‘the place of testing’ and Meribah, ‘the place of grumbling’. What happened here was huge. You read about it in the last Gem. God provide water in abundance. Water which then followed them for the rest of their journey across the Wilderness of Sinai. Take note of the underlying significance of Rephidim. This is the place where there is a rock which stands vertically and is split down the middle by a significant fissure. The rock has been smoothed by action of large volumes of water seemingly emanating from the fissure. It is interesting, to say the least, that Paul wrote:
and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.1 Corinthians 10:4
How would they do that unless the water from the rock followed them everywhere they went. Just imagine for a moment the impact of seeing miracles like that day after day. That would hold your faith intact for a lifetime wouldn’t it? We don’t have to worry about water. Our God is the God who divides the water and provides the water; contains the water and sustains the water. He will provide for and sustain us.
- “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider thrown into the sea ||:
- The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory ||:
- This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” ||: Exodus 15:1-3
To move ahead of God is presumption; to lag behind is disobedience.Ian
Delayed obedience is disobedience.Ian
Man says, Show me and I’ll trust you. God says, Trust me and I’ll show you.Anonymous