From Egypt to Sinai—Becoming a People for a Possession (5)
By Titus Chu
Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.
– Exodus 17:1
When the people arrived at Rephidim, there was absolutely no water. Two million people and countless animals wandered in the heat of the sun, and there was nothing to drink. “Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’….The people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?'” (v. 2-3).
No one can survive without water, so the people’s complaint was more than legal. Their thirst was genuine and their need was immediate. Yet their complaint shows that, although the people had experienced the springs of water in Elim and the manna in the wilderness of Sin, they still did not have a relationship with God that enabled them to trust Him.
The Lord told Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (v. 5-6). Now it should have been Moses’ turn to complain. He could have told the Lord that he was over 80 years old. He was too old to climb a mountain to go to a rock. Couldn’t Joshua or someone younger do this job? What’s more, his staff was too heavy. It would add at least 10 pounds to his climb. And then he was to strike the rock with his staff in the presence of the elders of Israel, expecting water to come out. This didn’t even make sense. Why not just send some rain? If he struck the rock and no water came out, he would be humiliated in front of all the people. Besides, he was too thirsty to do any of this.
But there is no record in the Bible that Moses ever objected. This kind of complaint would not have been legal. Instead he climbed the mountain and struck the rock with his staff just as the Lord had commanded, and water came out of the rock just as the Lord had promised. The water was enough to supply all two million people and their animals. It must have been like a river.
The Inward Supply
Why were there twelve springs to supply water in station five, but no water here in station seven? There is a spiritual meaning to this. From our initial experience of salvation represented by Egypt to this point in Rephidim, God has been outward, and His supply of water was outward. We made our complaints to Him in the heavens and He sent His blessings to us on the earth. We listened to messages and read spiritual books and so lived off the riches of others. We could only drink when water was supplied to us from some outside source. Our view of God was from a distance.
God was happy to maintain this outward relationship with us through the first six stages because we were still young in our spiritual life, but it is not His intent for it to be like this forever. His great care draws us to Himself so that we begin to love Him and desire Him. Eventually He brings us to Rephidim, where we discover we can strike the rock and receive an abundance of water. This supply is inward, and as the apostle Paul said, they “all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). This rock with its constant inward supply of water is with us all the time. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive” (John 7:37-39). This rock is Christ as the Spirit in us.
Christ was struck on the cross for us, and received by us when we first believed. Now He flows out rivers of living water within us as a constant inward supply. Jesus told the Samaritan woman He met at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). This is the One we received, and He is the very rock that flows out water from within us.
We should all have the desire to grow into the stage seven experience of Rephidim. This is a big change. Before everything was given by God outwardly. He gave us this and that. He took care of this and that. He supplied us with every outward thing. But starting from Rephidim He says we have the water of life within us, flowing out all the time. Christ is in the heavens, but He is also in us as the Spirit, abiding in us as our life. He is truly omnipresent. It will take the rest of our lives to appreciate and enjoy this inward supply.
Water is a precious commodity, especially in the wilderness. An abundant supply of water such as must have flowed from the rock after Moses struck it would have raised the attention and jealousy of the people who lived there. Thus, immediately after the water started to flow, “Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim” (Exo. 17:8).
The water from the rock represents the moving, flowing, supplying Spirit who indwells every believer. Amalek represents our fallen flesh with all its passions and lusts, that we received by our natural birth in Adam.
Before the Spirit began to flow in us, we lived by our flesh. Sometimes it came out in noble humanitarian ways, and sometimes in selfish evil ways. Sometimes it showed off its cultured side and sometimes its barbaric side. Often it even came out as religion. Just as Amakek occupied all the land and could do as he pleased before the children of Israel came, our flesh occupied all of us and could do as it wanted before Christ came.
Once we received Christ as our smitten rock and let the spiritual water flow within us, the battle with our flesh began. Paul wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:16-17). The Spirit and the flesh will always be at war with one another.
To fight this battle, Moses stood on heavenly ground on “the top of the hill” and raised his hands in prayer (Exo. 17:9-10). As long as he continued to keep his hands up, Israel prevailed. When he lowered them, Amalek prevailed. Prayer is hard work, yet it is work that must be done if Amalek is to be defeated. Aaron and Hur supported Moses and held up his arms when they tired. We can only prevail so long by ourselves. We need the support of others if we are to see victory.
After the battle was won, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner; and he said, ‘The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation'” (vv. 14-16). On the one hand, Amalek’s memory will be utterly blotted out. On the other hand, the Lord will continue to war against him from generation to generation.
From God’s perspective, the flesh was utterly done away with when Christ took it to the cross. Paul writes, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). The heavenly view is that the flesh has been condemned and done away with.
From Moses’ perspective, however, the war with the flesh will continue from generation to generation. Abraham was faithful to obey God by casting out Ishmael, another picture of dealing with the flesh, but at Abraham’s death, Ishmael was still there to bury him (Gen. 21:10-14; 25:9). Our flesh will be there to haunt us until the day we are either raptured or we are taken to be with the Lord.
We should not be surprised or disappointed when we find our flesh to be so strong some days. That is the very time for us to raise our hands with our fellow believers in dependent prayer to the Lord who is our banner of victory and trust the flowing of the Spirit within us. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).