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Read Exodus 17:1-7.

The people of God had just left the wilderness of Sin. They were tired. They were hungry. They were thirsty. And so they began to fight. They fought each other. They quarreled. They said stupid things like, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?” [Which means, why don’t we just go back to being slaves.]

They blamed their leader. They became angry at Moses. And why not? He’s driving. It’s his fault. Maybe it’s time for a new leader. And the best way to get rid of Moses is to destroy him. We will hurl stones at him and call it a religious execution. It will seem more biblical that way. Yes?

Their leader, their shepherd, Moses does his best – “Hey, I know there’s no water. What do you want me to do about it? I am just as thirsty as you are? What do you want me to say? What do you want me to do? I can tell you that the only we are getting through this is with God’s help, but why do you people insist on testing God? Why the grumbling and quarreling?”

Moses, not knowing what else to do, has a little talk with God. After all, it was God that got him into this in the first place. He was happy leading sheep that didn’t quarrel and grumble. Now he is leading the kind that can hurl insults and stones. “What am I going to do about this people?” He asks God. “They want to kill me.” Moses is asking, “How do you lead a people who do not respect you, worse yet how do you lead a people who want to harm you?” Moses cannot even help them because they will not listen past their own grumbling.

Notice how God responds:

  1. Go out ahead of the people. God is saying, “Lead them.” God will meet Moses and the people “out there” at the rock of Horeb. God is ahead of them. Moses is to lead the people to God and lead them away from fussing and fighting.
  2. Take some of the elders with you ... the wisest in the community who could put a stop to the grumbling. Those who could silence the grumblers. Let them see what God is going to do and they will pass the story along.
  3. Take your staff and strike the rock ... not just any staff, but the one that led them past the Nile. There is memory and meaning in this staff. Why would God save you from Egypt just to bring you out in the desert to die?
  4. And so Moses names the place “Fussing and Fighting.” Okay, so most of our notes translate it as testing and quarreling, but I think this is a fair translation. Quarreling is fighting. And the fussing and groaning of God’s people provokes his wrath. It tests the Lord. It tries him. (Do we get that?)

It is at the corner of Fussing and Fighting that God in his mercy gives us water. But it doesn’t just spring up by itself, he wants us to go there with our leaders – our shepherds and remember God’s saving power.

Besides, there are other battles to fight – not each other. Isn’t it interesting that the enemy of God’s people takes this opportunity to attack. After they’ve wandered through the Valley of Sin. When they are weak, hungry, tired. When they are fussing and fighting each other, that’s when the old foe attacks.

Read Exodus 17:8-16.

Notice how the people respond:

  1. They are led by their leaders. Moses stretches out his arms, with that staff again, toward God’s throne. Joshua can lead the Army, but Moses will lead the “Prayer Force.”
  2. God’s divine will is done in this battle, but his people participate in it. The sight of Moses represents and mediates God’s power and God’s will. It matters. It is spiritual. When Moses is out there on that cliff with his arms held high, then the people are showing their confidence and trust in the Lord. (Yes, it is symbolic, but it isn’t “just symbolic” – it means something).
  3. When the people see Moses with his arms lifted high, they advance. But when his arms falter, they retreat. So what do the people do? They support Moses. They literally support him. They move a rock so that he can sit on it. Moses needs to stay out on the cliff, so bring the rock to him. Aaron and Hur, elders of Israel, lift Moses’ arms. They rally to God’s leaders. (Who knows that they weren’t the first to grumble?)

God in his mercy gives us victory, but it doesn’t just spring up on its own. He wants us to go out there with our leaders. He wants us to support them, to lift their arms up to God’s Throne.

And he wants us to remember! Take those symbols, like that staff, and lift it high. Remember what it means. Name this place, name this time. Remember that the Lord is your Banner! He is the symbol of your victory. He is the standard that you raise. Remember, that those who raise their fists against God’s throne will be defeated, but those who lift holy hands will be saved.

Hebrews 13:17 - Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.
[Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. – Hebrews 12:12]

[Ask our current seven shepherds (and their wives) to stand where they are at.]
Today, let’s lift their arms. Let’s support them. Would you gather around them now. Stand up, move out. Just sit where you are. Put a hand on a shoulder. Lift up a hand toward them. The shepherds stand among the sheep and we want to support them. Not just for their sake, but for our sake! (Hebrews 13).

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 February 2010

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