The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”[1] Exodus 17:1-7

 Without question, the Israelites journey to worship God had been difficult. Without argument, the Lord led them into difficult circumstances. Their harsh judgments about their God inhibited their spiritual growth. Every time Israel opened their mouth, they darkened their understanding making it difficult for seeds of truth to take root and blossom into an accurate image of God. God was teaching them the weightier matters of law. He taught them faithfulness at Marah, mercy at the Desert of Sin, and now he will teach them what it means to love.

One week and two days after God taught them mercy God’s people set up camp at Rephidim. Early that morning they collected manna, went to the measuring tent, and returned home with a quart for each person who lived in their tent. Mom lit a fire to make some pancakes but he water jar was empty. She hollered for Daddy to go out to the wagon and get another jug. Daddy found more empty jugs. Mom said, “Go next door and borrow a cup honey.” The kids are hungry.” Daddy went next door, but they didn’t have water either. Soon crowds were gathering in the street talking about the water shortage. The children were crying and there was no water at Rephidim. They have a problem. How will they solve it?


With the knowledge that God had delivered them and mercy is the only way to survive, an angry mob gathered around the Pastor’s tent. They accused Moses of delivering them from Egypt, so he could kill them and then demanded Moses to produce enough water for a million people to drink. What is wrong with this picture?

A people that have been dealt with compassionately have no compassion. How could Moses give a million people water to drink unless Moses is a God? Why do we expect, even demand, mortal men to do what only a God can do? Why do we run to men that cannot solve their own problems and demand them to solve ours?

To Israel’s demand for water Moses replied, “Why are you quarreling with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” The KJV says, “why do you tempt the Lord?” The devil’s temptations did not destroy Israel in the wilderness. The way the tempted God destroyed them.

God’s dealings with Israel will be a slightly different situation than at the Desert of Sin for one reason. THEY KNOW! He that “knoweth to do good and doeth it not to him it is sin.”[2] God taught them at the Desert of Sin who their Lord is and that it was the Lord who delivered them, not Moses. He also taught them that mercy is God’s way and the only way to live because man does not live by bread/mercy alone. Israel knows it is God’s desire for everyone to have what they need, so why are they still quarreling with Moses? Why didn’t they just ask God for some water?

The time had come for another lesson, but this one will be severe. Paul admonished the Romans to consider both the goodness and severity of God. The Living Bible says it this way,

 Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is very hard on those who disobey, but very good to you if you continue to love and trust him. But if you don’t you too will be cut off. Romans 11:22, Living Bible


God’s dealings with Israel grew increasingly severe until he cut this generation off. God looks like the bad guy until you understand whom he was dealing with. The truth is these delivered, baptized people enjoying mercy that were eating and drinking spiritual food from the rock that followed them were evil.

God leads us to difficult places because we don’t know who we are. When we are in a place of need it exposes our character. Israel would have fared much better at Rephidim if they had learned what the Apostle Paul learned in his lifetime.

  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

The KJV reads “through Christ who strengthens me” but Christ is a 9999 number. Christ might be in italics in the version of the Bible you read because it is not in the original text. The translators added the word “Christ” for clarity. In the Interlinear Bible that shows the original Greek words and (Nestle) numbers Paul wrote,

Panta               ischuoo            en                    too                   enduamounti

All things        I can do           through            which              strengthens me

I thought that was rather odd until I looked up the Greek word “en” that the NIV translated “through”.  Strongs Concordance defines “en” as a primary preposition denoting (fixed) position (in place, time or state). Paul literally said, I can do all things because there is a “fixed position in place and time” that strengthens me! What was Paul talking about?

We need to understand the Greek word “en” a little better. From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words we find “en” is a form of the word enorkizo which means to put under (or bind by) an oath. The oath puts everything into perspective. I can do all things or I can be content in any and every situation because there is a fixed position in place and time that God bound himself with an oath.

God delivered us for the same reason he delivered Israel when they were miserable. He remembered the oath he swore after he stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. If you don’t understand what transpired between God and Abraham, you will never understand the faith that moves God because everything in all creation is being brought into line with the oath God swore when Abraham obeyed him.

Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Hebrews 6:16

 If the oath puts an end to all argument, why were the children of Israel arguing with Moses? They are still arguing because they are carnally minded. They don’t have their mind set on the same thing God who is Spirit does – fulfilling the covenant he made with Abraham.

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18   God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Not discouraged but encouraged) 19 We have this hope (that encourages us or strengthens us) as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure… Hebrews 6:17-19

Christians often quote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to prove God will give them the strength to accomplish any goal they set. People can reach their goals without Christ strengthening them. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me means no matter what the circumstances of my life are, whether I am living in want or living in plenty, I will survive to receive the promise God confirmed with an oath. I will even survive death if I die before the promise is fulfilled.

The Apostle who wrote that he had learned to be content whatever the circumstance also wrote,

 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

I know that I will survive when I am hard pressed, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down because there is a fixed position in time and place when God bound himself with an oath to keep the promises he made to Abraham and his seed. If I am in Christ, I am Abraham’s seed and an heir to God’s promises.[3] Therefore, I am encouraged that whatever my circumstance is today, I will not be crushed and I need not despair. God will never abandon me or let me be destroyed.

Israel argued and quarreled with Moses because they don’t remember the oath God bound himself with, or like Eve they counted God a liar because their desires deceived them. Their carnal minds created discontent. If they had been spiritually minded they would have been content in all circumstances like Paul. Instead, they want instant gratification. Water now or Moses dies.


Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” Exodus 17:4

Israel’s grumbling turned into hate for a man who obeyed God so they could be delivered from their misery. The minds were blinded by a religion that had strayed far from God’s purposes. They thought they loved God because they were on their way to Sinai to worship him. A little lack proved that they did not love God.

 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

The people who want to kill Moses are the same people who stood on the shore of the Red Sea and sang about their wonderful God,

  Exodus 15

The Lord is my strength and my song he has become my salvation

He is my God and I will praise him

 My father’s God and I will exalt him

Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power.

Your right hand, O Lord shattered the enemy

Who among the gods is like you O Lord?

Who is like you majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.

 In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.

You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance…

 LIARS! People who dress in their best and assemble to sing beautiful love songs to God don’t fool God. If they really believed God was going to plant them on the mountain of his inheritance, why did they cry were are going to die of thirst in the wilderness? If they really believed the Lord’s right hand is majestic in power, why were they demanding Moses hand to save them? Is Moses greater than the Lord who delivered them! Why did they sing such things to God if they really did not mean it? Could it be,

 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

If they love God, why did they discuss stoning Moses? Why didn’t they love Moses? How would stoning Moses give them water to quench their thirst?

Killing Moses would have cut them off from God because Moses is the only one among them that is not alienated from the covenants of God.[4] Therefore, Moses is the only one God was talking to. The rest of the people God delivered acted like the devil. God did not let Israel kill Moses as he allowed them to kill Jesus, because Moses blood could not save them from the sin of hating God and those he approves.


The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Exodus 17:5

 The Lord instructed Moses to take with him some of the elders because the Lord deals with people through their leadership. That is one reason it is so important that we pray our leaders will obey God. When our leaders obey God everyone is blessed and when they don’t everyone suffers. Israel received the water they don’t deserve because they have a faithful and obedient leader who God can honor.

God specifically told Moses to take the staff that was used to turn the Nile to blood in Egypt. God had used this staff to teach Pharaoh, the elders of Egypt and the elders of Israel two things. The staff represented a reason to believe when it turned into a serpent that swallowed up Pharaoh’s serpents. The staff also represented who their Lord is when Aaron struck the Nile[5] and the water turned to blood. God told Moses to take the elders to the rock with a reason to believe in his hand so they would remember who is Lord, for the things done in Pharaoh’s presence were performed in the presence of the elders of Israel first.[6]

 I (God) will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. Exodus 17:6

Moses struck the rock “in the sight of the elders of Israel.” Everyone did not see this miracle. The majority of the people in the wilderness don’t know what is going on most of the time. The majority followed a small minority of leaders. Everyone drank the water that flowed from the rock but everyone did not see Moses strike the rock and water come out. The elders did!

The only way to provide water for that many people was for a river to flow out of the rock. When the people suddenly saw a river spring up in the wilderness, the elders told them what happened. I wonder how many people walked to the source of the water and saw that it really was flowing from a rock. The elders of Israel were privileged to see the miracle first hand because they are the ones giving Moses a hard time and conspiring to stone him.

 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested (KJV tempted) the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Exodus 17:7

The elders went to Moses tent and tempted God by demanding to know, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Israel found out just how much the Lord was among them because this miracle is not the end of this story. Our good God is good, but he can also be severe when his people act like devils.


The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Exodus 17:8

 A river flowed through the camp BUT even as Israel’s cup ran over with God’s blessing the enemy attacked. What happened? Can God make water flow from a rock, but not stop the Amalekites from attacking his people? He stopped the Egyptians from attacking them at the Red Sea, but sat idle while the devil bloody their heels. When we act like devils, we attract devils. The attack of Amalek on God’s people did not have to happen.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. Proverbs 21:1

Kings can do no more than the King of king’s permits them to do. God could have directed the heart of the King of the Amalekites to leave his people alone. Why did God give Israel a miracle to save their lives and then let the enemy attack them?

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him. Proverbs 16:7

God has no reason to make our enemies live at peace with us when our ways fail to please him. Perhaps we should stop rebuking the devil and start considering our ways when an enemy makes our life miserable.  The way the church in the wilderness conducted business did not please God. Their worship was a lie. They don’t love their brother. They tempt God by demanding to know if he is among them or not.

The enemies attack was evidence their God was among them. He was present when they threaten Moses life and sent him into God’s arms afraid. He saw how they treated Moses without compassion by demanding him to do the impossible or die. Yes, the Lord was among them when they mocked and threatened to murder his messenger if they didn’t get what they wanted.

The nature of Amalek’s attack was similar to the elders attack upon Moses.

 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; 18 How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou waste faint and weary; and he feared not God. Deuteronomy 25:17-18 KJV

Amalek’s attack on the feeble is evidence he did not fear God. The Hebrew word for feeble is chattel (khaw-shal’) which means unsteady or weak. Jesus told us why God allowed Amalek attack the feeble, the unsteady, or the weak in Israel.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12

God allowed the enemy to attach because he keeps the spirit of the law in force. What we do to others will be done to us. Are you wondering when Israel attacked the feeble? Bear in mind that feeble means unsteady and consider this.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. Exodus 17:12

God permitted Amalek to attack the feeble, those who were not steady, because that was the elder’s way of doing business. The elders went to the tent of an 80-year-old man who lacked the strength to hold his hands steady long enough for them to win a war and demanded Moses to do what only a God can do or they were going to stone him. When they had no compassion and attacked the feeble, God had no legal reason to stop Amalek from attacking their feeble. He always acts according to his law and the sum of the law is to do to others what you WANT to be done to you. Now we know that the Lord was among them enforcing his law.

God will do mighty miracles to save our lives and then turn around and bring our own ways upon us because it is the only way to root the evil out of our hearts that we are blind to. What we do to others will sooner or later be done to us. In this case, it was sooner. They had not even left Rephidim before their own way came upon them.

Don’t take this principle of law to an extreme. Bad things happen to good people who have done no wrong. God did not send Amalek to do such a horrible deed. Israel’s behavior opened a door to evil men that the Lord had no reason to shut. God was appalled by Amalek’s actions and purposed to completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Now consider this carefully. Israel did the same thing Amalek did, so why didn’t God blot the memory of Israel?

The power of God’s integrity saved Israel, encouraged them, and strengthened them. The only thing that saved Israel when they attacked unsteady Moses was the oath God swore to Abraham and his seed. Our works of righteousness do not save us. God’s righteousness saves us. The Lord will swear to his own hurt and change not[7]. His integrity is unimpeachable. God swore an oath and his oath will be kept not because of who we are but because of who God is. God loves us because he is good. His great love for his people works all things for our good, even when we act like devils!


Two groups of people committed the same sin but one of them did not have the protection of a covenant. One of them was separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise. One of them was without hope and without God in the world.[8] For their sin, they will be cut off from the earth forever. The ones who are under the covenant of Abraham, under the covenant of mercy, will be taught how to love.

9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up– one on one side, one on the other— so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15  Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16 He said, For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord. The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation. Exodus 17:9-16

 Moses told the people he would stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hands. We could say, Moses stood where all men could see him with a reason to believe in his hands. If it took two men, one on one side and one on the other to keep Moses hands in the air, he must have been holding his rod horizontality. If one man is sitting and two standing, from a distance it would have looked like three crosses on the top of the hill. If the sun was behind them, and I have a suspicion it was, it would have cast a shadow of three crosses down the hillside – a foreshadow of God’s love for people who behave badly. Jesus was crucified and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.[9]

The journey through the wilderness is difficult. Seeing who we really are is not easy, but God is able to turn our failures into victory. God used the weaknesses of Israel’s  leaders as an object lesson to teach everyone how to survive in a wilderness. Instead of stoning Moses, the Elders found a stone for him to rest on. When they stood by Moses side to hold up his hands, the nations at war saw a shadow of love.

[1] All Scripture is NIV unless otherwise noted.

[2] James 4:17

[3] Galatians 3:29

[4] Ephesians 2:12

[5] Exodus 7:19

[6] Exodus 3:18, Exodus 4:29-31

[7] Psalm 15

[8] Ephesians 2:12

[9] John 19:18

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of Southern Christian Writers, a freelance writer and author of three books.
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