In yesterday's study of the stages of Israel's journey we took a look back at the Red Sea crossing. Moses told us that after the Israelites passed through the sea they camped at Marah. Marah was a place of bitter waters, according to Exodus 15, and the people grumbled against Moses there but the Lord showed him a piece of wood to throw into the water that would make the water sweet.
We don't know whether the wood itself had some sort of purifying qualities or whether it was Moses' act of faith in obeying the Lord that turned the water drinkable. This was likely a miracle because, by adding the Lord to the mix, the unbearable was made bearable. How many situations have we been able to endure only because the Lord was with us? How many unbearable circumstances have been made bearable by the comforting presence of the Lord?
"They left Marah and went to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there." (Numbers 33:9) The Lord brought the people to a refreshing oasis where they could rest and recuperate from the trials of their journey so far. Aren't we thankful that the Lord puts places of refreshing in our path? There will be seasons in our lives when all is calm, just as there will be seasons in our lives when there are storm clouds. The Lord gives us what we need when we need it.
"They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea. They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin." (Numbers 33:10-11) It was in the Desert of Sin (also known as the Desert of Zin) where the entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron and accused them of bringing them into the desert to starve to death. Their food supplies from Egypt, and any food they found along the way, must have run out about this time. But it was at Elim that the Lord first began supplying manna and it was at Elim that the Lord sent quail for them to eat because the people complained of no longer having access to the pots of meat they enjoyed in Egypt.
"They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah. They left Dophkah and camped at Alush. They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink." (Numbers 33:12-14) The book of Exodus doesn't mention their stays at Dophkah or Alush, so we can safely conclude that nothing out of the ordinary happened in either of these places. When the people reached Rephidim they found no water and they said to Moses, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (Exodus 17:3) The Lord had already supplied water whenever it was needed along the way, yet at Rephidim the people doubted He would do it again. I can't criticize them in the least, for I've behaved the same way. No matter how many times the Lord has come through for me, I still tend to fret the next time I encounter a serious problem. I wish I could say I meet every challenge in life with unshakable faith but that's simply not the case. I am much more like the congregation of Israel in the wilderness than like Moses who always seems to expect the Lord to come through. Moses becomes frustrated and weary and angry from time to time due to the difficult work of shepherding the flock of Israel, but we don't find him faltering in his faith the way the flock sometimes falters.
At Rephidim the Lord told Moses to strike a rock with his staff in the sight of all the people. As soon as Moses did this, the Lord caused fresh water to gush forth from solid rock so that all the people and all the animals were able to satisfy their thirst. I think in satisfying their thirst the Lord also gave them a boost to their faith---a much-needed boost because while they were at Rephidim the Amalekites came and attacked them. This attack was unexpected and unprovoked. The people were peacefully taking care of their own business, not bothering anyone, when suddenly the enemy appeared to make war with them. And isn't that how Satan often works? Right after we've experienced a spiritual high---a time of refreshing---that old snake slithers up to steal our joy. He tries to bring us low. He sees we've taken a step forward in faith and he tries to drag us two steps backward. But the Lord didn't allow Satan to steal His people's joy; He gave the Israelites victory over the Amalekites in an all-day battle, after which Moses built an altar to the Lord which he called "The Lord Is My Banner". (Exodus 17:15)
Moses was saying, "The Lord is my battle flag. The Lord is my standard. The Lord is my helper and my defender." King David said something similar in Psalm 28:7 and we will close with his words of praise: "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him."