“Water in the Wilderness”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

In both Old and New Testaments, the treatment of the story contained in Exodus 17:1-7 is uniformly negative. The original narrative of Moses really focuses not on God's miraculous provision for His people but on their grumbling. The same thing is true in Paul's reexamination of the story in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He lists the blessings that the Israelites received from God only to point out that they fell away regardless. He wants us to recognize that we too can fall despite our blessings.

Nonetheless, even this negative perspective contains imagery that is both beautiful and meaningful. Perhaps the most striking of these images is found in 1 Corinthians 10:4. There, he reveals that the rock from which the Israelites drank followed them, and the rock was Christ--not the rock was like Christ, but that the rock was Christ.

If this was true for the Israelites, rebellious and accursed, how much more is it true for us! The Scriptures compare Christians to the Israelites. We too spend all of our days wandering in a desolate wilderness.

There are no hotels in the wilderness. Just as the Israelites did not encounter a Holiday Inn Express that served them a tasty complimentary breakfast, we cannot expect to find one either. However, Christ did provide them with water, and we can expect the same. We are in the wilderness, yes, but He will always provide us with what we need.

Problems arose for the Israelites when they paid more attention to the wilderness than to the water, and they will arise for us when we make the same mistake. Admittedly, the wilderness is pretty awful, both for us and for them. To this day, the Sinai Peninsula is uninhabited. Nobody goes there to sunbathe and relax in the 120-degree heat! As the hymn says, this world is a wilderness of woe. Awful things can happen even to faithful Christians, as I can testify.

Nonetheless, we must not spend our days wallowing in the awful. We must resolutely seek Christ through the awful, and He is always there. Indeed, He is never so present as when the wilderness is most hostile. A spring in Middle Tennessee is still lovely; a spring in a rocky wasteland is incomparably wonderful.

I have found this to be true in my own life. These days, I don't spend much time praying for my life or my health. Instead, when I pray for myself, I am almost entirely concerned with the life of the spirit. I want to spend the rest of my days loving, serving, and encouraging others. I know that I could never accomplish this without the help of my Lord. I would be crushed by the despair of my situation instead.

However, He has helped me powerfully. During my recent clinic visit, my goal was to make everyone I encountered, even the ones who shocked me and poked me with needles, feel valuable and loved. By the grace of God, I succeeded.

At the end of my visit, the neurologist told me, “I love your spirit!” I don't think he knew how truly he spoke. His compliment does not speak well of me. It speaks well of Christ who strengthens me.

So too for all of us in our own personal wildernesses. The desert is miserable. Many of us have decades more in which we must endure it. However, the living water that springs up from our Lord is all we need to sustain us.