The Israelites continue on their journey and come to their last camp before reaching Sinai, and find a similar situation to that of Marah; unfortunately, they still did not learn the lesson God tried to teach them at Marah, for here at Rephidim they are complaining again: “They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” <Ex.17:1-2 (NIV)>. How soon did they forget the Lord’s provision at Marah, but we may say it was not the same situation; and yes, it was not but the need was the same – no water to drink. Was God not able to meet the need here at Rephidim? Yes, He was, but here another lesson was to be learned. In Moses’ response we see the effect of the old sinful nature that plagues every believer in Christ; “Why do you put the Lord to the test?” <Ex.17:2 (NIV)>; is the Lord with us or not? We are all slow to learn and continually doubt the ability of God to supply our need; we are so absorbed by the tremendous weight of our necessity we are unable to appreciate the supply that God has in the making for us; and this uncertainty seems to follow us on a day-to-day basis. Here God is about to teach them, and us, that there is a constant sufficiency in Christ for all our spiritual and physical needs.
God instructs Moses to take some of the elders of the people, his staff in his hand, walk ahead of the people to “the rock at Horeb” <Ex.17:5-6a>. Horeb is a reference to the range of mountains of which Sinai is the main peak, and the reference to “the rock” is not specific, but Moses would recognise it because God would be standing there <Ex.17:6a> and it would be evident to Moses which was that specific rock. God’s command to Moses was, “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.” <Ex.17:6 (NIV)>. Here we see a multitude of people trekking across the desert through mountain passes and away from the lowlands where they might find an oasis, coming to a camp site and there is no water anywhere for them and their animals to drink, so they complain to Moses about his leadership in bringing them to this place so that they and their children and livestock would all die of thirst <Ex.17:3>. They blame Moses, forgetting that it was not he who was leading them, for they, as well as Moses, were all following the “Cloud” <Ex.13:21-22>; so, in effect they are complaining that God is not able to lead them to where they can find water to drink.
What then, is the significance of this for us today? When an individual is delivered from a life of slavery to sin by faith in Christ and accepts His salvation which was accomplished on the Cross at Calvary, a new person evolves <2 Cor.5:17> – a new creation; the old desires that we had, the things we enjoyed (in Egypt – the world systems) should no longer entice us, we must now be drawn to our new diet, we must crave spiritual food and be thirsty for our spiritual drink so that we can be refreshed as we make our wilderness journey. God is trying to teach the Israelites this lesson as they camp at Rephidim, the thirst for God and the blessings that He gives can only come from Him, He is the source, for them, and for us. The apostle Paul explains it: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” <1 Cor.10:1-4 (NIV)>. They were all identified with Moses and The Cloud (baptised), they all ate the same spiritual food (manna) and drank the same spiritual drink (Christ), and that is the experience of all true believers in Christ today, as Christ is the only satisfaction for our spiritual thirst; we need to be thirsty for spiritual or godly things. So, when we are enticed by Satan to crave, or to return to our previous ungodly and sinful ways, we need to understand that it is a temptation that we face and seek the help of The Holy Spirit to turn our attention, and change our desires so that we can continue to eat and drink the spiritual food found in Christ <Jn.4:13-14; 6:57-58; 7:37-39>. Many times, on our wilderness journey God brings us to a Rephidim where we doubt God because we have experienced some difficulty which seems like a mountain before us, and there is no evidence of a way around, over or under this obstacle; let us not be like the Israelites and ask why does God permit these difficulties; God never leads us to a situation from which He cannot deliver us. Because of the Israelites doubting God’s provision and their complaining, Moses named the place “Massah” (trial or temptation) and “Meribah” (strife, contention); “And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” <Ex.17:7 (NIV)>.
Yet there is another lesson to be learned at Rephidim: “The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.” <Ex.17:8 (NIV)>; who are the Amalekites, and what do they represent? Amalek (warlike) was the son of Eliphaz and was the grandson of Esau <Gen.36:12> and his descendants were the Amalekites, who were a powerful nomadic people living in Arabia between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. Without any provocation, they attacked the rear of the Israelite company as they journeyed, and as a consequence, a perpetual war was declared against them by God [source: The Book of Life, Historical Digest]. “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.” <Ex.17:9 (NIV)>. The account states that while the battle proceeded Moses, accompanied by Aaron and Hur, went to the top of the hill with his staff in hand, and as long as Moses held up his staff the Israelites were winning; because the battle continued all day until sunset, as Moses’ hands got tired, Aaron and Hur placed a stone for Moses to sit and they held up Moses’ hands. By the end of the day Joshua defeated the Amalekites. God then instructed Moses to record this incident on a scroll as something to be remembered, for God will completely blot out the memory of Amalek <Ex.17:14>. This took the Israelites many years to accomplish after they had conquered the land of Canaan <see Deut.25:19; 1 Sam.15:2-3>, but this delay was not because God was not able to do so Himself. The record closes with an altar built by Moses to commemorate the event: “Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 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.”” <Ex.17:15-16 (NIV)>.
What then does Amalek represent for us today? It speaks to the fact that evil will always oppose the goodness and holiness of God, and such is the result of the sin inherited by all people. In our natural and unrepentant state, we are enemies of God and always in opposition to Him, and unfortunately this is the nature that all of us possess because of our inherited sin. When one believes in Christ and accepts His salvation, we become a new creation, and as has already been stated we now seek to be satisfied by the spiritual food offered by Christ. Unfortunately, the old nature never leaves us, and Satan constantly tempts us to doubt God, to make us desire the worldly pleasures that once we experienced. There is a constant and continuing conflict within us, and this conflict can only be defeated when we seek the help of our Heavenly Father for Him to defeat the enemy within us; the enemy that creeps up behind us and attacks us when we are weary and worn out by our trials and tribulations. Unlike the Israelites, we are unable to defeat this enemy on our own, we must rely on the help of God’s Holy Spirit; we must allow Him to satisfy our spiritual thirst and defeat our enemy. Like Moses, much prayer is required!
So, where are you in your journey today? Are you still feeding on the delicacies of Egypt – enjoying the evil and ungodly desires that life has to offer? No matter what your social standing may be, all people thirst for God, because that is the way God has made us. In your attempt to satisfy this thirst you are enticed by Satan to try all of his methods and are led by him into a life of ungodliness, and he becomes your slave-master. You will find true satisfaction only through the “Rock” who is Christ Jesus The Lord, so you need to ask Him to satisfy your thirst by accepting His salvation so as to be delivered from your sins. If you have already done so, remember that as a follower of Christ your spiritual thirst still needs to be satisfied, so you need to continue to drink from Christ the “Rock”. So, for all who are making this spiritual journey, remember that the battle with the old sinful nature is a constant and continuous conflict, and much prayer for help from The Holy Spirit is needed.