The Lord Hasn't Forgotten About You!
Can you remember a time in your life that you felt completely hopeless? You looked at your situation, and honestly wondered how you were ever going to make it. But then, somehow, the LORD got you through it. Probably, you can think of several times like this in your life. May be you’ve noticed like I have that no matter how many times the cycle repeats, each time my sinful nature wants to doubt that God will really get me through it this time. But don’t let troubles lead you to doubt, worry, and complaining, instead, remember that the Lord hasn’t forgotten about you. And as we consider this morning’s Old Testament lesson, we will learn from the example of the Israelites that:
The Lord hasn’t forgotten about you!
I. Troubles tempt us to doubt the LORD’s faithfulness
II. The LORD faithfully meets our needs
If we ever wonder if the Lord has forgotten about us, we should take a minute to think about the Israelites in Egypt in about the year 1450 BC. If anyone had reason to feel forgotten, they did. Though God had promised their forefather Abraham that he would make them a great nation, those days just a distant memory. Their people had been living in Egypt for over 400 years, and had been made slaves of Pharaoh for some time now. Many of them must have wondered if God had totally forgotten about them
But he hadn’t. He had a plan. God spoke to him at the burning bush, and sent him to Egypt to free the Israelites. But Moses arrived in Egypt no one could believe that God was really going to free the Israelites after so many years of slavery. So God sent plagues upon the land of Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Finally, after 10 plagues, ending in the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt, Pharaoh finally let them go.
God himself went before the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert. He appeared as a fiery pillar guiding them through the desert. When Pharaoh chased them, God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape. Then God destroyed the Egyptian army, the greatest army on the face of the planet when it dared to pursue God’s people.
But about a week in to their travels to Mount Sinai, there was trouble. The Bible says there were about 600,000 Israelite men, so there were probably about 2 million people. God took them through a desert, where there wasn’t nearly enough food for them. They grumbled against the LORD because they were hungry. So he gave them quail and manna, taking care of their needs, and demonstrating that he cared about them, and he knew what he was doing.
About a month before they reached Sinai came the event recorded in today’s Old Testament lesson. The huge camp of the Israelites came to a place called Rephidim where there was no water. This group of about 2 million people with livestock consumed a lot of water. This was a life-threatening problem.
We read: 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?”
It was good for them to take their needs to God, but they went a step further, and actually found fault with him. They first turned on Moses. Even though he had been their faithful leader for 2 years, they treated him like an enemy. But when they took it out on Moses, but he saw exactly where their bitter complaining came from: “Why do you put the LORD to the test?” - they were testing God.
What does it mean to test God? There are two ways that the Bible says we can test God. The first way is good – we trust God’s promises, and act on them. But this is the other, wicked kind of testing. It stems from a lack of trust in God’s promises, and challenges God to act, proclaiming, “If God really cares about me, why doesn’t he prove it. Otherwise, why should I listen to him?” Despite all God had done for them in freeing them from Egypt, they dared to put the Lord to the test in this wicked way.
As events unfolded, they grew thirstier and thirstier. 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?” It was the LORD who brought them to this spot, and they started to wonder if following him had really been a good idea after all. Now, they were in a desert. It was a dangerous situation. But still, their complaining was totally out of control. They accused Moses who had just led them out of slavery, of wanting to kill them. They even suspected that the LORD had an evil intent for them. This, despite all he had done for them in freeing them from Egypt. They were ready to throw in the towel on God and his promises. A few verses later we find out they were ready to stone Moses to death.
Before we come to the conclusion, it’s time to see where we fit into the story. We have seen God’s faithfulness to us. We have seen God’s hand in 3500 more years of history than they had seen. We have seen the fulfillment of the Israelite nation – the Son whom God sent, who died for us, who is risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven. We’ve seen how for 2,000 years the message of Jesus has traveled the globe, creating faith in the hearts of billions. And it has reached us as well, when God put his own name on us in baptism.
Yet like the Israelites, often the trials and struggles of life can lead us to forget all our blessings, and test the Lord. Many of us have never lacked food, water, or shelter like they did. Our troubles come from other areas – stress related to our job. Not having as much money as we want. Relationship problems. Sickness. Perhaps just even having a bad day, when things don’t go like we wanted or planned, can lead us to doubt and grumble. We know that God’s Word says we should joyfully proclaim every day, “This is the day the Lord has made!”, but we can focus so much on our problems that we start to quarrel with God and test him. If God really loves me, why am I struggling like this? If God is so good, why doesn’t he show it a little more clearly. If he wants me to find joy in him, why doesn’t he give me what I want, instead of what I have right now.
Sometimes we don’t even realize that our real problem is with God. The Israelites started off by complaining about Moses, but their real problem was that they doubted God’s goodness. When you have a problem with God, how do you express it? Who do you take it out on? Maybe it is in constant fault-finding with your spouse, or your employer, or someone else. Maybe your dissatisfaction with God leads you to indulge in alcohol or some other agent of relief. Perhaps you just end up complaining too much, or just aren’t happy at times, letting your troubles consume you.
We can tell ourselves that the problem is a certain person or situation, but these behaviors usually indicate a problem with God and his care for us. In our sinful pride we think that God could have done better for us. We doubt if the situations we see are really serving our best interest, and question whether he really plans on doing anything to help. And our blasphemous doubting makes us frustrated, and so we end up taking it out somewhere. Maybe at our worst moments, perish the thought, we even contemplate throwing in the towel on God and his promises, ready to give up on him. But thank God, that even when we’ve sinned against him by doubting if he’ll even be there, he’s still going to be there for you. Because
The LORD hasn’t forgotten about you! Yes,
I. Troubles tempt us to doubt the LORD’s faithfulness, but
II. The LORD faithfully meets our needs
Now let’s go back to the Israelites. They had given up. They were ready to forget about the LORD and his plans, to forget about Moses, to mutiny, and no doubt die there in the desert. Moses was understandably frustrated. But instead of grumbling against God, he called out to him for help. Notice how simple his prayer was: Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” You might expect the LORD to tell Moses to step aside as he blasts this ungrateful people. But see how patient, how slow to anger he is:
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. 6 I 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.
The Lord hadn’t forgotten about them; he had a plan all along, a totally unexpected plan. He had Moses gather the elders so that they could witness and then tell about what God would do. He told Moses to get his staff, which had already been used to perform miracles. He told Moses to go to the rock, and amazingly, said he would stand right there on the rock! What exactly this looked like, we don’t know, but when the water miraculously came from the rock, it was clear that the Lord was there. Moses did as he was told, and water indeed came gushing out of that rock, and it must have been a LOT of water for 2 million people. This was just what they needed at that moment. It saved the people from dying of thirst. It strengthened their trust in the LORD as their God, and Moses as their leader.
The name Moses gave the place is very instructive. 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?”
That was an arrogant question. God could have justly destroyed them all for such a question. But no, the LORD proved himself their faithful, loving God, who remembered them, who took care of them, and whom they could trust completely. They could trust him, because Jesus was with them. In fact, it was Jesus himself who gave them the water to drink. The same Jesus, who would one day go to the cross to pay for their sins of rebellion, was with them in there in the desert. How do we know this? The Apostle Paul wrote about the Israelites:
1 Corinthians 10:1-5: 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. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
Jesus Christ was the spiritual rock that accompanied them. Even before his incarnation he was with his people, guiding them on until the day that he would come to live among them.
Jesus is with us today, just like he was with the Israelites. And he’s just as dependable, just as loving, just as powerful, as when he made millions of gallons of water gush out of a rock in the middle of a desert. We can all point to times in our life that the LORD has sustained us through difficultly. And we know he will continue to sustain you in the future, not because of our experience, but because of his promises.
At your baptism, God mad a promise to you, that you are his own dear child. That means he is going to be your caring Father. He has washed your sins away in Jesus’ blood. And now he points you to the cross to find confidence to live each day. Look at the cross and ask yourself, “If God was willing to give his only son, Jesus, for me, is there any doubt that he loves me?” After sending Jesus through all that, he going to forget about me? As Paul says in Romans, Romans 8:31-32: “31 God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? As if that weren’t enough, look at the empty tomb. If Jesus has overcome the grave for you, do you think there’s any problem that’s too big for him?
Now I realize, some of you face some serious struggles right now. And we all have faced them, or will in the future. But remember, even our trials and difficulties in life serve as proof that God is with us. The writer to the Hebrews says, Hebrews 12:7: “7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? When we have trials and struggles, it doesn’t mean God has forgotten about you. Quite the opposite, God is treating us like his children. It’s a sign that he cares about you. It’s designed to help you grow. So when the struggles come, don’t get upset with God, turn to him! He’s right there to take care of you. Like Moses, simply pray, “Lord, I need your help!”, and he will be right there. In fact, he already knows how he’s going to get you through it. It may not involve bringing water from a rock, but it’s going to be just what you need.
Our spiritual problems aren’t really different from the doubts and struggles of the Israelites 3500 years ago. Our troubles can tempt us to doubt the LORD’s faithfulness. And the solution to our problem hasn’t changed either. The LORD is faithful; he hasn’t forgotten you! If you ever doubt that, look back at Jesus, and how he gave his life on the cross for you, and how is risen and now lives to take care of you. So when troubles come – turn to him, and he’ll deliver you. Amen.