In Our Time of Need
Have you ever been in need? I’m not talking about the kind of need that makes you say “I need that candy bar” as you check out at the local Pick-N-Save. I’m talking about more pressing needs, some which may be more urgent than others. We may be struggling financially. Perhaps we have needs in our earthly relationships. Some may seem trivial, others may feel like they are a matter of life or death. A cable network has tried to capitalize on such situations by creating a show where the host places himself in extreme situations. The show’s host finds himself from week to week in remote locations without food or water. The next hour of television is spent as he tries to survive without any supplies.
The nation of Israel found themselves in a similar situation. They were traveling through a remote location without a source of water. You or I may never find ourselves in some remote location of the world without food or water, but I am sure that I can say we’ve all been in need. We’ve all asked ourselves what will happen next, or how we will ever survive our current situation. Maybe some her are in that situation right now. Today’s sermon text tells us that in our time of need, we doubt God but God still provides.
Can you picture it? What a sight that must have been! There, through the empty wilderness, marched a large army of people. How strange this group, somewhere between one to two million people, must have looked as it followed a pillar of cloud. When the cloud stopped, the people stopped. When it moved, the people followed. On this particular day, the pillar of fire stopped at a place called Rephidim. The great army of people did as they had done numerous times already. When the pillar stopped moving, the people obeyed the Lord and stopped as well. But this time, something didn’t seem quite right. Each Israelite began to whisper to the next, “Did you seen where we stopped?” “Why’d we stop here – there’s no water at all for us to drink!” The Israelites knew that they wouldn’t last long on this trip to the Promised Land if they couldn’t even have water to drink. They had been walking all day with no shelter from the sun. Their energy was zapped and their mouths were parched. There was no doubt that Israel was in need. They were in a place that lacked something needed for survival. They needed water to survive and they were afraid because whatever water they did have was running out. They were thirsty and only water would help!
However it started, it spread like wildfire. It may have been two good friends talking to each other or maybe a group of Israelites got together and began talking. Maybe someone mentioned their pit-stop at Marah. “Remember that bitter water we had? At least there was water then!” Before long, the whole Israelite nation began to complain and fight with Moses. “What are we to drink Moses? Do you expect us to quench our thirst with all this sand?” They began to question whether God even cared for them. They complained that God couldn’t really be with them. If he was with them, they may have said, they certainly wouldn’t be so thirsty! It very well may have seemed that God had forgotten them and had left them to die.
The Israelites had forgotten God’s grace in their lives. Just several weeks ago God had delivered them from Egypt. He had brought them out of slavery. They had forgotten that when Pharaoh and his army were breathing down their necks and the Red Sea was in front of them, God gave them a path through the middle of the sea. They forgot how God was daily filling their stomachs in the wilderness with manna from heaven.
Moses had a response for Israel’s complaints. “Why do you quarrel with me?” What could he do about their situation? He was right there with them in the very same situation. “Why do you put the Lord to the test?” he said. This testing was not the tests that God often sends to strengthen one’s faith. This testing was the sinful attitude which blamed God for the hardships they were experiencing and demanded that God make it right. This testing God was a sin.
Despite Moses’ rebuke, Israel’s grumblings continued. They were still concerned about their lack of water. In fact, they even went so far as to accuse Moses. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst? After everything we’ve been through Moses, after all the terrors of Egypt, and we’re going to die in the middle of nowhere due to thirst?”
Things haven’t changed much have they? Don’t we all too often find ourselves in situations where we feel we are in need? Maybe we are worried that we won’t have enough to make that next rent or mortgage payment. The cupboard may be a little too bare and we wonder when we will be able to afford to stock up on groceries. Illnesses arise and we complain about being sick. Maybe the car has broken down and you’re not sure where the money will come from to fix it.
Just like the nation of Israel so long ago, we complain. We’re faced with trouble and all we can think of is our own needs. The best solution we can think of is really no solution. We just begin to complain. “Give us some more money!” “If only there were a few more hours in the day.” “I can’t get sick now!”
On the surface, it may seem like just innocent voicing of our concerns or blowing off steam. Look below the surface! Why do we complain? Isn’t it because we doubt that God is there to help us out? We don’t trust God as we should. We doubt that our needs will ever be fulfilled. The devil tempts us to look at the trouble we’re in and to dwell on our needs. Before we know it, our needs are insurmountable obstacles. We begin to wonder if God is really there. We doubt God’s ability to supply for our every need. We doubt that he loves us enough to make sure we have what we need.
How quickly we forget God’s grace! We forget that he gave us a way to make that house payment. We forget that we haven’t gone hungry, that he has given us enough food to survive. We forget that he kept us through our last short paycheck. We forget that he made us healthy the last time we were sick. Worst of all, we forget that God took care of our greatest need, our own sinfulness.
Moses responds to our complaints as well. While he is not standing before us today, we hear him calling us out through our text for this morning. Why are you complaining? Don’t you remember how God has shown you grace so many times before? Why do you test the Lord? Don’t you trust that he will provide for all your needs?
We test God with our doubts. It is as if we are saying, “If you’re really there God, then you’ll make all my needs go away. If you’re really there God, then I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in right now.” This testing God should not be! Our complaints and our doubts come from one source and one alone: our damnable sinful nature. When we give into our doubts, we are really giving into unbelief.
God did not leave his chosen nation of Israel to die of thirst. He does not abandon us in our times of need either. Even though in our times of need we all too often doubt God, we also see that God still provides.
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” Moses recognized the need of the people, and he knew that something had to be done. He knew that the only source of the provisions would was the Lord. He turned to God in prayer. Moses placed his trust in the same Lord who had led them out of Egypt.
As God had done in the past he answered the prayer of his servant in need. “Walk on ahead of the people.” God wanted Moses to walk right in front of the nation of Israel as way to show that something was about to happen. He wanted his people to know that he was about to provide for their needs. “Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.” Moses was to do only what the Lord would tell him. God was about to show that he had not abandoned them in that waterless place, but that he would provide. He commanded Moses to take his staff; a staff that had become recognizable as a symbol of God’s providing power. Moses and the elders were not acting as a search party for water, but they were about to be witnesses to an awesome miracle worked from God’s powerful hand.
God then told Moses, “I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb.” Moses would see God and know that he was still with them. God’s command, “strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink,” may have seemed like a peculiar one. Normally you wouldn’t think to find water from a rock. Just as God had promised, when Moses struck the rock, God provided water for his people. What a powerful picture this was that God would be the one to provide for Israel’s needs!
The same is true for us today. It’s not likely that God will come to us in a dream tonight. He may not tell us to take our favorite walking stick and strike the largest rock we see. Nevertheless, he still promises to provide for our needs. He wants us to know that he is with us, providing for us. We have no reason to doubt God; instead we have every reason to put all our trust in him. The Holy Spirit, through the Psalmist, wrote: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” God knows our needs; he has promised that he will give us what we need in this life. We confess this every time we speak the Apostle’s creed. What did Luther write as the explanation to the first article? I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing all that I need to keep my body and life. Look back to those times that you were doubting that you would get what you need. God found a way to provide, didn’t he? He promises that he will not stop giving his providing hand to us.
But what if we don’t get those physical blessings we need? What if we can’t make that house payment or if we do starve? Has God stopped providing for us? No way! God’s providing hand isn’t limited to giving us what we need for our physical welfare. He provided so much more for us. He made sure that he also provided for our spiritual welfare. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:4, they “drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” Paul’s words remind us of what we already know. The very same God that stood before Moses on that rock at Horeb was Jesus. He is the one from whom you and I receive the satisfying water of the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins.
Christ came to earth to be our substitute. He knew, before you or I were born, that we would end up doubting God at various points in our life. He came to earth to make sure that God’s command to trust him throughout our life was obeyed. Not once was there a word of complaint or doubt that came from Christ’s mouth. After fasting for forty days in the wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus to provide bread for himself. And yet, Christ relied on God to provide for his physical good. He relied on his Father to keep him safe when he and his disciples faced the treacherous storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus trusted that God would give him the strength to suffer and die for us as he prayed in Gethsemane.
Christ’s obedience and complete trust in God has been given to us because of his work of salvation. He not only came to live the life of perfection that we never could. He came to pay the punishment that we deserve for our sins. He offered his life on the cross to be the atoning sacrifice for all of our sins, including our doubts that God would provide. We can be confident that we have the reward of forgiveness because he did not stay buried. No, Christ rose again and now sits at God’s right hand speaking to the Father on our behalf!
Isn’t it comforting to know that we have one who lived without doubt on our behalf? How much more comforting to know that the one without doubt is still with us and promises not to leave or forsake us! Just as he was with Israel in the wilderness, he promises to be with us the rest of our days. So, my dear brothers and sisters, remember next time you are wondering how your needs are going to be supplied. Remember God’s promise to provide for you and care for you. Remember that even if it seems that your earthly aren’t being provided for, your heavenly needs have been. Continue to place your trust in God. Continue to trust him in all things, and trust him completely.
The Israelites had found them between a rock and a hard place, literally. Despite all their doubting, God still provided for their needs. We may find ourselves in similar situations throughout our life. God’s promise to provide wasn’t limited to that great nation as they made their way to the Promised Land. He daily provides for our physical needs. He sent his Son to fulfill our spiritual needs, both now and forever. In our time of need, while we doubt God we also know that God provides for us!