Learning Patience – Exodus 17.1-7
I have a joke for us today. Are you ready to participate? Knock. Knock. Who’s there? Impatient cow. Impatient cow… MOO …who?
Impatience! What are some things that make you impatient? Impatient people make me impatient. I dare say we don’t need a dictionary to know what it’s like to be around impatient people. Am I right? So what is the opposite of impatience?
Patience! The New Oxford American Dictionary says that patience means the ability to tolerate delays, troubles, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Patience is the ability to get through something without becoming angry or complaining.
The Bible talks often about right living, and a good place for us to start looking for a biblical definition of patience is in Galatians. In Galatians 5.22-23 we read that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and God lives inside of us. When God lives inside of us, then we can become a patient person. This does not mean that we will be patient all the time! But as we come to know God more and more, we can possess his good character and nature inside of us! Patience becomes part of who we are. With the Spirit living inside of us God gives us the power to be patient!
Each day we will face situations that test our patience. Being tested can come in small packages like someone taking their time in traffic when we are in a hurry. Or we can be tested in big ways like waiting on God to heal a family member of an illness. These things test our mettle, our strength of character, and our courage.
When we struggle to be patient with others, we need to remember God’s patience toward us. As sinners we all have offended God. God has every right to be angry with us, but instead He has shown us mercy by forgiving us unconditionally.
When you become impatient with others, think of all the things you have done against God. Think of how God could have punished you, but instead in His patience He has poured out His mercy and love. Every day we wrong God, and every day He remains patient with us. So, may that truth sink deep into your heart and motivate you to be patient with others!
In our text today Moses is confronted with some pretty impatient people… these impatient people were his people …the very people he was sent to shepherd. The text reads, “So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me!’” (Exodus 17.4) And, the language Moses used was that of a man of prayer. Moses cried out to the Lord. Moses had become a man of prayer as he led the people from Egypt to meet with God on his holy mountain. Moses had realized the significance of his own relationship with God in order for him to survive against the threats of others, and the conflict with people of power.
Moses highlights for us in this text the power of personal prayer. Moses examples for us how prayer is a relationship between God and his people that develops over time and through life experiences. God calls his people to respond. Moses’ decision to go over and investigate the burning bush was his initial response to God’s invitation. God challenged Moses to respond to the call on his life to become a leader. Initially, Moses was willing to respond and follow God, but then lapsed into excuses. In fact Moses offered several excuses as to why he should not be the leader of the emerging nation of Israel. Moses waivered. Moses worried and fretted. Moses knew his weaknesses. Moses understood his inadequacies. Moses assessed the situation, and evaluated that God’s purpose and plan for him won’t work out. Moses decided God was wrong.
But God faithfully affirms Moses. God reassures Moses that although Moses can’t see the big picture, God does. God worked with Moses through many signs and wonders so that Moses would develop into the leader he was called to become. God was patient with Moses.
Moses is a model for us as a maturing relationship with God (Exodus 7.6, 10, 20). Moses developed his relationship with God through prayer. Moses and Aaron did just what the Lord commanded. Moses’ relationship with God became secure. He began to operate in faithful obedience. The Hebrew people began to honor Moses as a leader. In the beginning Moses’ relationship was “I can’t” and it progresses to “I can and I will.”
Moses’ relationship with God becomes a joint adventure. God responded to Moses’ requests. God and Moses come together in a dynamic relationship where needs are met, and people lives are touched and saved from troubles. Moses is given more authority to lead as Moses’ relationship with God deepens in prayer.
Because of Moses prayer life, Moses grows in his authority and power to stand between God’s judgment and the people of his wrath. Because Moses was willing to lay down his rights and personal preferences, he was then able to see miracles, signs, and wonders. Whenever someone is devoted to God, the results are nothing less than awe-inspiring.
Moses laid down his life for his people, and as a result he had a unique experience with God. There’s no doubt about it. Moses struggled in his relationship with God, and with his people. Moses was quick to point out 5 different reasons why God should choose someone else for the task of leadership. What would have happened if Moses had not persevered through his personal doubts about himself and the circumstances of his calling?
God has placed Moses in command of all Israel. God expected Moses to lead, to take the initiative, and to companion the people in the time of their distress. Moses learns to completely rely on God’s presence as his witness and guide. Moses spent so much time with God that his appearance changed to reflect God’s glory. The more time Moses spent with God, the more he began to look like him, speak like, and act like him.
God required from Moses personal transformation before he was able to offer transforming grace to the community of Israel. Through Moses, God invited the people to come near to him. God desired to hear from his people. God answered their complaints with more than just provisions. God guided them in how to manage their lives. God instructed them in how to meet their immediate needs, day-by-day. And, God invited them to Sabbath rest one day a week – a day set apart to rest and remember God. And, after the people learned these lessons, they continued their journey.
As the people experienced their daily fill of manna – quail and bread, they began to grumble about the water supply. God had moved them away from an oasis of 12 fresh springs of water. And, their next campsite was without a visible water source. It didn’t take long for the people argue with Moses. And, the people tested God. They complained against Moses. The people were so angry that they were about to stone Moses.
It started out as an uneasy situation. The leader was following God, and God lead them to a dry place. Perhaps the people believed it was Moses’ fault that the children and animals were dying of thirst. Or perhaps they thought God had sadistic motives. The people did not want to come under a leader who guided them along a path of troubles and hardships. The people argued with their leader with little results, and so they tested God Himself. They complained to God about Moses, and the people became so upset they wanted to kill their leader by stoning him. At this point in the story, Moses’ character is enriched as he calls out to God for help. Moses has come face to face with death, and God guides him out of harms way step-by-step. As Moses made his way to the rock where God had positioned himself, Moses was walking out his own faith and belief in God. As the leader exampled confidence in his God the people experience God as their provider.
Moses job was to lead the people into a proper worship relationship with their God. This relationship building process was initiated by God alone, and was to be carried forth by Moses. God sought a relationship with all the people, first with Moses their leader. And, through Moses God sought to create a supernatural awareness of God in the midst of troubling life experiences. Repeatedly Moses guides the people from crisis to solution …from slavery to freedom …from a lack of awareness of God’s presence to the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night …from a lack of refreshing water and food to provisions that sustain …from a lack of daily discipline to calendar-keeping …from living within a culture to creating their own culture. Moses had guided the people from where they were in captivity to seeking a relationship with God. Moses’ work was all about relationship building process between God and his people.
Henry Blackaby offers us insight into this on-going relationship that God has with his people. He has a great model that works well in our text today. Blackaby offers seven realities of experiencing God.
- God is working around us.
- God desires to have an on-going love relationship with us.
- God invites his people to participate in that relationship.
- God draws us into a relationship by the work of his Holy Spirit.
- God’s invitation always comes with a crisis of belief.
- A relationship with God requires major adjustments in your life.
- God can be known personally through experiences of him.
We can apply these seven realities to our story today.
First, God is at work all around the Israelites. In the Book of Exodus we can witness God’s miraculous work time and time again. And, in our text we find Israel in yet another dire strait, and this time they are without water. Again. This is the second time they have been confronted with the lack of water in the Desert of Sin. The first time they were without water God provided a tree that sweetened the bitter waters. God had directed the people’s journey, step by step. They had journeyed according to the command of God being continually led by the cloud and the fire.
Along the journey troubles have surfaced and the mettle of the people has been tested. There strength of character and temperament is being transformed by the challenges of desert living. And, part of the transformation process is to questions their beliefs and trust in God. Part of that process is questioning and contending with God’s wisdom and his guidance. And, when our temperament and character are tested, we have to remember that God is with us to change our hearts to become like his.
Second, God desires to have an on-going love relationship with Israel. God’s heart is for his people. And in our story Israel struggled with her on-going relationship with God. Israel became discontent when troubles surfaced. Their physical thirst for water was aggravated by their emotional distress. They felt inconvenienced by their want, and their passion sharpened their appetites. They became violent and impatient. Their outrage became so strong that the possibility of stoning their leader became a probability. They were no longer able to keep their emotions in control.
The people quarreled with their leader Moses. They felt that it was better to be in a place of enslaved familiarity rather than change their character to become like God. They had become a thankless people. They had forgotten all the good works that God had done. Their passions were ungoverned and unchecked. Their self-centeredness created a distain for their leader, Moses.
The people began to question whether God was with them or not. They questioned what kind of authority God held. Was God only a temporal agent, a God who was only interested shaping key events in history, or was God going to be there with them in an on-going relationship? The people disbelieved God, even after all the plagues and miracles.
As a leader Moses took the route of great humility. When the people provoke him, Moses does not respond in kind with a similar attitude. Instead Moses rebukes their attitude, and calls out to God for an answer. And, God responds promptly. In the face of a near-death situation Moses looks to his God for an answer to his problem – a enraged people. Moses had developed extraordinary meekness otherwise the people’s behavior would have stirred rage inside of him. Moses teaches us that it is not wise to return anger for anger. When people unjustly quarrel with us, it will be a great relief to us to go to God in prayer.
So God gave them water from a rock. When the people of Israel were distraught from lack of provision, God made a way. God himself stood on the rock were the water would follow freely to quench their thirst. It was in the shadow of God’s presence that the people found relief. The fact that God made water come from a rock stands in contrast to the stones held by God’s people to kill Moses. One minute the people are armed with stones and murder in their hearts, and the next they are lapping up water from a rock.
Third, God invites his people to participate in that relationship. God invited the Israelites step-by-step to join him where he is – in his holiness. God was taking the people on a journey to discover how to worship him and to live rightly. Along the way the Israelites wrestled with God’s plan, and they resisted. The plan was too hard, but the Israelites pursued and by the end of the Book of Exodus the people have created their first Tabernacle of Worship. The Tabernacle was where God’s presence of fire and cloud would hover over the ark of the covenant. And, it was at the Tabernacle that the sacrifices would be offered for the sins of the people. With the last paragraphs of the Book of Exodus, the people had successfully created a culture of worship to the One True God, Yahweh.
Forth, God draws us into this relationship through the working of his Holy Spirit. And, for the Israelites the presence of God’s spirit was always in front of them guiding them in the form of the cloud and the fire for sure. In our story today the Holy Spirit stands upon the rock in front of Moses highlighting the very source of the gift of water beneath the surface. Through this experience God illustrates that he knows what is going on beneath the surface of the earth, and he knows the heart of the people. The Israelites struggled to see the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, all the people could see were the hardships they faced. But God kept guiding them to see beyond their immediate situation, and see the Mountain of God that lay before them.
Fifth, God’s invitation always comes with a crisis of belief. The Israelites experienced one crisis of belief after another. They were so far away from a right relationship with God that believing and trusting God was a huge hurdle for them. But with each crisis God was working on each individual heart. When we face a crisis of belief, sometimes the crisis can be wrapped up with a group of people and their reactions. Yet, God is seeking each heart individually to come to him and worship him.
Sixth, a relationship with God requires major adjustments in the Israelites lives. By the end of the Book of Exodus the Israelites emerge as a new culture. They establish the Tabernacle as the place for God’s presence to rest. They establish the Law of the 10 Commandments. They establish regulations for worship. And, the foundation of an emerging religious community was established with the course of a year or two.
Last, God can be known personally through experiences of him. God invites us on a deepening personal journey with him. God invites us to see his working all around us. God desires to express his love toward us, and receive our love toward him. God invites us to participate in a love relationship. God desires to fill us anew with this Holy Spirit. God invites to come to him in our crisis of belief. When our character and personality are tested, God invites us to wrestle with our selves. God is chasing after the transformation of your heart. God requires that you and I make major adjustments to our lives to line up with who God is.
What will you do this week to adjust to where God is calling you?
If God required this much from the people of Israel, how much more he expects of those who follow him today. When you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior that was only the beginning of the journey of transformation within your heart. God invites each of us to experience him day-by-day through Jesus and his already-not-yet Kingdom inside of us. Today, we are the sanctuary of God’s presence. No longer do we need the Tabernacle to worship God as Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. So how much more are we called to honor God with our bodies.
Press on, dear friends, into all that God has for us in the Kingdom. Run the race set before you. Make this week different from the last one by spending more time with God in prayer and exercising patience like Moses exampled for us in this story today.