The Lord is guiding Israel forward moving them ever closer to Mt Sinai. It’s been two months since they miraculously left Egypt, having been tested in the wilderness first at Marah with the bitter waters, and second, with their desire for food and the Lord’s provision of manna. Israel failed both tests, and in chapter 17 they will be tested a third time. Of course these were not tests for which God did not know the outcome, for He knows all (Ps 139:1-3), but they were tests for Israel to see whether they would trust the Lord’s promise and provision. But again they failed. Without any water whatsoever, Israel failed this time, not only by grumbling as they had before, but this time with quarrelling. As we see, Moses feared, “they are almost ready to stone me.” (v. 4); and “they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7)
The Lord answers His peoples’ complaints; just as He had in the two prior scenes, again the Lord is longsuffering towards Israel, and He graciously provides for His people. He tells Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your staff with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” (v. 5-6). The same staff that struck the Nile and brought death to the waters in the first plague in Egypt, would now bring forth fresh waters from a rock! The Lord called Moses forward to go before the people and strike the rock. He also told Moses He would stand before him; God’s presence is with them. Once again in our text we see that the Lord provides for His people; and by the same mighty hand that brought them out of Egypt, He will bring His people into the Promised Land to which Israel is moving ever closer.
From these three tests in the wilderness we learn that we, like Israel, are a sinful people. Like them, we need to trust in the Lord and in His ways. Like Israel, God does not always bring us directly to the place of promise. But, He does promise to bring us to our ultimate destination in His time. For all the promises of God in Him are yes and in Him Amen, to the glory of God. How gracious and precious is the Lord!