Do you have access to the "water of life"?
Water features are common in public places – fountains, sprays, cascades and streams. They soften a public area which is often covered with paving slabs or harsh concrete surfaces and add some visual movement and a pleasant noise. Of course, the water is not for drinking and whilst you sometimes hear that revellers have climbed into the fountains, perhaps to celebrate something special or to cool off, in the main people look at such water but don’t get wet.
The water feature shown in the photo on the right, outside the Guildhall in Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire, England, is intended to be just like that, and you would not want to wander across that open space without looking carefully around. For the water shoots straight out of fittings set into the paving slabs and you wouldn’t want to be walking across that open area when the water was suddenly turned on!
It all depends!
Of course it would be different if you were desperately short of water. Imagine coming across such a feature then! You would be beside yourself with joy and would probably be only too happy to get thoroughly wet and totally refreshed. But you don’t tend to find that sort of plumbing and careful preparation unless someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make it happen. Otherwise it would be a miracle.
People can live for quite a long time without food: for weeks or even months in some cases. But you can only live for a few days without water, especially when temperatures are high. So imagine how the people felt when they followed Moses out of Egypt and he led them into an arid area where there appeared to be little food and no water. It wasn’t just that the parents had children to care for; they also had flocks and herds. For them it was a matter of survival and they soon made their feelings clear:
"The whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, 'Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger'" (Exodus 16:2–3).
Water of Life
This group of refugees, who were in fact a nation in waiting, were to live in difficult circumstances in the Sinai Peninsula for forty years and, as you can see, they were quick to complain when things were not up to their expectations. But, as so often happens in life, things got worse for them before they got better. Hunger was one thing, but thirst was another, and when water became scarce the position was critical:
"The people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, 'Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?'" (Exodus 17:3).
It wasn’t Moses who had rescued the people from slavery in Egypt: that was God’s doing and it was His rescue mission. He was their Redeemer and He had brought them out by a display of power that had brought the mighty nation of Egypt to its knees. Now He would show Israel that He could also sustain them in the wilderness and He did so by another powerful display. Moses was told to go to a nearby rock and to strike it with his rod, whereupon water gushed out.
The Lord said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod 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." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel (Exodus 17:5–6).
That water made the difference between life and death for the people and their livestock and it should have been a powerful demonstration to them, both of God’s care and of His ability to provide. Years later, the Psalmist looked back to those events and reflected upon God’s grace, contrasting the grumbling of a redeemed people with God’s kindness and abundance:
"They tested God in their heart by asking for the food of their fancy. Yes, they spoke against God: They said, 'Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, he struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people?'" (Psalm 78:18–20).
Whilst we might have been inclined to provide a meagre supply of water, so the people would have had to queue for hours to get enough for their families and their livestock: that was not God’s way. The water gushed out of the rock to such an extent that it formed streams and then a river (Psalm 105:41), ensuring there was enough water for everyone. When God provides for our needs, He is both generous and caring.
Once, when he was visiting Jerusalem at the time of a Jewish feast, Jesus shouted out this offer:
"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37–38).
It was as if Jesus was the rock in the wilderness and that now he was inviting a new nation in waiting – a new Israel – to come to him, where they could find refreshment and cleansing. And once they were filled, they too would be able to give refreshment and life-changing help to others, just as the rock had given life to a people who had no other hope. That invitation still stands for everyone who comes to Jesus for he is indeed the life-giver and the provider of all that we will ever need.