Exodus 17-18, Mark 6

Is the Lord Among Us or Not?

Exodus 17-18, Mark 6

They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in. – Mark 6:51-52 ESV

Fear and faith. Those two qualities are constantly doing battle in the lives of all those who follow God. There is nothing inherently wrong with fear. It is a natural human response to certain circumstances and conditions. But for the follower of God, fear is never to be a controlling factor in life. We should never allow it to determine our decisions or produce in us those two additional human responses of fight or flight. It’s not surprising that we see fear on display in the lives of the people of Israel as they were led by God from captivity in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. But we also see it equally evident in the lives of the disciples of Jesus as they traveled and ministered alongside Him. Both groups enjoyed the presence of God. The Israelites had the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day, guiding their path and providing for all their needs. The disciples had Jesus, who the angel said would be called Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). They had all been witness to God’s amazing power. They had been given more than enough evidence of His abiding presence. But in spite of all they had seen, they continued to doubt and fear. Their actions illustrated what they were thinking in their hearts. “Is the Lord among us or not?”

What does this passage reveal about God?

In chapter 17 of Exodus, we see the Israelites face their first real battle against an opposing enemy. God provides them with a miraculous victory and Moses names the place, Yahweh-nissi, which means, “the Lord is my banner.” Having found themselves under attack by the Amalekites, Moses sent Joshua to lead the army, while he stationed himself on a nearby hill overlooking the battle ground. Moses used the staff of God, the symbol of God’s power, to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel doing battle with the Amalekites. As long as he held the staff aloft, the people were victorious. But if he allowed his hands to drop due to weariness, the people fell back in defeat. It is evident from the passage that God was the source of the victory, but Moses had to do his part, and it required the help of Aaron and Hur. Moses used the staff of God to call down the power and favor of God on the people of God. The passage states that “Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword” (Exodus 17:13 ESV), but it is clear that this victory belonged to God. That’s why Moses ended up calling the site of their victory, Yahweh-nissi. God had gone before them and provided the victory. Once again, He had showed Himself faithful and powerful. Even prior to this great manifestation of His presence and power, God had graciously provided the people with water. They had come to Moses demanding, “Give us water to drink!” They had found themselves camped in a place where there was no water, and Moses is the one who had led them there. So they turned their anger on him. But God intervened again, demanding that Moses take the staff of God in his hand and strike the rock on which the physical manifestation of God’s presence came to rest. God said, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink” (Exodus 17:6 ESV). Moses struck the rock where God’s presence stood, and the result was life-giving water. It is interesting that Paul refers to this event saying, “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). God was their source of sustenance and their source of victory. He would provide all their needs. But they had to believe.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In spite of all that God had done for them, the people of Israel continued to doubt Him. Moses gave the place where God provided water from the rock two different names: Meribah and Massah. The first meant “quarreling” and the second meant “testing.” But Moses makes it clear that the source of their quarreling and testing was their questioning of God’s presence. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Their bickering and moaning about water was a direct attack on God’s presence and His ability to provide. He had given the manna and quail to meet their physical needs. He had turned bitter water into sweet water. But now, when they found themselves without a source of water, their fear got the best of them and they doubted God’s presence. Fear is not wrong, unless it is based on a doubt of God’s presence and power. If we fear because we doubt that God is or that He can, then we are exhibiting a lack of faith. The disciples did the same thing. Each of them, having been sent out by Jesus,  personally experienced the power of God as they healed the sick and cast out demons. They had watched as Jesus miraculously fed more than 10,000 of people with just five loaves and two fishes. But when they witnessed Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm, they feared. Mark writes, “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51-52 ESV). They still not recognize Jesus as God. Like the Israelites in Moses’ day, they were questioning, “Is the Lord among us or not?” They were mystified by Jesus. They were astounded by His miracles. They were hopeful that He was the Messiah. But they still did not recognize Him as Immanuel, God with us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

At the end of the day, this is all about recognizing God as God in my life. It is about placing my faith in His abiding power and presence. It is about not judging Him based on my circumstances. It is about not fearing, but rather placing my faith in who He is and what He has said He will do. There are far too many times when I ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?” I may not say it out loud, but I scream it with my actions and my reactions. When I fear, I am basically saying, “God is not here!” When I take matters into my own hands, I am showing my doubt that God can take care of my situation. When I refuse to see recognize His activity in my life simply because it does not come in the manner I would prefer, I am doubting His presence in my life. When a difficulty comes, I must not assume He is not there. When a trial comes, I must not reject it as out of God’s will for my life. The Israelites could have easily seen the presence of the Amalekites as outside of God’s will for them. But it was actually a God-given opportunity for them to see His power at work. The disciples could have easily seen their presence in a boat on a stormy sea as outside of God’s will for them, but it was the perfect spot for them to see God’s power on display. The Lord is always among us, but we must be willing to look for Him. We must never forget what He has done in the past or we will find ourselves struggling with faith when difficulties come in the future. Is the Lord among us or not? Yes. He is always there. Regardless of what the circumstances may say or my heart my feel.

Father, You are always with me. Forgive me when I doubt You or fail to see Your hand in and around my life. You are my banner. You are my source of strength and sustenance. I can rest in You. I can rely on You. Forgive me for the many times I have said, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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