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Exodus 17:1-7


The location was Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’d arrived to teach a class to pastors, but God had a lesson for me, a lesson in trust and God’s power in response to prayer. Throughout the week, I stayed with missionaries Gavin and Jill Fothergill and their two young children, Macy and Connor. Because the seasonal rains had not come, they carefully rationed their water, choosing daily either to wash their dishes or to take a bucket bath. The slow trickle from the faucet on the back wall of their property was their only water source, and even that flowed only begrudgingly in the middle of the night. Gavin rose from sleep to capture in a plastic bucket as much water as he could before the faucet quit again. Together, the family and I prayed for rain in earnest, and – remembering that “general prayers get general answers but specific prayers get specific answers” – we asked God not only that the rains would come but that they would arrive by Saturday. Back in Johannesburg, I checked my social media on Sunday to find a short video of Macy and Connor dancing in the rain the day before, smiles on their face, rejoicing: “God answered our prayer!”


Whether in drought-stricken parts of Africa today or the wilderness where the children of Israel ambled long ago, water is life. In Exodus 17:1-7, the people of God wandered in a seemingly waterless desert, thirsty and on the brink of exhaustion. But what had brought them to this desperate point? Exodus 1-13 is the well-known story of the children of Israel’s flight from Egypt. God had heard the suffering of his people and he sent Moses to rescue them. Ten plagues later, Pharaoh finally relented and released the Hebrew slaves, only to later chase them down with horses and chariots when he regretted his decision. Exodus 14 recounts the awe-inspiring episode where Yahweh parted the Red Sea, allowing his people to pass through on dry ground. When Pharaoh’s riders pursued them, God commanded Moses to close up the sea again. Every  Egyptian pursuer drowned that day. Exodus 15 records the jubilant victory songs of Moses and his sister, Miriam. At the end of the chapter, God turned bitter water in Marah into something sweet and drinkable after Moses threw a tree into water. Then in Exodus 16, the people ate manna and quail, a miraculous provision from the hand of a loving LORD.


If the freed Hebrew slaves were to choose an anthem from a 20th century pop singer, it would be Janet Jackson’s