The Israelites were travelling from place to place as the Lord commanded, and that included camping at Rephidim, where there was no water to drink. No wonder the people complained.
The name Rephidim is important. It means resting place and is rooted in the Hebrew word for healing. Resting and healing can come about even in barren places. Perhaps we might even say that such ‘places’ can be significant moments in our journey with the Lord our God.
The Lord provides water from the rock in response to the people’s grumbling in the desert. The nature of their grumbling was “Is the Lord among us or not?”
There comes at least one time in every person’s life when that question is asked. Maybe we even ask ourselves that question often. Moses puts it down to the people testing the Lord, something they later hear in the Law that they shouldn’t do.
But in this resting place, this Rephidim, we hear echoes of the ancient invitation from the Lord, “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46), “I am the God who heals you” (Exodus 15).
The people needed Moses to cry out to the Lord on their behalf. Again Moses is the mediator with staff in his hand. It’s not just his voice, his action matters too. He actively has to strike the rock before the Lord causes the water to flow from it.
In the New Covenant, we have Jesus, the Risen Son of God, the Lord, who is always interceding for us. By living in his people, he is leading them and gathering all people to the Promised Land of the Kingdom of Heaven. Like Moses we can cry out to him with our voice. And as the Lord inspired Moses so he will inspire us to action, in love of our neighbour.
The chief priests and the elders of the people were mad at Jesus for clearing the Temple and declaring it as a house of prayer. Jesus had deliberately quoted words spoken through the prophet Isaiah about the Temple being a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56.7). The religion of the Temple was making it impossible for all nations to be included. Jesus was throwing out that false religion and making room for true faith.
When challenged as to where the authority to do what he was doing came from, Jesus doesn’t try to defend his divinely appointed authority. Instead he reflects their question back to them. The religious leaders hadn’t accepted John’s divinely appointed authority so they were unlikely to see it in Jesus.
In the parable of the two sons, the chief priests and elders are likened to the first son, who says the right thing but whose actions do not live up to his words. They are those spoken of by the prophet as,
“these people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).
Or like white washed tombs, they look good on the outside but inside they are full of death and decay,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mathew 23:27).
Actions can speak louder than words. This doesn’t mean one should never speak but it matters that our actions live up to our words.
Jesus makes it clear in the parable that the second son is much better off than the first. He was the one who DID what his father asked despite saying he wouldn’t do so.
Jesus was directly likening these religious leaders to the first son, who said the right thing but didn’t carry it through with his actions. He was all talk and no action. He was a hypocrite. On the contrary, the tax collectors and prostitutes were like the second son. The didn’t say the right thing but then later they went and did the right thing. They turned back onto the right path. The necessary action that the tax collectors and the prostitutes had demonstrated was repentance. They had begun to turn back to God and believe in him because of the message that Jesus had brought. And the leaders of Israel should have DONE that too, when they saw John the Baptist pointing to and preparing the way for the Messiah who was now standing in their midst. Because they had refused to see God’s hand in John and now in Jesus, they were in a much worse condition than the tax collectors and prostitutes they so despised.
“John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him” (32).
We get to the way of righteousness via the road of repentance. We who have come to faith and who are coming to faith in Christ are like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who have sinned but who have found a way for that sin to be forgiven, the slate to be wiped clean, to embark on a fresh start and begin again. Jesus leads us there.
Once we’ve got ourselves on the right road, with Jesus leading us, then we’ve begun to taste the flow of abundant life and we know where we’re headed. We know that distractions might cause a delay but they won’t stop us from reaching the destination the Lord has planned for us. We know that his peace, power and presence will be with us all the way and that he will show us always the right actions to take so that we stay on the right road and have the courage stop to pick up fellow travellers on the way, even those who are not like us but who will become our brothers and sisters. This is our only hope of living in a manner that sees our actions living up to our words because Christ the living Word, has called us to this new life of word AND action.
Lead us on Lord Jesus
Turn us back when we stray
Help us rest in your presence
And make friends on the Way.
In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.