Based on a true story, The story, screen play and eventually the movie called “The Fifth Quarter” unfolds an emotional tale of one family’s journey through unimaginable grief. In February, 2006, a young man named Luke accepted a ride home from a fellow student following his high-school team practice. Driving recklessly over the intense objections of his friends, the teen driver lost control of the car at nearly 90 miles-per-hour, hurling off a tiny back road and landing in an embankment far below. Luke suffered instant and irreparable brain damage, and died two days later in the local hospital – just shy of his sixteenth birthday. His broken family struggled with facing their loss. Luke’s brother, Jon was a football player at Wake Forest University and considered quitting his sports career. Instead, he returned home and worked with a personal trainer to ramp up his performance on the field, just as his brother would have wanted. His newfound dedication not only affected his abilities, but encouraged his team, as well. Jon gained approval from his coach to trade his jersey for number five, the one his brother wore. In the 4th quarter of each game, he signaled the number five with an outstretched hand to his family in the stands. Soon the entire team embraces the signal and “the 5th quarter” is born. Wake Forest University went on to one of their best seasons ever. It is an inspirational tale.
That’s the kind of story I love to watch – a “feel good” fest. I don’t want the story where pain lingers and good is hard to find. Like most Americans, I want resolution in one and a half hours or less – or the movie wasn’t worth the film it was made on. I want happiness to come from sorrow. I can deal with the “grave scene” if the end is about the beautiful flowers that grow on it. I am structured for comfort and convenience. That is one of the reasons I have learned through my culture an un-Biblical way of judging experiences and challenges.
For the believer, his life is about the journey from the world to the land of Promise that awaits him at life’s end. The journey has some cool evenings and comfortable days, but also a significant number of painfully hot times of testing and trouble. Many believers get the notion that if God is in it, things will be easy. Conversely, if things are tough, God is either negligent or has left the scene. It never occurs to us that our comfort is not God’s main concern – our growth is!
Key Principle: We cannot judge God’s blessing by our comfort.
For some context to this lesson in their lives, we need to recall that this is a FIFTH LESSON in a series that God was teaching Moses and the people, as God formed a nation from a rabble. The first four were:
- The Obedience Test (15:22-27): They were brought to bitter water when they needed to drink. This was a test in “doing what was hard to understand, while trusting the results to God. Obedience is more important than obstacles. God gives us what we NEED, not what we WANT.
- The Goal Test: (16:1-3; 8-12): They were tested on the real problem they had in their complaints. They lived with their “eye on Canaan, but heart in Egypt. The children of Israel thought their number one issue was Moses’ leadership, but they had no self-awareness of the bigger obstacle – their departure from God. God wants our hearts tuned to following Him – and our complaints will evaporate.
- The Consistency Test (16:4) They were given instructions concerning the manna collection. The daily GRIND of serving another’s goal goes against our nature. Those who master this are remembered as great by God. God doesn’t take care of our part without us, that isn’t the deal. Nor can we expect others to do our part. We must act when prompted by God or face lack and the withdrawal of His blessing.
- The Limitation Test (16:16-36) They were given limits on the food they collected. This test can be summarized as the “learning to set limits” test. This is a hard one for a culture trained in HAVE IT YOUR WAY thinking. A simple request for food gets translated into gluttony in our culture. Many Christians do to food what drunks do to alcohol. The difference is the believer doesn’t feel guilty or unjustified at all. Our culture is all about self-indulgence – and God was curbing theirs.
Now as we look at the fifth test, note carefully the details of this short but dramatic story…
Exodus 17:1 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” 5 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at 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. 7 He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?”
The Problem (17:1)
Life has its barren places. For the children of Israel, life in the wilderness proved to be theirs. This was the second shot at “lessons on water supply” in a few weeks! Exodus 17:1 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.
- The people were moving farther into the harsh lands with no ability to turn back (17:1). Many of God’s people left Egypt reluctantly. Like Lot’s wife, they needed to be delivered but they wanted to continue to enjoy the comforts of compromise. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8). This was a time of full commitment – for soon they would be past the point of no return. Someone has said: “The problem with skydiving is that you can’t change your mind after you step off the plane – it is about total commitment.”
A blind man was describing his favorite sport – parachuting. When asked how this was accomplished, he said that things were all done for him: “I am placed in the door and told when to jump. My hand is placed on my release ring for me, and out I go.” “But how do you know when you are going to land?” he was asked. “I have a very keen sense of smell and I can smell the trees and grass when I am 300 feet from the ground” he answered. “But how do you know when to lift your legs for the final arrival on the ground?” he was again asked. He quickly answered “Oh, that’s easy, I attch a rock to a rope, and when we come to the ground the rock hits first and the rope goes slack”. Though you may not be able to see exactly what God is doing but He will provide subtle signs.
- God led them to that difficult and barren place. Now was the time to completely trust God.
- The place didn’t seem to have what they felt the needed – it seemed WRONG. The human body is 2/3 water. – By the time you are 70-years-old, you will have required 1½ million gallons of water. – Studies show that increasing water consumption can decrease fat deposits. Water is a natural appetite suppressant. Australian pain expert Dr. Michael Farrell study claims Going without a drink can make you more sensitive to pain. If you loose 2% of your body’s water supply, your energy will decrease by 20%. A 10% decrease in water, you will be unable to walk, and a 20% decrease – you’re dead. I think it is interesting that the need for water began their journey – Ex. 17:1-7. The need for water ends their journey – Num 20:1-13. Now was the time to recognize that all they needed to focus on was following God – and let Him provide for them.
THE PROBLEM WASN’T WATER — IT WAS TRUST!
The Reactions: (17:2-4)
Exodus records the reactions of the people – a perfect model for all the WRONG responses. Exodus 17: 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.”
- Act as though there is a conspiracy by the other people in your life (17:2a). Skip the hints of God and focus on others. If you aren’t comfortable, someone must be at fault. After all, you are supposed to be comfortable – aren’t you. This comes from the misshapen notion that I deserve better than a hard life.
- Blame people for what God is doing, but don’t talk to Him about it! They weren’t even on speaking terms with God. Instead, they complained to Moses about God. When you have been talking to God you don’t need to be talking about God.
- Ascribe motives to people that uncover why they are causing the discomfort in your life. After all, by now you should be able to read their hearts and flawlessly judge their motives! (17:3a).
An old rather crotchety Christian man and his dear believing wife were suddenly killed in an auto accident and both were taken to Heaven. As they began to look all around at their setting for eternity, the sweet wife was amazed at the beauty, the peace and the contentment she felt and commented over and over about what a nice place Heaven was and how fortunate she felt to be there. The husband turned to his wife and sneered, “If it weren’t for you and your oat bran muffins & health food, we’d have been here 15 years ago.”
- Forget any blessing God may have given you. (When did slaves get livestock anyway? 17:3b). It is hard to complain about the livestock you didn’t even have until God gave it to you… or is it? If they took the time to think about it, so far God had provided:
- An opening in the heart of Pharaoh.
- An unexpected showering of gifts on them by their former masters.
- A cloud and fire navigation system.
- An escape corridor through the sea.
- Water wells at Marah and Elim.
- “Frosted Mini Wheats” in the desert.
- Quail roasters.
- Push leaders to the edge, become threatening and nasty. (17:4) After all, if you don’t stand up for yourself, who will? The person who followed God next to you is obviously less competent than they should be, even though you followed the same God they did. Surely they get special perks for being in charge that you don’t get, so make sure you blame them. If they can’t stand the heat, they shouldn’t be in the kitchen. After all, the perks of leading God’s people should more than replace the inconvenience of getting threatened with stoning – shouldn’t they?
By the way, many leaders mishandle the situation as well: In a short article called “Sinking Ship”, Steve Templeton wrote: Left on a sinking ship were the captain and three sailors. The captain spoke first. “Men, this business about a captain going down with his ship is nonsense. There’s a three-man life raft on board and I’m going to be on it. To see who will come with me, I will ask you each one question. The one who can’t answer will stay behind. Here’s the first question: ‘What unsinkable ship went down when it hit an iceberg?’ The first sailor answered, “The Titanic, sir.” “On to the next question: How many people perished?” The second sailor said, “One thousand five hundred and seventeen, sir.” “Now for the third question,” and the captain turned to sailor number three. “What were their names?”
God’s Answer: (17:5-7)
The people took God’s testing and turned it upside down – testing God! Finally God stepped in – but it wasn’t until someone asked Him! God’s response was a six part model for times of trouble. Exodus 17: 5 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at 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. 7 He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?”
1. Get out in front of the people – reset the leadership place of Moses (17:5). Without leadership, the mass would quickly become a panicked mob. God knew that Moses would need to re-establish the place of leadership or nothing else could happen.
2. Get others to see how God works and what He can do (17:5b). God used the time to train people, because that was the point of the discomfort to begin with. The time of discomfort was about trust, obedience and confidence in Him. As long as we believe we can build a comfortable life that is sufficient for the wilderness trip, we will not trust God. Our God will be our bellies. God doesn’t have your HEART until He has your WILL, and what FULFILLS you!
Paul comments on the significance of the water which they drank in 1 Corinthians 10:4 “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” The issue was control and fulfillment. And it still is!
3. Remember to take the gift God has given you, that He has used in the past. For Moses it was a stick. The stick that came from Moses’ shepherding days. Remember when God said so long ago, “What is that in your hands?”
What was significant about this stick was: It was what Moses had. IUt is what God has used in his life. God did not ask Moses what he didn’t have. We could all make a long list if what we don’t have. (*We don’t have enough money; *We don’t have a good education; *We don’t have a high social standing) The list can go on and on.. but God never directs our attention to what we don’t have, but to what we do have even though it seems small. God gave us everything we needed to do the job! Even though what we have seems, small, weak, insignificant, This is on purpose, because God has designed it so that what we have must be connected to him to work. The difference is the power of God. It is not your ability, your knowledge, your talent, or the size of your gift or the beauty of your gift that matters. All that matters is: How much of God is in your stick. Your stick represents that which you have that you surrender to God. When God gets in it, it’s enough! When God gets in it – it will surprise you (Moses fled from before his rod when it turned into a serpent). The empowering is the supernatural power of God operating through the natural to produce results that are humanly impossible. When God gets in a thing it is not the same. When God gets in a thing it can scare some people. Just like Moses who had never seen his rod do anything like that before. God got in a rock and caused a river to flow out of it that quenched the thirst of the nation of Israelites. Got got in a donkey and caused it to speak and rebuke a rebellious prophet. The rod could only do what the natural human power of Moses enables it to do – until the power of God got in it. One of the greatest problems we have as Believers is we have a tendency to underestimate what we have – because when yielded – God is in what we have! (adapted from Sermon Central illustrations).
4. Follow God to the place He will take you, promptly when He leads you. When you are talking to Him about each step, it is much easier than it sounds. (17:6). God is leading you when you are following Him. He sees you as one of great value, for He has written into your life. Others may not see you the way He does, but His view is the right view – the Eternal view. A story is told of a man who loved old books. He met an acquaintance who had just thrown away a Bible that had been stored in the attic of his ancestral home for generations. “I couldn’t read it,” the friend explained. “Somebody named Guten-something had printed it.” “Not Gutenberg!” the book lover exclaimed in horror. “That Bible was one of the first books ever printed. Why, a copy just sold for over two million dollars!” His friend was unimpressed. “Mine wouldn’t have brought a dollar. Some fellow named Martin Luther had scribbled all over it in German.” Do you realize your value to God? You may think it’s not worth much but it has Jehovah’s writing printed on it.
5. Obey God, no matter whether you get it or not. Don’t just follow the directions that appear to work out. That is a disaster. Follow all the things God tells you to do! Moses knew what to do, but God led him where he was to do it! Remember, Moses has been in this desert before, the people had not!
This selection is taken from records of the British governor of the Sinai region of the 1930’s, Major C.S. Jarvis – today a part of the “Palestine Exploration Fund” records:
“Several men of the Sinai Camel Corps had halted in a dry wadi and were in the process of digging about in the rough sand that had accumulated at the foot of a rock face. They were trying to get at the water that was trickling slowly out of the limestone rock. The men were taking their time about it and Besh Shawish – the color sergeant – said, “Here, give it to me”. He took the spade of one of the men and began digging furiously in the manners of NCO’s the world over who want to show their men how to do things but have no intention of keeping it up for more than a couple of minutes. One of his violent blows hit the rock by mistake. The smooth hard crust which always forms the weathered limestone split open and fell away. The soft-stone underneath was thereby exposed and out of its apertures shot a powerful stream of water. The Sudanese, who are well up in the activities of the prophets but do not treat them with a vast amount of respect, overwhelmed their sergeant with cries of ‘Look at him! Prophet Moses’!”
6. Mark the spot and recognize the lesson, because you will need to hear it again. Not only that, but other believers coming behind you will need to learn the lesson as well! (17:7).
Reggie Jackson is well known for having played baseball for the Oakland A’s and the World Champion New York Yankees. Earlier in Jackson’s career, he played briefly for the Baltimore Orioles. O’s Manager Earl Weaver had a strict rule he expected his team to follow: He wouldn’t allow a player to try to steal a base without first receiving the go-ahead sign from him. Of course, this was an affront to a temperamental individual like Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. In one decisive game Reggie did not receive the steal sign from Weaver, but he took off for second base regardless. The future Hall of Famer slid in, barely beating the tag. As he brushed himself off, he smiled and glared at Earl Weaver in the dugout, proud of his accomplishment. After the game was over, Weaver pulled Jackson aside, “Reggie, I want you to know why I didn’t give you the steal sign. Our best power hitter, next to you, is Lee May. May was at the plate when you were on first base. When you stole second, that left first base open. So our opponents intentionally walked him. The next batter hasn’t experienced much success against the opposing pitcher. That meant I had to put in a pinch hitter. This left me with insufficient bench strength should the game go into extra innings, which it did, and I think that is why we lost.” Reggie Jackson wanted to steal a base; Earl Weaver wanted to win a ball game. As God’s people we are sometimes going to miss the Big picture.
Before you finish this, let me ask you some simple questions…. What could God do through you is He has all of you (complete surrender)? What could He do through my life if I didn’t only follow when I felt it made sense to me? What could He do through my life if I recognized the point of life was HIS GLORY and not MY COMFORT? The lesson is simple: You cannot judge God’s blessing by your comfort.