“Everything you need has been purchased by the blood of Jesus . . . for your enjoyment now, in the midst of the wilderness, and your enjoyment forever.” –– John Piper
In his keynote message at TGCW22, John Piper describes four scenes in the wilderness of Exodus 17 that are brimming with implications for our own lives:
1. God brought his people to a waterless place in the wilderness on purpose. God commands the movement of our lives—we don’t go into the wilderness by accident.
2. The Israelites didn’t trust God’s saving purposes but instead despised God. God’s patience will run out with those who despise instead of trust him.
3. God answers the people with water and, more importantly, with his life-giving presence. What people need more than water is God’s presence, even today.
4. Moses memorializes the failure of the Israelites. God intends for this failure to be seen in light of the gift—God himself. “In your wilderness,” Piper says, “don’t be like them. Do not harden your hearts. Trust him.”
Piper closes by referencing how God passed over the sins of the people in the Old Testament by punishing those sins through the cross of Christ 1,400 years later. Piper says, “Every undeserved blessing you will ever taste now and forever is owing to the death of Jesus.”
Though we may not understand all the reasons why God chooses to bring us into the wilderness, we can trust his character, his saving power, and his good purposes. In the wilderness, may we thirst for more than water—finding all we need in Jesus.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
John Piper: I invite you to turn to Exodus chapter 17, verses one through seven. Exodus 17. It is important that you see this text with me and not just hear it. So get your phone or your print Bible the people of Israel had been enslaved for hundreds of years in Egypt. The time for their deliverance had come, God had sent Moses after 10 plagues and a mighty deliverance. At the Red Sea, the people have entered the wilderness. They in camp at Mara. They moved from Mora to Elam, they moved from Elam to Gulf cod they moved from daska to allouche. And from allouche to ref Adeem, can read those stages in numbers 33 And we meet them in refuge Diem. And according to the previous chapter 16 of Exodus, they entered this region, only six weeks after the dividing of the Red Sea. It’s as though everybody in this room saw God divide the Red Sea on May 1 2022. This generation in Israel had seen some of the greatest miracles in the history of the world. We meet them in chapter 17 Verse, one through seven at riff iddyn. And the drama unfolds in the seven verses in four scenes. I’m gonna read them one at a time. Every one of them is brimming with implications for your life. pause after each scene, and state the main point as I see it. Scene one, verse one, Exodus 17. And all the all the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness have seen a pause there clarification that looks like sin in English Sian, it’s not it’s a transliteration of the Hebrew scene. It has nothing to do with sin. So don’t think wilderness of sinning it’s not. It’s a name like Indiana. All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of seen by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord and encamped at ref Nadeem. But there was no water for the people to drink. Main point of scene one God led you His people to a campsite with no water. Now you can see this in the middle of verse one. They moved by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and encamped at redeem. There have been two other stages. Don’t ska and allouche. He doesn’t mention them. He’s got one goal in mind, get them to ref a gene. And ref iddyn has one significance, no water. That’s where you go. That’s where you camp. That’s where I take you. God is commanding these movements, not Moses. And he gets them to redeem exactly where he wants them. If you’re a Christian, that’s your life. God works all things according to the counsel of his will. Ephesians 111 If God wills we will live and do this or that. James 115 for 15 The Lord gives in the Lord takes away Blessed be the name of the Lord Jobe 121. Our God is in the heavens, and he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115 verse three, hundreds of you Hundreds of you came to this conference in camped at remedy and there is no water. As far as you can see, there’s wilderness in every direction. And from a human standpoint, your circumstances are going to end badly. There is no human way out. And this tech says you are not there by accident. Your ways are ordered by the Lord proverbs 20, verse 24. One of the purposes of the seven verses, and this sermon is to help you see and feel. That’s good news. Scene one, God has led his people to a campsite with no water, scene two, verses two and three. Therefore, the people quarreled with Moses and said, Give us water to drink. And Moses said to them, Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord? But the people thirsted there for water. The people grumbled against Moses and said, Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? Main point of scene to God’s people did not trust that God’s providence is good. But accused Moses and God of harmful purposes. Verse to the people take issue with Moses. Whatever is happening here, it’s not happening fast enough. They demand water Give us water to drink. And in essence, Moses responds. Your quarrel is out of place.
So another quarrel with me. When you quarrel with me, you try God’s patience. Why do you quarrel with me? Why you test the Lord and verse three? You with me? Verse three, gives the heart of their indictment. They don’t really ask, Why did you bring this up out of Egypt? It’s not what they asked. They ask, Why did you bring this out to kill us?
They’re not questioning God’s timing. They’re questioning God’s goodness. They’re not saying God is incompetent to give them water. They’re saying he doesn’t intend to. He’s not gonna help us. They’re saying he doesn’t intend to save us. His purposes are not saving. They are murderous. When Moses says in verse two, why do you test the Lord? There’s a warning. Don’t try God’s patience. It runs out. For people who don’t trust him and despise him, it runs out. We know how the story is in the wilderness. Numbers 14 Verse 22. None of the men who have seen my glory in my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the chest these 10 times and have not obeyed my voice. None of them shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers in None of those who despise Me shall see it.
So we may not understand all the reasons why God chooses to bring us into a waterless encampment. But story after story after story in the Bible, including this one is God’s word, Trust me. Trust me, they didn’t. That scene to scene three, verses four through six. So Moses cried to the Lord, what shall I do with this people, they’re almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said to Moses, pass on before this people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. And take in your hand, the staff with which you struck the Nile and go, Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb. And you will strike the rock and water should come out of it. And the people will drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. Main point of scene three, God’s life giving presents toward absolutely undeserving people, goes on. His patience has not yet run out. So what’s God’s answer to Moses question in verse four? What shall I do with these people? They’re almost ready to stone me? What’s God’s answer to that? His answer is, I will give them water to drink. Now, to make that answer as amazing as it is, he describes it in four ways, this miracle of life giving grace he describes in four ways. Number one, it’s public. Verse five, first phrase in the verse pass on before this people. So they indicted us in public, we will be vindicated in public. Second, it will be well attested by the elders first five second phrase in the verse pass on before the people taking with you some of the elders of Israel. This will become part of their history, or their teaching part of their judging of the people. Third, this miracle will be a continuity, it will be a continuation of the miracles in Egypt. All of a piece, third part of verse five. Take in your hand, the staff with which you struck the Nile. And go Moses struck the Nile one time with his staff. X Exodus chapter seven, verse 20. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of this, his servants, he lifted up his staff and he struck the waters of the Nile and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. In other words, with this staff, I turned water into blood. And with this staff I will now turn rock into water. All of a peace. Same grace, same power. Same goes Odd, then today. Fourth, the miracle of life giving grace will come about by the Lord’s presence. This is best, it’s the best thing. It says the best thing in the text I think. For six, Behold, God says, 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. And the people will drink I will stand before you there on the rock. He might have said, I’m done with this rebellious people. I’m done. Not going to be in their midst anymore. That’s not what he said. He might have said, Okay, I’m going up on the mountain, the top of Horeb I will unleash a lightning bolt this rock will split water will come out, but I’m gonna come to defile my holy presence with this despising people. And then that’s not what he said. He said, When you strike the rock, I’ll be standing on the rock before the people. Now why would he do that? Why would he do that? Because what the people need more than water is the presence of God. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life. Only if you believe that it’s Psalm 63, verse three, the steadfast love of the Lord is better than drinking water and staying alive. Better than being healed of cancer. What after all, was what’s the point of choosing Abraham guiding the patriarchs bringing Israel into Egypt, delivering them with a mighty hand, bringing them out into wilderness most of the point. He states the point in the next chapter verses verses four and five of Exodus 19. You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to my self I’m going to take my stand on the rock that will give you life because my presence is your life. I brought you out of Egypt to myself. You think you need water? You think you need water in the wilderness? You need me?
1000 times more than water so seeing number three God’s life giving presents toward undeserving people, goes on his patients has not run out. scene for last six or seven. And he that is Moses. He called the name of the place of he called the name of the place massah and Meribah because of the quarreling of the people of Israel. And because they tested the Lord by saying is the Lord among us or not? main point of this scene. Moses memorialized it is their failure to believe in God saving presents, he memorializes their failure. The story does not have a happy ending. There’s no repentance. There’s no awakened faith. There’s not even any water. Just the promise of water. Verse six, in the middle of the verse, the people will drink and no doubt the water came and no doubt they drink. Moses doesn’t talk about that. Moses point is failure. That’s the point of the story. Failure he doesn’t name the place Grace abounding to the chief of sinners. He doesn’t name the place water from the rock. He doesn’t name the place God is faithful. He names the place Messiah Meribah. Messiah means testing. Mira, by means quarreling says because of the quarreling of the people of Israel and because they tested the Lord. So scene for harks back to Scene two verse two, why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord? And that’s where the story ends. memorializing the quarreling, memorializing the testing. Almost most Moses has one final indictment at the end of verse seven, which I haven’t mentioned. He means for us to see the greatest failure in the light of the greatest gift. So verse seven ends. They tested the Lord by saying, is the Lord and wellness or not? God had said I will stand before you on the rock.
And the people said, we don’t even know if he’s here
or if He intends to kill us in the story. Now, let’s step back and ask Moses, what’s your point? God, what’s your point through Moses in telling us these four scenes to this drama in verses one through seven and Exodus 17? What are you trying to get across to us? Now, the way Moses tells this story, failure is foregrounded. The story begins, verse two, it ends or seven, with quarreling with Moses. Testing of God memorialized, it begins with unbelief. They don’t trust God, they harden their hearts against him. God brought them into waterless places, and encampment with no water. And he doesn’t intend to help us here. That’s what they say. And the trumpet blast of this text that echoes through all the rest of the Bible is don’t be like that. In your wilderness, don’t be like that. I mean, listen, Psalm 95 verse seven. Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as that Mirrabooka on the day of May I saw in the wilderness when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work, don’t do that. TGC W. Don’t do that. Or Hebrews chapter three, verse seven, as the Holy Spirit says, Today, if you hear His voice, John harden your hearts as in the rebellion on the day of testing in the wilderness, or first Corinthians chapter 10. They all ate same food, mana, they drank the same spiritual drink. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased for they were overthrown in the wilderness. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did. Now these things happened to them as an example, they were written down for our instruction, therefore let him who thinks that he stands take heed, let’s the fall, don’t be like them. World, centuries 2022. Don’t be like them. In other words, this this failure of Israel to trust God in the wilderness, reverberates through the whole Bible. And the message is this. When God brings you into a waterless encampment, and you see wilderness, stretching in every direction, and no way out. Don’t be like that. Don’t question him.
Trust Him, trust Him. He brought you into the wilderness. He can bring you out. He led you to refugee where there is no water. Only Rock and he will. He will take your stand on the rock and be your life
or will he? In 2022 For many of us, the greatest obstacle to joy joyful confidence in our waterless place is not that God can’t save us. That’s not our problem. Our problem is, will he will be the greatest obstacle to believing that he will is our sinfulness. I speak from experience how can God be adjust and holy God and do what he did in scene three surrounded by a thankless people who say you brought us out to kill us. Surrounded by that people? He says in verse six, Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock and water will come out of it. And the people will drink
How can God be righteous and act as though the despising of his name? had so little consequence are very hearts cry out. I’ve scorned the name of the Lord. In all my doubting. All my unbelief, all my complaining all my despairing. In the wilderness. I have scored the name of the Lord, will God simply join me in belittling his name by sweeping my god despising sin, under the rug of the universe How can I ever be saved? By a righteous and holy God? How could they ever experience seen three? Now, the apostle Paul thought that the biggest problem facing human humankind it is how many commentators talk about other things, that the biggest problem facing humankind How can God uphold the righteousness of his name? While showing mercy to God belittling God, despising sinners. How are we seen three extra 717 verses four through six? even conceivable. God offering Himself as our life surrounded by the outrage of people, indicting him as evil. How’s that possible? Paul’s answer, and I think it’s probably the most important verse in the Bible. His answer is Romans, chapter three, verse 25. I’ll read it to you. God, put Christ, the Son of God, the Eternal second person of the Trinity. God put Christ forward. As a propitiation, that means a satisfaction of God’s righteousness. God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. And here comes the sentence. This, this, putting Christ forward by His blood. This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance, he had passed over former sins in scene three.
When God passed over the sins of seen to be passed over the sins of seen for and poured out is life giving mercy in scene three, was he unrighteous? Was he belittling his own name? Was he taking his own holiness lightly? Was he sweeping? God indicting God despising attitudes under the rug and saying, doesn’t matter? I’m not worth that much anyway. Was he unrighteous? No, he wasn’t. And the reason he wasn’t is because he knew that 1400 years later he would vindicate his righteousness for passing over since the death of Jesus is the thunderclap of this truth no sin is ever merely passed over? None
it will be paid for inhale or it will be paid for on the cross. No quarreling with God’s word no testing of God’s patience ever goes unpunished ever. God righteousness is absolute, and the unspeakable mercy of sin three, verse six, Exodus 17 that mercy is directly owing to the blood of Jesus that blood, the blood shedding of the Son of God, was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. This is a sweeping statement, it will change, you understand it and believe it, it will change the way you read the Old Testament. Every undeserved blessing shown to God’s elect in the Old Testament, every undeserved blessing shown to God’s elect in the Old Testament was bought by the beloved Jesus without exception. When Paul made the strange statement in First Corinthians chapter 10, verse four about Israel in the wilderness, when he made this strange statement, they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. This is what I think he meant.
The undeserved Blessing of Water from the rock, the undeserved blessing of manna from heaven, the undeserved blessing of deliverance at the Red Sea, the undeserved blessing of guidance by the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, the undeserved blessing of Moses leadership. All of it was owing to the cross of Christ. Is it not right thing to say? The rock was Christ, the man who was Christ, the deliverance was Christ, the pillars of fire and cloud were Christ. God’s guilty people would enjoy no blessings, apart from Christ, and what he did 1400 years later. And so it is for you and me, who are in Christ, you who despair of your sinful selves, and no, God owes you nothing. So it is for you. Every undeserved blessing you will ever taste now and forever is owing to the death of Jesus.
I suppose if you were to ask me, you have a favorite verse. I might say Romans 3:25. But probably I would say a verse that says the same thing with a future orientation, namely Romans 8:32. He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us off will he not with him, graciously give us all things not just Can he but will he? Everything we need to do is Will everything we need to glorify His name, everything we need to make it to the promised land. So when he leads you into the waterless encampment of refeeding, and he will, if he hasn’t, when he leads you into the waterless encampment of remedying it and there is no human hope. Trust Him, trust him. He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for a soul. Will he not with him, graciously give us all things. Everything you need, has been purchased by the blood of Jesus. Above all, the best purchase and the best gift himself for your enjoyment now in the midst of the wilderness and your enjoyment forever. Let’s pray.
Father, please, don’t let us any of us, harden our hearts in the wilderness of remedy where there’s no water take away our questioning take away our doubting take away our complaining take away our despairing, oh grant us trust. Let this text and all the Bible strengthen, deepen and make unshakable our confidence that in the wilderness you will be our life and you will bring us out into a promised land in due time. In Jesus name.
John Piper is a keynote speaker at TGC’s 2023 Conference, “Hope in the Wilderness,” September 25–27, in Indianapolis. You can browse the complete list of topics and speakers. Register soon!