Moses is living in a refugee camp. More than that, he has to bring some order, unity resources. No easy task in a nervous and vulnerable mass of people, who number probably between two and three million.
Water is the first concern, and their bone of contention with Moses (vv.1-3). They know that death is only a couple of dry days away, in this desert. Moses knows that he will die first, at their hands, if the situation continues (v.4) And so God commands him to strike a rock to bring forth water. His staff has been God’s means before, and so the use of it reminds the people that God hasn’t changed, nor will He change His appointed leader just because life is tough and the people are angry at him because of their hardships. So they have water to drink. They also have a permanent testimony to their grumbling unbelief (v.7). God is with them; are they with Him?
As basic as the need for water is in the wilderness, so is the fact of enemies. This is the first mention of enemies, in the guise of the Amalekites, and the first mention of Joshua, the young commander (vv.8-10). God’s people are victorious – “Joshua overcomes the Amalekite army with the sword” (v.13), but not through their own strength (vv.10-13). Moses’ arms are raised to God in prayer through the length of the battle, and through presumably agonising cramps, which meant that his arms are supported as he prays on for the Lord’s help. This is the perfect picture, then, of all true work and success in the Lord’s name, as prayer to God is matched with courageous fighting against God’s enemies. Both are vital, neither one on its own will win the battle. This is what we need to learn as the church of Jesus Christ. Apart from Him – His strength given through prayer, and His battles fought with courage – we can do nothing (John 15.5). He is the One we believe in and fight for, He is our Banner (v.15).
Leading the people of God, even in their victories, is stressful and exhausting, though. Sometimes even the leaders can’t see that, and it takes the eyes of family members to identify the strains, and to suggest remedies. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, arrives to see how things are (18.5-6). He is as excited as anyone about the work of God (vv.8-12). The next day, after they’ve celebrated over a meal, Jethro sees for himself the excessive burdens Moses carries each day, and we see that this elderly man is actually the Bible’s first management consultant (vv.17-23). And his wisdom works – Moses is won over, changes are made, sanity spared, the work is shared, and God is therefore honoured (vv.24-27). Simple.
These two chapters show us perfectly how God’s grace works. Grace doesn’t work apart from our prayers, efforts, our bravery, our wisdom, and our willingness to change. In fact, it work through all of these things. God loves His people so much that He works in and through them, as they play their part. The result is His Kingdom. Stay with this Book of Exodus, as we are about to see the drama of God giving His Law for this Kingdom of grace.