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January 20, 2019

Sermon Numbers 21:17-18 . . . “Bible songs:  ‘Spring up, O well!’”

“Bible songs:  ‘Spring up, O well!’”

Numbers 21:17-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Martin Riese, restaurant manager for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a water sommelier.  

What’s a water sommelier?  I’m glad you asked!  Just as a wine sommelier devotes his life to wine, a water sommelier devotes his life to water.  

And he’s so excited about water, he’s crafted his own 44-page sewn-bound water menu, complete with twenty different kinds of water from as close as Beverly Hills, to as far away as Fiji and Norway.  And at the average price of $12 a bottle, he can you serve up you some pretty good water!

But if that’s not good enough for you, you could always order a bottle of Berg water, straight from the island of Newfoundland.  Derived solely from melted icebergs, (hence the name “Berg water”), it’ll set you back about $20 a bottle.

Kona Nigari water will set you back even more, to the tune of $402 per bottle.  And why not?  It comes from the Big island of Hawaii and has been harvested from two thousand feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

And if that’s still not good enough for you, you could order the most expensive water of all--the Beverly Hills 90H20 Luxy Collection Diamond Edition sourced from northern California’s mountain springs, and instilled with potassium and calcium to enhance its taste and nutrients.

But it’ll cost you!  With it’s beautiful, clear, cut-glass bottle and a 14-carat white gold cap, studded with black and white diamonds, it’s the ultimate in water.  It better be for $100,000!  

And as water is important to us, it was pretty important in the Bible too.  For example, the very second verse of the Bible, Genesis chapter 1, verse 2, says, “The Spirit of God hovered over the waters.”  And the very last chapter, Revelation chapter 22, tells of the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  And David wrote in the words of Psalm 23:  “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.”

Even more, in Bible times, water in the desert was like gold.  To fill a person’s well was an act of war.

We just can’t live without water.

So it was for the people of Israel.  Please turn in your Bible to page 164, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at Numbers chapter 21, verse 10:  “And the people of Israel set out and camped in Oboth.  And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise.  From there they set out and camped in the Valley of Zered.  From there they set out and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.  Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord, ‘Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon, and the slope of the valleys that extends to the seat of Ar, and leans to the border of Moab.’”

Now what I just read might sound awfully strange and boring, and you might wonder why it’s even there.

But Moses wrote these words to give us a clue as to where they were, what they were doing, and where they were about to go.  You see, at the time of this text, the people were at the end of forty long years of wilderness wandering, of following a cloudy pillar by day, and a fiery one at night, and sleeping out under the stars.  So now, in just a few short weeks, Joshua would fight the battle of Jericho, and the people of Israel would finally enter their Promised Land.

But if you’re travelling through the wilderness with that many people, (as many as three million!), not to mention with lots of flocks and herds, and for that long, (forty years!), there’s one thing you’re going to need a lot of--and that’s water!

And the Lord knew that.  That’s why He often led them to wells, and even gushed out water from a rock.

But this time, it was different.  This time, the people were out in the middle of a desert, and there was no well and no rock to be found.

And there’s a first lesson we can learn from this text.  In the words of nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon:  “So it is with us.  At one time we are abounding in every good thing, rejoicing ‘with joy unspeakable and full of glory’; and at another time we discover how great our weakness is; faith is at a very low ebb, and joy seems as though the frost of doubt had nipped its root.”

To put it another way, it’s easy to trust in God when our glasses are full.  It’s quite another when they’re as dry as a bone.

Yet the Lord knew their needs and could “well supply them.”  So He said in verse 16:  “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.”

And there’s a second lesson we can learn from this text.  It doesn’t matter if our cup is empty or if it’s full, JEHOVAH-JIREH, “the Lord provides,” is still the name of our God.

Whatever you need, God will supply.  Whenever you need it, God will supply.  And however long you need it, God will supply.  There’s nothing that you could ever need, that God cannot supply.

Even more, notice He didn’t say, “I will give some of the people water.”  And neither did He say, “Moses can have a drink, and so can the leaders of each tribe.”  Instead He said in verse 16:  “Gather the people together,” from the youngest to the oldest, from the greatest to the least, from those who were full of faith to those who doubted, gather them all, “so that I may give them water.”

And what strength and confidence that can give us!  No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter if we’re full of faith, no matter if we sometimes doubt, God can supply our every need.

Then what did Israel do when the Lord promised to give them water?  They sang a song, the second song ever recorded in the Bible.

Which is a little strange, if you think about it.  When was the last time they sang a song?  Forty years before, way back in Exodus chapter 15, just beyond the Red Sea!  And now, finally, forty years later, they sing another song.

And this is what they sang.  Verse 17:  “Spring up, O well!--Sing to it!--the well that the princes made, that the nobles of the people dug, with the scepter and with their staffs.”

Then they went to work--verse 18:  “the princes” and “the nobles” it says, with their staffs and scepters, their sticks and poles.

And what happened?  Just as God promised, the well sprung up!  And as the prophet Isaiah would someday promise:  “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of valleys:  I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”

Kate Bowler is a 37-year-old professor of religious history at Duke University, and a mother of one--a little four-year-old boy.  And after years of travel and study, she wrote a book on the Prosperity Gospel--its problems and its dangers.

But two years ago, when she was thirty-five, she went to the doctor complaining of severe stomach pains.  At first, he assumed it was just her gallbladder.  But after running some tests, he finally discovered it was stage-4 colon cancer.

When she heard the news, she sank to her knees and cried.  She said, “I’m 35 and I have a son.  This world can’t end.  It’s just begun.”  And she said:  “The future became a language I couldn’t speak anymore.”

Then came major surgery, as well as a series of cat-scans, pet-scans, immunotherapy, and experimental drugs.  And every ninety days, she lies in a CT machine, with dye coursing through her veins, and doctors looking to see whether or not the tumors in her liver are growing.  If they’re not, she said, they smile and give her another three months to live, and schedule another exam.

That’s when she began to realize just how fragile life really was.  So she wrote another book, this one called, Everything Happens for a Reason:  And Other Lies I’ve Loved.  

And in that book she wrote:  “I have known Christ in so many good times, but now I know Him better in my sufferings.”

She said:  “It’s like you notice the tired mom in the grocery store who’s struggling to get the thing off the top shelf while her child screams, and you notice how very tired the person looks at the bus stop.  And then, of course, all the people in the cancer clinic around me.  Suddenly, I felt cracked open, and I could see everything really clearly for the first time.”

That’s when she learned, really learned, to put all her hope and trust in God.

Sometimes we need to learn that too, that even if we’re in the middle of a desert, with no well or rock to be found, we can dig down, deep down, just like Moses’ people once did, and find our strength in God.

Before we leave this text, there is one more thing I should mention.  

Remember the story of Jesus and the time He stopped in that little town called Sychar and sat down beside a well?  And as He sat beside that well, who should come along, but a poor, lonely, Samaritan woman.

Not only had she been married five times, the man she was living with wasn’t even her husband.  No one wanted her.  No one wanted anything to do with her.

Yet it was to her that Jesus said:  “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”

She answered:  “Are You greater than our father Jacob?  He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

Then Jesus said:  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

In the words of a song:  “Spring up oh well, within my soul.  Spring up oh well, and make me whole.  Spring up oh well, and give to me, that life abundantly.”

 

Dear Lord, when Your people of old needed it the most, You made water spring up from dry ground.  Help even us to find our hope and strength in You, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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