Exodus 17:1-7 (ESV)
1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 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?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and 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?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the 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 shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And 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?”
How do you test God? We all do it; there are many Massahs in our lives, those places where we don’t find what we think we should have to live. In Massah, we feed and nurture our sense of injustice, which returns the favor by leaving a generous tip of outrage before we depart for Meribah, the home town of fault-finders. Someone must be to blame for our unsatisfied needs; someone must be held accountable! In Meribah, we find wholehearted support for our self-centered indignation. It is quite gratifying to meet so many who gladly take up our cause, mingling it as they do with their own mistreatments. We easily find good fellowship there, and lovingly warm it through the copious amounts of aged whine served openly and in abundance.
Lent is an excellent time to take a hard look at what we want—but don’t have. But don’t stop with looking; consider why a good and loving God has decided to withhold something from us.
In the case of the Israelites, our ancient spiritual kinsmen, God withheld water at Rephidim to test them. They had just witnessed something truly extraordinary, something that only a very powerful force could accomplish, a force that was stronger than the mighty superpower of the mid second millennia bc and its god-like leader, Pharaoh. Having seen God’s capabilities, the question now—the test—was will they place their trust in him. Will they have faith that he did not display his might on their behalf only to have them die of thirst as they set out into the Sinai wilderness? Having witnessed his power to save them, would they trust him to do it again?
Their response: No!
Lord God, help us shift the eyes of our hearts from our selfish needs to your steadfast faithfulness. Amen.